Only make campground reservations when absolutely necessary

One of the best things about a road trip is the sense of freedom you get from being away from the appointments and schedules of daily life. Then why inflict that same structure on a vacation? All year people are telling you where and when you have to be somewhere, but a road trip is the perfect chance to change all that. It's great to be able to just move on when you feel like it or stay an extra night if there's more you want to see. Or maybe you want to go completely random and change destinations, because someone along the way told you about a place you never heard of.

It's easy for me to talk now, but in our early years of travel, I had reservations made for every night of the entire trip. Although it did give us the security of knowing we had a place to stay, it took away from that carefree feeling that you should get on a vacation.

Being realistic though, there are certain destinations that are so popular (such as Yellowstone or Yosemite) that your only chance of visiting them is with advance reservations, available on-line from These are a good idea to make or you will very likely be disappointed. However, you can keep some of your flexibility by building extra unscheduled days around the reservation.

Also, find out about a campground's cancellation policy. If it's not too bad, it might be worth making the reservation and then cancelling or changing it if necessary.

Ann on May 14, 2009


What a great site. We are planning, for the summer of 2010, an outing of 8 weeks starting from Québec Canada to the American west coast with our two kids aged 13 and 11. Your experience helps us narrow things down as we wanted to do everything at once thinking that going to the west coast would be a one timer. But you make it look so easy every year. We have been down as far as Florida with our fifth wheel. You say not to reserve in advance. Did you encounter any problems ? And also we have our family dog. Are they accepted in the state parks ? Thanks very much and congratulations again on your site.

Herb on May 14, 2009

Hi Ann,

I'm glad we have helped with your trip planning. When we started we had every day on the itinerary planned, with reservations for campgrounds and activities sometimes made 6 months in advance. That approach might work if you are planning on spending a week in one location, or a few days in a very popular National Park during the height of the tourist season. However, on a 3 + week trip, with lots of stops it generates a level of stress that you need to be at a certain place and time regardless of the weather, how any member of the family might be feeling, or whether you've found out about a great new place that you would like to visit, but it can't be squeezed into the original plan.

What we've found to be the best trade off, is to make reservations at a few key anchor locations. (Like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, or Yosemite in the summer), and then mostly visit State Parks, BLM land, or local commercial campgrounds when necessary. I think we have probably been turned away from an unplanned stop maybe once or twice, for every ten times that we found that there was still a last minute cancellation. Even if a State Park say's it is FULL, we still inquire both to see if they have any recommendations, and/or usually they magically find one more spot that we can squeeze into. It also gives you a much greater sense of freedom and exploration when you know that you can change your plans to take advantage of "local knowledge", and weather conditions. It also gets you off the beaten path and into some parks that have yet to be discovered by the traveling masses.

We don't have a dog, so I can't really comment on the regulations. I expect that it would probably vary by Park, so a phone call in advance would certainly be recommended.

Safe travels, and please leave a comment in the future if you visit any of the same places we did.