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Planning an RV camping trip
is often filled with excitement and anticipation. There’s nothing like researching campgrounds, finding sites that are perfect for you and your rig, and making reservations so you can begin counting the days until you’re sleeping under the stars, exploring outdoors, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire.
But what happens when you find out the campground you want to stay at offers first-come, first-serve camping? What exactly does this mean, and how can you make it work for your next RV trip? Here, we break it down so you can have a successful first-come, first-serve RV camping vacation.
What to Know About First Come First Serve RV Camping
What Does First Come First Serve Camping Mean?
First-come, first-serve camping means a campground does not take reservations for some or all of their campsites. The first people to secure an available spot at a campground on any given day can stay at that campsite that night.
Whereas typical reservation-only campgrounds may allow you to book sites months in advance, you’ll need to drive to first-come, first-serve campgrounds and sometimes wait for other campers to leave before you can park in a particular site.
If you want the peace of mind of knowing exactly where you’ll be staying on any given night of your trip, first-come, first-serve RV camping may not be for you. But if you’re game to take a chance on securing a spot, and you’re willing to go to plan B if your ideal campground is full, then first-come, first-serve camping may be a great option for your RV vacation.
How Do I Get a First Come First Serve Camping Site?
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The adage “the early bird captures the worm” applies to first-come, first-serve RV camping. To secure a spot at a specific campground, you’ll want to pull up that morning to see if any rigs have pulled out early. Or roll up just before check-out time (often between 10 a.m. and noon), and hopefully, you’ll see some RVs leaving so you can swoop in!
Many first-come, first-serve campgrounds — particularly the national parks — have signs at their entrances announcing whether campgrounds are full for the day, so you can drive up and know at a glance whether you have the opportunity to sleep there that night.
Some announce on social media if their campgrounds are full, so it might be worth following a certain national or state park on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to get the daily scoop.
If you find a first-come, first-serve RV campground that has spots available, you’ll typically drive around the campground, find the site you like best, pull in, and then walk back to self-register at a kiosk at the campground entrance.
There, you’ll fill out a slip of paper or envelope with your contact information, RV type, license plate number, and the number of nights you’re staying. Then you’ll tear off or otherwise take a receipt to place on your dashboard or tack on a campsite stake. Deposit cash or a check with your form in a secure box to pay for your site; some campgrounds allow you to write in your credit card number on the registration form.
At some campgrounds, a host may greet you and let you know which sites are available. Choose by eyeballing the options or selecting from a map, make your payment in an office or at a kiosk, and you’ll be on your way to a fun night of camping.
Here are a few more tips for first-come, first-serve camping:
- If you have your heart set on a certain campground, consider trying for a spot on weekdays instead of busier weekends. Also, avoid holidays.
- Bring along small bills, just in case your campground only takes cash (usually, they’ll note this on their website). You’ll want to have the exact amount if you’re paying cash at a self-serve kiosk.
- Some campgrounds note on their websites the time campsites typically fill up each day. If they don’t, consider calling to ask what time they recommend you arrive or if they have any other tips for securing a spot!
Who Offers First Come First Serve RV Camping?
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While most privately owned campgrounds and RV resorts offer reservations for their campsites, you’ll more often see first-come, first-served RV camping in national parks
, national forests, and state parks
Here are a few popular locations that offer first-come, first-serve RV camping in the United States:
- Pinnacles National Park: This national park in California is known for its towering rock spires. You can make online reservations at Pinnacles Campground, but if you’re not sure of your exact dates, you can also just show up to see what’s available daily. Unusual for a national park campground, there’s a swimming pool on site!
- Kelly Flats Campground: Located in Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests in Colorado, Kelly Flats Campground offers 19 first-come, first-serve riverside RV sites. The website notes they typically fill by Thursday afternoon for weekend camping in July and August.
- Illinois Beach State Park: A popular recreation area, Illinois Beach State Park stretches 6.5 miles along Lake Michigan’s shoreline in Illinois. In July, campsites are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis; otherwise, they can be reserved.
- Koomer Ridge Campground: Campers at Koomer Ridge Campground in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest have access to the fabulous hiking trails in the Red River Gorge. Nineteen sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Lake Michigan Recreation Area: Set on the banks of Lake Michigan in Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan, this recreation area has 99 sites on four different loops. Two loops (Hemlock and Violet) are first come, first serve. Bike trails and a playground are among the amenities here.
- Lake of the Ozarks State Park: Reservations can be made at this Missouri campground during certain months of the year. Otherwise, it’s first come, first serve in the offseason or if reserved sites aren’t filled. Here, you can fish, swim, and boat on one of Missouri’s largest lakes.
- Hay Canyon Campground: This small campground in Oregon’s Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest has just seven campsites. The website suggests that first-come, first-serve campers pull up in RVs less than 30 feet long.
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Check out the various rental options
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especially helpful for first-time RV campers. Then, book your RV rental so you can start anticipating your fun-filled RV camping trip!