Forgot To Book RV Camping In National Parks? Here’s What To Do.

Amelia ArvesenMarch 5, 2024

Forgot To Book RV Camping In National Parks? Here’s What To Do.
RV camping national park

Dangit. You were so busy planning everything else and getting excited for your trip that you forgot to book your RV camping in national parks Grand Teton National Park. Now what are you going to do? Even though you probably won’t find any camping inside the park now — though while you’re there, it never hurts to take a spin through the campground or ask a ranger, just in case — there are camping alternatives right outside most National Parks before you even consider a hotel.

So don’t worry—your trip isn’t ruined! In this guide, we’ll help you find alternatives to camping inside the parks. Besides, it’s not an adventure until something goes at least a little wrong, right? 

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Can You RV Camp in National Parks? 

It depends on the park! There are more than 130 parks in the system that offer overnight camping, which you can locate on the National Park Service website. However, only a few of them have partial hookups and even fewer have full hookups for RV camping in national parks. The rest are dry campsites, which means you’ll have to come prepared for boondocking — i.e. operating without hookups.

The other thing to know about camping in the parks is that sites start booking up to a year in advance. At some, a percentage of sites stay open for first-come first-served campers. But you never know if you’ll be one of the lucky ones until you get there, so it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. 

Camper by a lake

What Size RVs Are Allowed in National Parks? 

You may have a reservation for a campsite, but if your RV extends beyond the maximum length by even a few feet, you won’t even be able to fit into the campground, let alone your campsite. Seriously, some of us at Outdoorsy have learned the hard way. Let us be a warning and don’t let it happen to you. Check length limits ahead of time to make sure you can access RV camping in national parks.

Joshua Tree, for example, has a 25-foot maximum. Badlands allows rigs up to 40 feet. Up in Canada, Banff has room for rigs up to 50 feet. Olympic only has space for 21 feet of RV. You can find information on size limits on each National Park’s website. 

Where To Go When National Park Campgrounds Are Full

You’re not out of luck if you can find RV camping in national parks. Just look elsewhere. Here are a few places we usually scout for backup plans:

Boondocking on public lands: Look for dispersed camping, where you can camp outside of designated campgrounds in specified areas on BLM and National Forest land. Just make sure to follow any rules and regulations.

State Park campgrounds: Where there’s a National Park, there’s usually a state park nearby. And because they tend to be less crowded than the federal sites, you might have better luck with last-minute openings at their campgrounds.

Available campsite alert tools: Companies like Campendium, AllStays, CampScanner, and Campnab have popped up to notify you when a spot opens up at a campground or give you recommendations for sites nearby. 

And for all you Overlanders out there, the iOverlander app is where it’s at for keeping on top of the best remote campsites.

Sign up for alerts and act fast! 

RV parks and private campgrounds: You might have to pay more, but RV parks or privately owned campgrounds are most certainly within driving distance of the park. On the upside, they might come with more amenities, like laundry facilities and swimming pools.

Camper in the Arizona desert

Camping Alternatives Outside 6 National Parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

– In Tennessee, check for availability at Big Ridge State Park or Frozen Head State Park. In North Carolina, you could look into Mount Mitchell State Park or Lake James State Park.

Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina are both adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains and offer camping opportunities. Look for developed campgrounds as well as dispersed camping areas.

Townsend/Great Smokies KOA Holiday and the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA Holiday offer RV sites, tent sites, and cabins, along with amenities such as Wi-Fi and recreational facilities.

– Nearby RV resorts include Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts in Cherokee, North Carolina; River Plantation RV Resort in Sevierville, Tennessee; Twin Creek RV resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Pigeon Forge RV resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; and Creekwood Farm RV Park in Waynesville, North Carolina.

Yellowstone National Park

Gallatin National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, and Bridger-Teton National Forest surround Yellowstone and offer numerous campgrounds, from developed sites with facilities to backcountry options.

– Nearby state parks like Montana’s Madison Buffalo Jump State Park and Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill State Park have campgrounds worth checking out.

– As for RV Resorts, you have lots of options in the surrounding towns: Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park, Yellowstone Holiday RV Campground & Marina, and Yellowstone Park / West Gate KOA in West Yellowstone, Montana; Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park in Livingston, Montana; and Paha Sapa Campground in Cooke City, Montana.

Yosemite National Park

– You’re always welcome at Outdoorsy Yosemite, where we have cabins and campsites nestled in the High Sierra. Rent an RV from Outdoorsy and camp on our grounds for the full Outdoorsy treatment.

Stanislaus National Forest and Sierra National Forest surround Yosemite and offer numerous campgrounds, including along the Tioga Road in the Stanislaus National Forest and campgrounds along the Highway 41 corridor in the Sierra National Forest.

– Pop over to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Don Pedro Lake State Recreation Area, and Folsom Lake State Recreation Area for more camping in the High Sierra.

– Private campgrounds and RV parks include Yosemite Pines RV Resort and Yosemite Lakes RV Resort in Groveland; Indian Flat RV Park in El Portal; Yosemite RV Resort in Coarsegold; and High Sierra RV & Mobile Park in Oakhurst. 

Yosemite National Park

Zion National Park

Dixie National Forest has several campgrounds like Watchman Campground and South Campground, which are both near the park’s south entrance. These campgrounds offer a range of amenities, from basic sites to those with hookups. Additional, dispersed camping can be found on BLM land around the park.

– Nearby state parks with campgrounds are Snow Canyon State Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

– In the way of private campgrounds and RV parks, try Zion River Resort in Virgin; Watchman Villas and RV Park in Springdale; South Campground RV Park, adjacent to the South Campground within the park boundaries; Coral Sands RV Park in Kanab; and Under Canvas Zion for a glamping experience.

Glacier National Park

– Check for open campsites at Flathead National Forest’s Sprague Creek Campground and Apgar Campground on the west side of the park, and the Two Medicine Campground and Many Glacier Campground on the east side. These 4 Glacier NP campgrounds are almost always by reservation only in the summer — but check the park’s website for the latest info and keep your eyes on the site for these campgrounds in case any cancellations pop up.

– Montana’s Flathead Lake State Park and Whitefish Lake State Park have campgrounds that are arguably just as stunning as the ones in the National Park.

– Private campgrounds and RV parks include: West Glacier KOA Holiday and Glacier Campground are located just outside the west entrance of the park; Stanton Creek Lodge & RV Park in Martin City; North American RV Park & Yurt Village in Coram; and Johnson’s of St. Mary in St. Mary.

Acadia National Park

– Maine’s state parks, such as Camden Hills State Park and Cobscook Bay State Park, have their own campgrounds.

– The White Mountain National Forest in neighboring New Hampshire offers several campgrounds. While they may require a bit of a drive to reach Acadia, they can offer beautiful settings and outdoor recreation opportunities.

– There are plenty of private campgrounds and RV parks to choose from: Bar Harbor Campground and Hadley’s Point Campground in Bar Harbor; Narrows Too Camping Resort in Trenton; Mount Desert Campground on an island near the park’s southern entrance; and Smuggler’s Den Campground in Southwest Harbor.

Campervan at Glacier National Park

See? You’re not SOL. Luckily, the popularity of camping in National Parks has opened up opportunities to stay overnight elsewhere, meaning you have more options to choose from. Spending your day inside the park, then heading to your campsite just a little bit outside of the bounds means you get to see even more of the area. Last-minute planners still have a chance.

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Amelia Arvesen, Outdoorsy Author

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