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Why You Should Consider Planning a Camping Trip Now

Don’t wait: New reservation requirements and a steady rise in popularity and prices are making it more difficult to secure a spot in the great outdoors

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Kampgrounds of America

If you’re dreaming about hiking quiet forest trails, training binoculars on roaming wildlife or just toasting marshmallows over a campfire this summer, now’s the time to start planning.

The pandemic kicked off a surge of interest in the outdoors that hasn’t eased three years later, and more campgrounds and RV parks, both public and private, are requiring reservations. The cost of booking a camping/RV spot is climbing, too, and some parks are selling out months in advance.

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If that lights a (camp)fire within you — good! There’s still time to find a great camping spot. First thing to do: Decide where you want to go. One recent survey by online booking resource Campspot found that most campers in the U.S. are looking to pitch tents and park RVs in the pine-covered mountains, along sandy beaches and in the deliciously tangled wilderness areas of Colorado, Montana, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina this year. The old faithful national parks, including Yellowstone National Park (which is almost back to normal after floods washed out roads last year), remain popular too. Also trendy? Agritourism — staying on farm or ranch land — and camping trips timed around natural events like eclipses or meteor showers. (Obvious tip: If you want to increase your chances of reserving a camping spot, look outside of the more popular destinations.)

With more than  80 million campers in the U.S., including about 15 million who camped for the first time in the last two years, all vying for coveted spots, it’s getting trickier to schedule a trip.

“New campers coming on to the scene are outstripping the supply of campgrounds by a landslide,” says Kevin Long, CEO and cofounder of The Dyrt, a website and smartphone app that allows users to reserve sites at campgrounds and RV parks around the country. “Even with more than half of the campgrounds expanding the number of sites and extending their seasons, they’re not able to keep up with demand. If you’re looking to get some serious camping going in 2023, make reservations early.”

Each year, The Dyrt gathers information about camping trends. According to their 2023 Camping Report, the number of people who had a hard time booking a campsite because all reservations were taken increased from 30.2 percent in 2021 to 58.4 percent last year.

Toby O’Rourke, CEO and president of KOA, which operates more than 500 campgrounds across the United States and Canada, says that a quarter of U.S. campers have already made their reservations for this year.

“There have definitely been inventory concerns, particularly on weekends and in the summer,” O’Rourke says.

Even if you’re running behind schedule, you don’t have to resort to camping in your backyard just yet. Websites and apps can help you find and book some desirable locations. ​

A new feature at The Dyrt called Dyrt Alerts, for example, helps campers get reservations at sold-out properties. 

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“The thing that people need to understand is there’s a difference between a campground being sold out and being at 100-percent occupancy,” Long says. “People book months in advance to get a spot, campgrounds sell out, then plans change and people cancel. Dyrt Alert scans campgrounds for cancellations and will text you when an opening becomes available.”

The Dyrt is tapped into 4,000 state and national parks across the country, and customers can scan for cancellations at up to five places at a time. The service should soon be available as part of a Dyrt pro membership that costs $35.99 a year (a seven-day trial is free). Other memberships such as Roadtrippers Plus ($29.99) and Harvest Hosts ($99) help locate campsites, RV parks and off-the-grid options that may be less popular.

KOA.com is another option for finding open camping spots. If a campground is booked for the date you want, it will suggest alternate dates that are available. 

By reading campsite descriptions on the KOA website, users can choose sites that are designed for handicap access. (For information about accessibility in national park campgrounds and visitor centers, check the NPS website.)

Recreation.gov and the mobile app offer easy filter options to find exactly what you want (tents, cabins, yurts, etc.) and information about accessible campsites for free.  

This year, timing is everything. Try to schedule your trip to avoid peak times. “Midweek is always a good time to camp. Other key times are spring and fall when kids might still be in school,” O’Rourke says.

Tips for zero-waste camping

Now that you’ve booked a camping trip, it’s time to think about how to have a more eco-conscious experience. Here are easy tips and tricks for being green outdoors.

  • Pitch your tent on a durable surface like packed gravel, preferably where people have camped before. 
  • Pack out whatever you packed in, including trash. 
  • Respect wildlife, and build fires only in established fire rings, pans or mounds. 
  • Consider purchasing a solar-powered lantern; a tent made from recycled materials; and a refillable water bottle. 
  • Instead of wrapping food in plastic, try reusable beeswax wraps.

It’s also important to identify what type of camping experience you’re looking for. KOA campgrounds, for example, might feel too developed for campers who prefer exploring the wilderness, but for beginners or those getting back into camping after an absence, the amenities can prove helpful.​

All KOA campgrounds, for example, have bathrooms with showers, laundry facilities, a store stocked with items like basic groceries and fire-starting equipment, and most have at least some pull-through RV sites, fenced off pet playgrounds and Wi-Fi coverage. Most also have swimming pools.

Try checking camping blogs for other tips, too. Just be prepared to pay more for a campsite: According to The Dyrt, almost half of private campgrounds owners raised rates in 2022, and 46 percent said they planned to raise them in 2023.

After all that, if you’re just not sure you’re ready to invest in all the gear that camping requires, consider staying someplace that does the work for you. Many public, state and private parks offer options like pre-set tents, tepees and cabins.

Several state parks in Florida offer accessible cabins, including Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, where hundreds of manatees spend the winter. At Abilene State Park in Texas, families can book a five-person yurt on a wooden frame, and one is accessible for wheelchairs. And at Makoshika State Park, the largest state park in Montana and home to fossilized remains of dinosaurs, visitors can stay in a tepee. 

The Campfire Ranch near Crested Butte opened recently with a mission of making camping easier. It’s tent camping only, but the park offers How to Build a Campfire clinics and rents everything from tents and sleeping bags to chairs and coolers. At the Dunes Desert Camp, set to open this summer near Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, visitors can stay in a safari tent.

Finding a camping spot may take a little more effort this year but Mother Nature is worth it. Just don’t forget the marshmallows.​

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