No Reservation Tips for Last Minute Camping
So you want to get away this weekend but you didn’t plan ahead and you have no campsite reservation. Maybe you didn’t expect temperatures in the high twenties this early in the season (on an actual weekend) maybe you had other plans that fell through or maybe you just aren’t the “planning type.”
Regardless of your reason for not booking a campsite it’s now Friday morning you’ve decided to go camping this weekend and you have no idea where to go. Will you even be able to find a site large enough for an RV last minute without a reservation?
What are your Options for Last Minute Campsites?
1. Try to get a first come-first served campsite
Try to get a campsite at a non-reservable campground or at a first come-first served (FCFS) campsite.
Visit the Alberta Parks website for a complete list of FCFS campsites in Alberta Parks broken down by park and indicating how many sites are available without a reservation.
The National Parks maintain some non-reservable campgrounds and all of the campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway in Banff/Jasper National Parks are first come-first served (FCFS) – which is good news for long weekends and summer vacation camping.
Note: if you are planning to find a FCFS site it helps if you can leave town Friday morning or by noon at the very latest. If can leave on Thursday this will better your chances to get a spot too!
2. Private campgrounds are often your best friend if you’re camping last minute.
Call around to private campgrounds and RV parks where you can often find a last minute cancelation. I’ve had great luck finding sites over long weekends when most other parks were completely full. A further bonus is that most private campgrounds have plenty of large sites for RVs with full hook ups.
3. Look for last minute cancellations at reservable campgrounds.
Earlier this season we made a sudden decision to go camping the following weekend so that we could test out our new trailer somewhere close to home. I went on the Alberta Parks reservation website and started looking for sites in Bow Valley Provincial Park. I found a few free sites but they weren’t on the waterfront like I wanted.
I waited a few days and sites started to clear up on the reservation website. It helped that the weather forecast was predicting rain for the following weekend! By Tuesday or Wednesday before the coming weekend there were tons of amazing campsites that had become available and I was able to snag one of the premier power sites in the Bow Valley Campground.
While you may not get lucky with last minute cancelations in the middle of July or August it’s worth a shot. Just go to the Reservation Website for your chosen area ( Alberta Provincial Parks BC Parks or the National Parks ) and see what you can find.
4. Flexibility will save you everytime.
Go to a reservation website narrow your search down by a general area and see what pops up. While you might not be able to get into the exact campground you want to go to there are usually other lesser known ones nearby. This is what we’re doing over the August long weekend this year because we couldn’t get into a popular park in BC. We ended up booking into a private RV campground 5 minutes away and we’ll just day trip to the provincial park we want to play in.
You can also bring up google maps and search for all campgrounds near the spot you want to stay. We’ve found some totally obscure campgrounds this way and they’ve always worked out just fine.
Flexibility to try a new area (Northern Alberta anyone?) might help you find that new favourite campground or park. We recently camped in NE Alberta over the May long weekend after deciding late in the game that we actually wanted to camp that weekend. The result was finding a new campground that was stunningly beautiful and a great place to camp.
There’s usually something out there for folks willing to exercise a bit of creativity and willing to get off the beaten path a little bit. Have a great camping season!