What is a Walk-up Campsite?

Understanding the language of campgrounds and knowing the difference between a walk-up campsite and a walk-in campsite can make the experience go more smoothly. This can save you and your buddies from having to cancel a trip because the campground didn’t have enough campsites.

What is a walk-up campsite? With a walk-up campsite, you show up and request a campsite. Walk-up campsites don’t do reservations and operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. In the summer season, the campsites fill up fast on the weekends, so you must arrive early. 

In this article, we’re going to cover how this works and what you need to understand about walk-up campsites. Keep reading if you’d like a better understanding of this type of campsite.

What is a Walk-up Campsite?

Walk-up campsites mean no reservations. During the peak season, they may require reservations, but for the most part, these campsites work on a first-come-first-serve basis. Walk-up allows you to do a spontaneous getaway with your wife and kids.

You don’t have to plan through reservations, and campgrounds rarely allow reservations.

What is a Walk-up Campsite?
Walk-up Campsite in Arizona

Choosing a walk-up campsite will let you drive up to the campsite. You could be hauling a camper or boat behind your truck.

In the summer, around holidays like the Fourth of July, you may struggle to get a campsite with walk-up campsites.

How Do Walk-Up Campsites Work?

To get a campsite, show up and request one. If they have campsites, you will be able to head back to your designated site. In most cases, that will be enough to get you one.

The process is straightforward and easy to follow, but it can inconvenience you if you don’t arrive early as the other campers check out. Someone else could arrive and check in before you.

If you happened to be coming to Yellowstone from California, that can be incredibly annoying, which is why we feel it is worth mentioning.

Walk-Up vs Walk-In Campsites

Walk-up campsites differ from walk-in campsites in that you reserve walk-in campsites.

You rarely reserve walk-up campsites.

Going to a walk-up campsite, you will drive your car right up into the lot. Your neighbors do the same. Usually, you don’t get as much privacy with walk-up campsites, and your neighbors could have a site 20 to 25 feet from you.

What are walk-in campsites? A walk-in campsite means that you will walk into the campsite from the parking lot.

You have to drag in your camping gear from the parking lot. In some cases, the parking lot could be up to a mile from the site, but you have the advantage that these sites will usually have more privacy and quiet. You don’t hear car doors slamming or cars driving past.

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Normally, your site will sit farther from the other campers, whereas walk-up campsites might be 15 to 25 feet from the next site.

How to Get a Walk-up Campsite

We’ve mentioned how difficult getting a walk-up campsite can be in the peak season, especially at the national parks where they might fill up fast. What can you do to get a walk-up campsite? 

Tip #1: Arrive Early

In most cases, you won’t have a problem picking up a walk-up campsite as long as you arrive before 11 am.

Arriving before 11 am, the walk-up campsites will have camping enthusiasts checking out.

Don’t do this on Saturday if you can help it. If you can’t be there on Friday, have a friend book it on Friday and camp there.

Many times, campers will arrive for the weekend on Friday and stay till Sunday. If you can’t book a walk-up campsite on Friday, you may have problems booking a site because few if any people will leave on Saturday. Campers usually stay for the weekend.

Especially take care to arrive early at national parks over the Fourth of July. One of the hardest times to get a campsite is the Fourth of July because many people will have Fourth of July plans.

Tip #2: Arrive on a Weekday

One of the best times to book a walk-up campsite is early on a Monday or a Sunday morning when everyone else clears out. However, you may not want to camp for that long.

You could also book on a Thursday or Wednesday night and still have plenty of time to hold the campsite. To be clear, you may still want to arrive before 11 am, but this can help you to get a site because the demand for camping drops on weekdays as most people return to the office.

At the national parks, arriving at a campsite can make it easier to book at most national parks, except the busiest. Yellowstone tends to keep a steady flow of traffic even on the weekdays in the summer. It might still be busy, but the crowds dissipate on the weekdays.

Tip #3: Go at the Off-Season

National parks like Yellowstone have five times fewer visitors from December to March. 

You can still book a walk-up campsite even during the on-season, but if you want to experience the park with fewer crowds, try the off-season. 

Going during the off-season is one of the ways that you can guarantee a spot at the campsite. All campsites become walk-up campsites in the off-season. 

Tip #4: Have an Alternative

Walk-up campsites, serve campers on a first-come-first-serve basis, which means that you can’t reserve a site

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The busier national parks may be trickier. You might look around for other walk-up campsites in case the one you want has been filled up. In some cases, you might have to settle for a motel room.

Following the tips and tricks above increases the chances that you book a site.

FAQ: Walk-up Campsites

What does a walk-up campsite mean? 

Walk-up campsites differ from walk-in campsites in that you can’t reserve them. These are the two main types. Walk-ups work on a first-come-first-serve basis, which can be advantageous. Provided you arrive early as other people clear out, you don’t have to worry that all the campsites were already booked in advance.

The walk-up campsite exists for that purpose.

How to get a walk-up campsite? 

The main thing to understand with walk-up campsites is that you want to arrive early before 11 am to pick up sites before other campers can book the site. Before 11 am, some of the other campers will check out.

When can you claim a walk-up campsite?

You can claim a walk-up campsite at any time during the week or on weekdays, but you do have more favorable times to claim one. Any time in the afternoon could be questionable.

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One to two hours before checkout is the best time to claim a walk-up campsite. Most walk-up campsites will sell out on the weekends before lunchtime. During the busy season, going before the weekend ensures that you can claim a walk-up campsite.

Walk-up Campsite: Conclusion

If you follow these tips and tricks, getting a walk-up campsite won’t be impossible even at national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. Going in during the peak season requires planning, but if you do it right, you can open a spot for yourself even where one didn’t exist.

That’s where the advantage of walk-up campsites comes in at.

Summary: A walk-up campsite keeps traffic at the campground flowing, and it ensures that the sites don’t remain solidly booked at national parks where they could remain busy throughout the year, especially in the summer. Understanding the unique language of campgrounds can make navigating them easier. 

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