What is a Walk-Up Campsite?

What is a Walk-Up Campsite

The sensation of being lost in lingo happens a lot when you take up a new hobby like camping. Sometimes all the new words and phrases can feel a little overwhelming. Fortunately, we’re here to help demystify things as much as possible for you. And today we’re going to answer the following question: what is a walk-up campsite? (Also, because we’re nice, we aren’t just going to give you a boring definition! Phew.)

More importantly, we’ll also give you the lowdown on how to survive the world of walk-up campsites. Let’s get started, shall we?!

the inside of a tent in a campsite

What is a Walk-Up Campsite?

Basically speaking, a walk-up campsite is a campsite that cannot be booked in advance. It’s a campsite that runs exclusively on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no calling ahead, no emailing, no online booking system. You just turn up – if they have space, you’re in! If they don’t, keep on walking.

Why do They Exist?

If you’re new to the world of hiking and camping you might not know that it can actually be a massive pain in the rear end to book a camping spot. A lot of National Park campgrounds can get booked up weeks, if not months in advance. Especially if a holiday weekend is involved.

Online booking is generally done through the National Park Reservation System, which opens for bookings a full six months in advance. That’s right, six months! So to be 100% certain of a spot in August you have to book your spot in February. WHO is that organized?!

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with booking months in advance, being organized is a good trait. But we ask you again, seriously, who is that organized?! Sometimes the urge to camp is a little more spontaneous than that. And that’s where walk-up campsites come in. They let us mere mortals have a chance to go camping on a whim.

Are Walk-In Campsites the Same Thing?

No sirree, Bob! They certainly are not. A Walk-In Campsite and a Walk-Up Campsite are two different things with confusingly similar names. Walk-In refers to the fact there is no road access, you can’t just rock up with your car. You have to – as the name suggests – walk yourself in. Or rather, hike in. To be honest, calling them Hike-In campsites would’ve solved this whole confusing problem.

Now, just to confuse matters a little further, a Walk-In campsite can also be a Walk-Up campsite. The two are not mutually exclusive. Walk-In campsites may or may not need pre-booking. And since you will be walking there, it is even more important you check in advance.

(A Walken Campsite, incidentally, is one owned and operated by actor Christopher Walken. We don’t know if he requires bookings or not. You’d have to ask him.)

group of campers gathered around a bonfire

What is Walk-Up Season All About?

Camping is quite a seasonal activity. Most folks do it during the warmer summer of months of the year. You know, when the sun shines. During the low season, campsites tend to be pretty quiet places. As a result, to save on resources, the National Park Service booking system goes offline. Which turns every campsite into a defacto Walk-Up campsite. Hence the name Walk-Up Season.

Walk-Up Campsite Need-to-Knows

In brief, here are a few things you really need to keep in mind before entering the world of Walk-Up Campsites:

  1. Campsites, like hotels, have a check-out time. Typically an hour or two before lunch, usually 10am or 11am. The best way for you to ensure you’re going to bag yourself a spot for the night is to turn up in advance of that checkout time. Then you can observe which campers are leaving and snag yourself a spot.
  2. First-come, first-serve means exactly that: the earlier you get to the campsite, the closer to the front of the queue you will be. Now of course, you have to weigh up how early you want to get up with how much you want a spot.
  3. Always have a backup plan. Spots within some campsites in popular parks are like gold dust. No matter how early you arrive, there always seems to be someone there. Don’t let this derail your entire day. Be flexible. Be like water. Have a backup campsite in mind and keep on moving.
  4. Be prepared to compromise. Not every spot in a campsite is equal. Some are quiet, bucolic and picturesque. Others are near the bins, the toilets or even worse, next to that super loud family who insists on playing one Taylor Swift song over and over. (Don’t get us wrong, we are Swifties but it can be hard to shake off the same song on repeat.) Weigh up your options.
  5. Get ahead of the crowds and think about starting your camping weekend on a Thursday. Crazy idea, right?! But it just might work. The hordes will rock up on Friday to find you and your merry band of campers already well-established in the plushest spot in the campsite. Happy days!

Final Thoughts: Be Early and Be Flexible

Ok, so now you know the answer to the question: “what is a walk-up campsite?”, you’ve got no excuse for not getting out there into our astonishing countryside and taking advantage of them. Go. Go now!

Before you do, remember: camping should be a relaxing activity. Being out and about in nature is a privilege and it should be stress-relieving, not stress-inducing. Booking a campsite in advance will definitely take some of the risks out of the process but it isn’t always that easy. Walk-Up Campsites are a great resource.

Just remember, get there early, be prepared to compromise and have a backup plan. As with everything in life, the more flexible you are, the happier a time you will have.

Happy camping!

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