How to Find a Last-Minute Campsite for Unplanned Adventures

How to Find a Last-Minute Campsite for Unplanned Adventures

How to Find a Last-Minute Campsite for Unplanned Adventures

I’m allergic to planning.

Pair that with my spontaneous nature, and love of last-minute adventure travel, and you’ll understand that I have my fair share of stories to tell about finding campsites last minute. In fact, I’m probably an expert in non-preparedness at this point in my life. Add kids into the mix, and you’d think we’d have the perfect recipe for a disaster.

Not so – having spent most of my life living on this kind of edge, I’ve learned a thing or two about the street smarts of camping, and particularly, how to meet our mutual need to sleep.

In fact, I’d beg to say that travelling and living in this manner, while admittedly carrying its fair share of stress, has some marvelously wonderful benefits.

For instance, you get the freedom to take you where your heart desires. You are not tied to a specific campsite, so you are free to roam where the wind and your wheels take you.

And you can embrace carpe diem – seize the day – through increased comfort in embracing last minute adventures! For a lover of spontaneity, that alone is worth its weight in gold.

Last May, we took our toddler on a last-minute camping trip to Capitol Reef National Park.

Toddler Camping at Capital Reef National Park

As my husband drove down the highway on our impromptu adventure, I took some time to research campgrounds in the area. After using my tried-and-true tactics, described below, we pulled into a campsite right outside the Park in the dark. We pulled our toddler out of the car and his mouth immediately fell open as he looked up in awe at a sky full of stars.

In the morning, we packed up, spent a fun day in the Park, and ended up in the remote Cathedral Valley district at the end of the day. Upon discovering all the Park designated campsites in the area were full, we again used our tried-and-true tactics and found a site just outside the park on Forest Service land, and spent a lovely final evening camping.

The next day, we headed home through Fishlake National Forest and enjoyed a beautiful area we unintentionally got to explore.

Hiking at Capital Reef
The Jones family at Capital Reef National Park

Here are a few tips and tricks to finding a campsite for your own last-minute adventure:

1) Use an App: Have a campsite app downloaded on your phone and use it to find campsites in the area. I’ve had good lucking using both The Dyrt and Campendium apps. For instance, the night we pulled up to Capitol Reef, we found a site using Campendium.

2) Check the Relevant Area Websites: If you’re headed to a National Park, check the Park’s website for camping information. They’ll often have info on both Park campgrounds and primitive camping nearby outside of the Park. The same goes for BLM, Forest Service, and State Park land.

For instance, the campsite we enjoyed in Fishlake National Forest was found using the Capitol Reef National Park and Forest Service websites. Both pointed us to dispersed camping areas on Forest Service land. I like to take screenshots of relevant information/maps on my phone in case we run out of internet service.

3) Ask Around: If you’re really struggling to find a campsite, or run out of internet service without any ideas of where to camp, ask rangers/visitor center staff/other campers/hikers/etc. for site recommendations.

4) Keep a List of Recommended Last-Minute Campsites: We all have favorite recreational areas that we return to time and again. For these special places, I like to keep a mental list of potential last-minute campsites. I add to this list through my own experience, but also by asking others who have recently traveled to the area for their recommendations.

Keep in mind that it’s easier to find last-minute campsites in less popular areas and during off-seasons. We’ve traveled to places like Moab in the off-season and had tremendous success claiming some of the best campsites in the area. Sites that are never vacant during the popular season.

These days, when designated campsite bookings fill up far in advance, and well-known walk-up campsites reach capacity quickly, it is essential to keep in your back pocket alternative methods for finding campsites.

That way, when you roll into town on your impromptu adventure, you can spend less time worrying about where to camp, and more time having fun as a family.

Happy Camping!

Lexi Jones
Lexi is an outdoor adventurer, mother of two littles – Indy (2 years) and Albion (6 months), an attorney, and former journalist and archaeologist. Lexi has never met a trail she didn’t like (although tears have certainly been shed on a few) and could talk outdoor recreation all day. You can find Lexi chasing the wildflowers, spending as much time as possible in the great outdoors, and sharing basic wilderness skills, and tips and tricks on getting outside by yourself and with your Littles, on Instagram at @BeeUtahFull.