Those tens of millions of campers are thinking ahead, too. According to Dan Yates, founder and managing director of Pitchup.com, campsite, glampsite and RV-park bookings for late summer are up 98 percent compared with this time last year, and up 106 percent from this time in 2019.
Want to get in on the outdoors yourself? Here are tips from industry experts on finding the perfect spot for you, no matter how you like to camp.
The traditional way
If you’re going for a classic national- or state-park campsite experience, a common resource experts recommend is Recreation.gov, where you will find 103,000 individual recreation sites and 3,600 facilities. The site also allows users to enter lotteries for popular permits, such as overnight stays in Mount Rainier National Park backcountry.
Other resources to check out are Reserve America, Campendium, the Dyrt, Pitchup.com and Campspot, as well as going directly to a park’s website. These apps and websites allow you to browse amenities — does the site have a bathroom? Is it kid- and pet-friendly? — and see reviews, among other helpful pre-trip info.
LaSondra Pryce, an REI camping and backpacking instructor, also references campsite reviews on TripAdvisor, looking both at the most recent entries and ones from the same time the year before, to see what the weather was like and pack accordingly.
“Campsites are worth their weight in gold in many locations,” said Buteux, who has driven more than 17,000 miles in camper vans himself.
If you can’t secure a reservation inside a popular park such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, you have some workarounds. You can try getting to first-come-first-serve spots (you’ll have a better shot during the week than on weekends) or use Campnab, a service that alerts users when a spot in sold-out campsites becomes available. Pryce, meanwhile, says she scours Facebook groups where people post about campsite reservations they no longer need.
You can also book a site near, but not inside, a national park. For example, Campspot advertises camping destinations within an hour’s drive of national parks, such as Slickrock Campground, in Utah, just 3.4 miles from Arches National Park. Pryce also suggests Googling “camping near [insert park of your choice]” to find smaller parks and campsites with more availability.
The sharing-economy way
We have Uber and Lyft for ride-sharing, Vrbo for house-sharing, and, naturally, a few sharing-economy options for campsites as well. Hipcamp and Tentrr connect campers with landowners for private campground opportunities, listing RV parks, tent camping, cabins, treehouses and glamping options across the country.
Pryce has also, on occasion, turned to another sharing-economy powerhouse.
“If you really, really want to go to a park, you can probably find someone on Airbnb who’s letting people camp in their backyard,” she said. “I’ve done that a couple times. It’s admittedly not as cool as the park, but it’s possible.”
The free way
As more Americans rush for the traditional options, others may want to explore dispersed camping: camping, usually free, outside of a designated campsite.
Adam Edwards, an arborist and backpacking guide, refers to maps on Gaia and the Dyrt to find public land for dispersed camping, as well as information such as how long you are allowed to stay. His advice to dispersed-camping newcomers is to look for places to stay near water and shade, and to leave the area “better than you found it.” That includes learning how to dispose of your waste appropriately or pack it out. “Take only pictures and leave with only memories,” he advised.
“There’s so much out there for digital” resources, Garmire said, “but I still think the best resources are checking in with the Forest Service and talking to a ranger, because they’ve actually been out there, and there’s a lot of misinformation or poor information on the Internet as well.”
For those new to dispersed camping, Garmire said it is essential to learn the rules of the area (including when/whether campfires are allowed) and not to crowd other campers should you come across any.
“If it’s an area where there are multiple campsites, give each group their space,” he said. “It’s just courteous to go a little bit farther away and give each person their own experience in the wilderness.”
Other good options to reference are the Bureau of Land Management website and Google Maps, where you can pinpoint a good spot to stay near water or near trails within your permitted area.
The RV way
With RV sales and rentals through the roof since the pandemic hit, you may be one of the many Americans getting into the craze this year.
Philip Westfall, director of marketing for RV rental marketplace RVezy, recommends using Campspot to find larger commercial sites or RV Trip Wizard for more mom-and-pop rental options. If you’re in a bind and in need of a last-minute option, his pick is Overnight RV Parking.
Renters can also ask RV owners for their camping suggestions. “They’re so passionate about telling you exactly what to do that it’s probably your best source of information for renters,” Westfall said.
For those interested in being near the finer things in life, Westfall also suggests Harvest Hosts, which connects RVers to distinctive places to camp, such as wineries, breweries, golf courses, distilleries, farms and museums. “Roughing it,” after all, doesn’t always have to be rough.
Travel during the pandemic: