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What Is “First-Come, First-Served” Camping (and Why It’s Awesome)

What Is “First-Come, First-Served” Camping (and Why It’s Awesome)

Claiming “finders keepers” may not always make things fair, but thankfully first-come, first-served camping is another story.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: The first person at the campsite gets the spot. You might have to wake up early to snag your spot, but we think it’s worth the trouble.

Today, we’ll see what first-come, first-served camping is and why you should go for it.

Let’s take a look!

What Is “First-Come, First-Served” Camping?

First-come, first-served camping is a great way to camp without reservations or plans. Campgrounds in national parks tend to fill up quickly, and any openings go to whoever is first in line.

Sometimes campgrounds will set aside a few spots outside their reservation system, so they always have something available for the first couple of people in line. Some campgrounds don’t allow reservations at all, which means there are plenty of open spots for impulsive travelers. 

Pro Tip: Almost every boondocking spot is first come first served.

How Does First-Come, First-Served Camping Work?

The first people who show up to the campground can choose from whichever spots are available. Just wait in line, pay in cash, and set up camp. It’s smart to have a backup plan for when a campground is busier than anticipated.

You may also have to try again on a different day.

How to Get a First-Come, First-Served Campsite

Find out when check out is and arrive much earlier. You can call the park ranger and ask for recommendations on the best time to get there to score a spot, especially if you’re already familiar with the park.

It also helps to go when it isn’t too busy, such as during the week or off-season. 

Benefits of First-Come, First-Served Camping

Sometimes it’s fun doing something impulsive. It can be part of the overall experience and add to the adventure. If you can’t get a reservation or decide to go on a last-minute camping trip, it’s reassuring to know you can just show up and possibly get a spot.

While this method of camping isn’t as reliable, it’s great for travelers who aren’t able to plan months in advance. 

Chance to Get an Epic Campsite

You never know when someone will cancel their vacation last minute and give a lucky camper the chance to step in and claim their campsite. You have more of a chance to camp if you’re not picky.

Plus, if you’re patient enough to get there early and wait a while, you might just get a prime spot. 

Ability to Stay in the Heart of National Parks

National parks get busy, especially on summer weekends; however, most of them try to keep a few campsites open for first-come, first-served camping. You may also catch some people leaving early or canceling their reservations, opening up a gorgeous spot.

Even if you don’t get the spot you want, at least you’ll be in the park and able to explore. 

Typically Lower Costs

Most parks have a reservation fee, so if you’re able to snag a spot without a reservation, you’ll only have to pay the overnight cost. Just make sure to have cash, preferably exact change, to cover the payment.

Cards aren’t always accepted. Even if there are ATMs, you would have to leave your place in line and give up your spot. 

Which Places Use First-Come, First-Served Camping? 

Usually, state or national parks will have a section for first-come, first-served camping. Some campgrounds are only walk-in, with no reservations. However, campsites are still recovering from the pandemic and may have changed their policies.

Yosemite is one of the national parks that has switched to only reservations with no walk-ins, so it’s important to do your research before hitting the road. 

Win With First-Come, First-Served Camping!

While some national parks are switching completely to reservation-only, there are still plenty of first-come, first-served campgrounds. So if you’re feeling a sudden urge to pack the car and take off this weekend, do a little research and bring some cash.

Maybe you’ll make friends while waiting in long lines for campsites, or just enjoy the peace and quiet of being in nature. Either way, it’s a win.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

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  1. Mike K says:

    Tried to make reservations 3 months out. All the spots were taken. At Ft. Robinson they did have some first come first serve sites. So we gave it a try. Got there about 11:00 am and got the last full service site.
    They did have quite a few electric only sites that weren’t reserved available though.
    If you are ever in the northwest corner of Nebraska give this state park a try you won’t be disappointed!