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last minute camping reservations

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  • When it comes to traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, vacation rentals are generally agreed upon by experts to be safer than hotels.
  • Camping, however, is likely to quell nerves even further as there’s far less risk when staying in remote areas and pitching your own tent.
  • According to the North American Camping Report, 47% of leisure travelers who like to camp plan to do so in place of one of their canceled trips this year.
  • As a result, many traditional campsites are booking up fast, but these lesser-known sites offer convenient alternatives when national parks are full or if you’re new to camping.
  • Read more: 17 best campsites across the US for a scenic outdoor getaway

After hitting another dead end on Recreation.gov, I was just about to give up on my dream of a last-minute, mid-September camping trip to Washington’s Central Cascades. The site was either already booked up for every weekend until Thanksgiving, was located too far, or didn’t provide enough amenities to satisfy my camping troupe.

As my desired weekend inched closer, I felt more and more like I was in over my head, until I remembered, “doesn’t Airbnb list campsites?”

Indeed they do. Scroll through the search filters and you’ll find a box to check: Campsite.

I quickly came across a private campsite that fit all my needs. Not only was it available, but as with all Airbnb listings, I could see that it was well-reviewed, with a clear breakdown of pricing and policies.

However, at approximately $100 per night, the site I booked was admittedly five times more expensive than a federal campsite. But, it was located on private property with panoramic views, included a toilet and running water, and was very remote for safe social distancing. 

As my trip approached, I discovered another benefit to booking this way. Wildfires were resulting in toxic air actually hovering above my weekend plans. Thankfully, rescheduling on Airbnb was easy. All I had to do was directly communicate my concerns to the host who graciously allowed me to postpone twice while waiting for the smoke to clear.

Had I managed to squeeze in a reservation at a federal campsite, there wouldn’t have been an easy way to reschedule and I would have incurred a cancellation fee.

As such, if you’re a latecomer to camping like I am, it’s important to know that there are many options to consider besides federal sites, which are likely to be booked in your area as well. And Airbnb is only one such other offering. 

But you may still encounter some competition as many travelers seek safer ways to travel close to home right now. In May, RV booking sites reported over 1000% increases in RV rentals and Kampgrounds of America (KOA) reported that advanced reservations for the fall months are 28% higher than they were in 2019. 

Keep in mind that while campgrounds, and especially private campsites, are largely a safer alternative to hotel stays, there is still no guarantee of safety when it comes to travel right now. We always recommend following guidelines from the CDC and checking local and state regulations before making any travel plans. It’s also wise to read up on the CDC’s recommendations for best practices for visiting parks and recreation facilities. Additionally, there are currently unprecedented wildland fire conditions in the US and some campsite locations may be closed right now.  

That said, if you do want to pitch a tent, these platforms make it easy to search for, plan, and book, great camping getaways. Additionally, KOA and ReserveAmerica are two good resources to keep in mind where you can easily search a large number of campgrounds quickly for availability. However, many of the campsites listed are the same as those you’ll find on Recreation.gov and other popular aggregator sites — which means they may not help you out when it comes to finding under-the-radar spots to book in a pinch. Experienced campers can also look to pitch a tent on public lands away from developed recreation facilities on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas.

But for those not quite ready to set off on a backcountry trek, I’ve compiled the following list and recommendations based on my experiences, along with extensive research, and selected platforms that offer an easy booking experience and solid availability of campsites over the next few months. Additionally, several sites listed below offer private campsite bookings, which is particularly relevant in the COVID era. 

These are the best lesser-known websites for finding a last-minute campsite.