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How to Find Last Minute Camping
Who needs a plan when you know how to wing it
If you’re like me, it’s Wednesday afternoon or Thursday night before you even start thinking you might like to round up a few buddies and get away for the weekend. Way too late to snag a campsite anywhere.
Planning ahead isn’t exactly my strong suit, but finding loopholes in the system is. Stick with me and you’ll be cracking open a cold one in your very own campsite this weekend with no actual planning ahead on your part.
Go to www.recreation.gov.
Recreation.gov is your new best friend. Maybe even your new lover. Say hello.
That little search-bar right there in the middle is your ticket to a lifetime of adventure and stoke. Start by typing in Los Angeles (or whatever city you happen to live in) and prepare for liftoff.
You will realize very quickly that there are way way way more campgrounds around than you thought. As of June 2019, there are 233 campgrounds within a two-ish hour drive from LA you can reserve through recreation.gov (may the lord bless her and all her family.)
If you aren’t picky, you can select “campgrounds” on the left and search available campsites for a given date (tomorrow’s date, cause you forgot to plan.)
But you’ve got some class. You’re not looking for just any available campsite. You’re looking for a kick-ass next-level camping weekend you put zero preparation into whatsoever! You and me both.
We can do better. Ignore that search bar. Save yourself some time by remembering the Golden Rule of Camping: Always camp near water.
Look at campgrounds near Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Crystal Lake, or any other campgrounds with the words “lake” or “creek” in them that are next to the blue parts of the map. There is literally a campground called Lake Campground. I haven’t stayed there… but if there isn’t an actual lake I’m gonna flip a table.
Open any options you fancy in a new tab (this detail becomes important later). At this point, the more options the better. Quantity over quality.
Once you have a solid collection of open tabs, go through each of them (yes, one by one—it’s annoying) and enter your dates to check for sites.
Unless you are pocket-aces-lucky, there won’t be any sites available. Be not dismayed! We’ve not come this far to abandon our quest in the throes of unavailability!
This is all part of the game. This is where everyone else puts their dream on the shelf and you chase yours straight to the goddam finish line! This is the part where you hold fast and cling to your weekend of freedom.
Here’s what you do: You refresh every one of your open tabs as often as you can—at least every half hour. People. Always. Cancel. Always. Always always.
I know this sounds like playing the lottery, but I have never had this not work. This technique has worked for me dozens of times and in some of the most highly trafficked campgrounds in the country.
It requires some patience, yes. It also requires a job where you can afford to sit on a computer and click refresh on some web pages every so often. But eventually your patience will be rewarded and a site will become available.
When this happens, Strike Immediately. Recreation.gov (blessed be her sweet and glorious name) saves your spot for 15 minutes. You’ll have some time to figure out whether you actually want to stay in this site, but you don’t want to lose the opportunity!
From here, it’s pretty easy. You enter some info, how many people-ish are staying, credit card, and bingo-bango-bongo the camp hosts will already have your name and spot reserved for you when you show up.
All you have left to do now is send it!
Once you’re there, you’re on your own. But if you’re looking for some inspiration, consider reading: