How To RV Camp Without Reservations

Ben and Christina McMillan's RV parked in a grassy field next to their truck

Our preferred way to travel and camp in our RV is without reservations. And while we understand this is not a possibility for everyone, we still try to encourage others to embrace the detours. We’ve been RVing full-time for almost five years, and we’ve been very successful when it comes to finding campsites without reservations. A key part of that is remaining open to the unexpected and having a willingness to try new things, but we’ve also gathered a few other helpful tips and learnings along the way. Here are our tips for RV camping without reservations.

Always Have A Backup Plan

This is an important thing to remember, even if you’re planning to stay at a campground or RV park that takes reservations, but it’s especially critical if you’re trying to go reservation-free. We typically have a plan A, B and C for where we’re going to stay. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up at plan C and wondered why that wasn’t our initial plan A. Sometimes the backup plans end up being way better than expected.

Find The Road Less Traveled

We like to ask fellow RVers and locals what their favorite destinations are, and we specifically ask for non-touristy spots. Especially during peak travel seasons, we try to avoid really popular places. Going to areas where others aren’t as likely to go gives us more flexibility to find amazing boondocking locations and campgrounds that have availability. We’ve found that looking about 100 miles away from the really popular spots will still give you just as much beauty with way less crowds. There are so many little towns that we would never have had the chance to enjoy had we stuck to a must-see itinerary.

Embrace Shoulder Seasons

Don’t get us wrong, we’ve been to plenty of popular places and visited numerous national parks, but this is where embracing the shoulder seasons becomes critical. Shoulder seasons vary from place to place but it’s typically the time of year when a place is slower and has less visitors. It’s the period between the peak season and the off-season. For example, if summer is the peak season and winter is the off-season, then early spring and late fall would be the shoulder seasons. Most national parks follow this same shoulder season schedule, so we try to visit popular parks during the spring and fall. We also research which national park campgrounds are first-come, first-serve and not on an advanced reservation system, as the reserved campgrounds are often booked a year in advance. The great thing about first-come, first-serve campgrounds is that most sites have a tag that notifies you when the camper is going to be leaving so you can plan accordingly.

Ben and Christina McMillan's RV boondocking near a national park

Additional Tips For RVing Without Reservations

  1. Pick a general area that you want to visit but stay flexible. Make sure you have a few different places to choose from in case one doesn’t work out, and use helpful apps like Campendium to view photos of the actual campsite.

  2. Try to move on weekdays. We’ve learned that the middle of the week is the best time to score a last minute cancellation at a popular destination, and the best time for first-come, first-serve campgrounds. This can sometimes be a challenge during peak seasons like summer but weekday arrivals still seem to offer more options.

  3. Don’t be hesitant to stay just one night somewhere. Harvest Hosts and other RV camping programs are great if you’re just passing through and need to camp somewhere for a single night. Casinos, fairgrounds and big-box store parking lots (Bass Pro, Walmart, Cracker Barrel) are also good options for a night, but make sure you call ahead as certain city ordinances do not allow overnight parking. And lastly, select truck stops and rest areas also offer overnight RV parking.

  4. Learn to boondock. If you can camp without hookups, then you’ll have significantly more options to choose from. On travel days, we like to make sure our RV is completely ready to go off-grid in case campgrounds are full or we happen to find a great Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spot. Getting your RV boondock ready includes filling your freshwater tank, emptying your gray and black water tanks, topping off your propane, and charging all of your devices.

  5. Just go for it. RVing without reservations can be intimidating but you never know what you may be missing. Do some research, prep your RV and take a chance!

RV Camping Locations

Here are a few of our favorite places that we camped at without any advanced reservations:
Ben and Christina McMillan's RV boondocking next to a lake at sunset

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are the most popular type of non-motorized RV. No doubt you’ve seen one pulled down the highway hitched to a car or pickup. Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive house-on-wheels with picture windows and a sliding glass patio door.

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An travel trailer RV parked in a green field.