Last Updated on September 1, 2021
A walk-in campsite is one where you park outside the grounds, and then you have to walk to the campsite with all of your gear. There is no parking space within the grounds. Like regular campsites, walk-in campsites require prior reservation.
On the other hand, a walk-up campsite does not require a reservation. You can simply "walk-up" to the site, and if you are fortunate, you will find a spot to camp. Walk-up campsites may or may not allow you to take your car to the campsite, depending on the rules of the specific camping ground.
What Is a Walk-In Campsite?
Walk-in campsites do not have parking adjacent to the site. Therefore, you will have to walk the distance between the car parking and the camping site. This distance can sometimes be as much as a mile, but is not always this long.
Reservations in advance
You can make reservations for walk-in campsites, unlike walk-up grounds. You can make reservations using the National Park Reservation system.
Quietude and Picturesque views
Since the site and the car park are a distance from each other, you are likely to find more serenity and privacy in a walk-in campsite. The pathway for reaching the camping ground could also turn out to be a lovely walk in the woods, with no sounds of people getting in and out of cars.
In addition to being cleaner, greener, and more picturesque, a site like this can also boast beautiful views. Ask avid hikers and they will tell you how much they love the idea of walking up to the campsite. After all, the picture at the top is worth the climb.
As walk-in campsites are located away from the parking area, you will have to carry your gear and baggage to the site.
A way to make this easier would be to minimize your equipment and decide wisely on what to take. When getting out of your car, consider leaving behind whatever you are unlikely to use.
Another solution is to bring a wagon or a trolley to carry all of your things, just like you would do at an airport.
If you encounter sudden rains or weather changes, you might have to make a run to the parking spot, bringing all of your gear with you.
Research the weather conditions in advance of your trip so that you are best prepared. Of course, it always helps to pack light and take only as much gear as you need.
What is a Walk-Up Campsite?
Booking a camp spot at popular national parks is no easy task. You can make reservations for national parks on the National Reservation System. However, when making reservations, you are likely to encounter "unavailable" and "reserved" fairly often, especially during peak season.
Walk-up campsites are the W's that show up when you try making a booking on the National Reservation System. Though you may find quite a few of them in the off-season, they will often be booked full during the summer season.
Walk-up campsites cannot be booked ahead of time. They function on a first-come, first-serve basis. Just show up at the campsite early and hope to get a spot, or else try your luck with the next one.
When should you use a walk-up campsite?
Thanks to walk-up campsites, you can camp without reservations. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty involved. Having a booked campsite can reduce many problems for you.
However, walk-up campsites do have a lot of utility: If you make sudden plans, or you can't find a reservation for a normal campsite, a walk-up campsite may be your only option.
No prior reservations
If you were not able to make reservations for the peak season beforehand, you still have a chance to go camping at a walk-up campsite.
You may not get a campsite at all, as you can drive to a walk-up campsite only to find that it is full. That can be extremely annoying if you are driving a long distance.
Camping does not favor the unprepared
While your plans may be sudden, camping is not a spontaneous activity by nature. Experienced campers know and understand the value of planning and carrying all necessary gear to the campsite.
That's why, even though you may just be trying your luck at a walk-up campsite, you still have to carry all the necessary gear. Be prepared. Otherwise, you might end up having to go home even if you do get access to a site.
Lack of privacy
Walk-up campsites can be chaotic; you might end up with another camper just 50 feet away from you. Having nearby campers means you will have to compromise on privacy. If the other campers are noisy, you might end up having a more uncomfortable time than the quiet camping trip that you wanted.
While walk-up sites are not necessarily the worst camping sites, they are usually not the best of the lot.
Things to Keep In Mind Before Heading for a Walk-up Campsite
Arrive at a walk-up campsite before anyone else does. Just like at a hotel, most walk-up campsites have a 10am checkout time. To snag a spot early, you should get there by 9:30am, just when the previous day's campers are leaving. Remember, walk-up sites are first-come, first-serve, so being ahead in line will increase your chance of getting a spot.
Large groups can turn out luckier
If you are in a large group and going to a privately-owned campsite, your chances of getting a last-minute walk-up campsite may improve. Many people checking in together might get lucky because some owners keep last-minute spots for bigger groups.
More on this: 5 Ways to Camp Better with Others
This is simple math; the more people, the more profit for the campsite owner. Try to get a bigger group together if you want to increase your chances of securing a walk-up campsite.
Call to check beforehand
It is always better to make calls beforehand and know the status of the campsites you want to visit. You can find contact numbers online or through acquaintances.
Have a plan B
Despite your best efforts, it is possible that luck will not be with you. So have a plan B chalked out if things don't work out at the walk-up campsite. Try to visit campsites that have multiple adventure options nearby so that you can try your hand at other things if the camping plan does not work out.
Check for other walk-up campsites in the vicinity.
Prepare a list of multiple options on hand in case you don't get a slot at the first walk-up site.
Decide on your best option in advance
You should not respond with, "We'll let you know soon", when you are being offered a site. The moment you start to hesitate, the person in charge may give the spot to someone else. Even if you are getting a site next to the port-a-potties, consider taking it because it might be the only one that's going to be available that day.
Walk-In Campsite vs. Walk-Up Campsite
Walk-in sites work on reservations; you have to book them in advance. In most cases, if you are going to a popular campsite in-season, you will have to book months in advance.
Walk-up camping is camping without reservations. You arrive at the campsite early in the day, and when the last night's campers start to check out, hopefully, you will get a spot to camp.
Walk-up camping is a very spontaneous activity, whereas walk-in camping requires more planning (since you have to carry all your gear in your hands from the car lot to the site).
Frequently Asked Questions
What does walk-up season mean?
Walk-up season is a name for the months when walk-up sites are functional, mainly outside the peak season. During peak season, there is usually far too much occupancy to offer first-come-first-serve campsites, which is why walk-up sites are found mostly in off-season.
What equipment should I bring along?
Here is a list of essential items to bring along for camping:
Tents and Sleeping bags
What is camping without a bonfire? To get a fire started more easily, bring a lighter or matches with you.
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Carry weather-appropriate, comfortable clothes and an extra pair depending on the period of your stay.
It is good to have all important first aid items at all times in your backpack. A first-aid kit becomes even more important when going for a hike.
It would be best if you don’t need to rely on your phone’s flashlight for wayfinding in the dark. There are several camping flashlights or headlights available in the market that you can bring with you.