Do you enjoy traveling in your RV across the country and seeing the many sights and sounds throughout the United States? Have you ever taken off without planning a specific schedule or reserving a spot for your RV? If so, you should look for various first come, first serve camping spots.
If you want to learn what first come, first serve camping entails and where to find these types of camping spots, keep reading the tutorial below.
Ready to learn about first come, first serve camping? Then let’s get started!
What Is First Come, First Serve Camping?
First come, first serve camping sites means you cannot reserve the spot ahead of time. You need to get there in person with your RV to book the camping site. As long as you’re the first one there, you will get that camping site for your RV.
First come, first serve camping is meant for campgrounds that book up quickly and are high in demand. There are usually a few parking spots for your RV retained on a first-come, first-serve basis.
These campsites, however, often don’t have hookups for electricity, water, or sewers. As such, your RV will need to have these aspects included.
However, you shouldn’t stress too much. The campsites usually have their own public restroom buildings with showers and a place to get drinking water.
You will also usually get an area to start a campfire and a picnic table to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
How Does First Come, First Serve Camping Work?
If you want to get to that campsite based on a first-come, first-serve protocol, you will need to get into that campground early in the morning to see if any RVs or rigs have left or are in the process of leaving.
You might want to get there right around check-out time, which is usually between 10 AM and 12 PM.
Often, national parks have a sign in the front area explaining whether all campsites are booked or if you can still get a spot. Also, certain campgrounds announce whether there are any spots available through their social media pages.
As such, check out their websites and social media profiles to see if they have any available first-come, first-serve camping sites.
When you get there and find out there are available spots, then drive around until you find the best first come, first serve spot, park your RV, and check-in with the front office.
Every state across the country has first come, first serve campsites available. However, there are differences between first come, first serve camping across the states.
For instance, some locations provide a full hookup plan for your RV while others do not have any available hookups for electricity or water.
For example, Eagle River Campground in Alaska is one of the few full-hookup campgrounds in state parks. However, Desert View Campground in Arizona does not have any hookups for RVs. Also, Scusset Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts only provides first-come, first-serve camping during the colder months and not during the summer.
The states that have the largest number of first-come, first-serve camping sites include:
Where Can You Find First Come, First Serve Camping?
You can find first-come, first-serve campgrounds all over the country. The various types of campgrounds that provide the sites you don’t need to reserve include:
- Dispersed camping
- Walk-up campsites
- State forest campgrounds
- No reservations camping
Dispersed camping involves camping anywhere in a national park outside of designated campsites. Essentially, you won’t get any services when using dispersed camping and you can’t expect to get any hookups to electricity, sewer, or water.
A walk-up campsite is a typical first-come, first-serve campground. You won’t have a chance to reserve the spot ahead of time and you need to walk up in person to get your RV a parking spot.
Various state forest campgrounds also offer first-come, first-serve camping options. For example, some California state parks that include first-come, first-serve campsites include Navarro River Redwoods, Sinkyone Wilderness, Topanga, and Ocotillo Wells.
No reservations camping is a possibility all over the country and you can definitely find a spot as long as you show up early.
Top 20 First Come, First Serve RV Campsites In The U.S.
Throughout the United States, the top 20 first come, first serve campsites for RV owners to check out include:
- The Hidden Valley Campground at the Joshua Tree National Park in California
- The Lewis Mountain Campground at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
- The Longs Peak Campground at the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
- The Desert View Campground at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
- The Hoh Campground at the Olympic National Park in Washington
- The Tuolumne Meadows Campground at Yosemite National Park in California (Currently closed for 2022 and 2023 for major renovations. Possibly closed until 2024)
- The Indian Creek Campground at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
- The Lost Creek Campground at the Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
- The Chisos Basin Campground at the Big Bend National Park in Texas
- The Bowman Lake Campground at the Glacier National Park in Montana
- The Eagle River Campground at the Chugach State Park in Alaska
- The Tyler Bend Campground by the Buffalo National River in Arkansas
- The Rocky Neck State Park in Connecticut
- The Redden State Forest in Delaware
- The Stanley Lake Campground at the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho
- The Illinois Beach State Park in Illinois
- The Dunewood Campground at the Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana
- The Kincaid Recreation Area in Louisiana
- The Lamoine State Park in Maine
- The Big Rock Campground in New Hampshire
Across these top first come, first serve campgrounds, the differences among them include different numbers of campsites, hookup options, restrooms, and more. Some campgrounds come with showers while others do not. If you choose Yellowstone National Park, you can gain access to a restaurant, a general store, and more.
How Do You Get A First Come, First Serve Campsite?
Once you have found a first-come, first-serve parking spot for your RV, you can go to the front office to book the spot. You will need to write out key contact information, RV type, and license plate number. You will get a receipt to place on your RV’s dashboard.
You can pay for the spot with either cash or a check. Preferably, you’ll want to carry enough cash on hand to cover the costs of an RV campsite.
You should arrive to get a spot as early in the morning as you can. At the very least, make sure to show up at 10 or 11 AM, which is when most campgrounds require people to check out.
However, you may see a bunch of people ahead of you. To ensure you’re the first one there, try to arrive a bit earlier, such as 8 or 9 AM.
You don’t need to contact the campground owners ahead of time and you can merely show up to get a spot. However, if you are concerned that the campground won’t have any open spots, you can contact the campground or check out their social media pages to see if they have openings.
Also, you should ask the best time to arrive to get a first-come, first-serve camping spot for your RV. Find out when their check-in and check-out times are. You may end up waiting a few extra hours when you’re first in line, but you will get that campsite.
Tips On Your First Come, First Serve Camping
When you’re camping on a first-come, first-serve basis, you will want to follow the tips below to ensure a great experience. Our camping tips include:
- When you first arrive, grab your RV campsite and check-in with the front office kiosk
- The best time to arrive to get a first-come, first-serve campsite is early in the morning before 10 AM
- It is easier to find a campsite if you travel on the weekdays instead of the weekend
- Try going camping during the off-season to get a campsite more quickly
- Bring cash since most first come, first serve campgrounds only accept cash
- Make a backup plan such as staying at an RV park for the night in case you don’t get a campsite
When you get to the campgrounds, you should expect to see buildings with restrooms, changing rooms, showers, and a place to get drinking water.
You might see a lake and you should have access to firewood by the front kiosk. You may have a grill or fire ring by your campsite.
If you’re looking for general camping tips when traveling around the country, you will want to follow advice like:
- Bring insect repellent, sweaters and warm layers, waterproof clothes, and sunscreen
- Plan out your activities like biking and swimming
- Don’t forget your first aid kit
- Bring flashlights and lanterns in case you need to go outdoors at night
- Pack your chargers as well as entertainment options like board games and books
- Check out the campground rules
- If you’re bringing a dog or other pet, don’t forget to pack what your canine needs
Below, you will learn the answers to some commonly asked questions about first come, first serve camping spots and state parks.
How do you claim a walk-up campsite?
A walk-up campsite is a spot you can get for your RV without needing a reservation. You can claim a walk-up campsite by driving up to the kiosk to see if there are any sites available. If there are available walk-up campsites, you can choose one, pay, and park your RV in the spot.
However, if there are none available, you can either wait or go to a different campground. To ensure you do get that walk-up campsite, you should try:
- Camping mid-week
- Making a list of the campgrounds with first-come, first-serve in the area
- Showing up early enough to ensure you’re the first one there
Can you leave a first-come, first-serve campsite?
You can definitely leave and check out from your first-come, first-serve campsite whenever you need. If you have booked the campsite for several days, you can leave for an hour or two to grab lunch or dinner.
As long as the front office knows what days you have booked and you haven’t checked out, then no one else can take your spot.
If you need to leave before the usual check-out time, you can do so. You may want to let the front office staff know that you’ve left. Leaving is rarely a problem with first-come, first-serve. The important part is coming to the campgrounds early enough to snag a spot.
How long can you camp in a state park?
You can usually stay at a campground in a state or federal park for up to 14 days. In addition, during the off-season, you may have a chance to stay at a campground for 21 days at the longest. The off-season includes the Fall, the Winter, and early Spring.
However, if you are retired and want a truly long stay, you may want to choose a private campground. At private campgrounds, you could stay for a month or an entire season. If you want to spend the entire summer camping in your RV at one particular location, try looking for private campgrounds.
The Final Word
First come, first serve camping means you don’t need to reserve any spots ahead of time. If you don’t like planning months in advance, that type of camping might be the perfect solution for you and your family. Don’t forget to bring cash since these campgrounds often don’t take credit cards.
Make sure to arrive before 10 AM so that you are the first one there. Also, call the front desk ahead of time to see if there are any spots available and find out about their check-in and check-out times.
If you arrive early enough, you’ll get that parking spot for your RV and you can enjoy your camping trip. Have a great time swimming at the lake, fishing, boating, and hiking through the woods. Finish out your night with a campfire song and some delicious s’mores.