How far in advance should I plan a camping trip?

Planning your camping trip is primarily about where and when you want to go. There are four elements to planning a camping trip that you’ll need to consider: Getting your gear together, planning your meals, coordinating with camping companions, friends and family; and booking your campsite. Below we detail what you’ll need to do for each of these items.

plan a camping trip

Packing Your Gear

Start packing your gear about two weeks before your trip. This may feel like too far in advance, but you want plenty of time to replace any missing or broken items. Use the Weekend Pack List to pull everything together. Check that your headlamps have fresh batteries and that you have plenty of stove fuel. Items that often get left behind include: tent stakes, camp stove fuel and fuel lines, lighter, can opener, headlamps, camp soap, sunscreen.

In addition, check the extended forecast a couple days in advance and pack up your camp clothes. For temperatures below the high 40’s pack a warm jacket, hat and gloves. For sunny skies, add a hat with a brim to your list. Lastly, don’t forget the bathing suit if you’ll be near the water or a hot spring.

Packing Your Food

Plan your camping meals one week in advance and make a shopping list to bring on your normal shopping day. Two days before your trip, fill an empty 2 liter soda bottle or gallon milk jug with water and stick it in the freezer to use in your cooler. Prep any food items two days before you leave for your trip: chop veggies, cook rice, precook chicken, etc.

Coordinate with Friends and Family

First, before booking your campsite, make sure everyone you intend to camp with has their schedules cleared. Some campsites, once booked are nonrefundable. Next, if you are going camping without your kids, make arrangements with a babysitter. Lastly, don’t forget the pets. If they are staying behind, book a pet sitter or make reservations at a boarder. For busy summer weekends, make these arrangements at least a month in advance.

Book a Campsite

Making reservations for a campsite is the most time sensitive element of planning a camping trip. Certain locations, weeks and amenities will necessitate booking a site up to six months before your trip. We have broken down the booking windows for campsites based on some of these features. Our best advice: as soon as you have cleared your schedule with your camping companions and decided on a location, book your site.

Book six months in advance if:

  • You want a prime spot (water’s edge, mountain view etc.) at a beach, lake, or in the mountains between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Camping in the desert (i.e. Joshua Tree) or southern beaches in the winter.
  • Using a campsite as your accommodations at a popular destination, such as Disney Land.
  • Camping pretty much anywhere on holiday weekends (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day).
  • You are renting an RV. You’ll want to make reservations for the vehicle before booking any sites.
  • Planning to stay in a cabin, yurt or hut. Many permanent camping structures have reservation opening dates each year. Cabins are like Hamilton tickets, you better be ready to reserve your spot at the exact moment the reservation window opens. Plan on the window opening anywhere from 2 to 6 months in advance or your desired date.

Book three to four months in advance if:

  • You’re camping during the summer at any popular location. This includes lakes, beaches, mountains if you do not need the prime spots listed above.
  • Camping during foliage season in highly desirable areas.
  • You have specific criteria for your campground (entertainment for the kids; hook-ups for an RV; near popular attractions).

Book a month or less in advance if:

  • Camping in the spring or fall (unless it is during peak foliage).
  • Your location is flexible.
  • Camping on week days only.
  • Tent camping: Tent camping is the most flexible. You don’t need a lot of space or services. Many private campgrounds will be able to fit you in.

There is no science to booking a campsite. Some times you can get a perfect spot in your preferred location with very little notice, but if you can, it is always better to plan well in advance. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get your preferred campsite. Use Campendium to find a campground close to where you want to go. Often, you will be able to find a site within a short drive of your ideal spot.

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