Trip to Wonderful

Friday, March 04, 2005

The mystery of the National Park Reservation solved!

Whenever I see "reservations recommended" at a campground, my heart falls. See, I've always assumed that you have to book a half-way decent site, heck, any site, in a popular National Park at least a year in advance, and let's be honest, parents of autistics just don't think that far ahead.

So imagine my surprise when I received my $1.09 "used" ($24.99 tag still intact) Charles Wohlforth's Frommer's Family Vacations in the National Parks (2nd Edition). According to Wohlforth, I could in fact still book both the months of July and August in all the reservable parks, with the exception of Yellowstone, which in fact does book a year out. (That's okay, the campground we want, Norris, is first-come, first serve anyway.)

So I scooted over to the National Park Service reservation website, and lo and behold, he was correct. The way it works is that the Park Service only books five months out, but they open an entire month at one time, on the fifth of the month. Thus, if you want to book a site anytime from July 5th - August 4th, you can't attempt to reserve until March 5th (tomorrow!). If you want an August 5th - September 4th site, you have to be on the phone or at the website starting April 5th.

In order to make life a little easier (which is really what we PoA's need most of all, isn't it?), I sifted through the NPS site so as to list below which parks and campground accept reservations.

(Moving East to West)

Acadia (Blackwoods)
Assateague (Bayside and Oceanside)
Greenbelt (all)
Shenandoah (Big Meadows)
Cape Hatteras (Ocracoke)
Great Smokey (most campgrounds)
Big South Fork (Blue Heron, Bandy Creek)
Everglades (Flamingo, Long Pine)
Sleeping Bear Dunes (Platte River, South Manitou Island)
Rocky Mountains (Glacier Basin, Moraine Park)
Grand Canyon (Mather South Rim, North Rim)
Zion (Watchman)
Glacier (Fish Creek, St. Mary)
Joshua Tree (Black Rock, Indian Cove)
Channel Islands (all islands)
Death Valley (Furnace Creek)
Sequoia-Kings Canyon (Dorst Creek, Lodgepole)
Yosemite (Lower Pines, Upper Pines, Crane Flat, Hodgdon Meadows, Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona)
Whiskeytown (Dry Creek, Oak Bottom)
Mount Rainier (Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh)
Olympic (Kalaloch)

Now, I'll be online tomorrow reserving sites at Yosemite (Tuolomne Meadows) and Mt. Rainier (Cougar Rock), so no jumping the cue.

Happy trails.

Turns out the Yosemite is on a slightly different booking schedule than the other parks listed above. The key date is the 15th of the month, not the 5th. So on March 15th, dates will open through August 14th. On April 15th, dates through September 15th.


  • Don't forget about state parks. In the Atlanta area I would suggest camping at Stone Mountain State Park. Part of the park has been converted into a tourist attraction but the camp sites are nice, there is a great lake, and there are lots of trails. You are also only about 15-20 min from the attractions of downtown Atlanta.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:49 PM  

  • Hi MB,
    I'm up late, waiting for the March 5 window too :-) We're going to Mt. Rainier, but at Ohanapecosh.

    Funny aside: my math-major mom always refers to the campground as Ohanape-hyperbolic cosine...

    Love the blog!

    By Anonymous Liz Fallin, at 10:30 PM  

  • Just a lurker. No neurologically affected kids, but I'm a long-time camper and GS leader. In California, don't ignore Lassen National Park. Our family camped there one week each summer for years. It has volcanos, geothermal sites, lakes, selected places having snow in the summer (most years...we always took a snow saucer for good sliding). (The geothermal sites aren't next to the campgrounds!) You need to go there at the very end of the summer.

    Also, as Dwight said, don't forget the state parks, especially in California and Oregon. Good documentation on the web here and here.

    What we loved about camping vacations with our kids was the kid tailoring that made life easy on the parents, which isn't so different from what I'm reading in your posts here and at Wampum. I always brought one plastic footlocker full of "amusements" -- field guides to insects, wildflowers, geology; art supplies; craft supplies; playing cards; projects (ever built an outdoor oven to bake cakes and cookies over a campfire?). My kids had a lot of freedom to roam safely among other almost-always good-natured families, get lots of exercise, get dirty, and generally have a great time, without even leaving the campground. And then there were the hikes, interpretive centers, Jr. Ranger badges and nature walks to boot.

    I converted quite a few of my GS moms who didn't think they could stand to go camping, by letting them come in 4-hour shifts as chaperones to our nearby troop campouts. It isn't as difficult as some people think! (Hmmm, maybe I could hire out as a neophyte camping guide! It would beat working. :-) )



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:54 PM  

  • After 4 cross country trips without using the internet I have some book suggestions. Go to the library and take out the Let's Go (For different sections of the US), Smithsonian guide to Historic America ( For different sections of the US), Lonely Planet guide (For different sections of the US, and some of the Hidden or Rough guides are good. I find that the good tourist places to go have never changed, just the restaurants and lodging that generally I would never stay in ever. I have a AAA card. You can order info books ahead. On the road you can stop and get area specific maps and guides in that state that you can't get in your state. When I plan, I also like to have an idea where the food areas of town are. The Let's Go and Lonely Planet guides have inexpensive interesting places to eat.

    Andrew Molera State Park is the only place in the Big Sur area you can camp without reservations. The other ones have long waiting lists, only a couple of camp sites and you have to get reservations by the same phoneline as getting concert tickets. Get the California state park pass and you can go to all the beaches, campsites and trails for the one price. Quite the deal. Other favorite California books are 1) Hidden coast of California by Ray Riegert, 2) California camping by Tom Stienstra, 3)Let's GO Alaska and the Pacific Northwest---This one is the BEST for the Pacific Northwest.

    Yosemite, I have never been to Tuolumne Meadows since the pass has never been open due to snow when I have gone in the area.

    I agree, Yosemite is a chore to get a reservation. Our way to get around it was to camp at the southern most area of the wilderness, Sequoia National Park which is first come first served. On the weekends, usually the long ones, Friday they would get full sometime that day or night. The next area north was Kings Canyon National Park and that is also first come first served with getting full on Friday similarly. If you do the parks in order going north, don't forget to hit Mono Lake. Past Mono Lake is State park that has hot springs. It was only open on the weekend during the April I went so we jumped the fence. Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville, CA. It is North of Yosemite and South of Lake Tahoe.

    Samoa Cookhouse, 445 W. Washington St, Eureka, CA is a real loggers restarant. It is a cheap cheap meal that is 4 courses even. The archetecture is made with hugh trees if I am not mistaken. A very cool place.

    The Gothenburg, Nebraska KOA is a great place to camp on the Platte River. There is nothing like camping on the real Oregon Trail. See
    I am sure I will have more ideas in the future. My last suggestion is to try to plan so that you follow a valley thru Mountainous areas so you are not going up and down the same mountain all week. There are also windy areas like Interstate 84 into Oregon from Idaho. Sometimes they close the road to trailers for good reason. The cross air current was something else. I think it is La Grande, OR.

    It is really good to have a plan. Pack the plan with all the possibilies and print it out. Obviously weather, sickness, tireness and ideas about what is a good site to bring you or the kids may change. At least you have all the ideas in one place organized to go elsewhere. If you can't read while driving, or your can't read in the dark or while your spouse is driving, a plan really helps you see tremendously more than the seat of pants plan. And, you will have a much better time.

    Eat Soppopeas in New Mexico!


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