campground reservations

Does your party have reservations?

And does your party have reservations? the campground host inquires upon your arrival.

OK, maybe it doesn’t work quite like that. But increasingly in this evermore-outdoor-loving world, you do need reservations to spend an evening in the woods. And some places that require them may surprise you. 

That said, let us first encourage you, once you’ve made plans for an overnight, check to see if reservations are required. If they are but the reservable sites are already taken, check to see if they have walk-ups (most places do). And if they have walk-ups, check to see when they become available. For instance, some campgrounds make their walk-up sites for the weekend available at 9 a.m. Friday. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to call the campground to see if those walk-up sites get snapped up immediately. For instance, lines form well in advance of campsite release at the popular Davidson River campground in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard.

Realize, too, that not all campgrounds handle their own reservations: that function gets farmed out to a contractor. And that contractor tacks on a fee. Nothing like paying a $3 reservation fee on an $11 primitive campsite. Grr.

Our main purpose today is to take some of the guesswork out of where to go to make campsite reservations. We list the main places where folks tend to camp, who to contact for reservations, and anything else you might need to know about the reservation process. We find it easiest to first click on the land management agency (N.C. State Parks, Virginia State Parks, etc.) and find a place you’d like to camp; do that and you will be whisked to the reservation taker, which can tell you if the site is available when you want it and then take your reservation.

North Carolina State Parks:

Virginia State Parks: Though not all campsites. If a site doesn’t appear on the ReserveAmerica page, don’t assume it isn’t open. Call the park to see what the deal is.

National Forests (primarily, for our purposes, Croatan, Nantahala, Pisgah and Uwharrie in North Carolina, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in Virginia). Here’s the great thing about our National Forests: there are lots of places you can camp for free. Most National Forests allow primitive camping off trails (camp at least 100 to 200 feet from the trail and water sources), and some have designated free campsites along certain roads. Check with the area you’re interested in visiting for availability. As for established campgrounds, go through

National Parks: That’s for the main campgrounds. 

Backcountry camping 

Even in the backcountry, you may need a permit. For instance:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Reservations are taken up to 30 days in advance for the park’s backcountry sites. The Backcountry Permit application site includes a trail map of the park with all campsites shown, making it easier to plot your route (if you don’t know it going in). You can make reservations up to 30 days in advance. $4 per night, up to 7 nights with a $20 maximum. 

Linville Gorge. The circumstances are a little different in Linville. You only need a permit May 1 through Oct. 31, and only for Friday and Saturday nights. There is no charge. Fifty camping permits are available in advance, by calling 828.652.2144, another 15 are made available Friday morning at 9 a.m. at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin, 516 Old NC 105, Marion (Marion is the official address; the cabin is nowhere near the town of Marion.)

Again, these are just a few examples (though they cover the more popular options). The point: if you’re unsure whether you need to reserve a campsite where you’re headed, check. According to the Outdoor Foundation, 40.5 million people went camping in 2017. That’s a lot of competition for campsites.

Happy trails,


Avoid the hassle altogether

of course, you can avoid the hassle of reservations altogether by camping with us. Here’s where we’re camping and hiking this summer:

  • Lake James State Park, Nebo. Car camping/hiking. May 31-June 2 
  • South Mountains State Park, Connelly Springs. Backpacking. June 7-9
  • Jordan Lake State Park, Apex. Car camping. June 15-16
  • Standing Indian Recreation Area, Nantahala National Forest. Aug. 15-18

Learn more about these trips here.

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