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  1. Default Camping in western national parks in late spring

    Dear friends,

    I've been lurking for some time and my apologies if this question has been answered elsewhere.

    My family (myself, wife, and 10 year old son) will be traveling clockwise around the US next spring, starting in Vermont. We'll be travelling mostly on two lane roads with pickup and rented popup trailer. We have five weeks and most of our time will be spent in the western national parks. (We'll head north from Tuscon missing unfortunately the west coast.)

    My question: do we need to reserve campground spaces at the national parks in advance? For example, I'd like to stay in the north rim campground at the Grand Canyon. If we arrive mid-May, do we need a reservation? The challenge is that I'm not sure if we'll arrive on the 8th or the 12th of May and I'd rather not lock into a schedule. The same is true for all the "major" western parks: Yosemite, Grand Teton, Yellowstone.

    Thank you for your advice!

    Martin

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default You Would, If They Were Open

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    The 'major' national parks are tourist meccas and their campgrounds are reserved early and completely for the major part of the summer season. There are short shoulder season in the spring and fall where you will have a good chance of finding an open site, but otherwise you are taking a big risk by simply arriving with no place to stay. That said, you will probably not be able to get a campsite at the North Rim in early May since that section of the park usually does not open until mid-May and could be even later due to unusually heavy winter snows. Several Roads in and into Yosemite are closed until late May and even occasionally into June and May Snowstorms, while not common, are certainly not rare events. Yellowstone has a rolling series of openings of individual roads and campsites, again dependent on the depth of the winter snow pack. In any event, you need to be prepared for serious cold weather camping at the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountain west.

    AZBuck

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    Welcome!

    The chances are not very good that the North Rim will even be open and accessible. It does not open till "mid-May". Whether you go to the North or South Rim, reservations are strongly recommended, as with any popular park. Very few campgrounds in Yellowstone will be open before sometime in June, and the situation is similar in Grand Teton. Even Yosemite has very limited camping that early except in the valley.

    You may want to replan your trip for just a bit later in the spring.

  4. Default

    Yikes, you've just popped a planning bubble. Our goal is to travel after the thaw while beating the summer rush.

    If we have three weeks to get from Tucson to Billings, do you have a recommendation for the best time? We need to travel between spring to mid-summer. I understand that risks (bad weather) are a part of the trip.

    Thanks

    Martin

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    I'd probably try to shoot for a late may into June trip. There are trade offs, as the later you go, the more you get into the summer tourist season and thus more tourists, but you'll also find more areas open and accessable, which to me is the more important thing.

    Even in June, you've still got a lot of kids in school and you should see fewer crowds than at any time during July/August.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default That Narrow Window

    Basically, what you're going to be trying to do is to find that sliver of time between when schools let out and the weather turns warm enough to allow 'comfortable' camping. Somewhere in the last couple of weeks in May and the first couple of weeks in June. By mid-June all the National Parks are going to be getting extremely busy, even those in the north such as Yellowstone. The route doesn't much matter in this determination but with the amount of time you have, I would think you'd like to take some less traveled roads rather than the Interstates, such as the Coronado Highway (US-191) north through eastern Arizona to Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly, then cut over to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and double back up through Monument Valley to rejoin US-191 up to Arches National Park. From there you can shoot on up to the Salt Lake basin and hook into US-89 for a great scenic drive up into Yellowstone. Now it's true that such a route leaves out Yosemite, but with the distinct possibility that Tioga Pass will not be open in time for your drive, I think that might be best.

    AZBuck

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    The spring thaw comes REAL late at high elevations in the West! I've hiked in waist deep show in May in Rocky Mountain NP.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default It's still a great time to visit.

    Quote Originally Posted by martinhahn View Post
    Our goal is to travel after the thaw while beating the summer rush.
    Chances are, the folks you meet will be like minded. There is a large percentage of the travelling public eager to miss the summer rush. On the other hand, I have had great experiences in Yosemite on one visit, before Tioga Pass was open; in Yellowstone in late May before everything was accessible; and at the North Rim, when it had only just opened. Once you are aware of the limitations, you can plan your trip accordingly.

    As for booking? Even if you do not book before you leave home, you will at least know while on the road how much longer it will take, and when you have an idea, get onto the web frequently - even several times a day - and see what is available. There are always cancellations. Often you can manage quite well staying flexible while at the same time picking up a booking here and there as required.

    Lifey

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Yeah, I'd second that.

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    ... such as the Coronado Highway (US-191) north through eastern Arizona to Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly ...
    A spectacular drive. Not knowing anything about it, other than that it was marked as a scenic route in the atlas, I took this road.... way back in 2001. From Clifton to Alpine it is very slow going, but breathtaking. That is if you don't mind driving on the edge of a cliff.

    One of the most memorable roads I have driven.

    Lifey

  10. Default nps.gov

    Thanks everyone -- it looks like we'll leave Vermont mid-May rather than May 1. US 191 looks like it will be a great ride!

    Is campsite availablity updated in real time at nps.gov so that we can monitor cancellations?

    Martin
    Last edited by martinhahn; 10-22-2011 at 02:55 PM.

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