I'm planning a solo 48-state round trip road trip beginning in New Jersey on July 15 this coming summer and going into October or November. I've been reading this great site for awhile and I've picked up a lot of useful information so far - definitely feel like I have the basics down (budget, driving limits, appropriate places to camp, etc.). I'm still finalizing my circuit, but I've got a tentative plan. I'm sure I'll be posting my final itinerary and other questions as the date of departure approaches.
The one question I have now relates to reserving campgrounds in national parks. From what I've read these fill up quickly. I'd prefer not to book anything ahead of time and be flexible, but I don't want to get shut out of any of the national park campgrounds. Here are my tentative dates that I plan to be in specific national parks:
July 17/18 - Acadia NP
July 29 - Teddy Roosevelt NP
July 30/31 and August 1 - Badlands NP
August 3/4 - Grand Tetons
August 5/6/7 - Yellowstone
August 9/10/11 - Glacier
August 18/19 - Olympic
August 23 - Redwood
August 30/31 - Yosemite
September 2/3 - Death Valley
September 11/12/13 - Grand Canyon
September 14/15/16 - Zion/Mt. Valley/Arches?
October 17/18 - Great Smokey Mt
And here are my questions:
1. Should I reserve NP campgrounds for all those dates above? I feel pretty confident that I can keep to the dates in the first 6 weeks of my trip, but I'm not sure after that. I imagine July/August will be busy. At the same time, it seems like big parks like Yellowstone at least allow for first-come, first-serve campgrounds in addition to reserved slots. Can I just wing it after Labor Day (even in a place like the Grand Canyon)?
2. When do the campgrounds open for reservations? It doesn't seem like there is a unified website and I guess I'll just have to regularly check back to the individual websites. It seems like I can get a reservation for Acadia already but I haven't looked into all the sites yet.
3. I want to explore much of Southwest South Dakota and I figured that Badlands NP would be a good home base to do that from for 3 nights, with road trips to Pine Ridge Reservation, Mt. Rushmore, etc. Does that make sense?
4. I'm planning to do 2 nights in the Grand Tetons and 3 in Yellowstone. Does that seem like a balanced mix? I know I could stay in many of these parks for a long time, but I figured I wasn't going to stay in any place for more than 3 days on this trip.
5. For southern Utah, I want to go to all the national parks. Is it infeasible to do this over 3 nights? I plan to go from Zion to Bryce Canyon to Monument Valley to Arches. Any recommendations on where I would stay if I tried to do all those parks over three nights? I was thinking one night in Zion, one night in Monument Valley and one night in Arches.
Any other suggestions/tips are greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for your help.