Having practical camping tips makes your trip planning so much easier! Last minute camping is possible and it does not have to be a horrible experience!
Camping trip planning, reservations, food preparation and gear packing all take time so you need to be a little strategic about how you go camping on the spur of the moment. These simple tips will have you camping at the drop of a hat!
Camping Last Minute Is Possible
My husband has a job that requires him to be available 24/7/365. The only scheduled time off he has is a two-week vacation once a year. I get soooooooo excited for those vacations because we actually get to plan our trips … but … our “always-on-call life” requires simple camping at the last minute because it is our normal lifestyle.
Our trips always happen as spur of the moment jaunts to the wilderness.
Trip Planning For Last Minute Camping
One of the first things to consider when you are trying to go camping at the last minute is WHERE you will be camping.
You need to be flexible regarding your preferred camp location … if you have your heart set on a specific campsite or campground … you can get quickly disappointed.
I like using apps to help me find locations that have spots available at the last minute.
I think these are the best camping apps and they are FREE.
Last Minute National Park Trip Ideas
If you want to visit the most popular National Parks and other camping-friendly destinations, the best time to go camping at the last minute is during non-peak seasons.
The time of year considered to be “peak season” depends on where you are going … traditionally, most camping locations are super busy during the summer months when kids are out of school and camping families take their annual vacations.
For more helpful tips get these 12 Tips To Avoid Crowds In National Parks So You Don’t Go Crazy!
How To Go Camping At The Drop Of A Hat
Walk up only campsites are first come, first served … they CAN’T be reserved in advance … which is good news for last minute camping. The downside to walk-up sites is that they can fill up quickly.
We have an entire post dedicated to answering the question, what are “walk-up only campsites?” and 7 tips for getting the best ones!
We were in Yosemite National Park and saw people at Camp 4 (the walk-in campground) early in the morning … sleeping in sleeping bags … in a line … on the ground … waiting for the ranger kiosk to open to start processing the campers into the open sites for the day.
It reminded me of people camped out on the sidewalk at Best Buy to get the almost-free-TV blockbuster door deal at Christmas time. LOL
You can learn more about YNP in our post Yosemite National Park Must See Attractions VIDEO And Tips.
First Come First Serve Camping Tips
Many locations that are great for last minute camping are those that require no reservations and have no facilities and no camp hosts … but … the drawback is that remote camping locations are more likely to be under fire restrictions.
In the hot, dry summer months, wildfires play a significant role in recreation uses on public lands so be sure to check for details in advance of your trip and check out our post How To Camp When Camping Fire Restrictions Are Activated for helpful tips.
Spur-Of-The-Moment National Forest Camping
Consider choosing a camping destination that is lesser-known and a little off the beaten path when planning a spur of the moment camping trip.
Better yet … Research camping locations that have an abundance of camp spots but don’t require reservations and only have last minute campsites.
You can camp at many locations without a reservation … for FREE … on BLM and National Forest lands. If you have not camped in National Forests, you will want to check out our post for some great tips, Camping In National Forests.
How To Plan For A Camping Trip At Free Campsites
Many free camping destinations are also great for last minute camping because you are avoiding the whole reservation thing!
Check out our post for tips on finding free camping spots and more!
Last Minute Camping Reservations
If the thought of camping in a first come, first served no reservation campsite gives you the chills because you are not a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person, consider making last minute camping reservations.
Recreation.gov is a great tool that provides details and the ability to reserve campsites at over 3,500 facilities and 100,000 individual sites across the country.
If you don’t mind a little hiking (or even prefer it) backcountry trail permits are usually available for tent campers.
Another helpful online resource for last minute camping is Reserve America which has private and public campgrounds and RV parks information with the ability to make reservations for your trips.
If your first camping location choice is unavailable, be sure to check for cancellations … you never know which awesome camp spot will become available at the last minute!
Food Preparation For Last Minute Camping
What are the easiest meals to cook while camping?
Those that are prepped in advance! I call them “dump and cook” meals and I love them for last minute camping trips!
I do one day of preparing freezer meals that are dinners for an entire 4-day weekend camping trip.
I shop, prepare the meal and clean up in one day … for the entire trip!
Then I just dump and cook at the campsite.
My prep at the campsite does not exist because I did everything at home.
And, my cleanup is minimal too because I usually have a Dutch oven to clean (and that is my husband’s job LOL) so I just have to clean the eating dishes and utensils.
My Dutch Oven Thai Campfire Chicken Recipe is one of my favorite camping freezer meals!
Quick Camping Food Ideas
If make ahead freezer meals won’t fit into your timing for a spur of the moment camping trip, try these quick last minute camping food ideas that have a little bit of flair:
- Thin pasta simmered in jarred sauce
- Brats on hearty rolls
- Hamburgers on pretzel buns
- Deli meat sandwiches with fancy cheese on ciabatta bread
- Hot dogs wrapped in bacon on Texas toast
- Fresh veggies scrambled eggs with cheese
- Yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts
- Just-Add-Water pancakes and syrup
- Oatmeal with fresh fruit and nuts
- Smores that are a step above! Check out our 10 Mouth-Watering Smore Variations
Food During Road Travel
If your last minute camping trip requires significant travel time, make sure you pack food for the journey.
Check out our Road Trip Food Ideas And Travel Snacks post for some tips and inspiration.
Gear Packing For Last Minute Camping
What do you need for last minute camping?
When it comes to packing your gear, only pack what YOU really need … what I’m saying is “It’s a personal thing!” Use this Camping Checklist to determine your “must have” items for your specific trip.
In order to stay organized and clutter-free, use our 7 simple rules to maintain the best camping organization techniques throughout your entire trip.
Here is the key: We always have our gear packed and ready to go camping.
When we get home from a trip, we clean our gear and replenish all of the items we carry on our trips.
When we are camping with our tent, we have 3 boxes of gear. One is for “kitchen gear”, “camping gear” and “personal gear” and all are permanently packed with their appropriate items.
Kitchen Gear Box Items
- Eating utensils
- Cooking utensils
- Cleaning items
Camping Gear Box Items
- Tent/sleeping bags/pillows
- Lanterns/lights (consider using multi-purpose/multi-powered lights like we discuss in our camping lights post)
Personal Gear Box Items
- Medical kit/medications
More Pre-Planning Help For RV Camping
Be sure to get a copy of our FREE printable RV Tool Kit Checklist so you have the tools you need for your rig.
If your last minute camping trips will be using a camper, these RV tips and hacks will help you with organization, pre-planning decisions and more!