2009 was a banner year for many popular family camping destinations. Parks in Maine, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Virginia all set attendance records last year, with big national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite also putting in big numbers.
There is a renewed interest, across the country, in family camping trips that offer more bang for consumer’s vacation buck. Vacation hours and holidays have also been under pressure during the economic recession as companies cut expenses, including employee benefits. All of this is leading up to another banner year for the parks, which means the busiest family camping weekends in 2010 are sure to fill up quickly.
Memorial Day Weekend: May 28-31
The traditional kick-off to summer, Memorial Day weekend is always one of the busiest family camping weekends of the year. With many states now accepting reservations up to one year in advance (see Advance Reservations at State Parks for 2010), you are likely out of luck if you have not already made your plans, for this year.
Some states, though, like North and South Dakota, and Wyoming, have 90-day advance reservation windows, which means reservations can be made at the end of this month. Maine, too, begins accepting reservations for their state parks on February 8th and Montana on the 13th.
Independence Day Weekend: July 2-5 (Canada Day: July 1-4)
Independence Day falls on a Sunday, this year, so it’s one of those holidays that might not buy you a long weekend, depending on your company’s policy. Eight states have six-month reservation windows, meaning you can start making your Independence Day plans today.
Despite the popularity of family camping over the Independence Day weekend, I have been successful finding reservations inside the window, before, so don’t think they’re not available without checking, first.
Labor Day Weekend: September 3-6 (U.S. and Canada)
Labor Day marks the end of the camping season for much of the country and it is usually second only to Memorial Day, in terms of family camping popularity. People struggle to make long term plans, though, so even if you missed your state’s 9-month reservations window (Idaho, New York, Oregon and Washington), there’s a chance that some sites are still available.
If you cannot find reservations for your family camping trip, this year, there are alternatives that you should consider. Many federal and state parks offer a number of first-come, first-served sites. It may sound risky planning a family camping trip in the hopes of landing one of these sites, but if you can arrive on a Wednesday or Thursday, it is a safe bet that sites will be available.
Another alternative is to make your own campsite on federal public land (see National Park too crowded? Try a National Forest Instead). Called dispersed camping, you are guaranteed lots of privacy and one of the best backcountry family camping experiences ever.
Have you made family camping plans for one of the popular holidays, this year?
Booked a 2 week site beginning the 3rd of July @ Hammonasset State Park, CT overlooking Long Island Sound. Nothing like true wilderness camping (LOL.. 5 minute drive to a mega supermarket, Starbuck’s and movie theatres but it’s a nice beginning for others I’m traveling with). I’d like my granddghtr to have some of the freedoms that her father did as a child :).
Also booked a 3 day weekend @ Fire Island National Seashore for Memorial Day weekend. Closer to back to nature camping there (the last time I was there sun showers were the order of the day) and hopefully my SO will enjoy it as well.
As we live in a city that discourages car ownership we’ll take a commuter train to Fire Island but rent a car to transport camping gear for Connecticut. Everyone else coming with us will take an inter state commuter train up and we’ll run a shuttle service to pick em up from there.
Apparently, despite my locale, lots of people enjoy camping as you really have to “jump” into researveamerica to get a nearby ( or far for that matter) spot.
Sounds like great plans for the summer! I had a lot of fun touring Long Island, a few years ago, but I did not have time to visit Fire Island.
Yep, I’ve booked Independence day week already. We’re going up to Maine so not only do we get the camping experience, we’re just a couple of mile away from the ocean as well.
Got to jump on that one quick, Eric! We stayed at a first-come, first-served campground for Independence Day, last year. That’s a great way to go, if you can arrive in the middle of the week.
I prefer the dispersed camping, personally. Naturally, in Oregon, that’s easy to do but I know some states that’s not very viable. I remember trying to do that in Colorado and everything there seemed to be private and fenced wherever I drove. Guess we’re just fortunate here…
No doubt – there’s a lot of Forest Service land available and plenty of access roads.
I was one of the unlucky who couldn’t find a campsite for Memorial Day weekend last year so we picked a park and booked a campsite last month! We tend to stick close to home when we camp but this year we’re traveling about 2 1/2 hours to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park (near Rochester, MN). There are supposed to be some great caves that we can explore with our daughter so we’re really excited. Family camping is still new to us but our first excursion last year when our daughter was only 9 months old was great so we’re looking forward to getting out a lot more this year!
Congrats, Kim! I don’t know how we fit all of our stuff in the car, when we were still camping with babies 🙂
I’m glad so many people are camping, but I hate that you need reservations for a campground. We often camp in National Forests. No campsites, but no other people, either ;).
Melynda – that’s a great way to go camping. I think a lot of people are hesitant to try dispersed camping, though, because they are unfamiliar with the area and would not know where to go. A simple phone call to the Ranger station would probably provide them with everything they need to know, though!
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