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Howard Creek Campground, photo by Thomas J. Story

So you didn't book your Memorial Day camping trip back in December, when those choice spots in beloved state parks like Big Sur and Leo Carrillo first opened. It's mid-May, you've spent hours scrolling hopelessly through Reserve America's database, only to find "0 matching sites available," and you're ready to bang your head against a wall.

Never fear! You can still get your camp on for the first weekend of summer! Here, we present our top tips for snagging a site for the weekend.

Gualala via Flickr user Sarah and Jason

1. Set your sights on a smaller park

All right, so this isn't the weekend for Yosemite. But it could be a great time to check out a regional or municipal park. These parks—which aren't part of the state or national park system—don't fill as quickly as their top-billing counterparts, but they're no less stunning. At Gualala Point Regional Park—a Sonoma County Park—for instance, you can camp among redwoods not far from those famous Highway One vistas. You can book a spot at one of these parks online or via phone.

Sierra National Forest via Flickr user David Prasad

2. Head for the forest

Almost all of the national forests, from Sierra National Forest near Yosemite to Mt. Hood National Forest, contain campgrounds that do not require advanced reservations: a procrastinator's dream come true! What these national forest campgrounds may lack in amenities (e.g. electrical hookups, flush toilets), they make up for in scenery.

Corn Springs Campground via Flickr user Michael Dorausch

3. Check out the BLM lands

The Bureau of Land Management oversees a great deal of western wilderness (including, famously, the Black Rock Desert) with an eye to preserving these wild places for present and future generations. And the present generation can appreciate their camping policy—no reservations! So, if you want desert scenery but didn't reserve a spot in Joshua Tree National Park, head to the nearby BLM campground, Corn Springs. If you're craving red rock vistas but you missed the boat on booking a site in Arches National Park, head for the BLM's Goose Island.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park via Flickr user Harold Litwiler

4. Pray for a cancellation

If you have your heart set on camping in, say, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and you won't take no for an answer, you can always head to your campground of choice and hope for a cancellation or a no-show. While the Internet may show the campground as fully booked, you might arrive to find out that someone canceled at the last minute. Regardless of appearances, do check with a park ranger before swooping in on a (seemingly open) site.

Most importantly, if you're hoping to score a walk-in or a no reservation spot, arrive early! You'll want to head out Friday morning to increase your chances of scoring that choice spot. After all, you aren't the only procrastinator out there.

Want more no reservations camp spots? Check out our guide to last minute camping.

 

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