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Use Recreation.gov for Planning Your RV Trip On National Lands

Use Recreation.gov for Planning Your RV Trip On National Lands

National lands in the United States are popular travel and camping destinations for good reason. They’re beautiful and they offer amazing camping and outdoor adventure opportunities. But because they’re so popular, RVers need all the help we can get if we plan to include them in our travels. In this post, we’re taking a look at Recreation.gov as a helpful resource for planning a visit to our national lands.

What Are National Lands?

National Lands are areas designated for the conservation and management of natural resources and public recreational use and enjoyment. They include various designations and land types. Many are focused on the protection of wildlife habitats and natural ecosystems.

National Lands in the United States are managed by various government agencies. These include the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

National Parks

National Parks are protected areas established to preserve natural, scenic, and historical areas for public enjoyment and education. Some of the most famous and popular (and our own favorites) include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, and Arches National Parks. For more information, be sure to check out our posts on Yosemite RV Camping, 5 National Parks in Utah, and what National Parks require reservations.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

National Forests

National Forests are large areas of forested land managed by the government for resources such as timber harvesting, conservation, and recreational opportunities. One example is Shoshone National Forest in northwestern Wyoming, America’s very first National Forest. It’s named after the Shoshoni people who have called this area home for thousands of years.

Shoshone National Forest has more than 1.4 million acres of wilderness and is part of the 10-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Aerial view of Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming

Aerial view of Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming

National Monuments

National Monuments are sites designated to protect specific natural, cultural, or historic features. These may be anything from unique geological formations to archaeological sites to historic landmarks. One example is the Statue of Liberty National Monument, which was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. It was dedicated in 1886 and designated as a National Monument in 1924.

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty National Monument

National Wildlife Refuges

National Wildlife Refuges are areas managed primarily for the conservation of fish, plants, and wildlife. They provide habitats for wildlife and opportunities for wildlife-related activities like birdwatching and photography. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, America’s largest and northernmost Wildlife Refuge is a notable example.

The Arctic NWR is open to the public, and there are no visitor fees. But there are also no specific entry points, which means that visitors have to arrange transportation and trip details on their own.

There are no roads, established trails, or facilities of any type within the refuge’s 19 million acres. Access is by air taxi from nearby communities, and visitors must bring all of the food and gear they’ll need throughout their visit.

A polar bear in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska

A polar bear in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska

National Recreation Areas

National Recreation Areas are managed to balance recreational use with the conservation of natural resources. Often centered around lakes and rivers, they offer a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.

Lake Mead NRA in Arizona and Nevada is America’s first National Recreation Area. It covers 1.5 million acres of stunning landscapes — mountains, valleys, canyons, plus Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. You can enjoy camping, hiking, cycling, swimming, boating, and fishing opportunities in the park’s nine wilderness areas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona and Nevada

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is in Arizona and Nevada

National Seashores and National Lakeshores

National Seashores and Lakeshores are coastal and lakeside areas. They’re preserved for their natural beauty, wildlife habitats, and recreational opportunities, especially water-based activities.

Cape Cod National Seashore is an example of a National Seashore. It offers 40 miles of pristine sandy beaches, marshes, ponds, and uplands. You’ll also find lighthouses, cultural landscapes, and wild cranberry bogs.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin is an example of a National Lakeshore. It’s known as the “jewel of Lake Superior.” Apostle Islands is a great location for camping, boating, hiking, fishing, hunting, trapping, kayaking, and even scuba diving.

When visiting many scenic places, there are often other related activities to enjoy nearby, such as water skiing. 🚤

Lake Superior Water Skiing

That’s Peter slalom skiing behind Tom & Cait Morton’s boat on Lake Superior.

National Historic Sites

National Historic Sites are locations of historical significance that are preserved for their cultural heritage and educational value. They often commemorate important events, people, or periods in history.

A good example of a National Historic Site is the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Here you’ll find popular Ranger and Living History programs, a museum, films, special events, and horseback riding trails.

Civil war canons at Gettysburg National Military Park

Civil War canons at Gettysburg National Military Park.

How to Plan an RV Trip to National Lands

Before making a trip to any of the National Lands, you’ll want to do some research and planning. Some of them are overwhelmed at certain times of the year. Others are less popular, or are so vast that they don’t require as much planning.

In our post on the less crowded National Parks, we noted that you can plan your visits based on the time of year. You can also simply plan to visit parks that tend to be less crowded, even in summer. These include:

  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • North Cascades National Park, Washington
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
  • Redwood National Park, California

The same is true of many of the other National Lands, especially if you plan on camping there. Let’s take a look at a few good ways to learn what various National Lands have to offer and how to make plans to visit and camp there.

Recreation.gov

Recreation.gov is a great place to start your research on any of the National Lands. Using Recreation.gov you can explore destinations in specific parts of the country where you’d like to travel. You can also discover which areas offer the recreational activities you most enjoy. You can book campsites where applicable, and obtain entry permits, passes, and tickets for tours and events.

There’s even a recreation.gov app that you can download on your smartphone or tablet. From within the app, you can access information, permits, and passes. You can make camping reservations and purchase daily, weekly, seasonal, or annual passes to cover admissions, recreation, or amenity fees.

Using your phone, tablet, or computer, you can plan your entire trip using Recreation.gov’s Trip Builder. You can even plan to visit multiple National Lands of various types during an extended trip.

Recreation.gov camping information is clear and handy on the site. However, we’ve heard a few complaints about booking campsites. This is likely because National Lands are such popular destinations and there’s a lot of competition for campsites, especially in certain locations.

If you have trouble finding an available campsite through Recreation.gov, you can try one of the following sites. Both scan for cancellations so you can book sold-out campgrounds in National Parks and many other great places.

CampNab

Because the National Lands are so popular, many people make campsite reservations up to a year in advance. If you’ve tried using Recreation.gov to book a campsite and they’re sold out for this year, CampNab is a great alternative.

CampNab is a service that allows you to monitor cancellations at popular campgrounds. These include State, Provincial, and National parks throughout the United States and Canada. The service runs real-time scans of your selected park(s), to monitor for any cancellations that open up. You can get a complete view of the service in our post on CampNab.

Note that Campnab doesn’t book campsites for you. They just alert you to the canceled reservations that open up. Once you’ve received the alert, it’s up to you to “nab” that reservation by contacting the park online or by phone.

So, Campnab isn’t selling you a reservation for a campsite. They’re finding you an opening based on a cancellation using their scanning system. There are no guarantees, but if there’s an opening, Campnab is likely to find it for you.

We’ve used CampNab ourselves with great success. CampNab found us a camping reservation in Zion, one of our all-time favorite National Parks. Not only that, but the reservation was just a few days away.

We were also able to nab two last-minute site campsite cancellations (one for us and one for Peter’s cousins) at Apgar Campground in Glacier NP — over 4th of July weekend! This is unheard of unless you use a service that scans for reservations. Our cousin thought we must have a mole at the Department of the Interior. 😁

You can pay per scan, or frequent travelers can pay a monthly fee to scan anytime. Again, you can learn how it all works in our dedicated CampNab post. In our case, we paid only $10 to score a beautiful campsite at Zion National Park just 10 days out.

CampNab logo

CampNab

Details


Unable to reserve a campsite? Now you can get notified when a sold-out campground has availability! Campnab helps campers around North America by monitoring a number of provincial, state, and federal parks in Canada and the United States.

You tell them when, where, and how long you want to camp for. They notify you (via SMS) when a suitable spot opens up at that campground—so you can nab that sold-out campsite reservation! We used it to book a site at Zion National Park's Watchman Campground... just 10 days before we were supposed to arrive there. In the peak of the season!

CampNab logo
CampNab

Unable to reserve a campsite? Now you can get notified when a sold-out campground has availability! Campnab helps campers around North America by monitoring a number of provincial, state, and federal parks in Canada and the United States.

...Show More

Unable to reserve a campsite? Now you can get notified when a sold-out campground has availability! Campnab helps campers around North America by monitoring a number of provincial, state, and federal parks in Canada and the United States.

You tell them when, where, and how long you want to camp for. They notify you (via SMS) when a suitable spot opens up at that campground—so you can nab that sold-out campsite reservation! We used it to book a site at Zion National Park's Watchman Campground... just 10 days before we were supposed to arrive there. In the peak of the season!

Show Less

ARVIE

Another option for booking sold-out campgrounds in National Parks, Forests, etc. is Arvie. This service also finds cancellations at popular campgrounds but it goes a step further. Arvie can also book the reservation for you.

So Arvie is a bit more full-service than CampNab. It not only finds the reservation but also processes it. They’re connected to over 4,300 campgrounds with more than 500,000 campsites.

Arvie can find and book reservations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When we used CampNab to find an open campsite, it sent us an alert about the cancellation. We were able to “nab” the campsite by acting on that alert immediately. Had we been sleeping when the alert came through, we would have missed the opportunity to book that campsite. Arvie solves that issue by booking the campsite reservation it finds with its scanning system.

So, Arvie is similar to CampNab in that it sends you a text alert when a cancellation pops up at a campground. However, Arvie’s text alert offers you the ability to book the campsite immediately with a single click, or you can set up “Auto-Book.” This means that when the Arvie system finds a cancellation, it automatically books the reservation for you.

Note that CampNab and Arvie cover a different set of parks. Some parks are in both, and others may only appear in one or the other.

Here’s a coupon for a 10% discount on Arvie to get you started:

Arvie Logo

Save 10% On Arvie Membership

RVGEEKS1

Details


Use Arvie's advanced technologies, eliminate the challenges of booking campsites. With real-time availability checking, one-click booking, and sold-out searches... you'll be able to book spots at some of the most-difficult places, easily! And using discount code RVGEEKS1 you can save 10% on your membership (monthly or annual).
10% OFF
Arvie Logo
Save 10% On Arvie Membership
Use Arvie's advanced technologies, eliminate the challenges of booking campsites. With real-time availability checking, one-click booking, and sold-out searches... you'll be able to book spots at some of the most-difficult places, easily! And using...Show More
Use Arvie's advanced technologies, eliminate the challenges of booking campsites. With real-time availability checking, one-click booking, and sold-out searches... you'll be able to book spots at some of the most-difficult places, easily! And using discount code RVGEEKS1 you can save 10% on your membership (monthly or annual). Show Less

Be sure to also see our posts on what National Parks require reservations and the free National Park Days in 2024.

We’ll leave you with one of our favorite moments from one of our favorite national parks — Crater Lake, which at nearly 2,000 feet is the deepest lake in North America. We were joined by our friends Tom & Cait for a hike down the only trail leading to the lake — The Cleetwood Cove Trail.

Swimming is allowed in Crater Lake, but you’d better be ready for a bracing experience. Even in the summer, the water temperature is cold. The day this photo was taken, in late October, it was 52 F!

Diving into Crater Lake.

This was Peter’s second time diving into Crater Lake. On this visit, Tom Morton joined him for the leap off the cliff… in late October… into 52-degree water! No… John and Cait did not go in!

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