Beginner Guide to RV Camping in National Parks
Advantages of NP campgrounds, options available, and tips for booking!

By: Howard & Katelyn Newstate

Camping at Watchman Campground in Zion National Park.

Save time, enjoy special ranger programs, and more when you camp in our beautiful U.S. National Parks! There are many advantages, and what better way to feel immersed in nature? 

While it can be a challenge to get reservations at some of the most coveted national park campgrounds, we’ll share some tips and tricks on how to score an amazing campsite.

We’re almost halfway to our goal of visiting 51 National Parks in 52 weeks in a special Winnebago Vista NPF Limited Edition, and some of our favorite camping memories have been while camping inside the parks. (Read our NP trip planning tips here!)

From a ranger-led bird watching program at Big Bend to elk laying around our campsite at Grand Canyon, camping in national parks is an incredible experience that we hope all of you can enjoy as well!

Note: You can see some of our tips in action in the video at the bottom of this page!

Advantages of Camping Inside National Parks

In comparison to other campgrounds, camping at national parks (and other federal sites) tends to be on the lower end of cost per night, but that’s just the start of the advantages! 

From our perspective, many of the benefits of national park campgrounds fall under one of four categories:

  • Time Savings
  • Location
  • Amenities
  • Special Programs
Camping in Zion National Park.

Here is an overview of our experience with these national park campground perks:

1. Time Savings

When you camp inside the park, you’ve just saved yourself the time of a long drive to enter a national park (and possibly a long line at the gate). Double that number for the return trip back out, and it’s easy to see the time savings add up. Plus, you save time reaching the trailheads and visitor centers, thanks to staying in the park. Speaking of location…

2. Location, Location, Location

This is a big advantage to camping inside the park. Much like a head start in a race or rush hour traffic in a city, you have the ability to start hiking trails, find primo parking at a trailhead, talk to rangers at the visitor center, or go exploring while anyone coming into the park is in line waiting their turn to process payment or show their pass at the entrance gates. 

Are you traveling with pets? Read our guide to dog-friendly national parks

Even better: during several recent park visits, we could start a hike FROM the campground, thanks to adjacent trailheads. Since you don’t need to drive, your RV/car/bike can stay at the campsite and you don’t need to compete for those coveted trailhead parking spots, either. 

3. Amenities

Some of the largest campsites we’ve found in our travels have been in state and national parks. Many are combination rv/tent sites, so they have ample space to pitch a tent or set up some camp chairs and enjoy the outdoors. Picnic tables, firepits, grills, and bathhouses are typically offered. Frequently, campgrounds are adjacent to a visitor center, and amphitheater, too.

Camping in Everglades National Park.

4. Special Programs

Have you noticed that many national park campgrounds have amphitheaters? That’s where the parks sometimes host Ranger-led programs! Typically offered in the evenings, topics can vary by day and season, and are conveniently located just a few steps away. While they are open to the general public, parking is frequently limited. Lucky for you, they are so close to your campsite, and once again no driving needed!

Types of RV Camping Inside National Parks

Full hookups inside a national park?! Sometimes, yes! 

Just like with other campgrounds, services vary from dry camping at the campsite to no hookups (but water and a dump station are typically provided near the campground entrance), to electric only or water/electric campsites, to even the glorious full hookups. 

The vast majority of national park campgrounds fall under the category of dry camping, but whether operated by the parks themselves or a private concessionaire, you can find partial or full hookup campsites at parks including Big Bend, Death Valley, Everglades, Pinnacles, Yellowstone, and Zion.

Camping at Pinnacles National Park.

Some of our favorite national park campgrounds from our travels are:

  • Watchman Campground in Zion NP - With 30-amp electricity, and walkable to the Visitor Center and shuttle system, Watchman is a fantastic camping option.
  • Flamingo Campground in Everglades NP - The 30- and 50-amp electrical sites located deep inside the park makes this a great basecamp to explore one of our all-time favorite national parks.
  • Canyon Campground in Yellowstone NP - Dry camping with an excellent location directly across the street from a shopping and dining area.
  • Pine Springs Campground in Guadalupe NP - Dry camping with beautiful 360-degree views in small campground (limited number of larger campsites), located directly at the trailhead for the most popular hike in the park.
  • Lower Pines Campground in Yosemite NP - Located inside the famous Yosemite Valley, RVs up to 40ft/Towables up to 35ft, breathtaking views, trailheads walkable from campsites.

How to Find and Reserve National Park Campsites

We’ve told you about why you should camp inside the park, now let’s help you with how to score these coveted spots. Your first stop should be the official national park website for whichever park you plan to visit! 

Driving through Capital Reef National Park.

From the park homepage, go to the Plan Your Visit menu in the header, and select Eating & Sleeping > Camping for a comprehensive list of all public and private camping options inside the park. Each campground will indicate services, type (RV, RV/Tent, Tent only, Walk/Hike-in), and how to reserve. 

Most campsites are reservable from the official federal site,, and will also indicate how early reservations can be made. Some campgrounds (I’m looking at you, Yosemite), are so popular that they release reservations five months in advance and yet sell out in MINUTES (if not seconds)! 

Do your research, determine specific campsites that will fit your RV from the websites and campground maps, and set your alarm to try your best at getting those coveted campsites!

What if you aren’t lucky enough to book when the reservations window opens, or the campground is sold out? There are multiple services (some free, some paid) that will automatically scan and notify you of cancellations. Campnab is a popular option, but there are others available.

They mostly operate in a similar manner: indicate the dates you are looking for camping, select the campground (some will also let you indicate RV length or specific loops of a campground), and then choose how you want to be notified (text message or email – or some offer push notifications to your phone) with a link to the reservation page. 

When a campsite opens up, hurry and book it ASAP! We use these services frequently, and on multiple occasions the campsite has already been rebooked by someone else before we clicked on the link. 


You can see us using some of the tips we've shared in this video:

We are looking forward to staying in even more campgrounds across our national parks as we continue the tour this year. What are some great national park campgrounds you’ve enjoyed staying in during your travels? 


Comments on this post are moderated, so they will not appear instantly. All relevant questions and helpful notes are welcome! If you have a service inquiry or question related to your RV, please reach out to the customer care team directly using the phone numbers or contact form on this page .

User commented on June 18, 2023 12:50 PM
Before you go, or at the first NPS park/seashore/monument/recreation/etc, buy an "America the Beautiful" annual parks pass. They're usually available at the entrance to the bigger parks, but order one online if more convenient, and not in a hurry to get out there. The pass we get is the US$80/year version, as we're international visitors. It can save you all kinds of time getting into the parks, and some park entrances have dedicated "Park Pass" lanes. It's also good at the other Department of the Interior locations, like BLM and USFS dispersed camping locations. Honestly, it's one of the "must have" tools for anyone recreating within any/all of the National Park Service locations.