How to Find Last Minute Camping in Los Angeles

If you’re like me, it’s Wednesday afternoon or Thursday night before you even start thinking you might like to round up a few buddies and get away for the weekend...

...way too late to snag a campsite anywhere.

Planning ahead isn’t exactly my strong suit [read: definitely, absolutely isn’t] but finding loopholes in the system is. Stick with me, fair reader, and you’ll be cracking open a cold one with the boys [and girls] in your very own campsite this weekend with no need for actual planning on your part.

**note**
This worked for me on Labor Day Weekend, arguably the most crowded outdoor weekend on the calendar, so I assure you it can work for you too.

Go To Recreation.gov

Recreation.gov is your new best friend. Maybe even your new lover. Say hello.

That little search-bar right there in the middle is you and all your best friends’ ticket to a lifetime of adventure and stoke. Start by typing in Los Angeles (or whatever city you happen to live in… but like… read the title… why are you even here?) and prepare for liftoff.

Decide Where You're Going

You will realize very quickly that there are wayyy more campgrounds around than you thought. As of September 2017, there are 242 campgrounds within a two-ish hour drive from LA you can reserve through recreation.gov–may the lord bless her and all her family. Who knew!

If you aren’t picky, you can select “campgrounds” on the left and search available campsites for a given date using the search bar (so…. tomorrow. This is still last minute, remember?) But you’ve got some class. You’re not looking for just anyavailable campsite. You’re looking for a kick-ass next-level camping weekend you didn’t plan ahead for with all your best buds! You and me both.

We can do better. Ignore that search bar. Save yourself some time by remembering the Golden Rule of Camping:  Always camp near water.

Look at campgrounds near Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Crystal Lake, or any other campgrounds with the words “lake” or “creek” in them that are next to the blue parts of the map. There is literally a campground called Lake Campground. I haven’t stayed there… but if there isn’t an actual lake I’m gonna flip a table.

Open any options you fancy in a new tab [this detail becomes important later]. At this point, the more options the better. Once you have a solid collection of open tabs, go through each of them and enter your dates to check for sites.

You’ll notice the dates are set to this Friday because we didn’t plan ahead.

Play The Waiting Game

Unless you are pocket-aces-lucky, there won’t be any sites available. Be not dismayed fair reader! We’ve not come this far to abandon our quest in the throes of unavailability! This is normal. This is just a part of the game. This is where everyone else puts their dream on the shelf but not us! This is the part where you hold fast and cling to your weekend of freedom.

Here’s what you do: You refresh every one of your open tabs between every 15 minutes and every half hour. People. Always. Cancel. Always. Always always.

I know this sounds like playing the lottery, but I have never had this not work. This technique has worked for me dozens of times and in some of the most highly trafficked campgrounds in the country [read: Yosemite Valley].

It requires some patience, yes. It also requires a job where you can afford to refresh some web pages every so often. But, eventually, your patience will be rewarded and a site will become available.

When this happens, Strike Immediately. Recreation.gov–blessed be her sweet and glorious name–saves your spot for 15 minutes. You’ll have some time to figure out whether you actually want to stay in this site, but you don’t want to lose the opportunity!

From here, it’s pretty easy. You enter some info, how many people-ish are staying, credit card, and bingo-bongo the camp hosts will already have your name and spot reserved for you when you show up!

Send It!

…the weekend, that is. Once you’re there, you’re on your own. For now at least… eventually this will just be a link to another post called How to Send It Once You Get to Your Campsite or something.

Oh, don’t forget to instagram it. Partly to inspire other people that camping in LA is possible. Partly to brag to all your friends. Partly for the rush of dopamine when you see those ‘like’ notifications rolling in.

Published: October 29, 2017

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Aaron Rickel

Los Angeles

Climber. Writer. Filmmaker. Traveler. Musician. Currently has base camp set up in Los Angeles, CA.