It’s Friday afternoon and you’re racing down the highway, wind in your hair, heading out on a last-minute camping trip. As the sun starts to set, you pull into the campground, eagerly looking forward to setting up your tent and unwinding around a crackling fire under the stars. But as you drive slowly past the sites, your heart sinks – they’re all full! Now what?
Don’t panic! Most campgrounds set aside some first-come, first-served spots called “hook up campsites” where you can just show up and claim your patch of nature without a pesky reservation. But what exactly are these magical unbooked sites and how do you find them when you need a spot on short notice?
In this post, we’ll give you the insider scoop on everything you need to know about hook up campsites, from why they go by this name to tips for scoring one of these flexible spots. We’ll share clever tricks for getting your pick of gorgeous, secluded sites even at the busiest times.
So take a deep breath and relax – you’ll be cozy in your tent with a steaming cup of cocoa by the fire in no time. Grab your camping mug and let’s start planning an epic last minute adventure!
What are Hook Up Campsites?
Hook up campsites go by several common names:
- Walk-in sites
- Overflow sites
- Primitive sites
- First-come, first-served sites
But they all refer to the same thing – campsites that are not available for reservation, but instead occupied on a first-come basis.
These sites typically make up about 10-20% of total campsites and provide a flexible overflow option for campers without reservations. They have the basics – picnic table, fire ring, and level ground for pitching a tent. Some also have electricity and water hookups.
Hook up sites are always separate from reservable sites, clustered in a designated overflow area of the campground. Signage marks the area as first-come, first-served.
Why Arrive Early for the Best Sites
With hook up sites, the early bird catches the worm – or in this case, the prime campsite! On busy weekends, competition is fierce for these unreserved spots. Plan to arrive as early in the day as possible to claim your top choice.
Late afternoon and evening arrivals will be stuck with the least private, least attractive leftovers. Meanwhile, those who got there first thing in the morning can revel in gorgeous, peaceful sites all weekend long.
Target a late Friday morning arrival or early Friday afternoon to get first dibs on freshly vacated spots before the weekend rush comes. You’ll have your pick of the lot if you can take a Friday off work!
How to Find Hook Up Site Locations
Most campground maps and brochures identify the hook up area, but not every individual site. Here are some tips for scouting them out:
- Look for signage – Posted signs will direct you toward first-come, first-served sites.
- Ask at check-in – The ranger can explain where overflow sites are situated within the campground.
- Check the outer loops – Hook up sites are typically along the outer loops furthest from amenities.
- Search for clusters – Sites are often clustered together in one section of loop or row.
- Drive all the loops – Thoroughly explore each loop to spot numbers missing from the sequence.
Score the Best Sites
Once you arrive, follow these tips to claim the prime pick of the litter:
- know your site needs – Choose based on privacy, views, shade, proximity to bathroom etc.
- Act fast – Have your payment ready and set up immediately upon parking.
- Be flexible – Have a 2nd and 3rd choice in mind in case your top pick gets nabbed.
- Pack light – Bring only essentials you can quickly carry a distance to claim a far-off gem.
- Get friendly – Chat with others campers about hidden gems they’ve discovered.
Alternative Options if Hook Up Sites Fill
Don’t lose hope if you arrive to find all the hook up sites taken. You still have a few options to save your last-minute trip:
- Ask if any reserved sites are now available – Cancellations do happen, so check at the ranger station.
- Inquire about overflow or group areas – Some campgrounds have extra overflow zones not reflected on the map.
- Check for cancellations on Saturday morning – You might grab a vacated spot before 11am checkout.
- Stay just outside the campground – Nearby National Forest land often allows dispersed camping.
- Make a reservation for the next night – Secure your spot for the following evening and make alternate plans for night #1.
Enjoy the Freedom of Hook Up Camping
While reserving a site in advance provides peace of mind, there’s something thrilling about the spontaneity of hook up camping. With some preparation and insider knowledge, you can master the art of scoring amazing last-minute campsites.
Follow these tips to embrace the flexibility of hook up camping. Then relax and enjoy the weekend surrounded by the serenity of nature – even if you didn’t plan ahead!