Wherever you are going, whatever you want to see, it is inevitable that a little bit (or a lot!) of planning can go a long way toward ensuring that you have the best of experiences.

Oftentimes, there are tricks to figuring out the best timing for making plans. Reservations for state parks may open up at the beginning of the year or 9 months out, so you might want to plan your August vacation by the start of the year. National Parks tend to book about 6 months out and from the day that is the start of your trip, so you need to line up other plans around your itinerary and be ready for the time and day when you can start selecting campsites. It is a mix of craftsmanship and the luck of lotto that determines whether the right combination of dates, locations and campsites will come together.

2020 and likely 2021, are particularly challenging years for camp planning. Where will it be safe to go and when? When will campgrounds and services be open? As many spring plans were cancelled due to covid-19 closures and refunds were given, lots of campgrounds decided to let people start their 2021 planning now and transfer reservations. Others limited the amount of spaces they could open up or the type of equipment you could camp with. It has made for the kind of a camp planning year that is like no other.

For weeks, I’ve been watching to see when/if we were going to be able to book NY State DEC campgrounds. It was starting to look like maybe we wouldn’t get to a point where we would be able to find or book sites for our August social isolation trip to the woods. And then suddenly this morning, as I was looking at a state park site to consider whether that might be an alternative, I saw something that made me check for one of my favorite DEC camps on ReserveAmerica. There was availability! And the button to book reservations was back! Yay! And they I realized that it said the reservations wouldn’t open up until 8am on Monday.

Hmmm. Ok, so on Monday there is going to be a mad rush for reservations. How do I prepare? By using the National Parks technique of course!

I started by looking at the range of dates we might want to travel and thinking about an anchor of days in the middle of the trip. I checked to see every site that might be available during that 2 week window and looked at their photos on one of the campsite photos sites I use (campadk.com is great for the Adirondacks and CampsitePhotos.com is good for lots of places around the country). I select sites that look appropriate for what we want (lots of privacy, a relatively flat surface, maybe a little sun to recharge the solar panel) and then list them in a digital notebook and rank them by preference. I do this for each leg of the trip and possible locations and sites so that it is easier at the appointed hour to be logged in already with my notebook handy and to hopefully get the sites and dates I want. And I have plenty of backup plans in case my first choices aren’t available. It’s like a puzzle or Tetris to piece it all together into a coherent trip itinerary.

Of course this year, there are backup plans upon backup plans. I’m working this all out for August and then also for September, in case somehow we get to August and it seems a bad time to travel. And I guess I should start looking at some bookings in 2021 so that there are options then as well since others are also already booking that far out. One of the great things about booking with state and national parks is that their cancellation policies are pretty generous, so we never feel bad about overbooking and backing out of reservations at the last moment. We also know that lots of other people do this too, so we always keep an eye on whether better spots open up before we travel because transferring sites can be easy.

Not everyone worries as much as we do about finding the “just right” campsite, but we have found that getting a good site can make all the difference for a great trip. We make it a point wherever we go to make notes of all the “good sites” we see. These lists can be pretty handy for future planning. And now that we’re almost ready for Monday and the mad dash for reservations, wish us luck!