How To & Tips | May 2024

The Highway Handbook: How To Camp During Busy Holiday Weekends

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers. That’s the gist of our new educational series, The Highway Handbook. One of our main goals at Luno is to make the outdoors more accessible, and we mainly do that by designing comfortable air mattresses and nifty accessories that help you turn your everyday vehicle into an extraordinary adventure mobile. But gear alone doesn’t remove barriers to the great outdoors, and sometimes, the simple act of sharing knowledge makes all the difference. In The Highway Handbook, our team of car camping experts will answer questions that regularly bombard our DMs. Whether you’re a car camping veteran or new to the game, we hope this series helps you get outside, explore, and enjoy time in nature with friends and family.

Are you itching to spend weekends in the woods now that the warmer weather has arrived? Unfortunately, you’re not alone. Much like sprouting daisies, chirping birds, and snuffling bears, campers of all creeds perk up as soon as spring hits. Don’t get us wrong–we love to see more and more people enjoying the great outdoors. But overcrowded parks and overflowing campgrounds can be a serious buzzkill when you’re on an adventure of your own, especially during notoriously hectic holidays like Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, and Labor Day weekend.

That brings us to this month’s edition of The Highway Handbook. What are the best ways to avoid the holiday crowds while camping? Below, we’ll share eight tips on how to camp during busy holiday weekends. If you’re hoping to ditch the hordes of holiday campers–or at least navigate them without pulling your hair out–keep reading, you’re in the right place.

Tip #1: Target Less Popular Destinations

The single best tip we can give you is this: visit less popular camping destinations on holiday weekends. If you’re hoping to spend the 4th of July at Yosemite or Yellowstone, all power to you, but thousands of fellow campers undoubtedly have the exact same idea.

Instead, plan to visit marquee destinations and parks during off-season weekends–or even better, hit them mid-week. Treat holiday weekends as an opportunity to explore lesser-known wilderness areas, monuments, national forests, so on and so forth. Use guidebooks, Google Earth, and websites like PublicLands.org (we love their recreation mapping tool) to discover new-to-you zones. Ask your camp buddies for off-the-beaten-path recommendations. If you’ve never heard of a campground or national forest, chances are you’re not the only one!

Tip #2: Make Reservations At Popular Campgrounds

If you do decide to explore a more popular zone, booking a campsite reservation well in advance is a smart idea. What’s well in advance? That depends entirely on the campground’s reservation system, but generally speaking, the earlier the better.

Yosemite National Park is a great example of why it’s key to research your destination ahead of time. The world-famous California park has thirteen campgrounds. For almost half of the campgrounds, including Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow, online reservations are available to the public on Recreation.gov five months in advance. More specifically, reservations can be made at precisely 7 AM PST, on the 15th of each month, and sites sell out quicker than Taylor Swift tickets. However, the rest of Yosemite’s campsites can only be reserved two weeks ahead of time, except for Camp 4, which is open for reservations a mere week out. Needless to say, it pays to make a plan, set an alarm, and be ready to pounce on popular campgrounds.

Tip #3: Get To The Campground Early (Really, Really Early) For First-Come, First-Served Campsites

This goes without saying, but if you’re heading to a first-come, first-served campground, make sure you get there first. Here are a few tricks of the trade that give you a better chance of doing just that:

  • Leave a day or two early to snag a campsite. Set up camp, and then work remotely if you need to from a nearby coffee shop or library.
  • Use vacation days to extend your holiday weekend on the front end, giving yourself a buffer to beat the crowds.
  • Arrive early in the morning, not late at night.

Tip #4: Try Dispersed Camping

We love campgrounds. They often offer bathrooms, potable water, and trash receptacles. Sometimes, they’ll even have luxuries like hot showers, and they’re a great place to meet like-minded outdoorsy folks. However, if you exclusively camp in campgrounds, your options are severely limited, especially during holiday weekends.

Dispersed camping refers to camping outside of existing campgrounds. Usually, we dispersed camp in national forests or on Bureau of Land Management land, as these land designations tend to permit this style of wild camping. The gist is simple: you find a pull-off or park on a durable surface like rock or gravel, make camp, and call it home.

There aren’t any of the amenities you might find at campgrounds, so it’s on you to both be self-sufficient and follow Leave No Trace principles. But because you’re not limited to campgrounds, being prepared to go dispersed camping exponentially increases your pool of potential camping destinations.

Tip #5: Have A Camping Plan A, B, And C

Unless you’ve got a campsite reservation locked in, it’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan (or two). Here are a few examples of how we like to build backup plans into our camping itinerary:

  • Use car camper-approved apps like iOverlander to pinpoint alternative first-come, first-serve campgrounds that are near your campground of choice.
  • Look for nearby BLM land or national forests where dispersed camping is allowed.
  • Be on the lookout for quiet neighborhoods where you might get away with a night or two of “stealth camping.” In a nutshell, stealth camping refers to when car campers, vanlifers, or RVers spend the night in residential neighborhoods or urban zones. In most cases, stealth camping isn’t explicitly illegal, but it isn’t entirely welcome, either.
  • Look for rest stops, Walmarts, and Cracker Barrels along your route. These road trip institutions often allow overnight parking.

Hopefully, everything goes smoothly and you don’t have to resort to Plan B or C, but it’s reassuring to have them in your back pocket.

Tip #6: Optimize Your Overnight Options With An Enclosed Sleep System

Guess what? Two of the four backup plans we outlined in our last tip aren’t possible if you’re camping in a tent. Rest stops, Walmarts, and Cracker Barrel parking lots that allow overnight camping in enclosed vehicles explicitly prohibit tents. Similarly, it’s damn near impossible to “stealth camp” in a tent–nothing stealthy about that.

That’s one of many reasons why we love car camping with our award-winning, best-selling Luno AIR Camping Mattress and our new, versatile AIR+FOAM PRO Camping Mattress. Not only are both of these mattresses incredibly comfortable, durable, and easy to use, but they also significantly increase your camping prospects by allowing you to camp in your vehicle. When you’re camping in your car, it’s easy to pull over and get some sleep in a rest stop, crash in a Walmart parking lot, or spend a stress-free night in a quiet neighborhood.

Pro Tip: If you are stealth camping or camping in a busy parking lot or rest area, privacy is a hot commodity. Shield your sleep setup from view with our easy-to-use Car Privacy Curtain.

Tip #7: Embrace Camping In Less-Than-Perfect Weather

It’s always important to consider the weather while planning a camping trip. However, normally we’re on the hunt for good weather. On a holiday weekend, doing the opposite can be advantageous, as embracing bad weather can help you avoid crowds.

Extreme weather, like heavy rain and snow or sweltering heat, will inevitably dissuade many campers from visiting that neck of the woods. But if you’re down to bring a warm sleeping bag, why not head to cooler pastures? Or, if you’ve stocked up on sunblock, why not check out a sizzling desert zone?

Take this tip with a grain of salt, as you may prefer camping with a crowd over chancing heat stroke. That said, if you do decide to camp in a hotter climate, check out our Cool Down Bundle. It includes our mesh Car Window Screens, which let in all of the breeze but none of the bugs, as well as our compact yet powerful Camping Fan.

Tip #8: Reframe Your Mindset

Sometimes, try as you might, avoiding crowds is impossible. In that case, do your best to embrace the crowds. Get zen! Download some meditation playlists and relax. Let go of any malice and hate you harbor, and just be stoked that there’s a big community of people who love the outdoors just like you!

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Sorry, We Won’t See You Camping On Holiday Weekends This Year

With a little planning (and some good luck), it’s possible to enjoy remote and wondrous wild places, sans the crowds, even during the busiest weekends of the year. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll have the tools required to evade the adventure-hungry hordes and camp in style during the holidays.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the road. Actually, maybe we won’t.

–The Luno Crew

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