How does the campground reservation system work?

If you are the type of camper who likes to plan ahead, you've likely used the online reservation systems:  Recreation.gov or ReserveAmerica.com

Recreation.gov handles reservations for all federal campgrounds on public lands: US Army Corp of Engineers, US Forest Service, BLM, National Parks and more.

ReserveAmerica handles the same campgrounds plus state parks for 31 states and various other campground owners.

If you call 1-877-444-6777 to make your reservation, you will be assisted by a customer service representative employed by a third-party vendor.

When reserving a campsite in a federal campground, whether using Recreation.gov,  ReserveAmerica or the toll-free number, you are accessing the same database.  Your reservation is recorded immediately and displayed to others; regardless of which method they are using.  (When I say "immediately" I mean as fast as your internet speed can display the confirmation.)  If you are not familiar with a database, think of it as a reservation calendar.

SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD PLAN.  SO WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Well, aside from doing it when you are in a hurry and not paying attention to critical info like dates, campground location and price, only a couple things can go wrong.

1)  Although there may be several people reserving a particular campsite at any given moment, only one will get their reservation confirmed first.  I have started reserving an available campsite but, by the time I finished entering my payment info, it said it was not available.  That means that someone else was either quicker than me or they just started a couple minutes earlier.

2)  A few times a year, we do see people who come to the campground with a confirmation letter that shows they'd reserved another campground with the same name.  If you are interested in a campground with a common name it helps to know more than the state it's in.  The name of the Forest or a nearby town may help you select the correct one.  Google and Yahoo maps are a great resource if you are unfamiliar with local landmarks.

Rock Creek may be an extreme example so we'll use it to demonstrate a technique to finding the right campground online.  Whether using Recreation.gov or ReserveAmerica, the Search feature is essentially the same.

Click on 'Enter a location' and type Rock Creek.  As you type, you'll probably notice a drop-down menu that changes as you type.  See below:

Here's the catch:  I happen to know that there are 2+ Rock Creek Campgrounds in Oregon.

Here's what to do:  Hit the 'enter' key on your keyboard instead of clicking on ROCK CREEK CAMPGROUND, OR in the drop-down list.  If you make the selection from the drop-down list, you will only see one campground named Rock Creek.  However, if you hit the 'enter' key, the complete list of anything "Rock Creek" is displayed as seen below:

As you can see, some are still not very descriptive.  Your next step is to choose the one you think it is and read the Getting There and Mailing Address sections at the bottom of the first page displayed for the campground.  Use your map as a reference for surrounding towns.  If that's not the right one, try again.

If you think a customer service representative will be able to help you find the right one quicker, proceed with caution.  They may be even less familiar with the area than you are.

Always double-check the location description on your confirmation letter, immediately, to be sure the correct campground was reserved for you.  Last minute surprises are not fun for anyone.