How to Reserve the Best Campsites in Alaska: 5 Tips from a Local

By Ryan Wilson

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How to reserve the best campsites in Alaska

Alaska is a beautiful state that will take the breath away from even the most jaded traveler. It’s no wonder that when people come to Alaska, they’re mostly here to experience the state’s outdoors.

Camping at one of the many Alaskan campgrounds is a fantastic way to experience the state’s beauty. But finding the best campsites in Alaska can be challenging, especially at some of the most popular campgrounds (e.g., Quartz Creek or Porcupine Campgrounds) during the best time of year for camping.

As someone who has lived in Alaska for nearly 20 years, I am going to share with you some of the best ways to reserve the best campsites in Alaska.


How to Reserve the Best Campsites in Alaska

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Alaska has no shortage of amazing places to camp; some easier to get to than others. But there are some really beautiful sites that everyone want to camp at each summer. They are sought after by locals and traveler’s alike!

The wide love for these sites can make it nearly impossible to snag a reservation for the exact period you’re visiting or hoping to camp that summer. The problem is only going to get worse as there has been a huge increase in people recreating outdoors in recent years.

While there is no fool-proof method for landing the best campsites in Alaska, I’ve compiled a list of some techniques we Alaskans follow to reserve sites at our favorite campgrounds in the state.

Book 6 Months in Advance

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This is my number one piece of advice. If you know you’re coming to Alaska more than 6 months in advance, then make sure you plan to book campsites 6 months before your trip.

Most of the highly sought-after campgrounds in Alaska are on federal lands. For campgrounds that have the option for advanced reservations, most open their calendars 6 months in advance. Each year around December, we literally plan our camping trips for the next summer.

Reserving campsites 6 months in advance the best way to land the best campsites in Alaska. While many of the state-run campgrounds don’t take reservations, those that do typically follow the 6-months reservation window too.

To book for federal campgrounds, check out recreation.gov. State campgrounds that offer advanced reservations can be found at the Department of Natural Resources website.

Because reservations can usually be cancelled up to a few days before the reserved date with minimal fees, many sites that were listed as reserved can become available. So, if you don’t see your preferred sites available when you first look, check back regularly because they might become available at a later date.

First-Come First Serve

Nearly all campgrounds that offer advanced reservations also have a limited number of campsites that are listed as first-come, first-serve. So these remain open until someone physically arrives at the campground to claim them.

These sites typically aren’t the prime spots at a given campground (for example, see my list of the best campsites at Quartz Creek Campground), but don’t let that discourage you. The sites are still great and give you access to all of the beauty and activities you can find at the campground.

Non-peak Timing

If you have flexibility in your trip, consider camping during a non-peak period. This can either can be towards the beginning (i.e., mid to late-May) or end (i.e., early September) of the camping season in Alaska. During the shoulder seasons it has been my experience that campsites are much easier to come by.

A lot of time you won’t even be able to reserve sites during these shoulder seasons, so all campsites are first-come, first-serve. Make sure to check with the agency that manages the campground to see if it is still open before you show up to a locked gate!

In addition to the shoulder season, if you have the ability to camp during week days, you’re much more likely to land some of the best campsites in Alaska because most locals (like myself) aren’t camping during the week.

Facebook Group

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A great way to find last-minute opportunities to find reservations for the best campsites in Alaska, look no further than Facebook. Because reserving the best campsites in Alaska is challenging even for us residents, a local Facebook Group (Alaska Campsite Cancellations) has been created where people offer up campsite or cabin reservations they have but won’t be able to use.

Their page has some questions before they approve you to enter the group, most of which appear to limit access to those who live in Alaska.

You can also join the Facebook group Camping in Alaska which is open to more people but also occasionally lists available campsites people can’t use.

Some listings will be for free, while others will charge just the face value of the campsite reservation. It really is a great way to pick up campsite reservations for the some of the best campgrounds in the state.

I have used it a couple of times and it has been great, both as someone getting a campsite and as someone listing one.

You have to request to join the group, but you’ll have no trouble gaining access.

Last, but not least

If none of the above techniques work, then there is one last technique you can use to potentially get one of the best campsites in Alaska without a reservation.

Show up in the morning (around 10 am) and see if any campsites are vacant but have signs showing they’re reserved. Campers must claim their sites on the first night of their reservation, otherwise the site opens back up for others to use.

If you find a vacant site that appears to have been unoccupied the night before and still has at least one night left on the reservation, go talk to the campground host and see if you can reserve it for the night.

There is also nothing stopping you from driving into a campground in the evening and looking to see if any sites happen to be randomly vacant. They are up for grabs. For me, the stress of not knowing where to look after that would make me avoid that approach. But it can definitely work, especially on shoulder seasons.

Finally, look on ioverlander.com for sites that you can camp out but that are not official sites, such as old gravel pits, or waysides. You might find an even better spot there!


Summary

Alaska has some beautiful campgrounds to choose from that are located in some of the most scenic locations imaginable. Reserving the best campsites in Alaska will take a little advanced planning, but is totally worth it.

Even if you’re not entirely sure of your camping dates, try reserving campsites 6 months in advance that might work with your itinerary. You can usually cancel up to a few days ahead with a full refund of the campground fees. You only lose a couple of dollars in reservation fees (but be sure to check the cancellation policies for the specific campground).

If after following some of these tips you still don’t land a the campsite of your dreams, don’t worry. There are so many beautiful campgrounds in this state and there are usually many options to choose from in a given area. And most of the state-run campgrounds don’t even take reservations, so you have just as good of a chance of scoring a great campsite as locals!

Take a look at our ever-growing list of campground reviews around Alaska. After years of camping in Alaska I have also developed a list of essential Alaska camping gear that you should consider before heading out on your camping trip!

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Author

Ryan is an avid outdoorsman who loves camping, hiking, and backpacking. He was initially reluctant to join the camper world, but after his first camping trip in one, he became a convert. He especially loves how camper ownership extends the camping season and makes it easier to be more adventurous with young kids. When not enjoying his free time, he works as a professional wildlife biologist studying the ecology and conservation of large mammals in Alaska.