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How to Get a Reservation at the 10 Most Popular National Parks for Tent Camping

National Parks Camping
by Matador Creators Apr 4, 2024

Visiting national parks has always been popular, but in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s gotten more popular than ever. That’s according to newly shared data from the National Park Service, which counted 325.5 million recreation visits in 2023 across 400 reporting units (of 428 total) managed by the National Park Service. That’s a four-percent increase over 2022, and a nearly nine-percent increase over 2021.

But one thing that has stayed fairly steady are which parks are the most popular for good, old-fashioned camping trips, with a tent and sleeping bags. While RV camping has grown in popularity, tent camping is still a staple of the recreation experience at some of America’s most popular national parks.

The most popular national parks for tent camping in 2023

popular parks for. tent camping - zion

Zion’s Watchman Campground is a perennial favorite in the park system. Photo: Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

  1. Yosemite National Park, CA: 275,278 tent camper visits (representing 12.5 percent of all tent camping in the NPS system)
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN and NC: 207,070 tent camper visits (representing nine percent of all tent camping in the system)
  3. Joshua Tree National Park, CA: 200,056 tent camper visits (also about nine percent)
  4. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ: 159,019 tent camper visits
  5. Glacier National Park, MT: 132, 219 tent camper visits
  6. Shenandoah National Park, VA: 122,031 tent camper visits
  7. Olympic National Park, WA: 121,314 tent camper visits
  8. Acadia National Park, ME: 120,615 tent camper visits
  9. Zion National Park, UT: 100,411 tent camper visits
  10. Death Valley National Park, CA and NV: 71,063 tent camper visits

Of course, it’s not just because these parks are inherently the “best” for camping. They’re also among the most popular in the park service for any kind of visit, and many are near major cities and draw weekend visitors, like Joshua Tree (two hours from Los Angeles), and Olympic National Park (two hours from Seattle). It also depends on the size of the available campgrounds; for example, Yosemite’s front-country campgrounds have more than 1,000 tent sites.

Interestingly, the popularity of these parks has been fairly consistent for decades, with a list of the most popular parks for tent camping in the 1990s showing seven of the same parks on the top 10. Some parks on both years’ lists, like Yosemite, have better regulated and restricted camping to bring their numbers down, while other parks, like Yellowstone, have opened additional in-park hotels and nearby glamping resorts that may be drawing former tent campers to other lodging options.

The most popular parks for tent camping in 1990

yosemite valley campgrounds - california

Campgrounds in Yosemite have been popular with campers since the NPS began collecting data in the 1970s. Photo: GizaDog/Shutterstock

  1. Yosemite National Park: 754,555 tent camper visits
  2. Yellowstone National Park, WY, ID, and MT: 216,000 tent camper visits
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN and NC: 182,927 tent camper visits
  4. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ: 135,457 tent camper visits
  5. Kings Canyon National Park, CA: 127,396 tent camper visits
  6. Acadia National Park, ME: 126,135 tent camper visits
  7. Olympic National Park, WA: 124,536 tent camper visits
  8. Joshua Tree National Park, CA: 122,841 tent camper visits
  9. Zion National Park, UT: 117,157 tent camper visits
  10. Grant Teton National Park: 111,492 tent camper visits

How to get a tent camping site in a popular national park

tent camping at national parks - jumbo rocks

The Jumbo Rocks Campground at Joshua Tree National Park, California. Photo: Mo Lawthong/Shutterstock

If you’re keen to camp in 2024 at Yosemite, Acadia, Zion, or any other of the most popular tent camping parks, you’ll need to make your plans in advance — in some cases, at least six months in advance.

All of the 10 most popular tent camping parks require reservations for the vast majority of their front-country (drive-in) campgrounds. Reservations for those campgrounds open on a rolling basis in advance on, sometimes as far as six months in advance. Each park has different time frames, rules, options, and methods for booking campsites, so you’ll need to check the individual page in advance for each park.

You may want to bookmark this page, because here are all the official links for campgrounds at the top 10 most popular tent-camping national parks. Not included are group campsite or horse-friendly campgrounds. If a campground isn’t listed, it doesn’t take reservations.

General tips for getting campground reservations at popular parks

tent camping in national parks - grand canyon office

Some parks do last-minute campground reservations online, while some require you to show up in person. Photo: NPS/Public Domain

Some campgrounds are first-come, first-serve, or leave a certain number of spots open for first-come, first-serve users (like at Glacier). Some parks require you to wait in line early in the morning to get a number, but don’t tell you until that afternoon if there are enough free spots that your number came up (like in the Yosemite Valley). Some parks offer next-day reservations on, while some parks have lotteries for popular campgrounds.

It’s important to know the regulations for each park before making your plans, but here are a few general tips that should help no matter where you’re going.

  • For campgrounds with first-come, first-serve spaces, you’ll probably need to arrive very early — no later than 5:30 or 6 AM on weekends at popular parks.
  • Visiting in the off season will greatly improve your chances of finding a last-minute campground reservation, especially at seasonally dependent parks like Glacier and Acadia. However, many park campgrounds close in the off-seasons, so make sure the one you want is open before beginning your trip.
  • If you can’t find a reservation though, go to the park’s webpage and click “Plan Your Visit,” then “Eating and Sleeping.” This will bring you to the page listing hotels in the park, which sometimes have their own campgrounds managed by hotel operators, rather than the park itself. For example, Yosemite’s Camp Curry has more than 100 rentable canvas tent sites, and Death Valley’s Panamint Springs Resort has a campground with a small general store and pool.
  • If you can’t find a campground in the park, do an online search for nearby BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. You can camp almost anywhere on BLM land, and some popular BLM-managed areas have their own campgrounds with basic amenities like pit toilets and fire pits. There’s more BLM land near parks in the western US than there are on the East Coast.

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