How to snag a last minute campsite reservation in Michigan this summer

Since the pandemic, demand for Michigan campgrounds has skyrocketed

Photo of Angela Mulka
Recreation vehicles gather at Grand Haven State Park.

Recreation vehicles gather at Grand Haven State Park.

Photo provided/Amy Somerville

Interest in camping and other outdoor activities has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited our travel options.

Michigan has 103 state parks, spanning across 357,000 acres, and people are still struggling to reserve campsites this summer due to a higher demand than ever before, according to Bill Sheffer, executive director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds.

“When the booking window opens, customers can be literally competing with hundreds of thousands of people trying to book at our most popular parks," said Jeremy Spell, the central reservation system analyst for Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "With a little over 13,000 campsites in the system, it can definitely be tough to land the perfect campsite when competing with that many customers."

The best way to snag a campsite is to be prepared, Spell said.

“Most people just aren’t prepared and they need to do their research,” Spell said. “We are definitely way busier than normal and that started last year with the pandemic. It exploded. We are significantly up in our numbers both for camping in state parks and camping in our rustic state forest campgrounds.”

Looking for tips? Below are additional suggestions from Spell to help better your chances when booking a campsite.

Booking at the six month window

There is a six month booking window that allows people to book early. Although a small percentage of the campsites get booked at the six month window, the most popular parks will fill up at the six month window. For those most popular parks, here are tips to help give customers a better chance.

• Use the reservation website at the six month window – You can book a campsite up to six months in advance of your desired arrival date and can book for up to 15 nights. The booking window opens at 8 a.m.

• Log into your account or create an account well before 8 a.m. on the day you are trying to book.

• Be prepared. Do your homework before trying to book at the six month window. Get to know the website well ahead of time. The website will show campsites that are available for the desired dates prior to the booking window opening. Do your research on the campgrounds and sites before 8 a.m. and know which sites you're shooting for. If your first site choice gets taken, have a plan for which other sites you will try for immediately.

• Use multiple devices. Most people have many different devices in their household and those who are savvy with making reservations will utilize every device they own to try and land a site at the six month window. Log into your account on all devices, line them up and have your plan to click the site(s) you want as fast as you can.

• Don’t give up! Losing out on a site at the most popular parks at the six month window is most likely going to happen. However, don’t give up. Try again the next day and look for different opportunities.

Not booking at the six month window

As mentioned above, a small percentage of the campsites get reserved at the six month window. Here are tips when not competing for the most popular campgrounds or if you simply can’t plan that far in advance.

• Again – book early. As soon as you know when you want to camp, book your stay. Don’t wait. The earlier, the better.

• Like above, do your homework and research well ahead of time. Get familiar with the website.

• Be flexible. Many people who think there is no availability simply aren’t willing to go to any other park but their favorite. If the park you want to go to is full, look for another park that has availability and give them a shot.

• Or – if your heart is set on your favorite park, be persistent. Keep looking at that park for the dates you want constantly. Many customers who do this will end up landing a site after someone cancels.

• Use the calendar function on the website. You can also select a site and use the “available dates” feature that will show three months of availability for the selected campsite.

• Call the call center – The reservation system call center agents are experts at searching for availability and putting together a reservation for our customers. Give them a call at 800-44-PARKS.

If you’ve waited until summer to search for campsites, you may just be out of luck. Demand is high currently and there are only so many campsites, according to Spell. So, utilize the tips above for the future.

“We’re basically a victim of our own success. The industry has flourished in the last two years. We’re setting records on RV sales both nationally and at the state levels,” Sheffer said. “Campgrounds are more limited than they’ve been years prior. People have to look a little harder, and plan a lot better than they used to. Part of that planning is being able to be flexible. You might be making phone calls at 10 p.m. through a booking system to find a suitable campsite for you and your family to go camping.”

For more information, visit the “help” section at the bottom of the Michigan campsite reservation website.