Ways to snag prime reservations

By: DogTrekker Staff
Dog and family at Tenaya Explorer cabins
Tenaya Lodge. Photo by Tenaya at Yosemite.

Whether your heart is set on camping at Big Sur in July or spending a June week at dog-friendly Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, snagging a reservation, especially for a high-season weekend, requires a lot of persistence and a little luck. Tenaya, for example, begins accepting reservations a year and a day in advance, while the window for state parks is six months (which means moving now to secure a site in August).

In either case, rooms and campsites at high-demand spots tend to fill up the day reservations become available. Such is life in beautiful California! Fortunately, DogTrekkers who can be flexible and just a little bit crafty have options. Here are some strategies:

  1. Find out about cancellation policies at your chosen hotel or campground. Scrutinize the fine print to determine if the cancelation becomes effective at midnight, noon, check-in time, etc. on the deadline day. When the deadline day arrives (it could be 30 days, seven days or even one day in advance of arrival) call or go online at the given hour. If your efforts don’t produce results, keep trying into early evening. If a hotel says still says it’s full, ask (by phone) to be put on a waiting list.
  2. New “by owner” vacation rentals are added on a regular basis to sites like VRBO, HomeAway and FlipKey, so keep checking, email the owner to see if you can be put on a wait list and stay flexible for as long as you can. Also consider working with a property management company such as Tahoe Keys Resort or Coast Getaways (for Mendocino County), an option that can save many headaches when it comes to finding that perfect pup-friendly landing pad.
  3. ReserveAmerica.com and Recreation.gov offer an online feature that will trigger an email if a site at your preferred campground opens up within your stated date range. (You’ll still have to rush to reserve, as everyone else on the wait list will have been notified, too.)
  4. Find out if your preferred campsite has any “first-come” or “overflow” sites in its inventory (most do). Take a risk by showing up at the gates about a half-hour before check-out time.
  5. Some popular coastal campgrounds use a “day-of” lottery system to distribute non-reservation sites or those made available through cancelations. If you’re flexible, this can work, although you have to be present to win and will need a Plan B if you don’t.
  6. Choose a campground that operates purely on a first-come basis and arrive on a Thursday if you want to stay over the weekend.
  7. Go midweek, or wait until after Labor Day.

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