Teardrop Camping: Plan It or Wing It?

Tiny Yellow Teardrop reader ML recently asked this question:

"I'd be interested in discussing how much itinerary planning goes into your travels with your teardrop. I'd like to venture out with no particular route in mind, but I feel the need for reservations so I can drive along with confidence. Kind of keeps me from using the camper to the full extent that I should during good camping weather."

I'm also curious how often teardroppers plan out their camping trips or if they just wing it. We have done it both ways and I think it comes down to both timing and where you will be camping. A little bit of luck can be thrown in for good measure.

Our "lucky" campsite at Twin Lakes in California.

We recently got back from a teardrop camping trip down to the Mount Whitney area (trip post coming soon) and left on a Wednesday afternoon with about 300 miles to go. We had our reserved campsite for the Whitney area, but knew we would need to stop for the night somewhere along the way. Many of the campgrounds in the area along the Eastern Sierra can be reserved, but we were not sure where we would be at around sunset. We were planning on heading to our favorite campground at Convict Lake, but were so tired after a long day, we didn't make it. So we winged it and headed into a campground 10 miles off Highway 395, Twin Lakes. Luck must have been on our side because we pulled into the campground way after dark and got the very last spot next to a bubbling creek.

Our long-term reserved spot at Madison Campground in Yellowstone NP.

This doesn't always happen. There have been times when we've tried to wing it on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and have had to drive around to different campgrounds to find a space. This happened to us on the Oregon Coast. We went to four different campgrounds before we were able to squeeze into a space at Humbug Mountain State Park.

Our spot at the Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton.
In fact, I don't think the campground ever filled up over the weekend.

Some locations just don't warrant the "wing it" option. Some very popular areas like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and areas with amazing views like the Gulf Coast or the Pacific Ocean require reservations way in advance. When we went to Yellowstone National Park, we had our spot reserved about seven months ahead. However, when we went to nearby Grand Teton National Park on our way to Yellowstone, we winged it and arrived at the Gros Ventre Campground around 11:00 on a Friday morning and got a great spot just before the weekend groups showed up.

Another "lucky" site we got on Friday before Memorial Day at Silver Lake near Lake Tahoe.

Teardrop cuteness and the "tribe" factor has also gotten us into very last minute camping spots. We wanted to take a quick weekend trip up to the Blue Lakes near our home and left on a Friday after work. We drove through the campground and could not find any open sites. However, just as we turned a corner, a couple was just starting to pack up their own teardrop trailer. We stopped and chatted with them about our darling trailers and they offered to give us their site when they left in about an hour.

So I think my advice to ML would be to first look into where you would like to go and then look up the available campgrounds in the area. Check out Reserve America and Recreation.gov to see if these campgrounds are very popular or can be reserved. Sometimes having a site reserved ahead of time can take a lot of stress off your trip. If they are not popular or cannot be reserved, then just head out and try your luck. Sometimes the hunt for a great campsite is part of the fun of teardrop camping.


  1. Christine, this is great advice. Thank you for sharing specific experiences. I agree that the mystery factor is why one ventures out in the first place. As it happens, I am about to set out this week on an end-of-summer venture and will bear all of this in mind, hoping for a tidy blend of serendipity and thoughtful foresight. A friend of mine has recommended the iExit app and Camp Finder app. I intend to try them out.

  2. Thank you for the additional sites, ML. I love your "serendipity and thoughtful foresight" comment. That summons the process up exactly.

  3. Hi Christine, Great post and am looking forward to your Mt Whitney post.
    Over the years of camping we have moved from winging it to having reservations. One of our favorite places to camp is Jumbo Rocks at Joshua Tree NP and takes no reservations. We've been lucky and have always gotten a site but we also have a back up plan on some BLM land a short drive a way.

    But on a long trip I like to know I have a place to stop for the night and have found it convenient to have those reservations in place.

    1. Thanks Marie. I love the idea of having a backup plan. Many places don't have access to BLM land, but it's good to have that information on hand.

  4. Hi Christine! I love your blog. My husband and I just recently purchased our first teardrop camper and are loving it. I have two questions that don't really pertain to this article that I'm hoping you can answer. What shelter are you using over the picnic tables in the pictures above and where did you find the cargo net you are using on the interior of your camper?

    1. Hello Erica. Thank you and congratulations on your new tear! The shelter is an REI Alcove with one set of windwalls. They are about $130 from REI. The cargo net is one that can be used in the back of a truck or in the cargo area of a hatchback. I found mine on Amazon. Look under trunk or cargo netting and look for your teardrop's width.