I forget what it was called, but I once used a service that called my cable provider for me to negotiate lower monthly bills. I was sick of getting stuck on the phone all morning trying to lower my bill, and this company would do it for me, for a fee. It worked!

Right away, I wondered if the same thing could work for booking popular campsites, and then promptly forgot. Campnab, a relatively new online service, beat me to the punch.

In California, especially at many desirable campgrounds within a three-hour drive of the Bay Area, reservations are required, often months in advance. Deciding on a Monday that you want to camp somewhere near San Francisco the following weekend is a recipe for extreme frustration.


What’s worse, the mix of federal, state, and private campgrounds can make booking a byzantine click-fest as you navigate multiple websites and call different phone numbers trying to figure out if there’s an empty plot of land anywhere to plop down a tent for a couple nights.

Campnab, can, theoretically, handle all of that for you. The idea is very, very simple. You tell them the campground you want, and give them some dates, and they monitor the place with laser-beam focus, watching for cancellations.

If one pops up, they shoot you a text. They don’t book anything for you. They don’t make reservations themselves and greedily amass them to sell to the public. They just, like the bill negotiator service I mentioned above, do the grunt work of watching cancellations for you. Well, their servers do, but you get the idea.

You can pay either for a one-time use, between $10-20, or for a monthly membership, if you camp often, in crowded zones. Costs are based on how often you have them scan for openings. You can set your plan to once-per-hour scans, up to every-five-minutes scans. Their website makes it clear that since the whole thing is based on cancellations, they can’t guarantee you’ll get a site within the window.

It might be helpful if the site collected data on how often cancellations occurred at particular campsites and then made that available when signing up for the service, but, then again, cancellations are probably pretty random.

The company is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and so far, they monitor sites in B.C., Ontario, Washington, Oregon, California, National Parks in Canada and the U.S., and anywhere bookable through recreation.gov.

So, who knows, maybe that impossible to nab site in Yosemite, or Big Sur, or the Grand Tetons, is nabbable after all.

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