Secure a Choice Campsite

You'll need strategy, luck, and a little guile to reserve a spot at the country's most popular parks this summer. Here's how to game the (permit) system.

>>Check the rules
Parks release spots on a regular schedule as far in advance as six months. But some parks accept applications before the window opens and pool them in a lottery drawn the first day that permits can be reserved. Check individual park websites for rules. (Morally dubious but unquestionably effective: Have members of your group submit multiple permit applications.)

>>Arrive early
No reservations? Don't give up. About 40 percent of all spots are reserved for walk-up permits that are released 24 to 48 hours before the trip's start date.

>>Hike farther
Some parks (Yosemite, for instance) manage hiker numbers by imposing trailhead quotas instead of campsite restrictions. Simply choose a trailhead that's an extra day's walk from the most coveted scenery.