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Reader Participation Day: Should Campground Reservations Be Mandatory In The National Park System?


Should all national park system campgrounds be reservation only? NPT file photo.

Should campground reservations be mandatory in the National Park System, or should all campsites be on a first-come, first-served basis?

That is a highly debatable question, one that seems to ebb and flow not only with the seasons, but with proposals floated by various parks to implement a reservations system. Most recently, officials at Voyageurs National Park said they wanted to hear what the public thought about a reservations system for backcountry campsites.

There are, of course, pros and cons of a reservation system. For places such as Voyageurs, where you have to paddle, motor, or sail your boat to a campsite, the comfort of knowing you've reserved a site is welcome, particularly if you have a long day's paddling to reach it.

And at parks with small campgrounds that take a good amount of travel to reach, such as the 26-site Squaw Flat Campground in Canyonlands National Park, being able to reserve a site also offers peace of mind, knowing that after a couple hours or more of driving you'll have a site and won't be greeted by a "Campground Full" sign that forces you to go in search of someplace to stay, someplace that could be far, far away.

But then there are locals who worry that a reservation system means they won't be able to go to their favorite park on the spur-of-the-moment, but rather have to plan ahead to nab their favorite campsite.

And, of course, there are fears that a reservation system could turn into a campsite scalping system, where one person locks up a number of sites and then auctions them off to the highest bidder.

But reservations seem to work just fine in lodges. Indeed, I'd venture that if the question were reversed -- should reservations be mandatory in park lodges -- most folks would say absolutely! So why not in campgrounds?


Why different rules for campers and lodgers? Because they are different people with different cultures. Camping is the epitome of self sufficiency, of flexibility and improvisation. And among the campers tent campers are different from RV users. So they should be treated differently.

Why not have both, as I believe most NPS campgrounds do today? Those CGs that see heavy demand, like Yosemite Valley, people can make reservations (and even that must be done the day reservations open), while those few sites left open are usually claimed by 10AM or so, or they are gone. In other places the percent left open can be different and a few never fill, so why not leave it to each park management to set the policy, based on their own deep knowledge of the usage patterns? The NPS website does a great job of telling people when and if reservations are needed or available, by specific CG, and the local people already know it.

Yes, I would like to see reservations in place for all campgrounds. We still have not stayed in several parks because we got there to late.

I like the balance that is used in most parks currently. If I know I'm going to be camping in an area that is popular, and I don't make a reservation, then that's my own fault for being a moron. But at the same time, part of taking my time and enjoying a park means that I might not know when I wake up in the morning where I'm going to be at the end of the day. Having that flexibility is a big part of enjoying our parks.

I pretty much agree with Anonymous @ 9-19, 0714. Each park, and even specific campgrounds within parks, could, based on the specific usage exprienced, hold some number of sites for thoses arriving without reservations. And that numbers could change on a seasonal basis.

I don't mind the current system. It takes some planning, but I can usually plan my trips so I can arrive at the right time to get a campsite in the national park, even the very popular ones. Even if not, I generally have a back-up plan. While it's nice to be in the park, camping just outside the park still lets me access the park programs, like the evening programs.

However, I agree with "anonymous" that having a mix of reservable and first-come, first-served is the best system, and allowing the local park managers to determine that mix is advisable.

Here in my home state of Oregon, the state parks have a mix like this in most parks. About the only feature I don't like is that the company they contract with for the online reservation system charges a, let's say, "robust" fee for the use of it. Otherwise, it's a good system; you can even pull up online maps of the campgrounds to pick your desired site, check the availability of sites on a given day or range of days, and make the reservation. If a similar system were in place for NPS campsites, it would make for a great reservation experience, hopefully with only a modest fee tacked on!

I strongly support a system that takes camping reservations (RV and tent) and especially backcountry sites in our National Park System. However, I do see a need for some first-come/first-serve sites as well. Individuals, who get out on a last minute get-away or experience a change in plans, should have a shot at a campsite within our National Park System. Perhaps a 90% reservation/10% walk-up system would work (Understanding that each of our parks is unique and each should be able to tweak this allocation for better service to their patrons).I enjoy the convenience and peace of mind a camping reservation offers as I strive to make all my camping plans in advance, but sometimes this is just not possible. Also, weather, work schedules, and unexpected delays, can impact a planned outing and force a change a plans. In these instances, a first-come/first-serve camping site within the National Park System would be a possible plan B. Lastly, this past August, my 17-year-old son and I drove halfway across the country to backpack for a week in the Rocky Mountain National Park.It was a grand experience that neither of us will soon forget. Although, in the absence of a reservation system for backcountry sites, I seriously doubt that we would have taken this adventure with the risk of arriving at our destination and finding no backcountry sites available.

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Yes make it part of the system.

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