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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?


My husband and I have been camping in National Parks for 30 years and have seen so many changes. The first time we camped at Arches NP we just drove in, picked out a site, and set up camp. We have not been able to do that there for years. Though nostalgic for the "freedom" of those days, it is unrealistic to think that it will ever be like that again. However, that being said, I would still like to see some sites available without reservations. As previous people commented, as campers we like to have some freedom to wander without reservations. And, yes, I make reservations at lodges all the time. But campsites are a little more individualistic and not all the same. It's always been fun to drive the campground and pick out that perfect site. And some campgrounds never fill so reservations would be silly. The campground at Mesa Verde rarely fills, Squaw Flat that was mentioned in the article doesn't fill in the summer (and it is wonderful then but don't tell anyone!), I'm sure there are others.

How about a mix? At Zion, for example, Watchman campground is reservation while South is traditional. Black Canyon has two loops were reservations may be made and one where it's open.

Nothing wrong with first come first serve. Here in the Smokies, they are using false arguments to charge a fee for backcountry camping. I now realize that the NPS is an inherently corrupt organization and distrust any proposal that imposes control of our public lands. They use fear tactics to manipulate folks into opening their wallets. Jarvis drive to make the parks generate revenue might curry him favor with Salazar but it sure isn't winning any friends with folks down South here.

No. It makes sense for some sites to be by reservation only, but not all sites. I once bicycled across the US staying in campgrounds along the way. If all the sites were by reservation only, it would have been nearly impossible to stay in a national park. It is not possible to plan exactly where you will be on the road weeks in advance. There is no logical reason to have 100% of the campsites by reservation only. A mix, as there is now, works for the largest number of people.

I think campsites should be "reservable." Who wants to drive 3-5 hours to get there and the campsite is full?

No....not all sites. We are the type of rv-er that tends to never know 9-12 months ahead of time where we might be!!!! What happened to "let's go camping!" and heading out, knowing you will find a site when you get there.

I favor reservation as long as the park service operates the campgrounds. If the operation of camp grounds is turned over to a vendor they will not honor the one half price to holders of the disabled pass.

Yes make it part of the system.

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