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?