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Fire Island National Seashore Institutes Online Backcountry Reservation System


You can add Fire Island National Seashore in New York to the growing list of National Park System units with an online reservation system for backcountry camping. While the seashore won't charge you per night in the backcountry, there is a $20 reservation fee.

Fire Island's reservation system is for permits to camp in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. A limited number of wilderness/backcountry camping permits are issued for overnight stays in the Fire Island wilderness, so reservations will provide potential campers with the assurance that space will be available when they arrive.

Group size is limited, and the maximum length of stay is three consecutive nights. Campers must be prepared to hike from one to five miles down the beach to reach the designated wilderness camping zones, and must carry in (and carry out) everything needed for this primitive camping experience.

Since the breach at Old Inlet has cut off access to the wilderness camping areas, campers staying in both the eastern camping zone and the western camping zone must now check in at Watch Hill Visitor Center, a half-hour ferry ride from Patchogue. The Watch Hill VC reopens on May 25. (Permits are not currently issued at the Wilderness Visitor Center.)

"Permits were previously issued on a first-come, first-served basis," said John Mahoney, concessions specialist and special park uses coordinator for the Seashore, "but more people have been using this resource in recent years. The new reservation system will help us better serve our visitors and better protect park resources, too."

Camping is also available at the Watch Hill Campground, operated for the Seashore by Fire Island Concessions, LLC, for campers who prefer to be closer to the restrooms, snack bar and other amenities. Reservations for this campground, accessible by passenger ferry from Patchogue or by private boat, may be made online. There is a $25 nightly fee for each campsite at the Watch Hill Campground, with a two-night minimum for Friday and Saturday night stays.

For more information about programs or camping in the Fire Island Wilderness, contact the Division of Interpretation at 631-687-4780 (weekdays) or 631-281-3010 (weekends).


Sara -- many thanks to you for providing facts and objectivity.

I have no issue with paying a small fee for reserving a site, regardless of the timing of the reservation. Computerized systems are the way everything is going. I somehow doubt we will revert to pencil and paper manual reservation systems anymore than we will revert to horse-and-buggy transportation. Best to enjoy the experience in the National Parks or go someplace else you do enjoy. I'm sure there are other places -- certain national forests, state parks, state forests, and motels, for instance -- where you can reserve campsites or cabins or rooms by walking/driving to the place in order to find out if anything is available for the night.

There are plenty of examples of national parks and wilderness areas administered by the National Forest Service where one pays a reservation fee if they choose to secure a backcountry permit days, weeks or months in advance. If, however, they choose to simply show up the day their trip begins (or post noon the day before) and get whatever permit (be it for a specific campsite or camp-zone, or for a trailhead quota) is still available as a walk-up (or walk-in), there is no fee. When even walk-ins are charged for a permit, it's effectively a backcountry camping fee. Sometimes it's a flat fee per group; sometimes it's a flat fee per person; sometimes it's a per night charge or some combination. Regardless, if there's no way to avoid a charge, there's no avoiding -- despite whatever calculated language administrators choose to employ -- what one is truly being charged for.


Yes, you are right there are two different fees. You were charged both types of fees for City of Rocks. At Arches, you are only being charged a camping fee, which is a type of recreation user fee. That Arches user fee must include the costs of reservation services, otherwise you would have been charged a separate additional fee. If you canceled your reservation, $10 would be deducted from your refund of the camping fee, likely to cover the costs of the reservation service and issuing a refund.

On the Fire Island website, the $20 fee for wilderness camping is being referred to as "a cost recovery fee". The only thing I can find about "cost recovery fees" in the 2006 NPS Management Policy document is in the section Special Park Uses. I guess because wilderness camping requires a permit, it qualifies as a special park use(someone correct me if I'm misinterpreting).

Lee, I think that if you are required to pay money before backpacking or camping, then, regardless of the justification, you are paying a backpacking or camping fee. I can't speak for other places, but here in the Smokies they instituted a reservation system for sites that didn't require reservations and never needed them whatsoever. Im talking about places where they average less than 2 people per night in sites rated for 12 and sometimes 14. I can see if it was some kind of backlogged place with all these overcrowded need for control and management but that simply wasn't the case in the Smokies. The shelters were the only place that ever came close to having a problem at certain times but that isn't backcountry camping in my opinion. The fee here is for ALL backcountry sites. Which are and have been empty most all of the time.

Kurt, I started looking into that link you sent and I appreciate it. I intend to delve more deeply into those numbers. I respect your opinion about the overall NPS attitude about backcountry camping, however, here in the Smokies there are troubling signs to the contrary, for example:

The recent closure of three backcountry campsites along Ace Gap Trail and Beard Cane. There is also the reduction in campers allowed at another closeby site, campsite 2 on Cane Creek which is in the same general vicinity. The most troubling thing is that all of these are near a resort and home of former TN governor. I can attest that campsite 2 is HUGE and can accomodate 10 at least. There is no issue about resource degradation here. Large, abused sites like those along Hazel Creek on the Carolina side, which are horse damaged beyond belief, remain wide open. Same with Laurel Gap shelter where equestrian damage has devastated the brand newly refurbished shelter, completed by volunteers, of course.

Is it possible that some people are confusing "reservation fee" with either the words "reservation" or "camping fee?" Seems like a big argument about words rather than an actual situation.

If I go to a campground entrance and fill out the little envelope, stuff the money into it and shove it into the box, I'm paying a "camping fee."

If I call ReserveAmerica or and send the money to them, am I paying a "reservation fee" or is it a "camping fee?" Then, when I print out the paper bill -- as I did when I reserved a site at City of Rocks last week, I may find a line item there that says "Reservation fee = $10.00" There was also a line that read "Camp fee = $12.72 (Idaho tax included) x 3 nights = $37.26" Aren't we talking about two separate things?

I have the reservation for my upcoming stay of four nights at Arches in front of me and it says:

Use fee: $80

Interagency pass: -$40

Charge Visa: $40

I'm not sure, but could that be the case in the current fuss over backcountry camping in the Smokies? I admit, I'm thoroughly confused over that one. But is this really just an argument over semantics?

Backcountry traffic actually was up across the park system in 2012, with 1,816,904 visits versus 1,715,611 in 2011. Now, it was down quite a bit from the late 1970s, early 1980s, when the number spiked above 2.5 million for one year before plummeting down to about 1.6 million in 1987.

In all my years dealing with the Park Service, I've never had the sense they don't want backcountry travelers. And certainly, if that were the case, the outdoor industry would be up in arms over that. Rather, I'd bet that declines can be traced to the individual's desire to go backpacking.

For numbers on backcountry trends in general and specific parks overall, visit this site, go to annual abstracts, and select your year of choice.

Kurt's right, the $6 is a reservation fee.

From the NRRS Operating Procedures Manual, Appendix 1 page 8:

"Reservation Fee. An Agency-approved fee charged to the customer at the time a reservation is made, to cover the cost of reservation services. This fee is in addition to the Recreation Use Fee"

In Chapter 2(pg19) the manual states,

"Reservation fees are charged at some agency facilities and are non-refundable."


"The National Park Service has a reservation fee of $1.50 for tour tickets at non-fee parks, i.e., the Washington Monument."

Lee said he wasn't charged a reservation fee at Arches for a campgound reservation. Arches has an entrance fee, Fire Island doesn't.

Is anyone else here feeling like the NPS would prefer to decrease visitation to the backcountry of all NPS areas?

Nope. Over the last three years, I've traveled the backcountry of nearly thirty national parks, and I've had the exact opposite exerience with NPS.

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