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Reader Participation Day: Have Campground Or Lodging Reservations Gotten Too Hard to Obtain In Some National Parks?


Has the difficulty in obtaining a reservation for either a campsite or lodge room in a national park become too much hassle to deal with in some cases?

That seems to be a reasonable question in light of the stories out of Yosemite National Park that some campsite reservations are being auctioned off to the highest bidder and considering the fact that you have to start months and months in advance to secure a room in some park lodges on the dates you want, not the dates that are left over.

Of course, that's supply and demand for you.

But when some folks on Twitter are lamenting that "(W)hen you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is (wrong)", and when our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, relate that in mid-May on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon "accommodations are fully booked nearly the entire season. If you wish to stay here, be certain to make a reservation very early. Consider that our visit here was marked with windy and cold conditions and even the campground is at full capacity," well, we have to ask you, the park goers, if something is wrong?

Have you stopped going to any particular national park because it's too difficult to land a place to lay your head at the end of the day? If so, what suggestions would you make to the National Park Service to address this situation?


Of course this situation is going to exist. The parks are increasingly popular, and we cannot give over more and more of their land to lodging and campgrounds. If we want to both maintain and visit the natural spaces of the parks, we visitors need to be prepared to make compromises: secure reservations well in advance, or stay outside the park.

Otherwise, we're caving in to the "me! me! me!" mentality of demanding everything exactly the way we want it. No. Compromises are necessary.

Btw, the situation on the North Rim is not new. Twenty years ago, I had to make reservations at Jacob's Lake Inn, some 44 miles away, 7 months in advance of our visit. I could get nothing closer. But does this warrant paving over park land in order to build more hotel space? I don't think so. And if you built a hotel with a capacity for, say, 300 more visitors, it would fill up just as quickly.

There is such a thing as a carrying capacity at many National Parks. Do we really want to love them to death or pave them over? It's not the NPS's job to provide beds. Support the nearby communities for overnight accomodations. Or get out and hike into the backcountry.

It's a good problem if people are getting out and using the parks. As long as the process is fair and doesn't favor anyone else - it's no different than making reservations at Walt Disney World. I made reservations for Yellowstone in January for late summer. I didn't get first pick but then I could have made reservations earlier.


We got our Grand Canyon No Rim cabins booked 12 months in advance ... still didnt get the Rim View ... but who cares - got our cabin.  If you know the rules, it makes it alot easier.  Just book in advance and you WIN.  Alot of people cannot make advance plans in life, and they'll just have to suck it up and stay at the local hotels or visit a different park.  I always plan my vacations a year or more in advance so I can get the lodging we want.  Then, I have the rest of time to plan what to do once we get there.  Same goes for the jeep rentals and speciality side-trips.

If you are trying to do a short notice trip, I can see how this would be a problem.  I tend to plan my major park visits at least six months out.  I will plan longer if I am going during peak season.  I prefer to do the edge seasons, myself.  I actually made a reservation for Yellowstone a couple of weeks ago but it was for right after Labor Day. 

Having worked a season for Xanterra in Yellowstone, you can play arrival roulette and many times find something on arrival, assuming you don't want to stay at the Old Faithful Inn.  The reserved campgrounds are tougher, but the first come first serve non-concession ones are usually available before noon.  It all depends on how you want to play the game.

A way to handle the scalping is to make the reservations and permits non-transferable.  But I do know that can cause other issues if a group of people plan a trip and the person whose name is on the reservation has to cancel.  The other possibility is to start holding some sites/rooms for two weeks prior, but I know the concessionaires would not be happy with that at all.

One reason for the difficulty in obtaining Yosemite campsites is the supply. I haven't heard of any other NPS campgrounds where pretty much all sites are reserved in under 10 minutes of becoming available. The supply was reduced after the Merced River flood of 1997, where the superintendent decided to take the River campgrounds out of commission and cut back on available sites at other campgrounds. I understand there are a bit over half as many reservable campsites in Yosemite Valley now as there were before the flood. That would be coupled with more sophisticated automated programs designed to snatch up available sites quickly. With the new check-in procedures and non-transferrability, I'm thinking a lot of resellers might not be as interested. Even so, I'm guessing that a lot of the people looking to legitimately get their own campsites might be utilizing automated programs to get an advantage over their competition that's only using a mouse and a keyboard. Even with just computers and mouse clicks, every time they make campsites available, there are thousands of people attempting to get reservations. I would think they would still pretty much sell out in minutes because of the sheer demand coupled with the limited supply.

I was also told that the majority of lodging for the peak season at Yosemite is sold out the day it becomes available, which is a year in advance. Availability can also be strange, since one can reserve for several days. The number of available rooms differs each day depending on how many rooms were reserved for multiple nights starting on the previous days. That's also somewhat of an issue with campground reservations, where stays can overlap into the next reservation period.

Another reason for the difficulty is that lodging esp in Yellowstone closes up about mid sept. I went to the website just now and Canyon and Grant village is closed up after 9/15. This reduces the amount of rooms that are availible for the fall. This is a prime time for those who have no children, or they are grown to go on vacation. Also it is prime time for fall colors. I realize that it can snow anytime after labor day up there, but also fall is the best time to view a lot of things in the park. Migrating herds, birds, etc. Also another effective way to have more additional rooms availible is not to let the tours book up chunks of rooms at a time. That is a practice, sorry to say this, motivated by profit, by in part the operators who run the lodging and concessions in the park.

I always plan my park stays either before schools get out or after Labor Day, and I never stay in a lodge or hotel or cabin. I always in a campground for a few nights before heading into the backcountry for some real solitude. I do not always get my choice of campground, especially in Yosemite, but so far, I have been able to obtain a site someplace in the park. I agree that the parks should not be constructing more buildings, but there are certainly some parks where more campsites would be appropriate, to accomodate demand in the peak season. A limited expansion of campsites should not be considered as paving over the park.

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