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How many front-country campgrounds are in the National Park System? How many are needed? If you’ve struggled with making a campsite reservation on recreation.gov, these questions might have come to mind. Here are some answers.
According to the National Park Service, at the end of 2018 there were 1,421 campgrounds in the park system with 27,513 campsites. Filter that done a bit more and there are 502 front-country campgrounds with 16,648 sites, according to the Park Service.
That 16,648 number might explain why it is such a struggle to reserve a campsite. After all, Yellowstone National Park has more than 2,000 front-country campsites alone, Yosemite National Park has nearly 1,500, Glacier National Park has more than 1,000, Grand Teton National Park has more than 1,100, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon have just a bit more than 1,200 sites. Do the math and you’ll see that those six parks alone hold 40 percent of those 16,648 campsites.
Many other parks that are highly desirable with campers have considerably fewer sites. Canyonlands National Park has fewer than 40, Arches National Park has 50, Rocky Mountain National Park has around 571, Acadia National Park has a few more than 600, and Shenandoah National Park has 472.
And, if you’re looking for an RV campsite you’re choices are even more limited.
And some parks don’t have any front-country campsites: Saguaro, Petrified Forest, Carlsbad Caverns, and Cuyahoga Valley national parks all fall in that category.
According to the Park Service, the variety of available campground facilities and amenities is extremely broad from primitive, unstaffed backcountry campsites to campgrounds that provide hot showers or can accommodate 25-foot recreational vehicles. Campgrounds are also managed through multiple models; some campgrounds are operated by the Park Service, some by concessioners, and a few by other partners.
Amenities at campgrounds in the National Park System include:
- 1,015 comfort stations at 346 campgrounds
- 12,730 tent pads at 485 campgrounds
- 8,585 RV pads
- 426 campgrounds with water stations
- 130 campgrounds with year-round hot showers
- 1,889 campsites at 36 campgrounds with electrical hook ups
- 130 campgrounds with dumping stations
- 33 campgrounds with Wi-Fi
- 60 amphitheaters at 55 campgrounds
- 3,534 fire rings at 556 campgrounds
- 14 camp stores at 11 parks
Of the 1,421 campgrounds in the park system, 1,340 were managed by Park Service and 81 were managed through concessions contracts.
According to the Park Service, these were the top 10 campgrounds in terms of occupancy:
1. Mather Campground, Grand Canyon National Park: 154,069 campers
2. Upper Pines, Yosemite National Park: 128,113 campers
3. Watchman Campground, Zion National Park: 92,231 campers.
4. Moraine Park Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park: 53,795 campers
5. Assateague Island National Seashore Campground: 51,035 campers
6. Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore: 47,708 campers
7. Pinnacles Campground, Pinnacles National Park: 44,382 campers
8. Blackwoods Campground, Acadia National Park: 44,289 campers
9. Point Reyes National Seashore Campground: 43,918 campers
10. Hodgdon Meadow Campground, Yosemite National Park: 43,440 campers
Knowing all those numbers, how would you manage the parks and their front-country campgrounds? Would you call for more campgrounds/campsites to be carved into the parks? Would you add more campgrounds/sites to the busiest parks, or would you put campgrounds in those parks that don’t have any campgrounds? Would you leave things as they are and suggest those who can’t land a reservation look to nearby national forests or other public lands’ campgrounds?
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.