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Old 02-21-2015, 11:51 AM   #1
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National Park CG's

Headed to Utah in the fall, looking at staying at a number of National Park and Monument CG's, many of which are first come first served, Capitol Reef and Hovenweep, to name a couple. I've read where you need to get to the CG early to get a site, prowl the roads looking for someone checking out and ask them if it's okay if you put your tag on their site. Is this really how it works? Would appreciate it if someone would explain how it actually works. I've noticed most National Forest CG's close mid Sept, kind of early.
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Old 02-21-2015, 12:00 PM   #2
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You won't have much trouble at Hovenweep or Capital Reef in the fall. The busier parks are Canyonlands, Arches and Zion. And as you said, first come, first served.
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Old 02-21-2015, 12:38 PM   #3
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Capital Reef's campground was VERY busy and full when we were there in the fall. Arrived at noon and got the last campsite available. The ranger said with all us baby boomers retired, that the fall is becoming busier and busier at CR. BTW, we loved that place, lots of great hiking and uncrowded once we got out onto most trails.
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Old 02-21-2015, 12:39 PM   #4
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Also, you need to "ignore" the campground full signs going into Capital Reef and many other parks. We arrived around 10:30 in the morning on a Friday in May and the sign as you entered town stated that the campground was full. When we got to the CG, we found several available sites although they were filling up quickly. We found that quite often, the signs weren't taken down from the previous day when they were full. We always tried to find the CG volunteer as soon as we encountered this when getting to a park.
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Old 02-21-2015, 12:42 PM   #5
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You won't have much trouble at Hovenweep or Capital Reef in the fall. The busier parks are Canyonlands, Arches and Zion. And as you said, first come, first served.
Disagree. Visited Capital Reef fall 2013 and we were there by 11:00 am - FULL. Had to go on to Escalante State Park, also full but we got to stay in the "overflow" aka the parking lot. Utah has become VERY popular in the fall. Make reservations where you can and you won't have any unpleasant surprises. Just sayin' ...
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Old 02-21-2015, 01:03 PM   #6
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My approach is to camp as close as possible the night before, so I can arrive by 9:00AM or so if the park is one that is typically crowded. Examples such as the South campground at Zion, Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, and so on. Since many of the National Parks have reserve only sites with no walk ins (non reservable sites), it can be difficult, particularly on weekends & especially on holiday weekends. While I've never drove around a campground asking individuals if they were leaving so I could grab their site, a couple of times I've watched larger trailers or motorhomes give up trying to get into a site & moved in after them.

It is worth calling the park ahead of time to find out their procedures for obtaining a site. Fore example, some let you pick a site, fill out a tag & move in, while others (such as Dead Horse Point) assign the sites at the entrance station or visitor center. They may even tell you what is expected to become available the next day, or when will be the best time to get a walk in site.

As Kevin or Barbara stated, ignore "Campground Full" signs if possible since it is difficult for the rangers to keep up during the mornings as people leave. In a few cases, the ranger at the entrance booth (next to the "Campground Full" sign) pointed out an empty site based on the small size of my trailer.

I've managed to find a site almost anywhere without reservations if I arrived before 10:00AM, even in locations that required reservations for all sites. The only national park I couldn't get a site (even in the middle of the week) was Two Medicine in Glacier, one of my favorites. Another problem is the Oregon coastal parks during the summer - without reservations, most of them are very difficult to get into. Still, I prefer to travel without reservations, and have never had to stay in a Walmart...
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Old 02-21-2015, 01:40 PM   #7
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Disagree. Visited Capital Reef fall 2013 and we were there by 11:00 am - FULL. Had to go on to Escalante State Park, also full but we got to stay in the "overflow" aka the parking lot. Utah has become VERY popular in the fall. Make reservations where you can and you won't have any unpleasant surprises. Just sayin' ...
Good to know. Capital Reef used to be no issue in the fall, but I guess times are changing.
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Old 02-21-2015, 01:40 PM   #8
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So the National Parks have check in booths that you need to go to or are they self serve?

Must have hit critical mass, more campers then sites. Sure feels that way.
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Old 02-21-2015, 01:52 PM   #9
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Also, you need to "ignore" the campground full signs going into Capital Reef and many other parks. We arrived around 10:30 in the morning on a Friday in May and the sign as you entered town stated that the campground was full. When we got to the CG, we found several available sites although they were filling up quickly. We found that quite often, the signs weren't taken down from the previous day when they were full. We always tried to find the CG volunteer as soon as we encountered this when getting to a park.
We do know to ignore the "full" signs and investigate further. Drove the entire campground and checked the cards. It was the peak of the annual fall migration (those snowbirds headed South) That is why Escalante was also full.
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Old 02-21-2015, 02:32 PM   #10
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So the National Parks have check in booths that you need to go to or are they self serve?

Must have hit critical mass, more campers then sites. Sure feels that way.
It depends on the park, or even what part of the park. For example, to enter the St Mary campground in the east side of Glacier, you have to stop at a booth (this is after paying & entering the park). On the west side of the same park, there is no entrance booth going into the Apgar campground.

Most of the parks use envelopes to secure a site on a first come basis but those that use reservations often have some kind of ranger control.
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