Where are the most popular campsites? Report shows increase in camping


It’s no secret that the outdoors is loved to death. And in western states rich in public land, campsites have seen an explosion in popularity over the past decade.

Camping crisis, a report from the Center for Western Priorities released Thursday, quantified something many in the West already know: Camping is hard to find.

From 2014 to 2020, the states – with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii – saw a 39% increase in the occupancy rate of bookable campsites during peak season, according to the report. Western states saw a 47% increase over the same period.

Some key findings from the report:

  • Mountain West was a particularly popular place to camp in 2020 – Montana had the highest rate of bookable campsites filled at 76%. Colorado came in second at 71% and Idaho fifth at 57%.
  • At 96%, Wyoming campsites experienced the largest percentage change in occupancy since 2014.
  • National park campsites are by far the most popular, with an occupancy rate close to 100%.
  • Only six states have seen an overall decrease in summer occupancy since 2014. Four are in the northeast and have seen an increase in summer occupancy until 2019, where the report notes that COVID-19 had a impact on recreation in densely populated states.
  • In the summer of 2020, Utah had an average occupancy of 49% in its 201 campsites that were analyzed.
  • Since 2014, Utah has seen a 77% increase in the number of bookable campsites filled.

Southern Utah campsites are by far the most popular in the state, according to the report. In the summer of 2019 and 2020, the following five campsites saw on average more than 90% of their bookable sites filled:

  • Sunset Campground at Bryce Canyon National Park at 99%.
  • Zion National Park Watchman Campground at 97%.
  • Capitol Reef National Park Fruita Campground at 96%.
  • Arches National Park Devils Garden Campground at 94%
  • 93% South Campground in Zion National Park.

National parks tend to dominate the public land overcrowding debate, and for good reason. July was the busiest month in Yellowstone history, according to park service data. And several miles south, Grand Teton National Park had its busiest June on record. Utah’s parks are increasingly crowded, and in 2021 Arches National Park had to restrict entry due to congestion more than 100 times. Friday, the doors close at 10:30 a.m.

But Utah state parks are also registering record numbers. Consider this:

  • In June 2021, state parks recorded more than 2.2 million visits, breaking the monthly mark of 2 million for the first time in the state’s history.
  • Sand Hollow, Jordanelle, Deer Creek, and Bear Lake – the five most visited parks in July 2021 – saw more visitors combined this month than all of Utah’s 40 state parks in July 2014.
  • In July 2020, Jordanelle State Park recorded 281,859 visits, twice as many visits as the park in 2015.
  • Goblin Valley State Park recorded a record 84,243 visits in April 2021. That’s about 29,000 more visits than in April 2019.

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