Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 1, 2016

The demise of spontaneity?

Filed under: camping,photo albums,wildlife — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:24 am
Tags: , , ,


The dashboard clock read 0423 as we rolled up to the entrance of the Many Glacier campground and its 109 sites. In the inky pre-dawn of mid-August, we waited sleepily for rangers to show up several hours later to assign the available first-come-first-served sites, of which there are typically 15-20 daily. We were not the first car there.

It has come to this because demand far exceeds supply. Reservable campgrounds exist, but spontaneous souls who long to snag a last-minute campsite in the heart of Glacier must forfeit part of a night’s sleep to occupy a place in line. (I might add that this arrangement is far superior to the more typical “Campground Combat” method of circling for hours, pouncing on folks as they emerge from their tent, and hovering nearby the site until it’s free.)

We heard some vociferous complainers in line, demanding to know why they couldn’t ‘just get a site’ as they did in other places, forgetting that our national parks were created in an era of far fewer visitors. The answer is not as simple as building more campgrounds; you then need even more parking, toilets, grocery stores, gas stations, ice, showers, laundry, employees, etc. No easy solutions exist but I’d love to hear your thoughtful suggestions in the Comments section.

Truth be told — with a grizzly encounter, iceberg-strewn lake, thimbleberries galore, with smell of boreal forest, with bright starlit nights over alpine lakes… it was worth losing a few hours of sleep. Many Glacier will always be a brilliant gem in “The Crown of the Continent.”


  1. I hear ya……ever tried to get a spot in Zion…..basically impossible, I used to get sooo frustrated until I discovered the BLM land dispersed camping…..I may never camp in a NP again if there is BLM land nearby.

    Comment by superdave0002 — September 1, 2016 @ 10:29 am | Reply

    • As inexperienced campers are forced onto “Leave No Trace” primitive BLM lands, we are finding a painful result: people who don’t know how to poop without a toilet leave their messes behind. I usually love primitive camping unless I land in a spot like this, with feces on the ground and toilet paper blowing in the wind like wild grasses. You can bet this makes me want to scream, and write letters to the editor. It is what I fear will happen more and more as folks are squeezed out of their preferred front-country campgrounds.

      Zion is another national park that finds itself WAY beyond carrying capacity. Solutions are elusive.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — September 1, 2016 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

  2. The same situation exists in Northeastern Minnesota state parks. However, it is usually possible to camp in the national forest campgrounds. These sites have only fire rings, table, and one pit toilet per campground. This causes those who want more amenities to bypass them. Would a few more primitive campgrounds help alleviate the national park campground demand? Just trying to think creatively…

    Comment by Chris Youngman — September 1, 2016 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

    • That’s a start; I like your thinking. Bureau of Land Management is building them as fast as they can around Moab but we’re still beyond carrying capacity much of the year. When folks find every last campground filled, they drive off the pavement and camp on any flat spot, creating heavily impacted areas which were once pristine. It’s distressing!

      I suspect you prefer the national forest campgrounds. They are rather self-selecting, as you mentioned!

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — September 1, 2016 @ 8:58 pm | Reply

  3. I was amazed at how close the grizzly let Chris get for that picture!!!

    Comment by john — September 2, 2016 @ 7:48 am | Reply

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