People camping at the Charles Waters Campground in the Bitterroot National Forest have numerous spots from which to choose. A new study looks at why campers prefer some campsites over others.
“We tend to think of park settings as places where people want to find solitude,” said Will Rice, a University of Montana assistant professor studying outdoor recreation. “When I look for a campsite, I want a little privacy and to not hear my neighbors. But that was not a driver of demand. Really packed-in campsites are just as in demand as more dispersed sites. And good views didn’t matter as much as price and access to electricity.”
Rice knows this because the federal reservation portal Recreation.gov makes all its trend data public (minus the personal details). Every national park campground booking, every river float permit, every fire lookout rental, can be fed into Rice’s computer for big-data analysis. So he and co-author Soyoung Park of Florida Atlantic University looked at 23,000 reservations to see what we really want from a public lands overnight visit.
Specifically, Rice and Young looked at 179 campsites in Zion National Park’s Watchman Campground in Utah. It splays along the Virgin River, close between the park entrance and the main visitor center. As of June 17, only three days in July have campsite reservations available. A two-night stay on July 25-26 has just a single group tent site for $90 a night (no electric service). The average July temperature in that part of Utah is 100 degrees.