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Old 11-15-2022, 04:26 PM   #1
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Default Florida State Parks - Really?

A recent conversation with one of Florida’s State Park “kiosk sentries” has launched yet another of our bi-annual Anti-Campground Reservation System tirades. Before relating how Florida has further alienated would-be visitors and campers, we briefly summarize our position on the topic.

Few will disagree that the “Full Reservation System”, as adopted by an increasing number of premiere campgrounds, has dramatically altered how all of us obtain access to our campsites. For those accustomed to planning their every move a few months in advance, the Reservation System is a welcome tool. For those of us who prefer to wander and explore - - uncertain where the road leads - - we find ourselves locked-out of the increasing list of desirable camp locations.

We’ve been accused of being unable to adapt to the future. But implicit in that accusation is the assumption that “new is better”. No, it’s not that we’re unable to adapt - - merely that we’re unwilling.

When you’re reached that inevitable maturity (senior status), where time clocks along with the associated schedules that business and life demand, may be ignored and, further, when you've tasted the luxury of flexibility, you, too, may discover the joy of impromptu travel and conclude that, for all its advantages, the Reservation System doesn’t meet your needs, that ‘new’ isn’t always better.

Its unfortunate that the majority of those making the rules haven’t appreciated this ‘unintended consequence’ of the Reservation System and, moreover, the simplicity by which the needs of both the Planner and the Impromptu Traveler can be met - - split each campground’s sites into two groups: Reservable and Non-Reservable.

While we await the coming of our suggested miracle, we adapt as best we can. One truism of the Reservation System is that Reservations Only campgrounds ALWAYS have unused sites. This is counter intuitive. But campers continue to flow-into First-Come, First-Served campgrounds throughout any given day until every nook and cranny is occupied.

But Reservation Only campgrounds will always have no-shows or, even worse, those who ‘never intended to show’, those who, for example, reserve ‘their’ spot a few days in advance of their true, planned arrival, to ‘lock-in’ their real intention - - to occupy the site on a weekend or holiday. With this awareness, we often arrive late at these campgrounds after most who will actually camp, have already arrived. Yes, discerning the ‘no shows’ from the ‘late arrivers’ can be a challenge, but our track-record is good.

We may have wasted a little of your reading time because the “Florida issue” of which we currently rant, isn’t really one of ‘Reservations’ vs ‘First-Come, First-Served’. Indeed, we assumed correctly, that arriving late Sunday afternoon, still pre-season here in Florida, we would find a plethora of vacancies - - we wouldn’t have to guess which of the unoccupied sites were the no-shows. But, then, we didn’t know Florida.

We’ve all seen those signs “Campsites by Reservation Only”. We’ll spend little time trying to outline the consequences of such a restriction other than to note that we’ve never had any difficulty obtaining a campsite, if there are unreserved sites, by simply arriving at the campground office . . . at least, not until Sunday.

We pulled up to the entrance kiosk at Florida’s Lake Manatee State Park at 5:30pm, Sunday. The park attendant inquired if we had a reservation.

“No,” was our reply.
“Sorry, then you can’t camp here,” came her surprising response.
“You mean this park is full?” was all we could muster in our disappointment.
“No,” she continued, “we have lots of sites available, but you need a reservation.”

Here we digress to inquire: Are we really reserving a camp site when we arrive, pay for, and immediately occupy an otherwise unreserved campground site? To us, a ‘reservation’ implies securing something for some future occupation. But until this unlikely encounter, no one, anywhere, had ever argued the meaning of “reservation” - - nor suggested that “Reservation Only” actually required doing something in advance if unreserved sites were available. All, everywhere, have gladly accepted our money and given us leave to occupy the otherwise unreserved site. It’s seems Florida both agrees with our definition of reservation (as an in advance activity) and uncompromisingly intends on enforcing such definition.

“Ok,” we continued, “how do we make the required reservation?”
“You can’t, you’re too late. We don’t accept reservations at this park, or any Florida State Park, after 1pm,” was the answer.

After a few ‘you’re kidding, of course’ type comments we asked for this confirmation:

“Let’s be sure we understand, you can have a nearly empty campground . . . and you will not accept any drive-up campers if they arrive after 1pm? You will let those dozens of unreserved campsites remain empty and unused, indeed, unusable?”

Her answer was “Yes”.

Florida has taken “Reservations Only” to a new level of absurdity. What’s really amazing about this is that . . . in all our past ‘discussions’ with forum members and others concerning the Reservation System”, often the conversation devolves into a discussion of the abuses of the Reservation System and that these abuses, as noted above, guaranty that there will always be unused sites at such campgrounds. Even the most ardent advocates of the Reservation System acknowledge this to be wasteful . . . but consider it a ‘waste’ that must be accepted because we can never now whether that empty site is a ‘no show’ or ‘late arrival’.

But in Florida they’re creating even larger wastes - - and with what justification? An arbitrary administrative rule? How is it that the remainder of the country has found a means to parcel their unreserved sites to drive-in campers?
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Old 11-15-2022, 04:50 PM   #2
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Yep Winston, we totally agree as do many others I am sure.


Many of us that are in the post job routine remember the day we left work for the last time and thought to ourselves, "no more dress codes and taking direction from those that are more worried about their success than the success of the company or other employees".



Anyway, I hope things will progress to get better, at least in some places.



South Dakota, Custer State Park in particular, was a fairly adopter of reservations only because it is such an in demand place. They have been slowly tweaking since with adding same day reservations from the campground (yeah, you still have pay the the extra reservation fee though) and a couple of first come, first serve smaller campgrounds. We go there every year and know when it will be so we actually make the next year's reservation the while we are there the year before as it fills that quickly on a rolling one year reservation window. It is about the only way we can get our favorite site in our favorite campground. We have had to cancel a couple of times do to unforeseen things like illnesses or covid though, so we do feel a bit guilty about tying up the site for so long keeping others out. There aren't many of the last minute sites, so it is hard on the locals that might get a weekend off work or only schedule vacations a few weeks ahead. Sometimes it almost seems like the current policies a lot of places are trying to push out the locals in favor of the higher rates and added local revenue of tourists.


I really don't know how it will all shake out in the long run, though, but they do need to make it more favorable to all people who want to be able to camp in nice places whether rich or poor and able or unable to have a flexible schedule to be able to make reservations way ahead of time.
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Old 11-15-2022, 05:46 PM   #3
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Florida has taken “Reservations Only” to a new level of absurdity.
[...]
But in Florida they’re creating even larger wastes - - and with what justification? An arbitrary administrative rule? How is it that the remainder of the country has found a means to parcel their unreserved sites to drive-in campers?
It'd be interesting to see Florida's justification for a 1pm cutoff. As you indicate, other states have figured out how to make drive-up reservations and short-notice cancellations work.
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Old 11-15-2022, 05:51 PM   #4
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Moderators' note:
We have had to delete several recent messages from this thread because they have veered toward the political, which violates the list's rules. Some of it was rather mild, but political discussion tends to feed on itself -- kind of like graffiti.

The topic is well in-bounds, just minus the political parts.

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Old 11-15-2022, 07:17 PM   #5
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We volunteer every year with the National Park Service. Last year we spent two months as camp hosts at St. Mary campground in Glacier National Park, a reservation-only campground on the East side. Once the season kicked into gear, our campground was fully booked throughout the time we were there. We had many reserved but unused campsites throughout the season. You could usually spot them when you put up the ticket. If it was one night, very good chance of no-show. If two nights, nearly as likely to be a no-show. If they were staying three or more nights, there were fewer no-shows. Sadly, we couldn't just give the sites away to an impromptu arrival because (1) the site was already paid for and (2) the person reserving the site could show up anytime, including in the middle of the night, and we as volunteers aren't able to manage that nightmare. We're not paid, much less paid enough to deal with two competing campers at each other's throats in the middle of the night over a campsite one of them had reserved and paid for. We actually had one camper do exactly that - they rolled in and took over an empty one-night reserved site, hoping nobody would show up to bump them out. They did. It was a horrendous mess, and we as unpaid volunteers had to deal with that instead of sleeping that night.

Fortunately we have one first-come campground in the park up the road from us at Sunrise, and we were able to send some folks there. Given St Mary is so close to the eastern entrance to GNP, we were also able to refer campers to private campgrounds just outside the park that also accept first-come campers when they have space. Thus, for the most part we were able to direct people to something that would help them.

That said, yeah, it's a busted mess. Too many reserved campsites and no first-come sites is not great for the campground, the park visitors, or the volunteers. (sigh)
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Old 11-15-2022, 07:20 PM   #6
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It is about the only way we can get our favorite site in our favorite campground.
Yes but that's only because the reservation system is forcing people to plan things that way. I think all reservation systems everywhere should be discontinued. Rather than the plan being to reserve far in advance, the plan would become something different - the plan would become to be there as early in the day as possible. That way all interested parties would have the exact same challenge, and if one really wanted that certain camp site, the effort would be expended to be there. Simple.
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Old 11-15-2022, 07:29 PM   #7
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Yes but that's only because the reservation system is forcing people to plan things that way. I think all reservation systems everywhere should be discontinued. Rather than the plan being to reserve far in advance, the plan would become something different - the plan would become to be there as early in the day as possible. That way all interested parties would have the exact same challenge, and if one really wanted that certain camp site, the effort would be expended to be there. Simple.

No way was I implying that wasn't case, just the reality as to how it is now. I hate way it is.


They need to put in rules like many others have to address the problem. Not only forfeit the reservation and fees, but if aren't there or call be "X" o'clock they rerent the spot. Pretty simple in my mind and very fair.
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Old 11-15-2022, 08:10 PM   #8
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They need to put in rules
Or, they need to take out rules except for one simple rule that applies to everyone equally - be there and you get the spot. No other rules are necessary.
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Old 11-15-2022, 08:17 PM   #9
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No way was I implying that wasn't case, just the reality as to how it is now. I hate way it is.


They need to put in rules like many others have to address the problem. Not only forfeit the reservation and fees, but if aren't there or call be "X" o'clock they rerent the spot. Pretty simple in my mind and very fair.
In California, state parks manage some of the most desirable locations. Beaches are especially crowded during the summer season. One must have a reservation. No bookings without a credit card. If you cancel with enough notice, you may receive a partial refund. If you no show, you will not receive any reimbursement. Some places even set aside sites for walk in campers. But they must register daily if they want to stay longer. If they fail to reserve for the next day, they can lose their site. I have seen some desirable campgrounds booked 6 months in advance!
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Old 11-15-2022, 08:39 PM   #10
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In California, state parks manage some of the most desirable locations. Beaches are especially crowded during the summer season. One must have a reservation. No bookings without a credit card. If you cancel with enough notice, you may receive a partial refund. If you no show, you will not receive any reimbursement. Some places even set aside sites for walk in campers. But they must register daily if they want to stay longer. If they fail to reserve for the next day, they can lose their site. I have seen some desirable campgrounds booked 6 months in advance!

Just for comparison, I just checked the campground in Custer State Park the we prefer but is one of the less popular in the park. You can book 12 months ahead for Custer. We made our reservation on June 6 of this year for June 5-19 in 2023. It is only November and that campground if full for that two weeks unless you want to split into multiple sites and probably have to leave on weekends. It is truly crazy, IMO. I hope camping starts to not be trendy so we can get back to normal.
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Old 11-15-2022, 09:38 PM   #11
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Camping in RVs is just getting more popular. I'm finding where we have gone this past year that tent sites only don't seem to have that problem. One of our favorite campground, The Trails End Superior National Forest, used to be on first serve, no reservations basis. Now you have to make reservations. So we made reservations know this well in advance but had to reserve one campsite and then move over to another campsite. On the second day when we moved, the first campsite no one occupied. No problem. Both sites were great.

Then moving down to a municipal campground (Grand Marias, MN) we had made reservations with the only campsite left that was between what we knew would be between two Class A's or big trailers on a tight site. When we got there and asked if we could move, they said we had severals choices of a better site and we got this...
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Old 11-15-2022, 09:45 PM   #12
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Just for comparison, I just checked the campground in Custer State Park the we prefer but is one of the less popular in the park. You can book 12 months ahead for Custer. We made our reservation on June 6 of this year for June 5-19 in 2023. It is only November and that campground if full for that two weeks unless you want to split into multiple sites and probably have to leave on weekends. It is truly crazy, IMO. I hope camping starts to not be trendy so we can get back to normal.
A couple of seasons back. I really wanted to Lodgepole in the sequoias. I got the four days but had to move daily. Two different campgrounds and 4 different sites. I really enjoyed our stay there. Really not that much trouble pull up and leave every day around noon.
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Old 11-15-2022, 10:24 PM   #13
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As much as a "first come first served" approach appeals to me philosophically, it would be a disaster for the significant number of us who are "tourers" rather than "campers". If my goal were to score a campsite where we would settle in for a week or two, it would be fine. But we (and many other B-vanners) almost never do that. If the goal is to cover many miles/day on the way to a distant destination, it doesn't work at all. If I am going to drive 10 hours tomorrow, how am I going to get there "early". Drive all night?

As always, folks tend to view the problem through the lens of their particular needs and desires. The fact is that there is an absolute shortage of campsites (and probably always will be going forward). There is literally no plan that will please everyone. The only path forward will be a balanced plan that won't completely please anybody.

This is not to say that there is any excuse for stupidity. The Florida's "1:00 PM" drop-dead policy is idiotic. This level of crowding is a fairly new problem. I suspect that eventually a "best practice" policy will emerge and become standard. Such things take time, though.
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Old 11-15-2022, 10:45 PM   #14
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Since we have an off grid boondocking capable van, we enjoy Harvest Hosts sites. Mostly breweries, wineries, distilleries, museums and unique farms. What's not to like.

You supposedly can stay one night but that is not a problem when you are mostly traveling through and could be an end of the day spot. I made good use on them in Kentucky's Bourbon Trail to stay in the area multiple days.
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Old 11-15-2022, 10:53 PM   #15
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Any all or nothing system, whether 100% reservations or 100% first come first served, is going to be unfair to someone. A family with young children with two working parents who get limited vacation days needs to be able to make reservations. They can't just head out driving to a spot several states away hoping for the best. My wife and I are retired and our kids are grown so we prefer to wander without reservations. If we have to go elsewhere or boondock it's no big deal. Since reservation systems are all computerized these days it shouldn't take much effort for campgrounds to predict how many people with reservations actually show up, how many show up without reservations, and how many sites end up unoccupied. From there they can strike a balance of reserved sites, first come first served sites, and create a reasonable policy for handling the sites of people who don't show up.
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Old 11-16-2022, 01:30 AM   #16
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I love Davydd's point that with a Class B one can often grab a tent site instead of an RV site. After all, we're a van, not a Class C, Class A, etc. We can fit nearly anywhere that one can park a vehicle for car-camping in a tent site.

The one exception, from a quality experience perspective, might be hike-in campsites like those in Loop D at Seawall Campground in Acadia National Park where the vehicle stays in a parking lot and campers drag their gear into the woods along a rabbit warren of trails to set up camp a good distance from the vehicle. Probably not much fun to van camp in that environment. though still not impossible.

Regarding the popularity of RV's and camping, we may be on the cusp of seeing a significant change in the marketplace as interest rates continue to be raised. In that environment people begin to remember that RV's are a luxury, not a necessity. When this happens, folks start to think more about unloading the RVs they have and less about buying them, and the bottom falls out of the RV market. This happens cyclically on a regular basis, and it's possible we're about to see that again. If so, we might also experience a trough in demand for campsites. I doubt reservation-only campgrounds will fade away in favor of 1st-come-1st-serve, but maybe those reservations will become easier to get. We shall see.
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Old 11-16-2022, 01:45 AM   #17
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We also used Harvest Hosts, aka, Boondockers Welcome. It was mostly free, except for the usual alpaca-winery wedding site/ farm spots. We camped from AR to MI in mostly driveways of folks who live off the beaten path. All offered electricity even when it said they didn't. Kind, memorable people and places, equal or more interesting than our destinations!
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Old 11-16-2022, 03:45 AM   #18
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Yes but that's only because the reservation system is forcing people to plan things that way. I think all reservation systems everywhere should be discontinued.
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As much as a "first come first served" approach appeals to me philosophically, it would be a disaster for the significant number of us . . .
No John. Do you really want to eliminate all reservations? And force the working family, who has planned their coming year's vacation 9 months in advance, into the anxiety of arriving at their distant destination uncertain whether they will be able to find a camping spot? Yes, Avanti, a 'first-come, first-served', only, solution would be a disaster for many, indeed, most.

But the elimination of all first-come, first-served, too, is a disaster for that segment of the traveling population that values wandering and exploration, the flexibility of instantaneous decision.

Why must we pick one, or the other? Can't we all show understanding, empathy for the benefits of each approach? Isn't it time that we, the consuming camping public, advise those who administer our campgrounds, that neither extreme is acceptable?
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Old 11-16-2022, 11:09 AM   #19
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Unfortunately, we are still in the group that needs to make a reservation. I've been planning a trip for next summer and if we can't get into the parks we want it just means having to rethink every day.
How fast do state/national parks fill up when they open up 6 months out for reservations during the summer season?
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Old 11-16-2022, 12:07 PM   #20
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I agree with Winston that all reservation can also be a bad thing for many people. Once you have gone through a couple of the get in line at 5am, campground opens at 9am, rushes in to find a site as quick as possible, routines that remind me of Walmart opening on Black Friday you quickly figure out it is not a great thing. Of course this only applies to the busy parks that fill instantly, no the ones that don't fill until late in the day, it ever.


I think the park services agencies are just getting lazy and trying to cut costs, or divert them to a contractor, by putting in full reservations systems. We have hit numerous parks with nobody there at all, no collection box for fees, lots of empty sites, etc. Just a payphone and sign that says call for a reservation to get a site that you may already be sitting in. The park service has nearly zero cost, you get to pay $5-10 extra to the reservation contractor, and everyone, sort of is happy, especially the contractor. Of course if the park is full like the nicest ones are you are stuck with no place to go and are certainly not happy at all.


Computer controlled stuff is really pretty easy to program to do amazing stuff, so there surely are more fair ways to allot last minute sites to cover long term planners, those that have only weeks or days ability to plan, and the drive ups for most part. Maybe take potential reservations for a park in different opening times over a period before the day of use and have a random lottery draw for which on gets full within an an hour of closing or some such. I am sure body could come up with a good way if the actually wanted to. I think some of the very popular music concert ticket reservations are done in some sort of lottery so they don't all go to scalpers.
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