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Camping At State Parks In 2020? You'll Need A Reservation For That

Mike DelliVeneri
Colorado Parks And Wildlife
Summer camping at Highline Lake.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, all state parks in Colorado will require campsite reservations. You can reserve a site up to six months in advance, or even the moment you get to a campsite, cell service permitting.  

Travis Duncan, communications specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told KUNC’s Colorado Edition about why the new system was put in place. 


Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Erin O’Toole: Explain the new reservation system for campsites. 

Travis Duncan: Starting Jan. 1 at all 41 Colorado state parks, folks will have a new way to reserve their camp spot. You can do that either by calling 1-800-244-5613, or you can go online, on your phone or your laptop or whatever you have, at CPWshop.com and you can reserve your site there. 

Mainly what the new system changes is it gets rid of what we used to have, which was a three-day period — we called it a reservation window — where you couldn’t make a reservation. If you were two days out from when you wanted to go camping, you’d have to take a gamble, go to that park and see whether there was an available site when you got there. Under this new system, you can see immediately from the Internet, from calling the 1-800 number, if you can book a site. And you can book it whether that’s three days out, two days out, or one day out. If you’re arriving at the site and it looks empty you can book it right there. 

We’re excited about the change. We did implement it as a pilot program first, so it started at five parks in 2018. All of those had fantastic success with the program, so in 2019 we brought it to 17 more parks. All of those reported great success and very few problems, and just more folks out camping and getting into the sites that they wanted. So we made the decision we were going implement it at all 41 of our state parks starting in 2020.

And was there something that prompted the switch?

One of the main things that prompted the change was that this is the kind of system, the kind of service, that folks are seeing in other industries — even in private campgrounds, to book at a KOA or even if you’re booking a hotel room, you’re not going to have some kind of three-day reservation window. I think people were surprised Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s campgrounds had that reservation window. So that was one reason we wanted to try to see if it worked well. 

And the other is we didn’t have the capability before. I think we’ve got new software capabilities, that really enabled this to be a possibility for us. I think we just wanted to make sure our customers weren’t going to be confused and that we wouldn’t run into any unanticipated problems when we launched the new system — which is why we had a soft launch, that pilot program, at a few parks, to make sure it was going to work.


Credit Michael Alosi / Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Group hiking on Lake Gulch Trail.

What is the penalty if someone doesn’t book in advance? 

You can’t occupy a campsite without a reservation, you can’t just grab a site and try to camp for free. If you did do that, you’d be subject to a citation. 

Do you expect that this will have an impact on the number of sites that will be available on a given night?

What we found, at least in the parks that have participated so far, is that the occupancy rate — the number of people we have finding those few sites that might have been open — has really gone up. We’re seeing our occupancy rates are higher. So we do expect more people will get out there and be camping because they know in advance they can book before they head that way.  

We had a few sites that might sit open because people didn’t want to take that gamble, they didn’t want to drive hours to get to the campground and find that it wasn’t open, so now they can, so that’s helping more people go out and go camping. 

Is there anything else listeners should know about the new rule? 

The only thing that I would caution is that some of our parks, not a lot but some, are in remote locations. That was a concern when we launched the pilot program at Eleven Mile State Park was that it doesn’t have great cell service all over the park. So in a park like that you may not be able to book right from your campsite, if you’re planning to book last minute when you get to the park, you may have to drive a little bit outside the park until you get to that cell coverage that you need to book your spot if there’s no one around to help you at the park. So I would caution people about that.  

We’ll have plenty of signage up at all the parks. Get out there and go camping. 

This conversation is part of KUNC's Colorado Edition from Jan. 1. Listen to the full episode here.


KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.