Report: Western states see dramatic increase in camping reservations, public land use

Presley Morse, 6, helps land a cutthroat trout while
fishing with her mother, Jill Gilson, at Scofield State Park on Aug. 27. It’s no secret — the outdoors are being
loved to death. And in the public land-rich states of the West,
campsites have seen an explosion in popularity over the last
decade.

Presley Morse, 6, helps land a cutthroat trout while fishing with her mother, Jill Gilson, at Scofield State Park on Aug. 27. It’s no secret — the outdoors are being loved to death. And in the public land-rich states of the West, campsites have seen an explosion in popularity over the last decade. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It's no secret that the outdoors are being loved to death. And in the public land-rich states of the West, campsites have seen an explosion in popularity over the last decade.

Camping Crunch, a report from the Center for Western Priorities released Thursday, quantified something many in the West already know — it's hard to find a campsite.

From 2014 to 2020, states — excluding Alaska and Hawaii — saw a 39% increase in occupancy for reservable campsites during peak season, according to the report. Western states saw a 47% increase during the same time frame.

Some key findings from the report:

  • The Mountain West was a particularly popular place to camp in 2020 — Montana had the highest rate of reservable campsites filled at 76%. Colorado came in second at 71% and Idaho fifth at 57%.
  • At 96%, campsites in Wyoming saw the largest percent change in occupation since 2014.
  • National park campsites are by far the most popular, with some nearing 100% occupancy.
  • Only six states had an overall decrease in summer occupancy since 2014. Four are in the Northeast and saw increased summer occupancy until 2019, where the report notes COVID-19 impacted recreation in densely populated states.
  • In the summer of 2020, Utah had an average of 49% occupancy at its 201 campsites that were analyzed.
  • Since 2014, Utah saw a 77% increase in reservable campsites filled.

Campsites in southern Utah are by far the state's most popular, according to the report. In summer 2019 and 2020, the following five campsites saw over 90% of their reservable sites filled, on average:

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

National Parks tend to dominate the discussion around crowding public lands, and for good reason. July was Yellowstone's busiest month in history, according to data from the parks service. And several miles to the south, Grand Teton National Park had its busiest June on record. Utah's parks are becoming increasingly crowded, and in 2021 Arches National Park has had to restrict entry due to congestion over 100 times. On Friday, the gates closed at 10:30 a.m.

But Utah's state parks are also seeing record numbers. Consider this:

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

Related Stories

Kyle Dunphey

SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast