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“Enough is enough,” one state park says about “no show” campers

Officials at one state park campground in Colorado are getting serious about dealing with campers who reserve a site and never show up.

Steamboat Lake State Park in Colorado just instituted a new policy aimed at curtailing the number of nightly “no shows” at its campground.

“The park will be implementing the NO SHOW POLICY for camping this coming season,” said a notice on the park’s website. “If you do not show up within 24 hours of your scheduled check-in time, and you do not notify the park that you will be arriving late, your site may be resold and may not be available when you arrive. Any nights passed are non-refundable.”

The move – driven by camper complaints – came after park officials tired of seeing empty sites many nights despite a fully booked campground.

Mark Koep of Campground Views said he isn’t surprised that it was a state park that made the “get tough” announcement regarding no shows.

“Many public parks are still so inexpensive (often $15 to $20 a night) that we’ve seen a lot of campers booking sites and then not even bothering to cancel,” Koep said. “The result is that these public parks often show online as being sold out, and yet there are sites that go unused.”

Koep said he suspects “no shows” have always been a problem at inexpensive public parks that historically had few penalties. “I think it came to a head these past few years as parks filled up and you had to book far in advance to secure a site. People have been booking campsites that they really have had little interest in, just to be safe. Then, they don’t even bother to cancel because it’s only $15 a night lost.”

A new trend?

It’s likely too early to tell if the Colorado park’s move will be duplicated by other state and federal parks. Some parks managers – like those at Steamboat Lake State Park – are given the autonomy to make no-show decisions themselves. Others are governed by policies set at the state or regional level, which involves a lot more bureaucracy in decision making.

Camper response so far is mixed. Koep posted a short video on YouTube about the issue that included two camper comments.

“Hopefully, this will be implemented everywhere,” said one camper. “Something must be done about campsite hogs. Over and over again my husband and I have had to book less-desirable campsites in state or federal parks only to see that the site we wanted goes completely unused for days or even our whole stay.”

But another camper shared a different view.

“I feel that if I pay for a spot – showing up on time or not – it is mine,” the camper said. “I know it is frustrating for others, but I shouldn’t have to worry about telling them I am late. What if the weather has held me back then come in? I think it is just the way it is.”

“Musical chairs” campsites

RVtravel.com reader Susan R. said she’s seen many campers play “musical chairs” at fully reserved but sparsely occupied campgrounds in Utah.

“We just spent five nights at a state park in Utah,” Susan said. “When I booked in January there was only one site left and it was the worst site in the campground but I booked it. During our stay, at least 4-5 of the 10 prime partial hookup sites and another 4-5 of the dry sites were empty every night. There are only 24 sites, so at least a third of the campground was empty each day. However, online the place was 100% booked.”

She said when the campground’s gate officially closed at 10 p.m., tent and van campers in no-hookup sites frantically broke camp and moved to hookup sites to take advantage of electricity. They then moved again back to their original sites in the morning.

“It was like musical chairs and kind of comical,” Susan said. “That was just too much more for us, so we stayed put. “I asked the ranger every morning if I could move sites, but she told me they were all booked. She told more even though no one showed up, the sites were paid for, and they had to hold them.”

Will the policy adopted at Steamboat Lake State Park be just the beginning of similar policies at parks across the country? What do you think?

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Matt
7 months ago

As a park manager, let me tell you the park perspective. We work for complaint driven agencies. Complaints bring parks to a grinding halt. A reactionary complaint run up the flagpole receives more attention than a compliment. There is no one angrier than a camper who arrives late , whether a few hours or the next day and you have resold their site. Now you have a angry person with no where to go. It is safer for park staff to let the paid for reserved site stay unoccupied just in case that person shows up to use it, rather than get blasted on the internet and by headquarters if the person loses their reservation. There is little local control and reservations are outsourced to a corporation. That is all.

pursuits
7 months ago

Ask any park ranger to name his/her degree major. Likely few are in recreation. Degrees in the environmental sciences do not necessarily prepare one for running a campground. I doubt few campers have ever read the job description of a park ranger.

Read the mission of the Forest Service:  to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Campgrounds are something thrust upon most districts as an additional source of revenue and are often a distraction from the overall mission.

As kids, we went to the parks to play on the river rocks, hunt wildflowers, catch a glimpse of wildlife, hike and enjoy nature. In 2022, I suspect a large portion of the day use involves water parks and swimming pools.

Personally, I think all state and national parks should turn campgrounds over to corporate managers and get back to being the caretakers of the environment as intended.

Emily
7 months ago

I don’t understand why there is a question here – if you don’t show up at a hotel you get charged, then they sell your room if they can. If you show up late you might have a room or you might not! If people are now so inconsiderate that it’s this common – especially knowing that campgrounds are booking up – it is completely confusing to me that these policies wouldn’t be implemented!

Gail Behrle
7 months ago
Reply to  Emily

Totally agree. Hold people accountable. We try to call if we are late and we try to cancel if we aren’t gong to make it. Someone may want that site! It has always been a courtesy but as usual we will have to implement a rule to get people to comply. I work in an outpatient clinic and if you don’t set rules about arrival people show up early (as in 1-2 hours) or late and expect treatment!

Vanessa
7 months ago
Reply to  Emily

Absolutely! Have these people never heard of cell phones? I’ve called places and told them “I will not be arriving tonight/tomorrow you can reuse my site if needed BUT I will be there tomorrow/the day after for rest of my reservation.” Follow up with an email to them.

Cliff Dean
8 months ago

We got lucky last year @ Bahia Honda and snagged a site for a week, But half the sites were just empty, Rangers could care less, they don’t want to get involved and the state’s have pawned off the reservation system to the big corporations. They need to make the Rangers pay based on fully occupied sites and get rid off these campsite hogs..

Vanessa
8 months ago

How rude not to call and cancel or tell them you are being delayed. I always do that. That is the way I was raised.

Dennis G.
8 months ago

Agree, if you can’t call ahead (within 24 hours) to say you will be late,…sorry you may lose your site and monies. 95+% of us carry cell phones. Be courteous.

Cal
8 months ago

I hope so. With practically everyone having a cellphone or access via a free public library computer, contacting the campground if you have problems arriving on time is not only being responsible camper’s it’s allowing others to utilize what will only be wasted space.

Ask Ms Lynn, LLC
8 months ago

Last year I had to be a couple days late for my fall camping because my mother-in-law died. They do not allow partial cancellation so I just had to arrive late.

Also, in Indiana if you book a weekend you have to book the entire weekend even if you only want part of the weekend.

Make it possible to modify reservation or book only one day and I would. Also, give a good number to call on reservation confirmation and I would.

Bill T
8 months ago

Agreed.

Flgal
7 months ago

Absolutely correct! There is no incentive to cancel as you get no money back! Canceling takes time and if you are not going to make it, you are dealing with other pressing problems.

UpriverJouce
8 months ago

About time. Follow through every campground everywhere!

crankypaul
8 months ago

It would seem to me that a cut off time should be established, ie 6PM on the given day, after which the site will be let out. Without a CC to prepay for a late arriver, that should be the end of the discussion. And without contact prior to the cutoff time, then the site is G-O-N-E gone~

Kerry B
8 months ago

The short view: A Steamboat Lake State Park type of policy may help in the short term with making a few more sites available with varying advance notice and depending upon how and when such sites are made available to the public, possibly on a local campground bulletin board or on a website feeding watchdog bots.

So many folks scrambling to grab a share of a limited resource; $, Baby Formula, TP, Gas, Campsites. It can get ugly.

The long view; Increasingly, the problem is mostly due to Demand exceeding Supply. Our planet has limited shrinking desirable resources on the Supply side. Demand might test that limit but ultimately it has to be the part that changes; a finite resource cannot be increased.

Change has growing/learning pains. Yesteryear it was check the Rand McNally at 4PM and pull into whatever campground was handy. Today it’s advanced reservations and dealing with tickets to even drive thru a park. What is your vision for a better Tomorrow?

Viola Wilson
8 months ago

I agree that if you are no-show the campground should be able to release the site to other campers. The money from the original reservation could be used to improve campsites. This pass week we noticed reserved on several campsites that were not used at a Texas State Park. All you need to do is notify the staff that you’re not coming.

Bill T
8 months ago
Reply to  Viola Wilson

State park phones, are they manned 24/7? Would a site be given away because no one was around to answer my call after 5pm on Friday because I couldn’t make it until Sunday?

Cindy J
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill T

Agreed. We are lucky anymore if there is even a Ranger in the ranger hut when coming into a state park.

Cathy
8 months ago

My solution would be you would have to give your rv license plate and have all the recreation.gov sites red flag it if booking more than one site or park at the same time. Then make them choose one! As far as arriving late, it should be released the next day at checkout time if no one calls as to why. Then if they dont notify of being late, forfeit the whole reservation cost.

Lynne
8 months ago
Reply to  Cathy

Love your idea!

Debra Grumbach
8 months ago

I wish they would just prevent people from making multiple reservations for the same dates AND do this as well. It’s frustrating to not be able to get a site. I hope other state parks follow this same process.

Bill T
8 months ago
Reply to  Debra Grumbach

Are you talking about “reservations for the same dates” at different campgrounds? How is any reservation system, automated or otherwise, going to know if you have a multiple reservation? Only the person making the reservation will know what their plans will be. If you book it and change your mind most of us will likely change of cancel a reservation if it’s reasonable to do so. However, a lot of places are adopting the adaptive pricing models based on dates and durations of stay, usually with stiff cancellation policies and fees. Most understand that if it is just as or more expensive to cancel or change a reservation then we will just leave it and not show up. The only way I see to solve the “empty site problem” is have no reservations at all (first come first served) or full refunds up to 24 hours prior, not the two weeks before or the week of partial nonsense.

M De Craene
8 months ago

I fully agree with this policy too, and hope other parks will follow. Yet hope too that some consistency prevails. It is simply a common civility and show of respect for others to let an expectant someone know a change in your plans, most especially when you know dozens of others are seeking what you are holding but not using, and in some cases not even intending to use. We shouldn’t have as policy allowing the practice of not showing up based on the one or two rare times one absolutely cannot make a phone call! If the overbooking of sites hadn’t been extremely overused, this may not be an issue- but this is the reality we live in. These sites are not one’s property (paid for or not!)- these are lands for all and should be shared, and used judiciously and respectfully.

Jake
8 months ago

Just had a thought on the “I paid for it so it should be mine” concept. While it definitely seems as selfish as hoarding toilet paper during COVID times, it fits in the free market economy that we are living in. And it makes me wonder what people would think about people who have a home or rent an apartment but are never home, in an area where there’s a housing shortage? (By never home, I mean gone for X months a year, whether it be or work or pleasure.) Should their home be freed up for others who need it? I realize it’s not the same thing, but where do we draw the line between “I paid for it so it’s mine, whether I use it or not” and “you aren’t using it, so someone else should be able to use it”?

Firefly
8 months ago
Reply to  Jake

Public campgrounds are priced well below what the free market would price them at. They are in scenic/highly visited spots and tend to have large sites. Compare private campgrounds nearby to the public park campgrounds to see the difference in price. If you want to scream free market, check to see if it’s a free market beforehand.

Ziggy
7 months ago
Reply to  Jake

Sorry but you are being a bad egg!!
It became really blatant in our state 2 yrs ago…so time of Covid- folks newer to camping that dont understand cc etiquette…I tried booking a site in the fall few yrs ago at state park that has 2 seperate campgrounds within the park…I thought ok well EVERY ONE decided to go camping…nope 1st day we arrived only couple of campers…of course the cc with a few sites available was the least desirable of the 2.It was a long ways into park,far away from all activities.The cc we wanted to reserve in was 80% empty!!! Yes you saw that right.The next day we again drove back to that CC still 80% empty.I thought ok just a glitch in the reservation system.I asked a couple park attendants and just got a shrug of the shoulders.So then I started reading up on the situation.Folks are openly admitting to reserving up to 4 wks at various cc for different times knowing they would only be using 1 maybe 2 wks of what they reserved so they could decide later when & where they really wanted to go,and just werent concerned about canceling to allow others to have a slot!!! Probably those people that received too much stimulus money that they didnt need to begin with.Then we begin to see more and more of same patten in many of WV state parks. Unfortunately WV went to reservation only in 2019 and its been downhill every since. Folks getting into fights over the system somehow letting 2 people rent same site…Prior some sites were reservable with a majority 1st come 1st serve. It is great to have option of reservations for sure,but like others mentioned 95% have cell phones,I say more like 99.9%,I dont know anyone that doesnt carry a cell phone.So I agree if you are no show no call,release site after 24 hrs,let someoone else enjoy the site.We meet many folks that are traveling cross country,I cant imagine the frustration in stopping at a near empty cc to be told; sorry we are all booked up!As someone that had a bad experience almost 20 yrs ago I feel the frustration.After my husband and I worked hard at our jobs all week,and a break from baseball we loaded our 2 boys up & drove to our favorite campground- we called ahead to verify that there were still 1st come 1st serve sites yes at least 18 out of 88 sites. We had a small pop up so almost any site would be ok.After driving 1hr.20 minutes with 2 other campers following right behind us over half the trip,my husband being the gentleman he is pulled off the road instead of stopping right in front of the office so other’s could also park & get around…the folks behind us ran into the office and got THE LAST 2 SITES!!!! They were all together,laughing at us over the whole way to their vehicles!!! Rightly we were 1st in line so we should have had a site,they had tents they could have shared a site.I told my husband never be the nice guy in this situation!!! There was absolutely no where in the area left,so we journeyed back home with 2 very sad little boys.
At this very same cc we have seen many sites over the past 2 yrs tagged but sitting empty and its happening each time in the most popular area in the cc that can accommodate larger campers.
So Jake your attitude is whats wrong in this new world of camping,so sad.
The world could be a much better place if folks cared about doing whats right verses I am only going to do whats right for ME.
And yes your ex of owning a house makes no sense.
We stopped overnite at a cc on our way back from the Smokey Mt last summer…was happy to see this CC took the no show seriously and it was plastered on their website and at the office,their was no doubt that wasnt flying at their cc because you were going to loose your money and the site was going to be rented to another camper.It was a full campground,no empties there.I hope all CC start following.

Jake
8 months ago

I fully support this plan and most of the other plans suggested. I do believe there should be some flexibility for unexpected circumstances that cause you to be 1-2 days late, as long as you contact the campground or update your reservation. But therein lies the problem. From what I’ve seen, the campground reservation systems typically aren’t programmed to let you adjust your reservation (at least not easily). Canceling and creating a new reservation means cancelation fees and new booking fees. Also a lot of systems lockout changes/new reservations in the 24-48 hours prior to checkin. The booking systems need to be updated to allow/incentive campers to play nicely. Calling the campground office or camp host? Many parks don’t man the phones continuously or have no cell/landline service. Fixing this means spending money to ensure there’s a way to communicate with them and that someone is on duty–very difficult today.

Bill T
8 months ago
Reply to  Jake

Thank you for posting Jake. What you describe has happened to me on several occasions and has left me with little incentive/choice but to pay for the initial reservation even if I can’t make it.

Bob Misenar
8 months ago

To me, the only other workable alternative is to make everything first come first serve. Allow no reservations.

Bill T
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Misenar

Agree 100%.

Mary Kay Dingley
8 months ago

Common courtesy should prevail but the “Covid Campers” have yet to understand that seasoned campers do look out for each other. Yes, things happen but we all have cell phones and have the number for the campground with us to let the camp host know we will be late or can’t come at all. Stiffer cancellation fees should be imposed at all sites, state, federal or private.

Steve Browning
8 months ago

It’s hard to understand the issue with the longer term booking as most of the reservations that I have made are only good if you arrive in the first day – they only charge you one night if you don’t show up.
And as for the “camper with the other view”, it sounds like he doesn’t care about anyone but himself with his failure to notify the park that they would be late.

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