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Montana rationalizes camping reservations as other states target non-residents with higher fees

As the popularity of camping continues to grow, some states have passed laws imposing limits on non-residents and reducing the percentage of campground sites available for advanced reservation in state parks. Other states are levying punitive fee hikes on out-of-state campers, ostensibly to create more availability for resident campers.

These laws are controversial, with some arguing that they are necessary to ensure residents have access to camping opportunities and preserve natural resources. In contrast, others see them as overly onerous, discriminatory, and harmful to a state’s tourism economy.

As RVtravel.com reported previously, the state of Montana is considering legislation to address the supply and demand problem regarding state campground reservations. The Montana House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 440, “an act creating limits on the number of reserved campsites in state parks, recreation areas, and public camping grounds….” That bill is currently awaiting a vote in the Montana Senate.

At the same time, however, camping is a significant driver of tourism and economic activity in many states. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, camping generates $18.4 billion in consumer spending annually and supports more than 171,000 jobs nationwide. For many rural communities, camping is a critical revenue and economic development source.

Different approaches to non-resident campers

Given these competing interests, it is not surprising that there is some disagreement about how to balance the need to preserve natural resources and support local communities with the desire to promote tourism and economic growth. While some states have chosen to limit campground reservations or restrict out-of-state campers, others have taken a different approach.

Oregon has implemented a surcharge of 25 percent on non-resident use of its state campgrounds. In Rhode Island and Idaho, non-residents pay double the fee of resident campers. In Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Wyoming, campers pay from $5 to $10 more per night than residents.

To assess the effects of these measures, I spoke with Craig Quintana, Senior Public Information Officer for Idaho State Parks and Recreation. He said that Idaho’s new fee structure favoring residents was made possible by the passage of HB-93, introduced by Rep. (now Senator) Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden) during the 2021 session of the Idaho legislature. That bill passed the Idaho Senate and was signed into law by Governor Brad Little.

Interstate commerce conflict?

I asked Mr. Quintana if there was a conflict (specifically an interstate commerce conflict) with the additional fees assessed to non-residents and the use of federal funds by the state of Idaho to build and maintain parks and campgrounds. He said there is no conflict because the governing U.S. Federal statute regulating the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Funds through which federal money flows to the states specifically allows states to charge more to accommodate non-residents. He said Idaho would monitor user statistics to determine the law’s effects. “We’re watching to see the full impact. We’re seeing some decline in non-resident camp stays; people who once would stay five nights are now down to three.”

Not everyone agrees on the best way to balance resident availability and protect the natural environment of state parks. Some argue that limiting campground reservations or restricting out-of-state campers is too harsh and will harm the tourism industry. In contrast, others say these measures are necessary to protect natural resources and local communities.

##RVT1095b

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Vanessa
12 days ago

I lived in MT for 22 years and now go there almost every summer to visit son, DIL and grands. I was just looking for a place to stay in Great Falls and shocked to realize there are only two commercial campgrounds and no state parks (with campgrounds) within at least 50 miles of the town. The KOA is very expensive! There is a military campground that limits stays to 21 days a year (1 Apr-1 Nov). I guess the short camping season keeps people from investing in campgrounds there. Most of the campgrounds this applies to will be around Glacier and Yellowstone.

Craig V
13 days ago

I live in Montana and used to visit Idaho quite frequently. There are two places they now gouge you, they’ve doubled the out of state annual park pass from $40 to $80. This fee is supposed to offset any taxes generated from in state residents. I was always willing to pay it. They’ve also doubled the fees at certain parks as well. These I am not willing to pay as they are really punitive. Folks working in the parks seemed to agree. Word has it that they originated from an Idaho legislator that couldn’t find a parking space for his boat. I will say that Montana campgrounds are typically not as plentiful as Idaho or Washington nor are they as large so they fill up extremely fast.

Roly52
13 days ago

I like to camp out of state with my RV here and there myself. I live on I 80 between Reno and the Pacific Ocean and always see RV’s from Nevada and beyond heading for the coast. The State of Calif. charges $60 a night for some of those campsites on the water. How would you like to pay double if you were out of state?? I think that would just kill a nice 10 day vacation with expensive gas too. Stop this nonsense, build more new pads. A lot of campgrounds haven’t added a pad since the 1960’s. They don’t have to be put in the most scenic spots, put in back forty. What’s it going to be like in 100 years? Get with the program and get the bulldozers out.

b tolson
13 days ago
Reply to  Roly52

You are complaining about $120 and in the same sentence you say get the bulldozers out?? Who pays for those bulldozers?

B tolson
14 days ago

Impose a cancellation fee if it’s not a week out. A fee for not showing up. Both should be in the $100 range. Nothing is worse than going to your favorite local spot and having all the sites reserved and vacant. I see goose and gander comments and agree. If you want respect then give the respect and show up or cancel.

Joe
14 days ago

Montana “rationalizes” camping reservations….? Really? They rationalized it? They’re rationing camping reservations.

Cal20Sailor
14 days ago

While such laws certainly make out-of-state travel more inconvenient and expensive, they are no different than the out-of-state fees charged for hunting and fishing licences that have been in effect for decades. Since the application of the age old principle is new to the subject of camping it is bound to encounter resistance from those who hate to see change of any kind, but it seems perfectly logical. Citizens have a right to expect the benefits of their state to be provided to the resident taxpayers preferentially over out-of-state recreationists. Remember, your declared state of residence could/should be offering that preference to you, too, just as out-of-state travelers shouldn’t feel entitled to the same privileges as your state’s tax-paying residents.

Last edited 14 days ago by Cal20Sailor
Sally Harnish
14 days ago

What I’d like to see is, if your home state charges out of state fees to camp, then when you are camping make the fee where you are going to camp retroactive. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Not hard to enforce and would be fair. Nothing against Montana folks, as we do put in some time there in the summer, how about all the Montana folks that tie up some Arizona state parks with no additional “out of state” fees. As Arizona doesn’t have “out of state” fees?

Duane
14 days ago
Reply to  Sally Harnish

Sorry Sally, but your idea makes too much sense, and would be relatively easy to implement. The bottom-line in this whole discussion is that legislators are looking for ways to increase income, and not really looking at the logic or rationale in this tax. This really is not different than the Tourism Tax that many cities and (I presume) states impose on hotel rooms. They don’t seem to think about all the locals who do a “special weekend” with spouses or friends in the local hotels, or the locals with small homes who put-up in hotels their relatives who come to visit.

A reciprocal fee structure should be easy to implement, as many states are going through ReserveAmerica for their state-branded reservation system. I made a login to reserve a site in a Washington state park, and that login was used by, I believe, Washington, Oregon, California, and Arkansas, each state sending me to “their” reservation system. One database of reciprocity info, and problem is solved.

Jeff
14 days ago

Some states already have, or are in the process of, charging out-of-staters up to double what (state) residents pay for campgrounds. How long is it going to be before every State follows suit?
Every state in this country wants those “tourism dollars”, but some are or trying to pass legislation, penalizing non-residents for wanting to visit!?!? I’m thinking some folks out there, myself included, are going to take a hard look at their travel plans and possibly deciding to spend their money where they’re not going to be penalized.
I also get it about no-shows, that ruins it for everyone!!! There are ways to deal with that problem, but no-shows losing their deposit, isn’t the answer.

Joucye
15 days ago

Oregon,Idaho and Wyoming are in my headlights for this summer. They have sent me all these fancy high $$$ .maps begging me to visit and spend my retirement $$$…
Two years ago I pulled into Bruneau Dunes SP., when the lady hit me with the extra fee because I’m from Washington, I almost gagged. I’m never in a hurry and like to spend more than one night in swell places. Well too far and late to just walk away I paid for one night and beat feet the next day.
So it looks as if I’ll just spend my $$ at USFS and BLM sites this summer. They are killing the golden age Geese…………..I bet the nitwits who thought this up also design the campgrounds that they have never camped before.

Richard Chabrajez
15 days ago

Yet many people from those states have no problem taking up RV sites in Arizona, Texas, and Florida for the winter.

Rery Ro
15 days ago

“Montana rationalizes camping reservations…”

You mean “rations”.

“Rationalize” means something completely different.

Jack B.
15 days ago

I think camping in a state park should be for residents of that state only. Non resident allowed day use only. Plenty of commercial, federal and Coe’s for non residents. If an area is worth visiting tourist will not let the unavailability of a state park stop them from coming.

Cancelproof
15 days ago
Reply to  Jack B.

I think States hotel rooms shoukd inlt be fir residents. While were at it, how about the airspace and the power from the coal and the water from the streams and fishing. No out of state fishermen allowed.

Lonewolf
15 days ago

I think one of the easiest and fairest ways for states to give residents some kind of preferential treatment would be for each state to have a wider booking window available to them than non-residents. In New York, our state parks have a 9-month window. If NY would leave that time frame to residents and shrink the non-resident window to say 6 months out it would give state residents a 3-month head start on reservations. This and as the article stated NY does charge I believe $5 per night to out of staters seems fair to me.

Bill Richardson
15 days ago

Arkansas has a 1/8 cent conservation sales tax with 40% going to state parks. There are no entrance fees at any of our state parks and everyone pays the same rate for camping. Except, resident seniors receive a 50% discount on camping fees during the week and 25% discount on weekends. Non-resident seniors receive 25% off on weekdays but no discount on weekends.
As a resident senior, I’ve paid for our parks through the years and have been glad to do so. I also appreciate only paying $15-$20 for FHU’s during the week. We leave the weekends to those that still work and can only get away on weekends.

Leonard
15 days ago

As a Canadian who spends winters in the USA, no worries on charging me more; I get it. Why does the USA and Canada not just build more RV spaces in desirable tourist locations for both locals and out of State/Country tourists? Probably a lot of NIMBY reasons. Easy solutions that are real hard for our current political climate (in both of our great countries!). IMHO.

David
14 days ago
Reply to  Leonard

This shortage of campsites is a complex problem. Each state has different things to offer and some don’t seem to care about funding. I can name four campgrounds in Oregon that have more campsites than the entire state of Arizona. With so few parks in Arizona, you end up in parked side by side in gravel lots that are privately owned. The few parks in Arizona are great but we have been unable to stay in one. Oregon parks finally got their own budget and its profits don’t go into the general fund so other departments can’t pilfer from their coffers. They are adding parks. Even with all the campsites in Oregon we have to compete with other out of state campers from states like California who have many parks but so few developed. Those that are charge two and three times the rate they have to pay when they come to Oregon.

Edward Wilkinson
13 days ago
Reply to  David

Thanks for your enlightening comments, David. My wife and I have deeply appreciated over the years Oregonians willingness to share the great beauty of their State with our family. The State campgrounds made our vacations possible. We could afford to see Oregon in no other way as we raised our family. The State Parks of Oregon are jewels to hold up to the world as an example of what can be done IF people come together in a sustained way with good intent.
I saw my first tidal pools, with my wife and children in Oregon in my mid thirties! I had written a song about tidal pools I’d seen on a documentary film, but actually seeing them truly put a song in my heart. Folks in Oregon may not know the contribution their generosity has afforded many, many families over the years. But they have my undying gratitude for their gift to my family!

Suru
15 days ago

Last Spring we paid double the amount than residents for a state park in Idaho. It was near Yellowstone which is where we wanted to visit. It was a nice park, but wasn’t worth the extra money to me. It’s less expensive to stay in a FHU private campground which were just as nice as the state park. We might visit an Idaho state park in the future, but never camp in one again. Interestingly, I live in Utah and generally during camping season our state parks are probably 90% full of out-of-staters and they don’t pay extra.

Scott Ellis
15 days ago

Thanks for zero actual news about Montana’s approach . . .

Spike
15 days ago
Reply to  Scott Ellis

It was in an earlier newsletter. Essentially just holds 20% of sites as first come first served. Residents and non-residents are treated equally. Personally, I see no issue with it.

George B.
15 days ago
Reply to  Spike

I agree. The 20% no reservation affects both resident and non resident. I kind of like it as a pass through camper, i at least have a chance at a last minute site. i don’t pay MT state tax so would not be offended to pay more and I should.

Admin
Diane McGovern
15 days ago
Reply to  Scott Ellis

Hi, Scott. Did you click on the link in the post for the article posted previously about Montana? Have a good day. 😀 –Diane at RVtravel.com

John Lock
15 days ago

Florida has also introduced legistation to allow residents a 30-day “head start” on making reservations at state parks. Currently, anyone can reserve a campsite up to 11 months ahead. The new bill would allow Florida residents 12 months lead time. This is a good approach, since so many campers coming to Florida (especially in winter) are from out of state. It has become increasingly difficult for residents to find any openings. And this doesn’t mess with the rate structure or penalize non-residents, the thought being that not all spots will be pre-booked by Floridians, so the snow birds can still get their spots (if they hurry!)

Duane
14 days ago
Reply to  John Lock

As long as there aren’t Bots that make reservations to re-sell once it opens to non-residents. The Bots are creating many challenges, few of which have good solutions.

taitum
12 days ago
Reply to  John Lock

floridas 11 month advance is already ridiculous. 12 is worse. its impossible to get a spot anywhere unless you nab a last min cancellation. wish was 6 and 7 not 11 and 12. noone wants to plan a year ahead.

Ed K
15 days ago

I believe advanced reservations for public campgrounds should be limited to one day in advance. That would allow travelers to check availability in the area they are headed to and still allow locals to make reservations in their parks. This would also limit the reservation no-shows to the true road side breakdowns.

SteveAustin
15 days ago
Reply to  Ed K

So everyone planning a trip to an area just has to take a chance that something will be available? You don’t think that will result in people planning to go elsewhere, where reservations are available?

Chris
15 days ago

The problem isn’t campers from other states. The problem is campers (both in state and out of state) making multiple reservations then not showing up depriving both in state and out of state campers from using the campsite. There needs to be monetary incentives and/or penalties and enforcement of rules canceling a reservation if you don’t show up without a reasonable excuse (like your RV broke down).

Leslie Schofield
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris

I agree

taitum
12 days ago
Reply to  Chris

1000000% too many parks dont have any kind of no show policy and if someone books for 2wks and dosent show up they refuse to open the spot. whereas other parks open spots if the no show no call for 24hrs.

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