The 68th Session of the Montana State Legislature has been considering a bill to limit campsite reservations in state campgrounds to 80 percent of capacity.
Representative Steve Gunderson of Libby, MT, introduced “An Act Creating Limits on the Number of Reserved Campsites in State Parks, Recreational Areas, and Public Camping Grounds” in the state House of Representatives on February 7, 2023. Since then, the House has moved the measure through the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Committee and referred the bill to the state Senate on February 27.
The pending statute partially reads, “No more than 80% of all available campsites may be reserved in a state park, recreational area, or public camping ground with overnight camping.”
The measure comes in response to Montana residents’ complaints that the state’s campgrounds are so popular and typically host so many out-of-state RVers and campers that they cannot get a campsite without a reservation on short notice.
The legislation also addresses the issue of campsite no-shows holding reservations.
“For a multiple-day reservation, if the party fails to arrive at and claim the reserved campsite by 10:00 A.M. on the second day of the reservation, the reservation is canceled, and the campsite may be filled for the duration of the reservation on a first-come, first-served basis.”
The bill’s author, Rep. Gunderson, said, “One of the problems is Glacier National Park has become popular. It’s so packed with out-of-state visitors, the park is limiting traffic on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, and those tourists are spilling onto state lands and taking up reservations at state parks.” He said it’s nearly impossible for locals to get spots.
Montana is not the only state to enact legislation or policies limiting or discouraging non-resident use of its campgrounds and parks.
Neighboring Idaho has imposed a doubling of campground fees for non-residents at five state parks, including Bear Lake, Farragut, Hells Gate, Priest Lake, and Round lake.
On June 9, 2021, Idaho State Parks announced, “Camping and entry fees for non-Idaho residents will double at select Idaho State Parks on Thursday to comply with a new state law.”
Camping fees for non-Idaho residents at the parks are double what Idaho residents pay. A basic campsite at those parks is $24 for residents but will cost $48 for a night for non-residents. A site with full hookups will cost $64 for a non-Idaho resident, double the $32 for a resident of Idaho.
Several states nationwide, from Maine to Oregon, have implemented similar pricing for their campgrounds.
RV Travel wants to know what readers think of these non-resident pricing policies for public campgrounds. Please take a moment to drop a note in the Comments section below.
Rather than penalize out-of-state Rvers from visiting the very states they may never have seen before, by increasing their campground reservation costs, why haven’t those states taken a proactive approach to restrict no-shows from scooping up those available spots months in advance, sometimes reserving multiple spots. Policies need overhauls to change the way in which no-shows are dealt with. Those reservations that are not filled by 10 A.M. of the second day of that reservation, should be canceled, the fees paid should NOT BE REFUNDED, regardless of the excuse the party may give for their reasons for being no-shows, and those campspots should be immediately made available on the reservation websites and for first-come, first-served campers, regardless of whether they are residents or out-of-state visitors, at the same cost per night. No-show fees should be no less than half the cost for that entire stay, as a deterent to making unused reservations.
If I am going to RV I budget for campgrounds and/or plan for boondocking, the reason I got solar, at harvest host, boondockers welcome, or on federal land. As I have traveled the country I have stayed in very few state parks because there were no spaces, in fact I don’t even try any more. I’ve stayed in a few federal campgrounds.
we mostly stay in state here in Cali but i reserved Crater Lake in Oregon last year, and have been thinking about Bryce Canyon in Utah but now im rethinking. i get that each state wants their own to be able to get rezzys but what about “tourism”. each state also touts its state in welcoming tourists to these parks. only to double the fees? oh well.
Ya, Bobby, tourism is the point. Not just “OH well”! How about offering alternatives to “OH well”? We all need to address the abuse set in place by the no-show empty campsites ALWAYS existing when you arrive at a state park and need a spot for 1-2 nights!
Since you pay taxes in the state you should pay less for the campground? So NY and CA residents should pay even less, since Montana is one of those states that sucks in far more fed dollars than it contributes? Out of state already subsidizes MT and ID. Which is fine, and sometimes dictated by population density. But we need to be the United States, not the I want to keep you out but take your money regardless states …
Well put, Dave! Let’s get this right, for our country, and not be exclusionary states, who all want the money without the population influx!
We are full time Rvers. We domicile in Texas but we’re basically traveling the USA all the time. Instead of increasing fees for non-residents, why not reserve a percentage of campsites for state residents at each park? In addition, states that are enacting higher fees for non-residents could create a more equitable solution through better policing of campsite reservations, like requiring full payment during booking, with steep financial penalties for “no shows”. This would discourage people from making multiple overlapping reservations in the same or nearby parks.
Dan & Kathy, you are spot-on. We live in Washington state but are mostly traveling constantly. We sympathize with locals who want their state parks available for them while still promoting state tourism. An equitable solution is certainly out there for all parties, without penalizing our travelers who love to see our amazing country.
I think this is a good thing. So many tourists shun the natural beauty in their own state and compromise local cultures and puts too way way too much demand on local resources straining small communities. If one lives in California, you could spend your entire life admiring your own state and still never experience the entirety of it’s beauty. I live on a reservation near a spot that’s gained popularity and it is nearly impossible to do anything cultural without being disturbed by rude tourists sightseeing or trespassing tourists thinking they own everything. It might be your “happy place” but at my cost. This includes vacation houses littered all over destroying the land. Can’t people love where they live and take care of it instead search for escape, perfection in nature and “happy places”???
I feel the price hike is worth it. If you live in Montana you should be able to use your public without fighting tooth and nail. RV travel is truly a luxury.
Amanda, you need to crawl under your rock and hide from the sun! What gives you the gall to complain about the very money that pays your way of life. Wake up and become a part of the solutions not part or additive of the problems. Use your voice to make current issues managed and positive for your reservation as well as for those who are allowed to visit the land. Enact certain practices that encourage respect of all spaces. It is better to live in the present than to try to recapture the past. Good luck.
In response to all the people vowing not to visit Montana and warning that this bill will negatively impact our tourism:
MT will continue to receive plenty of income from tourism, despite this change, IF it even passes. Perhaps you aren’t aware of all the new resorts, Airbnbs, and Vrbos that have popped up in recent years due to the excitement of shows like “Yellowstone” and “1883.” Tourists are coming in droves to visit our state – and they’re not exclusively camping at state parks.
MT also now provides tax incentives to the film industry to bring TV and movie productions to our great state. With this, there will continue to be plenty of people visiting and spending money, including the locals visiting other parts of the state.
We’re not worried about losing revenue from you, your friends, or anyone else this article ‘deters’ from traveling here. I’m certainly pleased to see one less out-of-state plate clogging our humble local highways.
It would be nice to provide sleeping slots at a lower cost with no hook ups for people who are not camping. We have paid crazy high prices to just sleep for the night.
Now that reservations are mandatory, it shouldn’t be an issue for in state or out of state. No shows should be penalized.
Dear Friends….I think campers should be treated like people getting out of state hunting fishing licenses! A state in the western US charges out of staters $1,200 to $1,500 dollars to hunt Elk for a BASIC license! Tags are are needed. Some western states charge instate rates of $20 to $35 dollars. Is this fair?
A one state charges $20.00 for residents yearly fishing and an out of state license is $100.00! Is this fair?
Some states say if you charge our residents (example only) $50 in your state to hunt or fish, you will pay the same as our residents pay in our state!
You know, maybe our state should do the same for camping. If you’re paying higher camping fees for being out of state. Our state should charge what you charge out of staters!
Boy this will stir the camp fire! Things that make you go Hmmmmmmm!
But where does it end? Should park entrance fees cost more for out-of-staters? Should hotels charge more for out-of-staters? Should restaurants charge more for out-of-staters? Should car rentals cost more for out-of-staters? Should sporting events cost more for out-of-staters? I think keeping reservations down to 80% is good, leaving the rest for first come, first served. But charging DOUBLE for out-of-staters is ridiculous. Canceling reservations for no-shows is also a good policy.
I think it would be a better idea to open the reservation window to in-state residents earlier than the rest of the country. The top of the article indicates that the measure is due to state residents not being able to get a spot if they try last minute. I think that’s just the nature of camping these days. There are campgrounds in my state that require booking well in advance or I’m not getting in either. So I book in advance. Far as paying more for campsites as an out of stater I think it’s only fair and I don’t mind at all. I’m happy to pay for use of well maintained parks and state residents should have a lower rate.
I believe that Florida does this exact thing. Florida residents have a 7 month window and out of staters have a six month window. Correct me if I am wrong.
Wrong. No early booking here in Florida. We can’t camp in winter in own state due to snowbirds booking every single campsite at the senior rate and then not showing up because it’s cheaper than canceling. Something needs to be done!,
This is a PROPOSED bill, not passed. If all you reacting that you’ll stay away from MT,ID and OR, we wont need it.
As a resident of one of the states mentioned. I am in favor of all states adding additional fees to out of state guests. I have already encountered higher fees when I travel out of state. In my home state I have lost the ability to camp in one of our coastal state parks due to mostly out of state RVs. Sure July and August are full but now September to November are full. There are no water/elec. sites left. Most all are big RVs with out of state plates staying their 14 days then moving to the next park for a full time life. These parks were developed with tax payers dollars. Overnight fees do not begin to pay for the cost of running these parks, we do not have a sales tax. I do not feel like I should subsidize their full time living arrangement.
Who wants to stay in their own back yard? I do! I have camped in my state for more than 50 years and never tire of the places I visit. I wonder if this is western states tourist weariness.
Ok, I won’t visit Montana, however, please stay away from our Outerbanks of NC.
That’s a place I will only ever see in photography. I have literally zero means to ever get there so I just admire the gorgeous photography. Cherish it and protect it from environmental trashing. Out of state price hikes are worth it you get a little $$ kick not much but some and you don’t have to deal affordable housing for drug addicts littering the place up “camping” like AZ & NM (I read that in news)
It’s my weariness in WI and I’ve never been outside my own state besides across to MN to bury my grandma. I love my state and I am challenged with uptick of rude drivers on my little 25 mph road killing my wildlife friends, letting their dogs attack me on the beaches, trespassing at my house ect I can’t enjoy my 4 months of summer. Everything is full and not everyone can meticulously pre-plan a “vacation” 7 months ahead of time to an island in a jalopy boat that can’t make it in roller waves so what I forfeit the reservation and lose my pitiful too hard worked for dollars
Texas is a BIG state! We have lots of State Parks! I’m a resident of Texas. Say I want to visit the Big Bend – I’d spend money there seeing the sights just like an out-of-stater would. “Locals” in State Parks spend money there just like out-of-staters would. They traveled there from HOME to see sites in their own state that they hadn’t seen before or enjoyed so much they wanted to go back!
I’m not saying keep the out-of-staters OUT, just let residents of the State the park is in have a good first chance to get a parking spot!
Lindalee, I disagree that locals spend as much as out-of-state tourists do. Tourists will buy groceries vs you already live local so that’s added revenue. Tourists will buy souvenirs, I don’t know many folks that buy a trinket or sweatshirt from the park down the street. I’ll buy alcohol which I know you’ve already got in your fridge and cupboard. I may want to take my wife for breakfast if we don’t feel like cooking in the camper, you’ll whip up some eggs and toast you have with the groceries you already have on hand. We may visit local museums that you have already been to several times and don’t bother anymore. Perhaps we’ll take in the nightlife in and around the park is located, how often do you?
We live near Niagara Falls, a half-hour drive away. We never go to “The Falls”, and the last time we did we walked around, being a “local” I knew where I could sneakily park for free, spent a few hours, and left. Zero $$$ spent.
Some tourists bought a sweatshirt made in China and went to the grocery store. We’re rich.
That sounds like a great idea to me! Let the “locals” have the first shot if full – so sorry to out-of-staters! If not full THEN let the out-of-staters have a go in a first come first served way!
It seems pretty absurd that states are turning away tourism. Seems only natural to have a lot of out of staters visiting their parks. Who wants to camp in their own back yard. I WILL NOT visit states that discriminate against tourist from out of states…..Period! Especially, if the fees are higher.
Kids. Me. I have a great backyard. Someone with 80 acres of beautiful not clear cut land.
TOO many people trample the land, disturb wildlife and mess with local culture. Nature isn’t a never ending stream of supply for the demanding dollar.
Actually the campground I deal with, it’s not really even breaking even without the price hike. The firewood is strained and I had to pay $100/cord and he didn’t even have enough to sell me to get through winter this year–a first— because the campground hogged it all. The camping fees don’t cover the demanded services and so people have been clear cutting our forests to meet things like local firewood demand. I have to deal with the inconvenience and noise of garbage trucks on my little road for you because even though our community operates on transfer stations tourists demand dumpsters and that is partly funded by me & my taxes. I don’t see any difference financially other than getting heckled every single year like clockwork about certain things non locals are disrespectful about and clueless to.
The thing is it wouldn’t be bad if people were respectful of local homes and local cultures. We want to live a certain way, why is it hard to travel gently with respect
Totally agree with the 80% and leave 20% for others so locals can get a site. The no-shows is fine too. Doubling the price to out-of-staters though is ridiculous! I traveled Idaho in 2021 with the intention of staying in state parks I had previously been to as a resident. As now a non-resident, I could not afford them due to already higher non-resident pricing and found many private parks that were cheaper and had far more amenities. As others have said, non-residents visiting the area spend far more than on just renting a site. Since it is clear Idaho and Montana don’t want visitors, I won’t bother with them again.
Wow way to welcome the tourist dollars!! This is truly sad, I can see a surcharge or a few dollars difference but double? Wow, just wow.
At $48 and $64 for out-of-state campers, those state parks won’t have to worry about us hogging up all the campsites because at those prices it will put them closer in competition with private run campgrounds which many times have more amenities and are closer to major attractions than state parks.
And that’s why you should go to those because you need amenities and attractions versus an natural area
That’s way those that don’t want tourist traps can do their thing in peace
I’d rather see a ban on seasonal “residents” and reserving sites for longer than, say, 2 weeks. And other laws preventing campgrounds from becoming homeless encampments…
And how many Montanites take up space in Arizona during the winter?
Great reply Sally! The same goes for Florida, Texas, Alabama, and other warm-weather states during the winter.
Montanites coming to Florida, Texas, Alabama, and other warm-weather states during the winter should pay the SAME higher fees that they charge others !!
Yeah I’m tired of vacation houses littering my home. Slap them up with tax increases too. Pick a place. I’ve lived in the same state my entire life and I struggle mean while I’m supposed to believe these empty houses are serving me with all their supposed economic benefit when it’s just a drain on the environment