Grand Teton camping crush

Cars and campers line up in hopes of finding a site at Gros Ventre campground in late July in Grand Teton National Park. In 2021, such lines should become a thing of the past, as all of the park’s campsites are transitioning to reservation-only.

The days of impromptu Grand Teton National Park camping trips during the peak summer season are over.

All campgrounds within the 310,000-acre national park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway are moving exclusively to reservation systems. With campsites reservable six months ahead of time and historically high demand in recent years, the changes mean that tourists wanting to awaken outdoors to Teton views within the park’s boundaries will need to plan well in advance.

“People will need to plan ahead,” Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann told the Jackson Hole Daily. “We’re trying to do extensive communications, so people are not caught off guard.”

The move away from first-come, first-served campgrounds was requested by the private concessionaires that manage the sites: Grand Teton Lodge Company and Signal Mountain Lodge. Teton park officials approved the plan and say there are a number of benefits, such as the end of long lines.

“We believe that it enhances the visitor experience,” Germann said. “It’s just convenient for visitors.”

Concessionaires had already transitioned some sites to reservation-only. That was the case at Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch, for example, where previously half of the sites could be secured in advance.

At other major campgrounds, there will be a complete switch from first-come, first-served to reservation-only. That’s the case for the Gros Ventre campground’s 300 sites, Colter Bay campground’s 346 sites, Signal Mountain campground’s 81 sites, Lizard Creek campground’s 60 sites and Jenny Lake campground’s 52 sites.

Starting Jan. 26, many sites will be available through Recreation.gov. Eager campers can reserve any day from when a campground opens up through July 26, six months in advance. Each day that passes, an additional day later into the summer will become available. The reservations are expected to “fill quickly,” the park explained in a press release.

Sites at some campgrounds will need to be reserved via the concessionaires’ websites. Colter Bay spots for 2021 will be reservable at GTLC.com, though the reservations will migrate to Recreation.gov come 2022. Headwaters Campground sites will need to be reserved through FlaggRanch.com

The past few years, all of Grand Teton National Park’s campsites have filled up during the heart of summer with regularity, Germann said. Because of hotel closures and changes in visitation patterns trigged by the COVID-19 pandemic, summer 2020 saw an unprecedented surge in camping.

“Many of our campgrounds were filled by noon, if not 10 or 11 a.m.,” Germann said.

Grand Teton officials also authorized fee increases for 2021. At the Gros Ventre campground, daily rates for most sites have jumped from $33 to $42, and at Signal Mountain, they’ve gone from $34 to $44. At Jenny Lake, the cost of a tent site has risen from $32 to $40.

Not all fees went up significantly, Germann pointed out. At the Gros Ventre campground, an RV spot only climbed from $64 to $67 and the base rate for a group site actually decreased, from $33 to $30.

Last-minute campers do have one shot at a last hurrah. In 2021 only, approximately 30% of the Gros Ventre campground will be reservable at a later, unspecified date.

“This will not be offered in future seasons,” Grand Teton staffers posted on their website.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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