Plan on camping at a Colorado state park? Now you’ll have to make a reservation beforehand online or by phone if you want to pitch a tent, park an RV, or claim any kind of campsite at one of Colorado’s 41 beautiful parks. Effective immediately for 2020, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has created a new 24/7 reservation system that lets you to book a camping spot anywhere from 6 months in advance all the way up until the day you arrive at a park.

It’s a cheaper and easier way to reserve a campsite compared to the prior reservation system used for the parks, says Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Travis Duncan. The old system didn’t allow reservations after the three-day-prior mark and included an extra $10 reservation fee that campers no longer have to pay. Reservations for a tent or RV site now start at $28 per night, cabins for $36 per night, and yurts for $90 per night.

“With the old system, you couldn’t make a [same-day] reservation—you had to just kind of gamble and go to the park and hope you were able to find something,” Duncan says. Park rangers started to realize they could eliminate this roadblock for visitors who prefer more spontaneous trips. In 2018, they tested the new system at five state parks, expanding the pilot to 17 more in 2019. Duncan says it allows people to be more flexible, keeping with the trend of private campground companies like KOA that allow campers to make reservations up to the same day of a planned visit. Several other states across the U.S. have adapted similar camping reservation systems, like Washington, Texas, and California.

The new feature on the Parks and Wildlife site includes a separate weekend availability tab you can scroll through to easily see which parks still have tent or RV spaces open for the coming weekend. And while reservations can still be made up to very the moment you pull up to a park, Duncan recommends that if you are going to hit a spontaneous trip up to your favorite park, at least consider checking the availability and making the reservation before you pull up to a park with little to no cell service. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is working on putting up signs near the entrance of every park to remind visitors to book a site before they lose cell service. According to the website, park rangers can issue citations and evict campers who are on a site without a reservation. A $6 fee may also be assessed if you cancel or change your reservation sooner than 14 days prior to your visit.

While some die-hard Coloradans might have qualms with the interference on the old-fashioned campground claiming process, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hoping this will eliminate the worry of racing to beat the weekend rush to campsites and finding nothing available. Duncan notes that they’ve even seen more people coming to the parks’ campsites since they started testing the system in 2018. “More people were snatching up those sites that sometimes were sitting empty because people decided to not take that gamble.”

Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill is 5280’s former associate digital editor.