REPORT: Camping in Utah has skyrocketed over last decade, causing overcrowding concerns

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MOAB, UT – OCTOBER 09: Sunrise in the camping area wakes competitors on the morning of the 24 Hours of Moab Mountain Bike Race on October 9, 2010 in Moab, Utah. More than 1000 mountain bikers completed more than 4000 laps compiling more the 65,000 miles on the 14.9 mile course. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

UTAH (ABC4) – The popularity of camping on national public lands in Utah has skyrocketed over the past decade and has also spiked during the pandemic, a new report says.

The report’s analysis disclosed that the estimated occupancy of reservable campsites in Utah filled in summer jumped from 28% in 2014 to 49% in 2020. That’s a 77% increase over a six-year period.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped drive the sizable increase in reservable campsite occupancy nationally between 2019 and 2020. In Utah, more specifically, the estimated occupancy of reservable campsites filled in summer increased 32% from 2019 to 2020.

National parks smashed records across the U.S. during the summer of 2021 as far as visitation goes, but the report also shows that reservable campgrounds in protected areas, excluding national parks, are more occupied during their peak season than other public lands. The growing popularity of visiting protected lands is leading to some concerns.

“More people visiting, camping on, and enjoying our treasured national public lands is certainly a good thing. However, the increase in visitation can lead to serious overcrowding and strains the infrastructure and resources on public lands during the peak summer season,” said Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities. “The popularity of public lands in Utah—and especially protected areas—should urge leaders to keep a good thing going by funding our land management systems and designating more protected areas to distribute visitation across different sites and seasons.”

Here’s a list of the lowest reservable site occupancies in Utah:

  • Bountiful Peak Campground, Uinta and Wasatch-Cache National Forest (1 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Gooseberry Group, Manti-La Sal National Forest (5 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Elkhorn Campground, Fishlake National Forest (6 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Tinney Flat, Uinta and Wasatch-Cache National Forest (7 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Forks of Huntington, Manti-La sal National Forest (10 average percent of reservable sites filled)

Here’s a list of some campsites in Utah you may want to avoid due to high occupancy:

  • Sunset Campground, Bryce Canyon National Park (99 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • South Campground, Zion National Park (91 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park (90 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park (86 average percent of reservable sites filled)
  • Watchman Campground, Zion National Park (83 average percent of reservable sites filled)

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