Yosemite to test lottery system for popular campground

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Yosemite to test lottery system for popular campground
© Ezra Shaw/Getty Images YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 11: Noah (in hammock) and Valentina Gonzalez from the Sacramento area relax in their campsite on June 11, 2020 in Yosemite National Park, California. Yosemite National Park reopened today with many restrictions after shutting down in March to protect people from COVID-19. Only about half of the average June visitors will be allowed in, and they must make an online reservation for each car. The park will issue 1,700 day passes each day and an additional 1,900 passes for reservations at campsites or hotels in the park. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Sometimes, it’s tough being popular. Just look at the National Park Service. Record numbers of pandemic-weary visitors have shown up at many national parks during the pandemic.

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California’s Yosemite National Park is so popular during peak summer season that it’s now testing a pilot program for campers: A winter lottery in which winners get a chance to make early reservations.

They’re trying this at just one especially coveted campground in the park — North Pines Campground. The lottery started on January 18 and lasts through February 6, so there’s still plenty of time to enter. They’ll release the lottery results on February 10.

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Yosemite to test lottery system for popular campground
© Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Visitors admire the view of Yosemite Falls in the distance.

The summer camping dates under the lottery are from July 21 through September 14. There is a $10 nonrefundable fee to enter the lottery.

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Yosemite says on its website that “successful lottery applicants will have an opportunity to make a reservation for campsites … during an early access period.”

The early access will be offered before the traditional on-sale dates. If there are any remaining spots, they’ll be available on the usual on-sale dates, which is five months in advance on the 15th of the month, the park says.

Yosemite to test lottery system for popular campground
© Joe Yogerst Big Bend National Park is in Texas along the Rio Grande with Mexico.

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds in total. Four, including North Pines, are in Yosemite Valley.

Why a lottery system?

One economics phrase can sum up why they’re doing this pilot program: supply and demand.

“The demand for reservations in Yosemite campgrounds through Recreation.gov far exceeds availability, especially in Yosemite Valley during the busiest times of the year,” the park said on its website. “This has been the case for decades and demand has only increased over time.”

Spots can sell out in minutes online, the park said.

Yosemite said it wants to “create a better experience that reduces confusion and frustration for the highly competitive reservation process” and “offer a new method for reserving campsites at this high-demand location for a more equitable experience.”

How to apply for the lottery

You can apply for a chance to win an early reservation by clicking here on Recreation.gov. Yosemite said the lottery is available on the web but not on the Recreation.gov app.

Recreation.gov will randomly select roughly 640 applicants, Yosemite says.

Successful lottery applicants will receive an early access date and time on February 10. The early access period when they can make a camping reservation will be from February 18 to March 10.

You can apply only once, and winners will be notified by email.

Record visitors at national parks

Big crowds aren’t an issue just for Yosemite.

For instance, Big Bend National Park in Texas has traditionally been lower on the visitation scale. But it had 581,000 recreational visits in 2021. That was a 25% increase since 2019 (464,000), the last year the park was open all year. The park attributed the rise to a combination of greater public awareness of Big Bend along with people ready to get outdoors during the pandemic.

Yellowstone National Park was setting attendance records in the peak months of August and September last year.

Arches National Park in Utah is rolling out a timed entry system to help prevent overtourism, and Zion National Park, also in Utah, will require a permit to hike its popular Angels Landing trail starting April 1.

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