January 8, 2020 112 PM
FAR WEST TEXAS – Big Bend National Park recently increased the amount of camping sites that can be reserved in advance through their online system and, in turn, the camping fees have also increased. Beginning February 1, for the first time, a selection of primitive backcountry campsites will be included in the online reservation system as well.
By raising camping fees, Big Bend hopes to improve camping and other visitor facilities park-wide, reduce the $90 million backlog of deferred maintenance and fund the online reservation service contract with recreation.gov.
As far as fees go, the developed campground fees will increase by $2 a night, from $14 per night to $16. Backcountry permits, which includes backpacking, primitive roadside and overnight river trips, will change from $12 per permit to $10 per night.
Additionally, group campsite fees will change to a nightly per site fee, as opposed to a per person fee. Sites accommodating up to 14, 25 and 40 people will cost $40, $60 and $100 per night, respectively.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that people want us to expand the park’s reservation system, and I’m excited that we’re able to respond,” Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said in a press release from the National Park Services.
This will alleviate a number of travelers who come to Big Bend and are turned away due to full campsites during busy seasons.
“The reservation system will allow many visitors to plan their stays ahead of time and guarantee they have a campsite when they arrive,” said Krumenaker. “These changes benefit the visitor and will generate increased revenue for the NPS to reinvest in visitor services and deferred maintenance here at Big Bend.”
Camping fees increased effective January 1, 2020. The online reservation system is also set to make it easier for backcountry campers to obtain permits, which was previously only available in-person at park facilities.
The availability of advanced reservations for backcountry permits will be both beneficial and also tricky for avid hikers and outdoors folk. On one hand, if you know exactly where you’ll be each night of your trip, you can easily reserve these sites ahead of time.
For thru-hikers, though, this may be more difficult.
Troy Wong of Austin, Texas manages a Facebook group that helps connect people who are coordinating Big Bend 100 trips. The Big Bend 100 is a 100 mile backcountry thru-hike that begins on Casa Piedra Road in the Big Bend Ranch State Park and ends in the South Rim Chisos Basin inside the Big Bend National Park.
In order to do this, hikers risk not being able to obtain a backcountry permit once they arrive at the national park. Additionally, someone making this journey would have to arrange transportation from the Warnock Center to Panther Junction – and then back – just to get their camping permits and continue.
“The ability to make reservations [online] with the national park will be extremely helpful,” Wong said. “If the state park and the national parks could coordinate, so there would be one permit, that would be even better.”
However, Wong said that with thru-hiking routes like The Big Bend 100, hikers don’t always know where they’ll end up, which may make it difficult to reserve a specific permit in advance.
Allison Christofis with Big Bend National Park said that there will be no wilderness camping added to the reservation system, and people interested in camping outside of the designated areas would still need to obtain a wilderness permit through a park facility.
“The beauty of thru-hiking is that you have a starting point and ending point,” Wong said. What’s in between is somewhat unknown until you get to camp each night. “You basically camp primitively in an open space. You don’t know where you’ll camp until you get there.”
Wong said that you could do the Big Bend 100 route from the national park to the state park, because you can get your permit at the national park first before making your way to the state park, but it’s not as dramatic, and somewhat anticlimactic, going this route.
Backcountry permit planning may be more difficult this year as the system becomes available February 1, which is when The Southeast Rim Trail and a portion of the Northeast Rim Trail from the Boot Canyon/Southeast Rim junction to a point just north of Campsite NE-4 are closed for Peregrine Falcon nesting. These areas open back up just as the season heats up in April, though.
The majority of campsites – approximately two-thirds – in the Rio Grande Village and Chisos Basin Campgrounds will be reservable up to 6 months in advance beginning January 15. The remaining one-third of sites, including Cottonwood Campground, will remain first come, first served.
According to the National Park Services website, the first 58 sites to pilot this change will include the more popular and centrally-located primitive car camping sites and designated backpacking sites in the Chisos Mountains. Roadside sites to be included are those at: Grapevine Hills, Paint Gap, Croton Spring, K-Bar, Hannold Draw, Nine-point Draw, Nugent Mountain, Pine Canyon, Robbers Roost and Twisted Shoe.
Following the initial phase-in period, additional backcountry campsite may be added to the online services.