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Jargon 40: Campsites


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Aaron Zagrodnick

At its most basic, a campsite is nothing more than a piece of ground upon which to sleep for a night. It should ideally be reasonably level, sheltered from the elements, not too rocky, and proximity to water is always a plus. When it comes to camping in national parks, or complying with Leave No Trace principles, the term “campsite” gets a bit more technical. Designated campsites are most common in national parks and are often the only legal places that backpackers are allowed to camp. When selecting an itinerary for backpacking in a national park, you are limited to these sites and must travel the distance between them each day – regardless of weather conditions, energy levels, or how good the fishing is at a particular lake...

In Issue 40, @Mark breaks down the differences between and the definitions of designated, zone, established, and dispersed campsites. Take a look at the full article at the link below:

Jargon 40: Campsites

Jargon 40 - Definitions of Campsites - Established vs. Dispersed etc.

Issue 40 Page 1

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I can only think of a few places in National Parks where campsites are identified, numbered, and reserved.  I can think of a lot more of those in national forest land.  Outside of Little Yosemite Valley, and the Whitney area, where are sites numbered and reserved/required in the national parks in California?

Carson Pass has some of these in the national forest.  Cherry Lake boat-in sites are reserveable, I think.  And I think there may be some in Desolation?  But those are not national parks. 

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Interesting. My experience with backpacking in National Parks has involved staying at plenty of designated backcountry campsites - perhaps not always numbered but at least named - or zone camping, where permits tend to fill up pretty fast understandably (often leaving reserving a designated site as the only choice). I've had to travel through the night on more than one occasion to make my assigned campsite on a permit, usually due to those later than anticipated trailhead arrivals. :)

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I have never been on a backpacking trip with requirements to camp in a designated spot.  I have never used a bear cannister.  I tend to seek out places with less visitor use and fewer restrictions. 

Never wanted to camp in Desolation for all the reasons we are discussing. 

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Mark Wetherington
On 1/24/2019 at 8:56 PM, balzaccom said:

I can only think of a few places in National Parks where campsites are identified, numbered, and reserved.  I can think of a lot more of those in national forest land.  Outside of Little Yosemite Valley, and the Whitney area, where are sites numbered and reserved/required in the national parks in California?

Carson Pass has some of these in the national forest.  Cherry Lake boat-in sites are reserveable, I think.  And I think there may be some in Desolation?  But those are not national parks. 

My experience has been the opposite. I've primarily backpacked in the Southeast and the Northwest and have had to reserve/get a permit for campsites on backpacking trips at the following parks: Mammoth Cave, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, North Cascades, Olympic, and Cumberland Island National Seashore. I've backpacked in national forest lands adjacent to those national parks and other than self-registering at the trailhead (at most) they have never required a reservation or officially issued permit.

I know that Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Canyonlands, and many other national parks have similar permit systems -- you have to have a permit issued to camp in the backcountry and reservations are often needed, with some permits held back for issuing on the day of the trip to folks who show up at the ranger station. I've found these to be much less common in national forests, with a few exceptions for areas that see a ton of use.

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  • 1 month later...

Recently I have thought about the normal criteria people use to select back country camp sites.  I have found that by not camping near water, I can be in places where no one has probably every camped.  We see no one and hear no one for the whole trip.   I carry an extra roll up Platypus and can make a trip to go get water that will last a couple of days.   This is a revelationary concept and has changed the nature of my backpacking trips even in popular areas.  We see more wildlife.  I love the peace and quiet. 

A couple of years ago, I was camped near a lake in a wilderness area.  Some guy walked right through our camp to get water.  He did not even say hello.  That is not why I go out there. 

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