Styx concert (yeah, that Styx. Dig it.). Camping in Yosemite. Both are great ways to spend a weekend this summer. And both may involve interacting with a shady-looking dude in the parking lot muttering something to the affect of “Pssst…Need tickets.” Because suddenly our national park system has become the equivalent of a sold-out concert.

Yosemite National Park

Tunnel View in Yosemite

Yosemite is the third most popular park in the country, welcoming in around 3.5 million people each year. And if you’ve tried to get a campsite in the summer at any national park, let alone a top-10 park, you know that it’s quite an ordeal. You have to get on the interwebs at the crack of dawn, four to five months before the dates you’re looking for, and frantically fight the faceless masses to get your spot–or a second-, third- or fourth-option spot. Just like you would for a concert or playoff game.

As with any big concert or playoff game, a seedy middle market has emerged around the high-demand Yosemite reservations. That’s right, friggin scalpers, who’ve likely never camped a day in their lives, have been buying tickets and inflating prices upwards of $100 for a $20 reservation. According to a Modesto Bee report, scalpers have been increasingly buying up reservations and putting them up for sale on Craigslist. The NPS says that it’s working to pursue perpertrators, but given the slow rate that any government agency works to take care of any problem, don’t expect a resolution in the near future.

So what to do? Well, if camping in Yosemite in the middle of July was on your list, consider some alternatives:

-Beat the crowds. Many park’s visitation numbers skyrocket during June, July and August. This is particularly true in the mountains, where weather is the warmest and most reliable. And it’s true of Yosemite, where crowds more than double between April and June. If you can plan the trip for late-September or early-October, before snow becomes an issue, you’ll better your chances of getting a camping spot directly through ReserveAmerica.

-Change your travel plans. Yes, Yosemite is a beautiful national park. But so is every one the other national park in the country. That’s why they’re national parks, after all. While Yosemite is one of the most popular, iconic national parks, other California parks like Lassen Volcano and Channel Islands are among the least-visited in the country. And if you’re flying in, then there are dozens of parks to consider. You’ll still want to book camping reservations in advance, but you’ll be working against a much thinner pool.

-Change your overnight plans. Honestly, I love visiting national parks, but I don’t know all the fuss about camping there. Camping is supposed to be relaxing, not frustrating. And the mountain scenery typically extends beyond park boundaries. Instead of camping in Yosemite, camp in Sierra or Stanislaus national forests that surround it. A search of availability for Summerdale Campground, a Sierra NF campground just a mile and a half south of Yosemite’s entrance, shows plenty of availability throughout most of June, July and August. Many of the Stanislaus campgrounds along CA-120 are first-come, first-served.

-Flag, flag and more flag. If you happen to see a Craigslist ad for Yosemite camping or Half Dome hiking, flag the $#*! out of it until it disappears. Maybe if it becomes enough of a hassle, people will leave the parks to those that actually appreciate them.


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