Exclusionary Effects of Campsite Allocation through Reservations in U.S. National Parks: Evidence from Mobile Device Location Data


  • William L. Rice University of Montana http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5725-486X
  • Jaclyn R. Rushing University of Montana Department of Society and Conservation
  • Jennifer M. Thomsen University of Montana Parks, Tourism and Recreation Management
  • Peter Whitney University of Montana Parks, Tourism and Recreation Management




Campsites represent highly-sought-after recreational amenities in the national parks of the United States. Equitable allocation of scarce recreational resources has long been a key management issue in U.S. national parks, but has become increasingly difficult in an era of increasing demand. At present, a growing number of national park campsites are allocated through an online reservation system well-in-advance of a camper’s arrival at a park. Compounding the challenge of allocating these campsites is a long history of exclusivity within national park camping—institutionalized through campground design and predicated on a legacy of the leisure class’s affinity for camping in national parks. Given national park camping’s history of exclusivity, this exploratory study seeks to explore how online reservation systems may impact the demographics of national park campers. Using mobile device location data, estimated demographics were calculated for campers in five national park campgrounds in the U.S. that each contained some sites requiring reservations and some sites available on a first come, first served basis. We detail results from analyses of variance between campsites requiring reservations and those that are available on a first come, first served basis. Results suggest that for each of the five campgrounds, those campers camping in sites that require reservations came from areas with higher median household incomes, on average. In three of the five campgrounds, this difference was significant. Additionally, in an urban-proximate setting, those camping in sites requiring reservations came from areas with a higher portion of White residency than those campers in campsites not requiring reservations, on average. We conclude with discussion that includes a brief research agenda for campgrounds and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and management implications concerning the growing prominence of online reservation systems for outdoor recreation amenities. Principally, the latter group of implications includes the realization that online reservation systems present the unintended consequence of excluding low-income, and perhaps non-White, would-be campers—a conclusion drawn from the results of this exploratory study. This discussion includes an analysis of the distributive justice of online reservation systems.


Atske, S. & Perrin, A. (2021). Home broadband adoption, computer ownership vary by race, ethnicity in the U.S. Pew Research Center https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/16/home-broadband-adoption-computer-ownership-vary-by-race-ethnicity-in-the-u-s/.

Barros, C., Moya-Gómez, B., & Gutiérrez, J. (2020). Using geotagged photographs and GPS tracks from social networks to analyse visitor behaviour in national parks. Current Issues in Tourism, 23(10), 1291-1310.

Bixler, R. D., James, J. J., & Vadala, C. E. (2011). Environmental socialization incidents with implications for the expanded role of interpretive naturalists in providing natural history experiences. Journal of Interpretation Research, 16(1), 35-64.

Bowser, B. P. (2007). The Black Middle Class. Lynne Rienner.

Burns, K. (Director). (2009). Going Home [Documentary Episode]. In K. Burns, & D. Duncan (Producers), The national parks: America's best idea. Public Broadcasting Service.

Calabrese, F., Pereira, F. C., Di Lorenzo, G., Liu, L., & Ratti, C. (2010). The geography of taste: Analyzing cell-phone mobility and social events. In P. Floréen, A. Krüger, & M. Spasojevic (Eds.), Pervasive Computing: Vol. 6030 LNCS (pp. 22–37). Springer.

CHM Government Services (2020). Campground Industry Analysis Report. Presented to the National Park Service. Retrieved from: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/policy/upload/Final-Campground-Trends-Analysis.pdf

Craig, C. A., & Karabas, I. (2021). Glamping after the coronavirus pandemic. Tourism and Hospitality Research, 21(2), 251–256.

Creany, N. E., Monz, C. A., D’Antonio, A., Sisneros-Kidd, A., Wilkins, E. J., Nesbitt, J., & Mitrovich, M. (2021). Estimating trail use and visitor spatial distribution using mobile device data: An example from the nature reserve of orange county, California USA. Environmental Challenges, 4, 100171.

Davis, J. (2019). Nature and Space Black faces, Black spaces: Rethinking African American underrepresentation in wildland spaces and outdoor recreation. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 2(1), 89–109.

Edmonds, D. A. (2019). Perceptions of African-American Outdoor Experiences. [Master’s Thesis, North Carolina State University].

Erickson, B., Johnson, C. W., & Kivel, B. D. (2009). Rocky Mountain National Park: history and culture as factors in African-American park visitation. Journal of Leisure Research, 41(4), 529–545.

Federal Communication Commission (2020, February 20). LTE coverage by number of providers - YE 2018. Reports & research. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/lte-coverage-number-providers-ye-2018/

Finney, C. (2014). Black faces, White spaces: Reimagining the relationship of African Americans to the great outdoors. The University of North Carolina Press.

Finney, C. (2010). This land is your land, this land is my land: People and public lands redux. The George Wright Forum 27: 247-254.

Floyd, M. F. & Stodolska, M. (2014). Theoretical frameworks in leisure research on race and ethnicity. In Race, Ethnicity and Leisure, Monika Stodolska, Kim J. Shinew, Myron F. Floyd, and Gordon J. Walker (Eds). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Grebowicz, M. (2015). The national park to come. Stanford University Press.

Gross, R. (2018). From buckskin to Gore-Tex: Consumption as a path to mastery in twentieth-century American wilderness recreation. Enterprise and Society, 19(4), 826–835.

Gursoy, D., & Chen, B. T. (2012). Factors influencing camping behavior: The case of Taiwan. Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management, 21(6), 659–678.

Hicks, A. S., Malone, Z., Moore, M. A., Powell, R., Thompson, A., Whitener, P. A., & Williams, R. (2021). Green inequities: Examining the dimensions of socioenvironmental injustice in marginalized communities. Parks Stewardship Forum, 37(3), 534-540.

Hogue, M. (2011). A Short History of the Campsite. Places Journal, 5.

Huberty, C. J., & Morris, J. D. (1989). Multivariate analysis versus multiple univariate analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 105(2), 302–308.

Kim, Y. J., Lee, D. K., & Kim, C. K. (2020). Spatial tradeoff between biodiversity and nature-based tourism: Considering mobile phone-driven visitation pattern. Global Ecology and Conservation, 21, e00899. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.GECCO.2019.E00899

Kubo, T., Uryu, S., Yamano, H., Tsuge, T., Yamakita, T., & Shirayama, Y. (2020). Mobile phone network data reveal nationwide economic value of coastal tourism under climate change. Tourism Management, 77, 104010. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.TOURMAN.2019.104010

Lawson, M. (2021). Innovative New Ways to Count Outdoor Recreation: Using data from cell phones, fitness trackers, social media, and other novel data. Headwaters Economics. https://headwaterseconomics.org/outdoor-recreation/counting-outdoor-recreation/

Liang, Y., Kirilenko, A. P., Stepchenkova, S. O., & Ma, S. (2020). Using social media to discover unwanted behaviours displayed by visitors to nature parks: Comparisons of nationally and privately owned parks in the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa. Tourism Recreation Research, 45(2), 271–276.

Liang, Y., Yin, J., Pan, B., Lin, M., & Chi, G. (2021). Assessing the validity of SafeGraph data for visitor monitoring in Yellowstone National Park. In B. Pan, S. O. Stepchenkova, & S. Elliot (Eds.), Collection of TTRA 2021 Research Papers and Abstracts - 51st Annual Travel and Tourism Research Association International Conference. Fort Worth, TX: Travel and Tourism Research Association.

Ma, S., Craig, C. A., Feng, S., & Liu, C. (2021). Climate resources at United states national parks: A tourism climate index approach. Tourism Recreation Research, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508281.2021.1946652

Ma, S., & Kirilenko, A. (2021). How reliable is social media data? Validation of TripAdvisor tourism visitations using independent data sources. In Wolfgang Wörndl, Chulmo Koo, & Jason L. Stienmetz (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism (pp. 286–293). Springer.

Magill, A. W. (1976). Campsite reservation systems: The camper’s viewpoint. USDA Forest Service Research Paper PSW-121. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station.

Manning, R. E., & Lime, D. W. (2000). Defining and Managing the Quality of Wilderness Recreation Experiences. In D. N. Cole, S. F. McCool, W. T. Borrie, & J. O’Loughlin (Eds.), Wilderness Science in a Time of Change Conference-Volume 4: Wilderness visitors, experiences, and visitor management; 1999 May 23-27; Missoula, Montana (Vol. 4, pp. 13–52). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

McCreary, A., Seekamp, E., Davenport, M., & Smith, J. W. (2020). Exploring qualitative applications of social media data for place-based assessments in destination planning. Current Issues in Tourism, 23(1), 82-98.

Merrill, N. H., Atkinson, S. F., Mulvaney, K. K., Mazzotta Id, M. J., & Bousquin, J. (2020). Using data derived from cellular phone locations to estimate visitation to natural areas: An application to water recreation in New England, USA. PLoS ONE, 15(4), e0231863.

Michelson, M. (2021, May 7). How to snag a campsite this summer. Outside Magazine. https://www.outsideonline.com/adventure-travel/destinations/north-america/book-campsite-summer/

Monz, C., Creany, N., Nesbitt, J., & Mitrovich, M. (2021). Mobile device data analysis to determine the demographics of park visitors. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 39(1), 123–130.

Monz, C., Mitrovich, M., D’Antonio, A., & Sisneros-Kidd, A. (2019). Using mobile device data to estimate visitation in parks and protected areas: An example from the nature reserve of Orange County, California. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 37(4), 92–109. https://doi.org/10.18666/jpra-2019-9899

More, T. A. (2002). “The parks are being loved to death” and other frauds and deceits in recreation management. Journal of Leisure Research, 34(1), 52–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.2002.11949960

National Park Service (2017, June 28). Campgrounds. Chickasaw National Recreation Area. https://web.archive.org/web/20190612052419/https://www.nps.gov/chic/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm

National Park Service (2018a, July 25). Frontcountry camping (car camping). Camping. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/camping/frontcountry-camping.htm

National Park Service (2018b, December 11). Green River campground. Dinosaur National Monument. https://web.archive.org/web/20190611141738/https://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/greenrivercampground.htm

National Park Service (2019a, February 1). Loft Mountain campground. Shenandoah National Park. https://web.archive.org/web/20190706051533/https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/upload/LoftMountain_CampgroundMap.pdf

National Park Service (2019b, February 4). Saddlehorn campground. Colorado National Monument. https://web.archive.org/web/20190706024059/https://www.nps.gov/colm/planyourvisit/saddlehorn-campground.htm

National Park Service (2019c, March 6). Oak Ridge campground. Prince William Forest Park. https://web.archive.org/web/20190705063001/https://www.nps.gov/prwi/planyourvisit/oakridge.htm

National Park Service (2020a, March 23). Find a campground. Where can I camp? https://www.nps.gov/subjects/camping/campground.htm

National Park Service (2020b, July 7). Cellular and Wi-Fi. Goods and services. https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/goodsandservices.htm

National Park Service (2021, March 11). Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion.


Near (2021a). Understanding mobile location data. Near.

Newcombe, E. (2016). Camping, climbing, and consumption: The Bean Boot, 1912-1945. Material Culture, 48(1), 10–27.

Park, J., Ellis, G. D., Kim, S. S., Ruddell, E. J., & Agrusa, J. (2007). Predictors of social equity and price acceptability judgments of user fees. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 21(2–3), 89–103.

Park, S., & Pan, B. (2018). Identifying the next non-stop flying market with a big data approach. Tourism Management, 66, 411–421

Parks, Forests, and Public Property, 36 CFR § 1.4 (2020).

Recreation.gov (2021, May). Increased demand for popular activities. The Story Board: May 2021 [Newsletter]. https://recreationgov.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&c=564&m=48049

Rice, W. L., & Park, S. (2021). Big data spatial analysis of campers ’ landscape preferences?: Examining demand for amenities. Journal of Environmental Management, 292, 112773.

Rice, W. L., Park, S., Pan, B., & Newman, P. (2019). Forecasting campground demand in US national parks. Annals of Tourism Research, 75, 424–438.

Roberts, N. S. (2021). Does systemic racism and structural power activate increase access? Parks Stewardship Forum 37(3), 442-447.

Scott, D., & Lee, K. J. (2018). People of color and their constraints to national parks visitation. The George Wright Forum, 35(1), 82.

Shelby, B., Whittaker, D., & Danley, M. (1989). Idealism versus pragmatism in user evaluations of allocation systems. Leisure Sciences, 11(1), 61–70. https://doi.org/10.10k80/01490408909512205

Soukup M. A. & Machlis, G. E. (2021). National parks as American covenants. Parks Stewardship Forum 37(3), 585-591.

Stodolska, M. & Shinew, K. J. (2014). Leisure among Latino Americans. In Race, Ethnicity and Leisure, Monika Stodolska, Kimberly J. Shinew, Myron F. Floyd, and Gordon J. Walker, Eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Supak, S., Brothers, G., Ghahramani, L., & Van Berkel, D. (2017). Geospatial analytics for park & protected land visitor reservation data. In Z. Xiang & D. R. Fesenmaier (Eds.). Analytics in smart tourism design (pp. 81-109). Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Thakur, P., Khoo, C., & Pyar, W. Y. K. (2021). Diversity training: Where are we, and where should we be heading? A systematic literature review. Tourism Recreation Research, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508281.2021.1965369

The Outdoor Foundation (2017). 2017 American camper report. Boulder, CO: The Outdoor Industry Association.

The Outdoor Industry Association (2017). Outdoor recreation economy report. Boulder, CO: The Outdoor Industry Association.

UberMedia (2021a). Derivation of common evening and common daytime locations. UberMedia.

UberMedia (2021b). Demographic representation of the UM device graph. UberMedia.

UberMedia (2021c). Location measurement data and attribution methodology. UberMedia.

U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011). Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity 2010. Report no. 1032. http://www. Bls.gov/cps/cpsrace2010.pdf.

U.S. Census Bureau (n.d.) Tallies. Census reference files. https://www.census.gov/geographies/reference-files/time-series/geo/tallies.html

Vaske (2008). Survey research and analysis: Applications in parks, recreation and human dimensions. State College, PA: Venture Publishing.

Vaske, J. J. & Lyon, K. M. (2014). Linking the 2010 census to national park visitors: Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/WASO/NRTR—2014/880. National Park Service.

Walls, M., Wichman, C., & Ankney, K. (2018). Nature-based recreation: Understanding campsite reservations in national parks. Resources for the Future.

Weber, J., & Sultana, S. (2012). Why do so few minority people visit national parks? Visitation and the accessibility of “America’s best idea.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(3), 437–464.

Winter, P., Crano, W. D., Basáñez, T., & Lamb, C. S. (2020). Equity in access to outdoor recreation—Informing a sustainable future. Sustainability 12(124).

Yard, R. S. (1922). The people and the national parks. The Survey, 48(13), 547–553, 583.

Young, P. S. K. (2021). Camping grounds: Public nature in American life from the Civil War to the Occupy Movement. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press

Young, T. (2009). “A contradiction in democratic government”: W. J. Trent, Jr., and the struggle to desegregate national park campgrounds. Environmental History 14(4): 651-682.

Young, T. (2017). Heading out: A history of American camping. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Young, T. (2018). E.P. Meinecke and the development of the modern auto campground. IdeAs, 12, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.4000/ideas.3502





Regular Papers