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Montana State Parks bracing for another busy year

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Posted at 10:38 AM, Apr 14, 2021

MISSOULA — People looking to spend some time at Montana State Parks this summer should know that 2021 is shaping up to be another very busy year with over 60% of the reserved campsites are already booked.

Last year was one for the record books at Montana State Parks, as people saw camping and outdoor recreation as a respite from COVID-19 lockdowns.

“About 29½% increase, which is fairly large, almost an additional million people visited our parks,” FWP State Parks Communications Manager Pat Doyle said.

Occupancy was also up 23% as campsites were filling up more often with more campers using the State Parks reservation system to make sure they had a spot as summer progressed.

“So, a lot of people, a lot of first-time park visitors, really taking advantage of our park reservation system and using that tool you know to really plan their trip to some of our really significant sites across the state,” Doyle told MTN News.

The Flathead National Forest is renewing its campground concessionaire permits for the next 10 years.

There are a lot of the pandemic pressures nearly the same as we head into this camping season and thousands of people are already planning their nights out.

“So statewide we currently have about 41% of our nights still available for our peak season,” Doyle said. “So that is, you know, tracking above average for coming in. But there are still sites available out there.”

During the rush last summer, a lot of locals felt it was out-of-state pandemic refuge seekers that were taking their favorite campsites. While there were certainly a lot of cars with strange license plates the bulk of state park campers were still Montanans.

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“We do track those stats, obviously, with our reservation platform. And looking at a majority of our parks, 70%-to-80% are Montana residents making campsite reservations,” Doyle said. “That can be up for some parks. Some parks do receive, you know, a little bit more out-of-state visitation and out-of-state interest. “

While many of the "big weekends" are already full, Doyle says there are still some nice openings, especially if you can camp during the week, "ut if you are flexible in your times where you can go out and recreate, I think that really does play into your advantage for getting it available spot."

FWP does charge an extra fee for making campsite reservations. The state has also added some new campsites for reservation this season, including a few spots at the popular Painted Rocks State Park on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.