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

William L. Rice, Jaclyn R. Rushing, Jennifer M. Thomsen, Peter Whitney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


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 in-creasingly 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 allocat-ing 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 management implications concerning the growing prominence of online reservation systems for outdoor recreation amenities, and a brief research agenda for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as they relate to campgrounds. Principally, the former group of implications includes the realization that online reservation systems present the unintended consequence of excluding low-income, and per-haps 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-65
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Park and Recreation Administration
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 24 2022


  • Campgrounds
  • allocation
  • equity
  • exclusion
  • mobile device data
  • reservations


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