Park users can join a text message-based channel called SHENCAMP, and officials will send out text updates on available campsites in the park’s five campgrounds. The alerts—which will say either “Plenty” or “Full”—will go out on weekends in the afternoon, as officials monitor the campgrounds to see how many are unclaimed or unattended.
Shenandoah National Park has 623 individual campsites and three group sites, and like other national parks these sites are a mix of reservation-only and first-come, first-served. Campers can reserve some spots up to six months in advance via Recreation.gov, and many others travel to the park hoping to claim a site. Previously, would-be campers could travel to the park and inquire about last-minute cancellations, but doing so was a gamble, and many hopeful campers were turned away for the night.
Shenandoah National Park officials believe the new system will make it easier for prospective campers to see if sites are unclaimed prior to traveling to the park. And if there are available sites, the alert system will tell campers which campground to target.
“We hope this new system will provide valuable information to the public for planning their visits to Shenandoah,” said Park Superintendent Pat Kenney.
If it succeeds, the new system could be a boon for beleaguered national parks, many of which struggle to update the public on campsite availability. Booming visitation in Covid’s wake has exposed issues in national parks’ capacity to manage campsite reservations. While canceled camping reservations are usually recycled back into the system, no-shows are not, which leaves spots empty and would-be campers frustrated.
Claire Comer, a spokesperson for the park, told Outside that new alert system does have limitations—officials are not able to update information about campsites that are reserved but have occupants that do not show up.
“We’re not able to be that precise” Comer said. “There’s no connectivity in the park, and due to staffing and the sheer size we’re trying to cover, getting that level of information is not possible.”
Still, Comer believes the approximate capacity updates will help steer would-be campers to the correct campgrounds, and prevent them from driving around the park for hours asking about availability.
Those who don’t want to refresh the reservation tab over and over again can also use private companies like CampNab and Campflare, which integrate information that is readily available on recreation.gov and turn it into alerts about permits, shuttle tickets, and campsite availability.
In order to receive alerts about Shenandoah National Park’s hazards, Skyline Drive status, and additional safety information, the public is encouraged to text SHENALERTS to 888777. Those who are interested in getting alerts about campsite availability can subscribe to messages by texting SHENCAMP to 888777.