Recreation.gov, a national park booking app, makes users feel lost in the woods

The public finds the system “very confusing,” said Linda Devlin, chief executive Allegheny Forest National Visitors Bureau, one of the co-authors of the US travel letter. “If they want to rent a cabin on the Red Bridge in the Allegheny National Forest, they have to go through a few pages to find the Allegheny National Forest first, then the right campsite, and then the lodges. It’s not a comfortable system.”

Versions of the reservation system have existed online for decades as parks tried to prevent traffic and overcrowding. In 2018, consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton took over the management of online bookings. heap spurs for improvements, including real-time updates and a more user-friendly interface. The new version of Recreation.gov was a step up from the previous model, but over the past two years it has been ill-prepared to deal with the massive increase in users caused by the pandemic. It didn’t help clear up the confusion caused by changing requirements from the parks as they struggled to deal with pandemic-related restrictions and record-breaking crowds.

As a frequent national park traveler, Kelsey Falkowski believes the reservation system plays an important role in preventing overcrowding. mr. Falkowski, a high school social studies teacher from Vernon, New Jersey, has been traveling to national parks with his brother and sister for the past six years, usually visiting two or three parks per trip. He hasn’t had any major problems using Recreation.gov.

“It really comes down to research,” he said. “We start planning about a year in advance and my brother will put together a 50-page itinerary for the trip. We’ll check out the Facebook pages, the National Park Instagram accounts, just to make sure we don’t miss anything.”

In addition to a high-speed internet connection, accessing and booking on Recreation.gov requires a level of computer literacy that not all travelers may have (speaking of technology, questions bots stealing campsites as well as third party sites plagued recreation.gov for years).

Last December, after months of searching for campsites, Ms. Prado was able to book one campsite for three nights at Glacier, much shorter than she had hoped to spend at the park. As for the rest, she decided that she would have to play by ear.