Want to camp in Colorado this summer? The time to reserve your campsite is now.

Last summer, the author got lucky and was able to reserve this site at Piñon Flats Campground in Sand Dunes National Park only a week before showing up. But you can reserve campsites at many places in Colorado up to six months in advance. (Joshua Berman, Special to The Denver Post)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife lets campers reserve sites six months out.

It’s that time of year again: Winter solstice is behind us, the days are getting longer and six-month campground reservation lead time at Colorado’s state parks and wildlife areas means you’d better book that campsite for the Fourth of July — like, yesterday.

Some campers are all over this, hovering over their keyboards at the stroke of midnight in January to snag the exact sites they want this summer. These people are organized. They are prepared. They have taken notes and learned from years of experience.

Others, like myself, can only strive to be so smart and regimented. We pride ourselves on our flexibility and our willingness to take our chances at non-reservable sites and dispersed camping areas, when the time comes. Of course, as a teacher, I have the luxury of being able to camp mid-week during the summer, so it’s easy to avoid weekends and holidays altogether, and thus find plenty of available campsites.

The upside to my approach is freedom. The downside is I’m more likely to find myself driving around in the rain after sunset with crying kids in the car as I desperately look for a site. Also, if you’re planning a multi-family group trip, it’s really nice to snag a few group sites six months in advance, then invite friends when the date draws closer and be the hero for thinking ahead.

This year, the early birds may have noticed a slight change in their reservation routine. If they logged on during the first week of the year and were trying to book one of the 4,000 campsites managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife across 41 state parks and 350 wildlife areas, they weren’t able to reserve a site. CPW had to blackout part their website for nearly a week as they activated a massive upgrade to their purchasing system, but as of midnight, it is up and running, and newly improved.

The CPW site (cpw.state.co.us) is “more streamlined and easier to use now,” said Rebecca Ferrell, a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Unlike before, customers now only need one account to make camping, cabin and yurt reservations, or to purchase hunting and angling permits or annual state parks passes.

The launch is just in time for the state’s rolling six-month lead time that allows you to lock in your Fourth of July plans. Note: CPW measures six months back from the first day of your trip, no matter how long you are staying at a site, while at most national parks and monuments, six months is measured back from the last day of your trip.

Ferrell said that if you have used the CPW website or ReserveAmerica.com (the website that manages online campsite reservations for most federal, state, private and local government park lands campgrounds in North America) before, you can continue to use that same username and password to get in. However, she explained, you’ll be prompted to add additional information, including date of birth, driver’s license and, for hunting and fishing licenses, a social security number. If it’s your first time, you’ll just create a new account with all of this info.

As for me, I’m still in the dreaming phase of my summer camping preparations, clicking through campsites like a kid in a candy store, and summoning the courage to make plans so far in advance — to be the hero.

This article was originally published in The Denver Post on Jan. 5, 2018. 

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