Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   



Pain-Free park Visits

Use the state park online reservation system to make sure you’re not turned away.

Since launching in February 2019, the online state park reservation system has brought major changes for park visitors and the parks themselves.

With the online system, visitors can reserve day passes (one month in advance) and specific campsites (five months in advance).

The online reservation system has taken on greater importance in 2020, a time of reduced park capacity and increased park demand. Many parks are reaching capacity on weekends, and a park’s reservations may all be snapped up even before the weekend arrives — a change from the first-come, first-served system previously in place.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department highly recommends day pass and camping reservations for weekends and other busy times.

The reservation system may decrease the spontaneity of a spur-of-the-moment state park visit, but it also brings the peace of mind of knowing you’ll get in.

Instead of having to get up early and wait in line at Enchanted Rock on a spring weekend or at Lost Maples during November’s fall foliage season, you can make a day pass reservation and be assured of an entry. It takes a little planning, though.

“For the customer, they know when they get here that they have a slot,” says Lost Maples Superintendent Lisa Fitzsimmons. “People can take their time and enjoy the drive out here. It’s a better customer experience. The bad part is that not everybody gets in. If we sell out online, that’s all we got. People who don’t know about our system and don’t know to get those passes, they might get here and get turned away.”

For the parks, the system allows for better management and planning since the park has a better idea of who’s visiting the park, and when.

At busy parks like Enchanted Rock, it’s been a game-changer.

“Before starting the reservation process, on a busy weekend, a holiday weekend, we’d have a 2- to 3-mile line of cars trying to get into the park,” says Enchanted Rock Superintendent Doug Cochran. “This year the most we’ve had is 50 cars in line, and most of the time it’s a lot less. That reduces the frustration of customers. With multiple entry times, what that does is space people out as they come in throughout the day. It also reduces impact on the resources at the park.”

When COVID hit the state in the spring, the online reservation system allowed people to continue to use the parks with limited in-person contact.

“It helped tremendously during COVID,” Cochran says. “We didn’t have to handle cash or handle credit cards. Most people were printing out their permits. We could stay more than 6 feet away and check them in. It helped ensure the safety of the staff and the public.”

Reservations were required during a portion of the pandemic, and that has led to continued increased use of the system.

“We were already seeing more and more use of online,” says David Kurtenbach, state park business management director. “COVID came, and that forced our visitors and users to go to the online portal. Now it’s the majority reservation system.”

 Russell Roe  Earl Nottingham | TPWD



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