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Old 02-18-2021, 08:46 AM   #1
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Shenanigans on Recreation.gov

Is anyone else noticing some shenanigans happening on Recreation.gov?

Here’s an example: Last night we were looking at one of our favorite campgrounds. We noticed that one of the most desirable sites was available and would open for reserving this morning at 7:00am. This morning at 6:30am, I logged on and found the site gone – already reserved.

This is just one (the latest) example. We’ve seen this happen a lot - where the prime sites are taken before the reservation is available. And it seems to happen for the most desirable sites -- the ones that we all think “oh, that’s a great site. Let’s remember that one”.

How does this happen?
What kind of shenanigans are happening behind the scenes to allow this to happen?
Is there some kind of special “Friends and Family” logon used with in the NPS community to get these prime sites.
Am I doing something wrong?
Are you noticing this also?
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Old 02-18-2021, 09:05 AM   #2
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I've seen the same thing. I thought that perhaps they show "unavailable" until the window opens for reservations, but I could be wrong.
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Old 02-18-2021, 09:35 AM   #3
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I believe they show unavailable for the last day of the window if they are full until an hour before the window opens. And then they expose which ones are available at the beginning of the next window. That also includes which ones are unavailable because a reservation extends beyond the edge of the window.

The visibility is actually managed in the browser and there’s an API that they are calling that gives a lot more information than they are showing. I can show you how to do it or if you tell me which campground i can look it up now and tell you what the availability is beyond the currently visible reservation window.

Sadly, some campgrounds only have a handful of spots open at the 10am reservation opening and even just a handful of people trying to reserve right away means they get taken almost immediately.
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Old 02-18-2021, 09:48 AM   #4
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Ok, here for example is the API call for Many Glaciers CG:
https://www.recreation.gov/api/camps...3A00%3A00.000Z

Notice a couple things
-- campground ID is 251869
-- start date of 2021-08-01T00%3A00%3A00.000Z (format has to be exact)

You can figure out the campground ID of the web address. See, for example, Many Glacier's reservation page:




You can then use that ID and put it in your browser. It will display in JSON format which is a hierarchical format in which the availability is organized for each campsite by date. For example:



which indicates that R047 is reserved until 8/26/2021. When the window opens for booking on 2/27/2021, this one will show as available in the recreation.gov website (you know, the one meant for humans to look at).
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Old 02-18-2021, 09:53 AM   #5
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Runamuk, that probably doesn't answer your question, but if there's a site that looks like it's available, you can use the API to check behind the scenes.
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Old 02-18-2021, 10:55 AM   #6
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AARYNO - Thank you very much for the explanation and guidance. However, idiot that I am, I'm having a hard time following what you said.

1) To me API means a programmed hook that I can access. Given the campground ID and the start date in the proper format how does one actually run the API in their browser?
2) You stated that site R047 was reserved until 8/26/2021. All I see is site #98360 (no mention of R047 anywhere) and that site seems to be reserved until 8/27 not 8/26.
3) If I go and look at a particular site/campground and it shows the site reserved through say 8/30 and "unavailable" from 8/31 on are you saying running the API will give me different information or somehow allow me to get in before the window opens. Sorry I'm easily confused and I didn't see an explanation as to how the API differs from what I see on Recreation.gov.
4) When a reservation window does open you say it opens at 10am. What time zone is that in?

Thanks
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Old 02-18-2021, 11:21 AM   #7
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4) I read that they open at 10am EST. For me that's 8am. I've been trying to book a spot at Many Glacier for two weeks and haven't been able to. I am at the point where my window has passed and I'm going to have to monitor this page for changes so I can book when someone cancels or shortens their reservation.

3) Apologies, I was mistaken on what recreation.gov showed. It appears that if you view the Availability Grid it shows you which ones are reserved beyond the current booking window, making my suggestion for looking at this json for this reason unnecessary. There is another reason, though, more on that at the end. For example, this is part of the Availability Grid for Colter Bay where there are both availabilities and reservations at the edge of the current booking window:


2) A field further down calls it R047, below the dates.

1) If you open the Developer's Tools in the browser and refresh the booking page you can look at all the network calls and see that's making this call to get this json back. I can open that url in my browser, too. It doesn't require authentication of any kind. There IS a recreation.gov official API (RIDB) but this is different than what their public webpage is calling.

--

TL/DR; So I guess the Availability Grid DOES show what I was suggesting you can get from that API call, which is that you can see which sites are booked beyond the current booking window.

That said, there IS another reason to use that JSON url. If everything is booked up, someone is going to be bound to cancel. You can set up a monitor to periodically look at this website and detect changes. Something like https://visualping.io/ (I've never used it - it's just the first one that came up in my search) could be used to detect changes in that JSON.
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Old 02-18-2021, 06:26 PM   #8
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Thanks AARYNO. I appreciate your insight and knowledge of how the Recreation.gov website works. To most of us, the internal workings of any website is kind of like magic. So, I find your posts interesting.

We were looking at Kalaloch Campground on the Washington coast, site #F6.

If anyone has some nuggets of insight into how camp sites on Recreation.gov get reserved before the reservation window opens, I sure would appreciate it.

We have seen it happen enough times to make us think something/somehow is rigged.
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Old 02-18-2021, 10:16 PM   #9
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Shenanigans on Recreation.gov

Yes Thank you. I too have been attempting to unsuccessfully book supposed Available camp sites. I will give your suggestion. I would love to goto Yosemite which seems to always be booked up before 7 AM
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Old 02-19-2021, 05:41 AM   #10
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I went through a period when I was baffled by Recreation.gov. I even posted a thread here. It seemed things were either "reserved" or "not available". So much not available I thought the campground was closing for some reason.
Eventually two spots opened and showed "available" (uppercase A). I was ready at 8:00:02 am (EST) and both were gone! Well, one was gone and before I could back through the reservations again, the other was gone also.
Was it possible that during that 2 seconds, someone else got the spot? YES! Later I waited at 8:00:00 am east coast time and got a spot. It's crazy.
I also had success with Wandering Labs. When they notified me a site was open, I dropped everything and went to the rec.gov and reserved it. Luckily, I was already at the computer.
Now there seems to be an "available with prior reservation" (lowercase a) meaning the window was not open but you could book multiple days including that day. That made sense.
In popular campgrounds, seconds matter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Runamuk13 View Post
If anyone has some nuggets of insight into how camp sites on Recreation.gov get reserved before the reservation window opens, I sure would appreciate it.
The only thing I've experienced is people book additional prior days and then cancel. Let's say I want to reserve a spot for March 1. I can't book it before 11 months out at 8 am (at least where I am.) Someone else books for Feb 27-Mar 1 since now they can reserve before me. They then cancel Feb 27-28. They reserved a spot for Mar 1 three days before I could.
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Old 02-19-2021, 10:39 AM   #11
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Oh, that's interesting, Mollysdad. I will remember and use that method of getting reservations.

In the example in the OP.....
On Feb 17th, we were looking at Site F6 at Kalaloch Campground on the Washington coast. It was already reserved Aug 11-17. But Aug 18 - 24 was available.

It's my understanding the Reservation Window would open on Feb 18 at 10amEST (7amPST). But at 6:30amPST the site was already reserved. So, at some time overnight, someone was able to reserve the site before the Reservation Window officially opened.

I don't know how this happens .... but I want in on the game!

.
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Old 02-19-2021, 11:04 AM   #12
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Don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, buuuut, I always wonder if there is a third party market out there for site reservations.

Can a NP or various State park reservations be Scalped? Or should I say, "can camp site reservations be obtained from a third party reservation agent who takes the hassle out of making the reservations yourself and provides you with a premium experience, for a small fee"?

I'm not much into the NPs, so I've never tried for reservations there.

If I remember right, back in the day California State Park reservations were made through Ticketmaster, which seems to be a favorite of "resellers".

But, anecdotally, there is a nearby lake that has floating campgrounds. Thought it sounded fun and most of them were usually empty when we would cruise by. They are part of a state rec area, so several years ago, looked online for a reservation. Totally booked up. Same thing every year. Just checked it a minute ago, June, July and the parts of August that can be reserved for this year are booked up. Every single day.

And yet, we've cruised by them for years, during the summer and fall and only sometimes see a few of them with actual campers. Seems like somebody reserves them and doesn't use it.
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Old 02-19-2021, 11:11 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mollysdad View Post
Let's say I want to reserve a spot for March 1. I can't book it before 11 months out at 8 am (at least where I am.) Someone else books for Feb 27-Mar 1 since now they can reserve before me. They then cancel Feb 27-28. They reserved a spot for Mar 1 three days before I could.
And that boys and girls is precisely how someone manages to book your favorite site before the window opens.......

And if a really good site is still available when the booking window opens they usually only last a few minutes. If you jump the gun, by the time you backtrack through the process and try again it is often too late.

Last year, in an effort to get our prized site, we were on-line at window opening with a desktop computer, a laptop and two iPads. As soon as one machine was told it was too early we went to the second one, etc. Got the prize......
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Old 02-19-2021, 11:18 AM   #14
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I open Reserve America on one browser, then on a second browser I open time.com and shrink it to a corner. It's exact.
When I allowed 2 seconds for RA clock errors(?) I was too late.
Next time I hit it on the second. Got the spot. (and I was 11 months out!)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ginophiles View Post
Don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, buuuut, I always wonder if there is a third party market out there for site reservations.
Great idea, but they're doing a lousy job of marketing if their prime candidates (Airstreamers) don't know about it.
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Old 02-19-2021, 04:44 PM   #15
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My window for booking Many Glacier has now come and gone and all my dates that I have are 100% booked for the full time we plan on being there. Now I need to get on one of those sites that monitors changes and wait for a cancellation. I know there will be some cancellations as people trim down their booking time (assuming they booked 16 days for a 4-day using the advanced window technique described by Mollysdad above. I actually used that technique for a couple other campgrounds but Many Glacier is small enough and popular enough that there were only a handful of sites open each day all the way through the pre-booking (reserving from the edge of the booking window all the way to your desired date) and booking window. I would submit on the second using http://time.is and I never got one.

One complication now is that if I subscribe to one of the sites where it detects changes now, it is going to detect changes every day for the rest of the month beyond my booking window (8/14-8/18), so as of 3/1 I will register with one of the services that checks for changes in the website and sends me an SMS.
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Old 02-19-2021, 09:20 PM   #16
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Another reason to get a more “off-road” capable trailer and boondock as opposed to dealing with the stress of trying to get a NP campsite. Just saying AND considering.
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Old 02-20-2021, 08:29 AM   #17
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Tell me more about these sites we can subscribe to that detect changes in campgrounds and notify us. Mollysdad mentioned Wandering Labs. Are there others? What has been your experience with them?
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Old 02-20-2021, 08:49 AM   #18
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Following this interesting thread. I thought Recreation.gov had a six month in advance window for openings. Some of these posts suggest 11 months and is it Noon EST or 10:00AM EST for reservations.
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Old 02-20-2021, 08:51 AM   #19
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When I’m at a computer I’ll take some screenshots. I’ve never used them but i understand how they work. For a fee they will have a program hit the website and try to detect changes. They will keep a copy and if the new version is different they will send you an SMS or email. Now keep in mind that changes can occur for different reasons and different website change detection services offer different types of changes. At the very basic they can tell if the document is different (e.g., they fixed a typo). More advanced would be to detect a change in a specific part if the page (e.g., values change in a table) or even a specific area of the page (as it would look to the human eye). I’m guessing that the latter is not always available for every site.

Anyway, when March 1 comes along i may register myself for Many Glacier changes with https://visualping.io - i will use the url that sends back the json. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell if there is a specific window open for any or specific sites this way so i might poke around and see if there’s a better way. I’ll post back here.
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Old 02-22-2021, 04:26 AM   #20
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Quote:
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I also had success with Wandering Labs. When they notified me a site was open, I dropped everything and went to the rec.gov and reserved it. Luckily, I was already at the computer.
What is this "Wandering Labs?"
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