Our first reservations came through last Friday. Fourteen of our campsites are now reserved pretty much continuously for the rest of the summer. So for the first time this summer, we had to tell people on Wednesday and Thursday that while we were not technically full, we had no sites open for the weekend. And we had to explain the Forest Service concept of “first come – first served.”
Washington Lake is the only campground on the Mirror Lake Highway where most of the sites will accommodate large trailers. As we well know, it’s a pain to hook up and haul a large trailer, and most of us won’t do it unless we know we’ll have a place to park it when we arrive in the mountains. We’ve had several campers come to our campground hoping to pay for a site for Friday – on Wednesday. If we were a capitalistic organization, we would take their money and hold their site. Hey, if they didn’t show up, we’d still have the money, right? But while we work for American Land and Leisure, a for-profit company, we are bound by Forest Service regulations.
The U.S. Forest Service policy intends to ensure equal access to the campgrounds for everyone. This is why every campground has “first come – first served” sites. To purchase one of these sites you have to arrive at the campground, move into the site, and pay for it. These sites can never be paid ahead. As Paul puts it, “Get possession first. Once you’re in the site, we’ll get your money.”
Many of our campers seem to know the drill. On Friday we had four non-reservation sites come open. The first trailer looking for one of these sites was in camp at 8:00 AM. He selected his site, spoke with its current occupant, and proceeded to wait. Check out time is 1:00 PM, and this particular camper had every intention of staying until then. Why not? He’d paid for the site, and it was a beautiful morning. So the new camper waited. By 10:00 AM we had four trailers waiting for sites to open, and when the fifth pulled in – a massive toy-hauler whose owner had tried to purchase a site the Wednesday before, we had to send him away.
What advice can we give to someone looking for a first-come, first served site at Washington Lake? Our crystal ball is still on back-order, so we can never predict availability and can never guarantee that a site will be available. Historically, on a non-holiday weekend we fill up on Thursdays. A few sites come open on Fridays. We usually have several sites come open on Saturdays. Arrive early in the week, and arrive early in the day. See you at the lake!