How Campgrounds Emerge from Seasonal Hibernation

Many national forest campgrounds close for a portion of the year, generally from October through May. This is to protect both campers and the campground from the impacts of colder temperatures and significant precipitation events that occur during that portion of the year.

There is a lot of work that goes into re-opening all campgrounds each summer season. Our public services staff gave us some behind-the-scenes bullet points on what it takes to wake up these sleeping beauties for the recreation season:

Contracts, Agreements, Supplies

Contracts, agreements, and budgeting for the following are acquired to prepare staff, volunteers, and the campgrounds themselves to welcome visitors:

  • Heavy equipment: to remove hazardous vegetation and debris from sites, and to repair roads.

Vehicle lifting dirt in a campground

  • Volunteer agreements: for campground hosts.
  • Essential supplies: cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, rake, shovels, squeegees, deck brush, notebooks, etc.
  • Pressure-washer truck: to clean all restrooms.
  • Vehicle maintenance and annual inspections.
  • Golf carts: for campground hosts.
  • Dumpsters: for larger developed campgrounds and day-use sites.
  • Campground essentials (if needing replacement or repair): food storage lockers, restrooms, water systems, tables, hazard tree removal, and signage.

Onboarding & Training

Annual orientation and certification of staff and campground hosts include:

  • Training new staff on tasks and duties.
  • Ordering name tags and uniforms for staff.
  • Certifications for staff:
    • Heavy equipment operation.

vehicle moving dirt

    • Collection officer.
    • Forest protection officer.
    • Federal driver’s license.
    • Trailering: to haul chippers, golf carts, etc. to sites.
    • Chain saw use.

Staff sitting on ground with tools

  • Assembling and providing campground hosts with binders of reference materials.
  • Assembling supply kit for each staff member and campground host.
  • Obtaining radios for staff and assigning call signs with dispatch.

Spruce up, Repairing & (Re)Installing

In addition to expected annual maintenance, campgrounds are often damaged from natural causes or vandalism. Annual upkeep, repair and reinstallation activities include:

  • Grounds:
    • Confirming sites are free of significant snow cover.
    • Raking and removing debris (branches, pinecones, pine needles, leaves).
    • Surveying for erosion.
  • Hazard trees:
    • Surveying for locations of hazard trees.
    • Felling or removing dangerous limbs.
    • Removing or cutting up for firewood program.
    • Sharing alerts on temporary campground closures or restrictions for public safety when necessary.

wood in back of truck

  • Toilets:
    • Pumping (emptying): from off-season use and/or filling from winter precipitation.
    • Pressure washing.
    • Checking and replacing wildlife caps on vault toilet chimneys (ensuring no wildlife have nested within).
  • Roads:
    • Surveying to determine if/when safe to open for the season.
    • Repairing erosion or other damage, including that from visitors who drove off-season when roads were wet.
    • Clearing of debris and fallen trees.

mudding road with snow

  • Signage:
    • Repairing.
    • Repainting.
    • Reinstalling.

person installing sign in campground

  • Water systems:
    • Checking for and repairing leaks or bursts from winter swings in temperatures.
    • Testing and sanitizing drinking water.

water pipe with leak and snow around

  • Picnic tables:
    • Removing debris.
    • Pressure-washing.
    • Replacing or repairing if damaged from winter storms or tree fall.
  • Food Storage Lockers: Repairing or replacing.

Bears are especially active in late spring and early summer. At Tahoe National Forest campgrounds, visitors are required to store food in food storage lockers and dispose of garbage in dumpsters. Be sure to close and lock these containers!

people standing near brown box with tools


  • Fire Rings:
    • Repairing or replacing
    • Removing debris and trash

people working in campground, digging in dirt

  • Trash:
    • Removing litter.
    • Emptying and repairing trash cans.
    • Placing dumpsters in larger sites.

trash on the ground near bushes

  • Graffiti: Removing.

Man in a hat removing graffiti from a wall

  • Fee tubes: Removing garbage and repairing from vandalism or other damage.

The majority recreation opportunities on national forests are free to the public. The fees that are collected at some sites help to address the impacts created by use, which provides a better experience for visitors, and attracts tourism to local communities.

Man in hat and sunglasses working on small brown metal box where campers put money in to stay

  • Day use areas: Surveying and repairing boat ramps, picnic areas, etc.

Public Information

  • Online Resources: updating status of campgrounds on national forest websites, social media accounts, and
  • Preparing Responsible Recreation reminders for visitors:
    • Safe food storage to avoid attracting bears.
    • How to extinguish a campfire.
    • Water recreation safety.
    • Waste disposal.
    • Leave No Trace principles.
    • Wildfire preparedness.