Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Suburban Chicago, USA
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I think there are two distinct situations: parks that have designated hiker/biker campsites, and parks that don't. For those with hiker/biker sites (Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, probably some others) it basically is a written policy that that hikers and bikers won't be turned away. The hiker/biker sites are essentially "group camping" areas that you share with all the other hiker/bikers, so it's really just a formalized arrangement for site-sharing.
For parks without a published policy declaring hiker/biker sites, I would say that there is likely no unpublished written policy, and perhaps not even an unwritten one.
At Arches, campground availability/reservations are dealt with at the entrance, some 20 miles (and three major climbs) from the campground. When we arrived at the entrance, the campground was full, but I had a reservation, though I didn't remember at which site. When I asked some questions about this, the ranger was none-too-friendly, presuming (understandably) that I was lying about having a reservation and then forging on like a jerk anyway to "force" them to take pity on us once I reached the campground. If we arrived late without a reservation, the campground host may have found a place for us (though there isn't a lot of obvious overflow area), but surely not without a scolding.
At Natural Bridges (a National Monument, not a National Park, but close enough), which was also full, they gave two suggestions: try to find someone who wanted to share, or head back out of the park and camp on BLM land. Even when we whined about how riding back out 5 miles uphill would pretty much eliminate any chance for us to actually see the park, they didn't offer any other hints or suggestions. Luckily just as we were heading out, a wonderful couple came by and asked *us* if we would like to share with them.
At Capitol Reef (full again), we were lucky enough to have our newfound friends from Natural Bridges there ahead of us so we could share with them again. But on our way into the campground loop, there was a stern ranger guarding the entrance who tried to demand our proof of reservation before we told him we were staying with friends. On the other hand, later on we saw another tourist who we had met earlier in the day end up with a spot on the outer edge of the campground, so either she just snuck in and found some people willing to share, or found a less-surly ranger to sweet-talk.
At Zion, despite the "campground full" signs, I pulled up to the entrance station anyway, and was told that a reserved site had just been left early, so I was able to get that. That wasn't any special treatment for the bicycle though, and it meant I didn't get a chance to see what would have happened there if I attempted to seek pity. But I would guess they don't have much pity at that park, since the town of Springdale (with plenty of lodging) is so close and accessible.
So in general I think National Parks without designated hiker/biker sites are just like anywhere else: you have to rely on the kindness of individual rangers/hosts/campers if you want get a site there.