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Visitors planning to stay at three popular campgrounds in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest will be required to reserve spots ahead of time starting next week.

Sites at the Cliff Point, Wade Lake and Madison River campgrounds in Madison County must be reserved online beginning May 14, largely due to an influx of visitors to public lands last summer, according to Forest Service officials.

All sites at the Cliff Point and Madison River campgrounds must be reserved ahead of time. Around half of the sites at the Wade Lake Campground will still be available on a first-come, first-served basis, said Dale Olson, Madison district ranger for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

The Cliff Point and Wade Lake campgrounds oversee the scenic Cliff and Wade Lakes about 40 miles south of Ennis. The Madison River Campground stretches along the Madison River about 30 miles south of Ennis.

People can reserve spots through Recreation.gov, an online platform that federal agencies use for bookings and permits.

The cost of reserving a campsite at the three campgrounds won’t increase this summer, according to Olson. A standard stay costs $15 per night.

Olson said it has been harder for people to find a spot at the three campgrounds with the first-come, first-served system in place. The areas have gotten progressively busy over the years.

There was a substantial increase in visitation last summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a typical season, the Madison Ranger District averages around $60,000 in campground receipts, according to Olson. Last summer, receipts totaled around $100,000 — about a 40% increase, he said.

As campgrounds become more popular, the Madison Ranger District plans to transition more sites to a reservation system, Olson said. The district hasn’t required online reservations for campground stays until now.

Forest Service officials urged people to make reservations online as quickly as possible.

“The move to making these reservations available online ensures the public can make reservations at any time, rather than requiring time during normal business hours or making the trip then realizing there are not any campsites available,” they wrote.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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