The Grand Canyon Is Losing Its Riverside Campsites

Aug 20, 2018

Campsites for river runners are vanishing in the Grand Canyon, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey and Northern Arizona University. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Credit U.S. Geological Survey

Scientists surveyed 35 campsites on sandbars along the Colorado River, and found campsite area decreased by nearly 40 percent between 2002 and 2016. That’s mostly due to thick vegetation growth on top of the sandbars.

A survey team measures the area and topography of a campsite in the Grand Canyon
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

Matt Kaplinski of Northern Arizona University is one of the study’s authors. He says, "If you talk to old timers down there, they’ll tell you about huge open sandbars. Nowadays, there are still some big open sandbars down there, but a lot of the camping, the sleeping areas are back up in the vegetation and in a lot of cases they’re carved out by river runners." 

Kaplinski says high-flow experiments at Glen Canyon Dam have temporarily rebuilt sandbars, but these controlled floods aren’t big enough to scour out the vegetation.