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Recreation.gov (recreation.gov)
416 points by skbohra123 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments

I worked in the bot defense space for quite some time, and it’s insane how much of the bot efforts were dedicated to getting camping spots. I’m happy to see this being recognized because I had many summers ruined because I couldn’t just get my old favorite camp spot.

In my experience many of the best camp sites I have been to have been in federal forest land on forest roads. The tougher the road the better (limits traffic). I have found some amazing places in Colorado that you could never reserve and they don’t exist as official camp sites. You find a good spot and you camp. Camp grounds with packed in sites are... good for some things. I acknowledge this is a problem for some high traffic areas, but how natural and interesting is that kind of camping. It’s a shade below glamping. This does make camping accessible and of course there are edge cases, but in general I just find it pretty uninteresting. Anyway, I acknowledge the problem, but it’s also not really a problem for me and many people I know.

I have this experience in North Georgia as well. WMAs and National Forests with roadside camping. Preferably roads without RV access. They call them dispersed campsites.

State parks are terrible from the fees, crowds, and rules. It’s more like camping in a grass parking lot than anything else.

The Dawson WMA has added a $7/night camping fee in addition to the land access fee (or a fishing/hunting license). Hopefully that doesn't spread to other WMAs.

The internet says it’s the City of Atlanta owned tract of the WMA. It was the proposed site of the second Atlanta airport and a former nuclear testing area for Lockheed.

It’s much closer than my other spots. I’ll check it out soon, maybe even Friday. Looks like they just stocked Amicola creek with trout.

I've had this experience out west too. But anecdotally at least, these spots can be harder to find on the east coast.

there's a network of national forests that sprawl the east coast where I've never had an issue finding a mostly secluded campsites close to water and beautiful terrain.

I second this. It’s been very easy to find National Forest and WMA campsites in North Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Chattahoochee and Nantahala National forests and my favorite.

Ya, I agree, I don’t think I’ve ever actually camped in an official camping lot/spot. I’ve always trecked in and got away from the noise. Never knew this was a problem.

Around here in the East it’s often called “dispersed camping”.

Yup. For example, one can camp > 1/4 mile from shelters/huts and more than 200ft away from of a body of water/trails/trailheads just about anywhere in the White Mountain National Forest in NH and Maine. Below alpine zone of course, except for winter (where you camp on greater than 2 feet of snow, but not many folks are that adventurous :)


How do you find these spots? That sounds like a great excuse to bring out the 4x4.

These days, forest roads and primitive roads are often marked on Google / Apple maps and OpenStreetMaps. So asking your phone for directions to a national forest usually works well, as long as you check the camping rules and conditions ahead of time. You'll usually just see a series of pull-outs with fire pits and cleared areas along the unpaved roads.

Lands managed by the BLM or USFS usually allow dispersed camping in at least some areas, but it's still a good idea to double-check before you leave, and you should be aware that the same lands are often used for other activities like hunting, logging, horse-riding, grazing, offroad vehicles, etc.

You can also get more specialized outdoors mapping apps which can download data like USGS topographical maps and quad sheets for offline use. If you think you might like the backcountry, a satellite messenger is a good investment and those often have companion phone apps.

Don't forget to bring a big battery if you rely on electronics for mapping, though. And you can usually get decent paper maps from local NPS/USFS/etc visitor centers once you get to the area. The people in those visitor centers will also tell you where good sites / hikes / drives / views are, but then you have to actually talk to someone.

Also, read about pack-in/pack-out policies, what a cathole is, and how to keep your food from attracting animals.

You look at a map of interesting roads, maybe look at satellite imagery of the area if you're not at all familiar with it, and take your 4x4 out for a drive.

Go slow, keep your eyes open, and you'll probably see a spot which looks perfect to camp at in no time.

You just look up the regulations in your area, Federal Forest and Wildlife Management land have uniform rules as far as I can tell. Then you explore. I just spent a few weekends off riding and cruising the mountains this summer, visiting places and taking notes of good camp sites. That’s part of the fun. You can find sporadic information online, but generally I think people keep their favorite spots to themselves? Great reason to bang around, bring food. I set up the back of my truck to sleep in. Poor mans Tepui tent.

Hang on. Is this hyperbole or are you saying you've actually had not one, but multiple summers ruined just because you could get a particular spot? Seems like too rigid a definition of a summer to enjoy the very nature of summer.

People take this stuff seriously, and some spots in parks are truly magical, especially if you can get 2-3 adjacent spots for extended family.

Long ago, I ran part of the backend systems for a contractor that had a variety of state and other parks. One set of islands on a lake in particular were very important to a number of people for various reasons.

Specific weekends were in particularly high demand, and people discovered gaps in the booking and rescheduling policies that would allow them to reserve the spot at a different time, then do multiple re-books. IIRC, they would spend about $500 in re-booking fees and would have to coordinate re-booking in multiple specific, inconvenient time windows. (Part of it involved a window where the phone system would accept changes before the online system)

Somebody figured it out, and it escalated to the point where the legislature was investigating it and one of the VPs had to testify to a committee.

Wow. At this point I could see wanting to do this just for the hell of it, but personally couldn't imagine doing that just for the spot. Also, who the hell would want to "camp" with two extra sites of extended family!? /s but not really

The bots on the good camping sites are insane, it's clearly a few people who have figured it out. Some even sell alerting services. Keep in mind, in some places, there aren't any other options, looking at the most commonly watched ones they are in very unique places like the Florida Keys. They get resold on the secondary market or you pay someone a premium upfront to bot the reservation for you. Call the parks, they will acknowledge it (or did to me), it's also obvious when all spots are booked in milliseconds.

I'm more interested in bots hogging camping spaces. Why? What's the purpose?

Edit: This seems to explain it - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21625871

> Hang on. Is this hyperbole or are you saying you've actually had not one, but multiple summers ruined just because you could get a particular spot? Seems like too rigid a definition of a summer to enjoy the very nature of summer.

My thoughts exactly.

Stuff like this seems like a clear example where a lottery would make a lot more sense than a FCFS system.

What good is a lottery when it's a few hundred people vs. 20,000 bots?

Online camping spot reservations need to ask for your name at the time of reservation, and ensure the name matches your ID when you arrive at the park. This is how many (non-Ticketmaster) concert e-tickets work.

Presumably ginko means a lottery between people who've provided IDs

Yes, it's worked pretty well for eg fusion festival (well, they don't really enforce the I'd thing, but apart from that..): https://www.fusion-festival.de/en/x/start

(ticket raffle not up yet for 2020, though)

Can you elaborate? This sounds interesting...

I don’t think it was some crazy bot net trying to make money off camping slots. It’s simply a bunch of Silicon Valley nerds that figured out how to automate the booking system for the most desirable camping spots in the bay. But a few of them got greedy I think. Not sure why.

One of my coworkers wrote a bot and shared it around the company. Not sure how far that bot spread but I’m sure other people did the same.

And by bot I mean a pretty trivial selenium script. The parks really should have had better defenses.

> The parks really should have had better defenses.

Requiring a deposit payment at time of booking is a pretty easy one. Make it non refundable if it continues to be a problem. Increase the price if it still is a problem.

If the goal then is to make it fair for everyone regardless of ability to afford it, require a legible scan of ID or passport and restrict each person to reserving 1 spot in the future at a time, and they must be the person stating in the camp site so someone has to verify their ID at the camp site too, otherwise they can now resell that reservation like ticket re-sellers.

I don’t see other options of “fairly” distributing something with limited quantities. Trying to do it on the technical side by trying to prevent automated scripts is a losing battle in the long run.

Years ago in Texas I wrote a simple selenium webdriver script to check on the status of available camp spots in a popular state park and notify me when one became available. Kind of a last ditch effort to camp as people would book months ahead of time but would sometimes cancel their reservation when they realized they can’t make it. I think they’d do it before their small deposit became non-refundable.

The alternative of manually checking every day would have likely resulted in never getting a spot. I was using my skills to hack together a solution for myself in a crappy situation.

This was pretty much my experience as well: had to build a small scraper 2 years ago to alert me whenever spots for camping became available in Yosemite. Bear in mind that this was around 3-4 months in advance. Just for the sake of it I let it run after we had the spots, to understand how many people cancelled, and the amount of cancellations are actually insane.

While I don't think my approach was too harsh (I wasn't constantly querying nor booking automatically), it could be solved if they provided their own alert system, or discourage the book-cancel behaviour (higher cancel fees? Might not make much sense since the camping itself is pretty cheap...)

or... limit concurrency. I'm not sure if people were making concurrent reservations, but normal people don't need, say, 4 campsites on the same block of days at 4 different campsites. if this wasn't being abused, it probably will be at some point.

That would require checking identification.

The most coveted camp sites are booked months in advance on the day that the site becomes available. The days vary by park and by site. Individuals trying to plan a backpacking trip have to complete with outdoor adventure travel businesses trying to secure the best places. Park rangers are aware of the schemes and try to impose policies and procedures to promote fairness, since businesses will snipe first come first serve without hesitation if allowed to do so.

> it’s insane how much of the bot efforts were dedicated to getting camping spots.

is there? whats the source.

> I had many summers ruined because I couldn’t just get my old favorite camp spot

...you are joking, right?

Recreation.gov has been around for years and it doesn't seem to have been updated substantially recently. It's a great resource and I hope people use it to visit US wildlife areas, but I am curious why it has been submitted.

I don’t know why it's posted, but Booz Allen won a contract a few years ago to take it over. It makes boatloads of cash, like literally hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. Because of that, there was a long procedural battle for control of it between Booz and the incumbent, which kept the new site from going live. But, because of its profitability, it’s one of those types of government contracts that you could ride out for an entire career.

I'm also curious as to why it was submitted, but since this website is new to mew, I'm very glad it was submitted.

My hypothesis was that a lot of folks (myself included) have started going hiking/etc on Black Friday instead of participating in the commercial aspects of the day? Anyways, I upvoted. Our parks/wilderness are one of the really great things about America.

I really respect REI for closing their doors on Black Friday. https://www.rei.com/opt-outside

Outside of southern states, a lot of us are well past the hiking/camping season this time of year, except for folks well experienced and equipped for winter recreation or just heading to local city parks.

If you're day hiking (and not camping or backpacking), this time of year is still great for hiking even in the northern states. Most people I know that go hiking in the local parks won't stop doing that until a few weeks from now.

Further, it's the start of hunting season in a lot of places, which means lots of people are out hiking and camping to hunt.

Ironically, there are probably just as many regular hikers that stay in because of hunting season also. Or find trails on non-hunting lands during this time of year.

That is a fantastic idea.

I found it recently and thought it's a great resource for booking govt. recreational properties in US. I wish something like this exist for our country.

I work in the tourism industry and I try to stay up to date with other countries practices. What is your country ?


Is there a lot of recreational properties managed by the government in India? The only time I went there O mostly stayed at guest houses and hotels.

There are definitely enough properties maintained by Indian and State governments here. Each state government has a tourism website where we can book some of these properties.

Thanks, I'll make sure to have a look at those, state by state!

I didn't know about it so I'm glad it was

has the site not been updated at all?


Looks very different from a few years ago.


Former SRE for the ground up rebuild of Recreation.gov - I gave a talk at Datastax's Accelerate conference this summer about how we built this site, and briefly covered how we combated bots for a while. Enjoy!


Out of curiosity, is there any reason why this video is shown as unlisted on youtube?

It was recorded/edited/posted by Datastax, gotta ask them. Though, I should probably download this and repost as myself on youtizzoob.

Thanks for the link. I appreciate the work and the backend detail.

So excited to see this on Hacker News!

Brief Shoutout for anyone who would like to see a better online experience for our National Parks System:

1. write into rec.gov asking for a booking API!

2. join accessland.org

3. build apps using Rec.gov's availability API

(disclaimer: I'm involved with accessland.org)

What with all the talk about bot abuse in this thread, an API may not be a good idea

currently it's only an information and availability API (can't make a booking). This _does_ make it easier to run a bot, but it also means that rec.gov servers aren't getting hammered by bots either, which is good for them.

An advantage of an API is that keys can be revoked for bad actors, so it at least gives some measure of control where there was none before.

I tend to agree that the lottery is the way to go for popular sites instead of first-to-book; it's fair and stops older folks from never getting a booking because they don't know how to build a faster bot.

There are a few other very effective hacks that I am loathe to publish here, but there _are_ ways to get sites for the determined.

Can you elaborate? You want us to help you build apps or get them to make an API or?

There is an information and availability API for the federal parks system. The more people build apps that people use, the more examples we have to demonstrate the utility of this API in providing better experience to the public, and reinforcing the "Govt as a platform, via APIs" narrative.

The Federal Parks system took the first step in creating an availability API (with an intention to open up bookings via API as well). California then forked the language (with minor revisions), so they are slated to have an Availability API "soon" (who knows when it will actually come). This sets precedent at the federal and state level for parks, and also establishes a data schema that all the other state, county, city, local govt parks can build into, which would allow us to have a fully integrated discovery system for the public when looking for places to get outside.

A big part of persuading governments to follow is showing examples of what's possible, and the Rec.gov information & availability API, however limited, enables 3rd parties to do just that.

The NPS and BLM sites are also good resources for finding information about different areas and activities:



As for campsite reservations, peak seasons will always be terribly crowded at major campsites. It's too bad that people are gaming the system, but if you need to rush to get a spot in line, you're probably not going to feel like you're out in the wilderness when you get there anyways. So if you aren't a huge fan of crowds and noise, try going during the off-season (like right now!) Also, consider checking out smaller state forests and parks during the summer months. And many forests and parks allow 'dispersed camping' in certain areas; you can usually find plenty of semi-maintained campsites along roads in those places when the maintained campgrounds are full or closed.

And if you go to these areas regularly, an annual parks pass might save you money, even if they usually only get you discounts on federal land:


Great point. We stayed at a lot of campsites in California a few summers ago and wrestled with the bookings.

In the end our favourite spot was a quiet campsite in Lassen Volcanic park.

Recreation.gov was recently rebuilt and runs on Kubernetes. Details:


Has that made any difference positive or negative? Or is it new tech for the sake of new tech?

As someone who used it frequently before and after, it’s not really much better or worse. The primary user impact I’ve noticed is that the ui is more “modern” (ie has more spacing between everything)

Ah, must be the new kubernetes.js frontend framework :)

FYI recreation.gov also has an API: https://ridb.recreation.gov/

Edit: the National Park Service also has its own API: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/developer/api-documentation.htm

As far as I can tell it doesn't provide availability information, though.

there is definitely an availability API. I helped lobby for it! We also implemented it at Hipcamp

(If you can't find a signup form on the rec.gov website just contact them directly and ask for access. I think their team was rolling access out slowly as they hadn't finished building a fully fledged login system but last I checked they do want 3rd parties being able to build on top of that data)

That's super interesting. I didn't know about that. Any links to it?

email me and I can send you what I have if you are interested. eoin - at - sfdevlabs.com

Availability is available :)

Booking is not.

Not yet. It's part of the RFP spec that was written by USDS in the contracting phase. Unfortunately the language is non-binding so it wasn't introduced at Go-live for the new rec.gov site. It's in good faith that a booking piece will come, and much of the details need to be negotiated between govt, Booze, and 3rd parties since it is uncommon (unprecedented?) to have startups accepting payments on behalf of the federal govt (and in effect, on behalf of the treasury). Implementation details, revenue and commission details, etc are all to be worked out; the most important thing is that all parties get a fair shake (i.e. terms for one 3rd party extend to all 3rd parties so it's an open system instead of a closed partnerships-driven system). So far I've been impressed by the open communication of the Booze team and all signs point to their being good faith actors.

Note: If anyone has examples of startups accepting payments on behalf of the government please include them here. It helps with research. (Tax filing companies are the ones that come to mind... looking for other examples.)

Front and center of any website to outdoor activities should include some education about Leave No Trace (https://lnt.org/). It's an absolutely laudable effort to get more people outdoors. However, people new to the outdoors aren't very cognizant of the kind of footprint they leave behind, not to mention the *holes who intentionally throw trash at public parks like they're in their own backyards. For the former type, educational efforts should be enough to get them to pick up after themselves. For the latter, hopefully seeing more people speaking out about LNT would make them think twice about throwing trash around.

And for people who follow the LNT protocol, and perhaps even carry other people trash, the next step I suggest is to destroy bushcrafters' "shelters".

They disrupt soil, more often than not made out of live cut trees (and hinder wood decomposing when not) and 9 out of 10 times, will come with beer cans/tp scattered around and it's illegal to 'build' them on public land.

If you happen to see one, destroy it, you'll be doing well for the environment. In fact, USFS and NPS often do just that as part of their job.

Here is one guy who's work on that field inspires others: https://douchepacker.com/2018/07/09/destroying-buschcrafter-...

Hear hear. The number of 'survival cosplayers' vs actual campers has shifted is a bad way recently.

It is illegl to build a structure, bury food, etc on public land. You wanna be a prepper, buy your own damn land. Stop destroying ours.

P.s. kick over some carins too.


Be careful with that, though. Some times they’re used as trail markers.

Last year I was on a trail in the Southwest that had loads of cairns, like every 20-30 feet. Rather than feeling disgust at silly Instagram tourists that must’ve built them, I made a game of kicking over as many as I could.

When I returned to the trailhead I saw a sign asking to please not touch the rock stacks because they mark the trail.


That felt awful. On the drive home I made a donation to the park so I could go on living.

lol, as a general rule, I think that's a good call, below the treeline for sure.

The original Steve Roper's guide book for its brainchild — Sierra High Route, opens up by instructing hikers to do just that so it doesn't end up becoming a well worn path. It's probably not a good test case for whether or not it's good for the environment since very few people hike this route. Anyhow, the vast majority of (official) trails in the US are so well marked and maintained compared to any other country I've visited, that cairns are nearly always redundant.

There aren't a lot of trees in the desert southwest. Those cairns ARE the markers that make it a well-marked trail.

Additionally, in an extreme environment like that a single well-worn path is far less impactful to the environment than wandering all over in generally the right direction.

That is why I mentioned that the SHR is not a good test case, it's an outlier - very few people hike it every year, there is really no trail other than where it coincides with the JMT highway. In that case, cairns are nothing but impact on the environment, since people will have to make their own way between them anyway.

I totally agree that cairns are a good marker when there is an official trail that in parts has no visible trail (usually in boulders/lava/talus fields).

btw, which desert of the southwest is in question? That's a LARGE area. If we're talking SoCal for example, the entire 700 first miles of the PCT are desert with trail so well maintained and visible that when I hiked it last year, I walked many nights well into night without having to take my flash light out until it became pitch black.

Good to see more thru-hikers on HN! I just thru-hiked in 2019

I could imagine there are trails in southern Utah and northern Arizona that might be heavily cairned

Oh, hi there, it is good to see other thruhikers here indeed!:)

Yes, I can imagine that being the case, I'm actually reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, mostly about the times he worked in Archs National Park and it sounds just like that.

Fun fact you might share - I stumbled upon Edward Abbey following a quote I saw on a blaze in NorCal (which carried bullet hole, obviously, but it actually what made this quote stand out to me): https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D5bbY00X4AA_eeu.jpg:large

It was misattributed I think, I later found out these were Abbey's words.

Not knowing anything about this topic, I’m curious about why this comment is downvoted.

Since my original comment didn't include explanation for why it's a good thing to restore lands back to their pre-bushcrafted state and the fact this very task is done by NPS and USFS, I edited my comment to add that missing info.

Not sure if it was you asking about it that got it upvoted or the additional explanation. I'd guess both and I'd further estimate that most people that are not involved in the hiking/preservation community could pass near one of these 'shelters', without recognizing that it's bad for the environment. It's easier to recognize a call to destruct structure such as this as a vandalism.

They might be reactive downvotes over the domain name.

Geez, there are threats involving boobie traps and explosives in the comments. Some people...

My guess it's downvoted because maybe some readers here are offended that they're being called out.

Anything to feel superior I guess.

They REALLY need recaptcha on park reservations, or some sort of other automation. I'm 90% sure that botting is the only realistic way to get campsites in some high demand areas (such as lower and upper pines of Yosemite).

I'm convinced the only reason there's not MORE scripts around to do it is because their API/web framework is impossibly ugly and not intuitive.

Seriously. I hate that visiting a national park now involves the same sort of online shenanigans as getting a popular concert ticket. That's not the vibe that should be associated with our parks system.

Anyone botting the site should feel ashamed.

What shenanigans? The popular spots really are popular, which is why nearly everything will be booked to most interested visitors. Are you just suggesting that there shouldn’t be online reservations at all?

I think people are using bots to grab the spots as soon as they become available

Yes, and that’s definitely shady. But what are the shenanigans one must go through to reserve a campsite?

Using a bot to reserve it before all the other bots snap it up.

Okay, I guess I was confused about how people buy tickets to concerts online. I've always just...gone to the official ticket website and purchased the ticket. I've certainly never created a bot.

Have you ever tried to get a ticket to something that sells out in seconds?

Perhaps not in seconds, but certainly minutes or hours or the first day. But that's still not the point I'm making. If bots are a significant reason that something is selling out within seconds, then changing the system from first-come-first-serve to a lottery will probably not significantly increase your chances as a human of getting a ticket (because whoever runs the bots can make essentially as many bots as they want).

If you want a campsite in a major national park you need to look up when they are released (normally 3mo in advance) and wake up at exactly 6:59am and get your trigger finger ready or you really don't stand a chance.

I just wish there was a "calmer" way. The experience of exploring our national parks should be an escape from our hectic every day lives. That begins with getting a place to sleep.

Believe me, I feel the same way. I've spent a great deal of time at campsites and trails that are extremely popular and difficult to get permits (like Yosemite). But that's not really a technical problem: it's an inevitable problem when you have vastly more demand and a small finite supply.

What I was pointing out is that a lottery does not on its own help with bots. Bots are good at making reservations very quickly at a specific time of day (in reservation systems that are first-come-first-serve), but bots can also easily be scaled up in number to sign up for an arbitrarily large number of slots in a lottery.

> The experience of exploring our national parks should be an escape from our hectic every day lives.

I totally agree, and it bums me out too. I have visited Yosemite several times per year for the last 6 or so years, and it's only gotten more and more popular. I rarely visit the valley any more, because it's such a madhouse. Even in the last few years I've seen demand go through the roof even for relatively difficult wildnerness backpacking trails. But the fact of the matter remains: way more people want to go than there is capacity for, and I'm sure they all want an easier calmer way to get reservations.

Some of the demand is induced by how easy it is to get the reservations. I hate to say this but maybe we should make it a little more annoying?

Imagine if campsites were either: a) first-come first-served b) reservation by physical mail only

I guarantee you'd see different levels of "demand" than we do now.

Interestingly I noticed that Yosemite backcountry permits still require mail or fax, but they email you the result. I think this is intentional, putting a small hoop to make sure they get "serious" inquiries only.

I say all of this out of defeat. On principle I would want to remove any and all barriers to visiting our national parks. But in practice what we have is not really working for anyone (at Yosemite and the other mega parks)

I don't know, I mean sure, it might be self-serving for me to want to discourage other people from going to Yosemite, but realistically isn't the point of the national parks to preserve them for people to enjoy? I don't think it's a great mission to say "we only want die-hard fans of the outdoors to be willing to go through the reservation process." Part of the point is outreach to people who aren't normally connected to or interested in the outdoors.

> But in practice what we have is not really working for anyone (at Yosemite and the other mega parks)

I'm not sure that's true. Tons and tons of people go there. It's not like it's so crowded that no one goes there any more (like the classic joke).

Why don't they run a lottery rather than first-come-first-served on a website?

That doesn’t really obviate the need for a captcha, since the number of bots can be scaled arbitrarily high fairly easily.

Phone number deduplication is an easy way to increase cost on the spammers

They do for some areas, such as The Enchantments in WA state. But they have limit on how many lottery tickets can be purchased for each sub-area.

Because that would be fair and reasonable.

Probably because it would increase cost (programming the system, administering it) and they're severely underfunded?

They are not underfunded. This is a $200M Booz Allen contract.

Recaptcha is terrible and shouldn't be used for anything. They should still make efforts to block bots, just not recaptcha.

As someone else suggested, some sort of lottery system may make sense for high demand areas, but I wonder what percentage of available sites that really matters for.

I use recreation.gov and the WA state equivalent regularly and am able to get decent reservations pretty easily. During the really high use times in WA we just go to camp sites (Forest Service sites are particularly good for this out here) and see if they have walk up spots available -- all campsites we have visited keep at least some spots available for this. Granted, we have only done this maybe four of five times so far, but we have got a spot every time.

I had to write a script to be able to find an opening for Yosemite *Pines campgrounds. It was really the only way to find anything without booking months in advance (which all get snapped up immediately anyway.)

Any good bots or services you would recommend?

This is fantastic. The search RP displays parks and sites in the increasing order of distance as well as the price from the input zip code, and pulls together places from different government agencies like Fish and Wildlife Service, NPS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, etc.

They also seem to have a nice collection of KB articles under the 'Help' link [0] in the header.

[0] https://recreationonestopprod.service-now.com/external

I can't be the only one who's not a fan of being served close to a megabyte of JavaScript for some support articles (site is useless without JS).

To add insult to injury, the landing page has a 2118x1415, 2.6MiB background image.[1] Doing a `-quality 70 -resize 50%` conversion to JPEG results in a mere 176KiB.

Although, having experienced service-now.com in other settings, it definitely could be worse.

[1] https://recreationonestopprod.service-now.com/83f45a56dbbbab...

Luckily the movement towards a sanity of legible, functioning websites seems to be picking up steam. Let's just hope it continues.


It pisses me off when I see "All rights reserved" on a federal government page. The copyright for publicly-funded works should reside with the public, free for use by all.

The US Government asserts a copyright to its works in other countries. It's only with respect to US federal law that government works are not copyrightable.

The feds run various websites and create content for various reasons. NASA images are free to reuse with attribution, and lots of astronomy sites do. But you wouldn't want someone making a copycat of the reservation site and scamming people. So it makes sense for the US gov to assert some rights to protect its services--and the people it serves.

Exactly 6 months from today is last day of US Memorial Day holiday weekend. Lots of camping areas in the US require reservations within 6 months, making the today and the next few months the best days to get a reservation for popular summer US camping areas. Also note, recreation.gov is only for US Federal parks, many state and local parks will their own websites, apps or other systems for making reservations.

Has anyone ever been able to make a reservation on that site? Anytime I look at locations they’re either closed, or booked, or you have to plan a half year in advance.

The popular sites are booked within minutes of opening up. [Thus the complaints about bots.] That said, many of these sites have a limited number of spots reserved for walk-ins. So, have a couple of back up options if you're going to try your luck at a popular site.

Sites that don't have electric or water hookups may be easier to get since they're less popular with RVs. And the folks with RVs are experts at campsite reservation.

That said, go off the beaten path. Less people make for a more enjoyable experience. Some of my best car camping experiences have been on the side of a forest service road, especially one accessible only with a high clearance 4x4.

Sites that are accessible only by foot, even a half a mile in, are usually not that crowded. But you'd have to backpack in everything you'd need for the stay.

Lol at the copyright notice at the bottom.

I notice the app is made by Booz Allen Hamilton. It's a shame we have to farm this stuff out to contractors and not use the USDS or 18F.

Worth noting is that USDS got involved in the contracting stage to write certain language sections (e.g. availability API requirements).

My takeaway from watching this whole RFP process play out is that an early impactful leverage point is having USDS get involved in auditing/writing RFP requirements in the public interest (this was quite a few years ago, so they may already be more involved in all tech contracting decisions).

Without having a technically strong government team weighing in on contracting, I get the feeling that language and technical expertise falls on contractors/corporations/lobbyists to provide.

How can a federal government site be copyrighted? And, copyrighted by a domain name nonetheless.

I worked on a project once with the national park service. Their Office of General Council or whatever its called didn't want to agree to make their metadata on https://npgallery.nps.gov available to use with a CC0 license for use in https://dp.la/ . Sure, the images might not have been taken by federal employees, but why try to assert copyright ownership in the metadata? Eventually they agreed for one collection, but they have lots of cool content on there from California parks we would like to put on https://calisphere.org .

The stuff they have up at Clemson has CC0 metadata, and the rights info for the content is pretty clearly marked https://openparksnetwork.org/about/opn-rights/

Work done by private entities under contract to the government is copyrightable.

To whom though? The contractor? That's fucked up if true.

And this likely cost over $10 million. Will not be surprised if it's $100m.

Found this:

Duration of the performance-based contract will be three and a half years, with a total potential value of $128 million. It provides for additional options of up to 10 years.


Sooooo yeah.

The fetish we have with trying to private sector everything is a financial disaster.

We can pay people to build it directly, it's ok. There doesn't need to be an unaccountable greased palm making $100 million in the background through some "public-private partnership".

If the contractor makes a profit we pay more. If instead the government makes a profit, we pay less (see public banking for an example). Kinda funny how that works.

The government makes a profit? How does that work?

One of the most common vehicles for this are Sovereign Wealth Funds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_wealth_fund

Norway uses one for their pension program (AUM of > $1 trillion, owning over 1.4% of the global stock market, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Pension_Fund_of_Nor...)

My favorite one, however, was created by Ronald Reagan, the United States Mint Commemorative Coin Program:

> Since the modern commemorative coin program began in 1982, the United States Mint has raised more than $506,301,189 in surcharges to help build new museums, maintain national monuments... and much more.


Honestly a world where the government has, say a commercial for-profit version of NPR, high speed internet, etc, that coexists with other current offerings and then re-invests that into government programs and needs less tax dollars from me sounds like a great idea. Tax payer money already paid for most of the infrastructure, we might as well profit from it.

There's some odd political animosity to it however, as if asking for a tax-payer owned version of NBC with some entertaining primetime shows is like some kind of slippery slope to autocratic socialism ... it's actually bringing capitalism into the government like never before and allowing them to say, not have to ask me to vote on raising my sales tax to build a train. Instead they ask us how we want to use all those sweet profits.

... it'd be nice ...

Lots of government operations around the world make a profit. Usually the money is reinvested to improve operations, but it can also be sent back for general spending depending on the structure of the organisation. Now, it's been a very long time since I lived in Canada, but the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) used to make a tidy profit. It also used to be the largest single purchaser of wine in the world and as such was able to get incredibly rare wine. Back in the day, if you wanted to tour a winery someday, you could often set it up with the LCBO and the winery would absolutely roll out the red carpet for you. Not sure if that hack still exists, but it was pretty sweet 10-20 years ago. Although unpopular with a lot of people due to all the politics that a government monopoly on alcohol gave, the LCBO was profitable and provided surprisingly good value (as long as you happened to live near a store where influential people lived :-P ). Like I said, it's been ages since I lived there, so I'm not sure what the current status is, but it lasted a long time due to its ability to deliver service and provide revenue for the government.

Antrix Corp owned by the Indian government provides satellite launch services. It made $31m profit on $210m revenue in 2017-2018.[1]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antrix_Corporation

I read through these contracts a _long_ time ago. I think the contract is for managing a bunch of parks stuff and is expansive far beyond the website.

That article is from 2004, is this a new site, or something that was just released?

this doesn't seem restrictive - https://www.recreation.gov/use-our-data

The last time the government tried to build a website inhouse.... Well we all know how funny that was. Ahh the good ol' days. Good times. Welp back to grind.



Thanks, fixed.

All good.

And to your original comment. I'd also love to see the government building out solid technical teams for provision of services. I'm also a firm believer that for _some_ government functions, there's a strong argument for "government as a platform". Rec.gov is a great test bed for this; among many reasons it's (mostly) politically impartial, so is less.

For at least the online portion of parks reservation, we really want to be offering availability and booking via API, and incentivizing 3rd parties to compete on experience (UI/UX, etc.).

It gets tricky because this is newer terrain and areas like "who pays for support costs/requests" is still being hashed out.

Note: still important to have the government providing the base layer of functionality. Accessibility is important and capitalism won't solve for every piece of product minutia that government should provide.

Government websites are improving steadily, this website is top quality.

The launch this year was a bit rough for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) permits here in Minnesota. They limit permits to lakes, and the holiday weekends go fast, so I'm one of those who makes the Labor day plans (etc) in January.

Mine worked. Lovely site, knew exactly what I was headed to, and got my permits. Seems others had issues if they had to search around. Entire thing sounds like it shook apart later that morning. They canceled the reservations and did a second 'launch', which was the right thing to do. I don't know of anyone who thought they had booked, canceled, and could not get a permit later. Successfully turned a terrible kickoff into something OK.

Are the maps failing to load for anyone else?

I had to disable Brave Shields (essentially ad block) to see the map. It's probably doing some cross-site stuff.

The map doesnt load and it's missing many camping sites in my area

I think something is wrong with the map or some sites' coordinates, because some POI are in the Atlantic, west of Europe.

Also the Netherlands memorial is located in Belgium, but in the "How to get there" instructions it is said to be east of Maastricht.

I've used this site many times without any issues, which is all I can ask for from a government funded service. I've even had a good experience resolving a refund. The campground maps are valuable for booking tent camp sites. It helps to know where sites are relative to bathrooms and other common areas.

What agency are they under? Couldn't find it on site, just who they partner with. But who are they?

recreation.gov was contracted out to Booze Allen Hamilton via RFP from the National Park Service.

Disclosure: I don't work at Booze but did collaborate with them loosely when integrating rec.gov's API[0] into Hipcamp.com

The previous contractor was Reserve America. If you're interested in some fun reading on open data advocacy that led to everybody being able to access public parks data via API check out accessland.org

[0] https://ridb.recreation.gov/

>This website and the information it contains are provided as a public service by Booz Allen Hamilton under contract to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and Recreation One Stop participating agencies.


So these camp spots, is this just like a general area where RVs can hook up to power? I don’t quite understand why camping spots are so desired that people are writing web scrapers and even selling on a secondary market? Sounds like a whole new world I’ve never heard of.

There are usually different types of spot, from RV with hookups to a simple campfire for a tent. As someone who likes camping, this issue regularly rears its head for me. There are sites that I have only been able to visit twice in four years due to lack of availability for me, despite frequent checks.

It's not really all that hard to understand, it appears on the face of it to be supply and demand. There are a lot of people throughout America who love camping and not all that many sites at the popular locations relative to that demand. Has been this way for many years. I imagine the problem is likely particularly acute in places such as the Bay Area given the population density and climate, as well as the more popular National Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone etc. If you haven't recently visited one of the major NPs at peak season you might be genuinely surprised how many people cram into these places.

I've taken recently to just booking whatever I can get - I often don't have much choice but to take what I can find that's actually available.

in joshua tree, for example, there are only two small areas with reservation campsites. the rest are first come first serve. so if you show up for a weekend without a reservation which is extremely difficult to get because joshua tree is very very popular, then you might not find any camping at all, or have to drive around for a long time trawling for an open or soon-to-be-open site.

But why the government have to do it? Isn't it a profitable business in itself?

IMHO, this type of sites should be developed and owned by the government. It's OK if someone finds a way to monetize this, but the directory itself should be public.

which country is this for?

The US government runs .gov and only allows registration by governments inside the country.


Not reCAPTCHA, please. It’s horrendous in any environment that blocks any real amount of tracking. Rate limiting would solve the bot issue without inconveniencing regular users.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21625449.

As someone with lots of anti-anti-botting knowledge - both are ineffective.

Even if it's a "global rate limit" I'll find out the value (never ran into someone randomizing it) and jump on the web request faster than anyone else RIGHT as it comes up.

With CAPTCHAs I'll bypass with a solving service and/or computer vision if it's easy, or even just get past the noCAPTCHA solutions with primed browser instances from credible networks.

But don't kid yourself - that would not solve botting at all.

> But don't kid yourself - that would not solve botting at all.

What would solve it? Or rather, what is the best defensive measure these days?

At this time - I honestly don't know.

Even the reputation-based stuff is laughable and one can hide a Puppeteer instance with good originating networks, and spoofing a ton of details in the browser. Even if that's a no-go you can also automate plain-old-Chromium/Chrome with extensions and run it in a headless session through something like Xpra. I'm experimenting with Firefox solutions as well.

All-in-all, I've never been stopped - and that's not me stroking my ego... there's TONS of resources out there for this stuff that are just a DuckDuckGo search away.

The biggest thing is if they start aggressively fingerprinting bots, they're going to start blocking user real people. It's all based on a score - and getting a good score is just a matter of a credible proxy, CAPTCHA bypassing services, and making a browser look highly credible.


For a "real" answer of some value - as a web developer myself, I'd try to make it as expensive as possible for them. Which specifically would be to implement a non-standard CAPTCHA solution and do rate/conversion-limiting per-network. The reason I didn't say this up-front is because it's not a solid solution - it's just increasing the barrier of difficulty and cost for those that are trying to automate around your solution.

> But don't kid yourself - that would not solve botting at all.

Surely capatcha's and rate limiting raises the bar for people botting.

It couldn't make it any worse right?

It increases the barrier and cost for sure! But the thing is if you get someone who's even remotely sophisticated we can get past this sorta stuff in short order.

For something that's highly desirable like tickets, Nike drops, or apparently campsites there are many people with sufficient ability to bypass this stuff.

If it doesn’t make it any better, then captcha makes it works for real humans

Yep - and as someone who's ran a lot of conversion-based online solutions this is 100% true. Even when you account for automated sign-ups etc. the inclusion of a CAPTCHA will ding your rates.

works -> worse

> As someone with lots of anti-anti-botting knowledge

Any recommendations for books/other information sources? Currently doing some backend work for a company that mainly does scraping and a lot of this seems to be based on the tribal knowledge of the resident old wise one.

I sorta disagree on this being tribal knowledge - a lot of this stuff is out there if you're willing to dig a bit. Tons of it comes down to network reputation and having a legitimate-looking bot. If you're scraping at scale it's an infrastructure problem just as much as it is a fingerprinting one.

Stuff like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20479015 is a goldmine for me and it usually is a fun weekend working around said methods in a lab-like environment.

> resident old wise one

He's just invested the time in picking this skillset up - it's definitely not just something you're an expert on after a few small projects. It takes years of having things break over, and over, and over [...]

There's a small Discord server that I setup for people who do a lot of RPA/web scraping if you're interested in joining a "tribe". My contact info is accessible through my profile if you're interested =)

re: tribal knowledge - didn't mean the field as a whole, just that bus factor is pretty low at the place I'm currently at.

So what does help against bots?

Lottery like yosemite camp 4 has. I really enjoyed my experience with that. You could make some lotteries months or weeks ahead to match different needs.

Answered further up in the thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21631112

It's a cat and mouse game for sure, but the answer is usually nothing if the person is sophisticated enough. You can only increase the difficulty/cost (covered in that comment).

I like how the sibling comments all expect an abuser to reveal how to prevent their abuse.

To paraphrase Sinclair: It is difficult to get a man to divulge how to prevent something, when his salary depends on his not preventing it.

I'm an open book! Ask any question that you would like!

Here's the thing - all of this info is out there (largely in other HN threads on this topic) and I'm nothing special in my field-of-knowledge ;)

I'm confident if people fully prevented my "abuse" they'd start to block actual users... simple as that.

What's your take on ML for bot classification? How successful has that family of strategies been in your opinion? One could speculate on what particular features of client behavior a model would hone in on to detect a bot, but it would actually likely be unexpected behavioral oddities not shared by legit clients that a human developer's intuition wouldn't think of.

This is an excellent question!

When it comes to a web "interaction" there's a ton of differences depending on the job at-hand. If it's jumping on a Nike drop you're not going to run into those sort of methods where-as if it's scraping hundreds of thousands of SKUs there's a huge chance you will.

When a human opens a "conversation" with a website usually it's for a specific action which is a small burst of data, ie: looking at a few products on Amazon. So as long as you can design your bot's "conversation" with said website in the same way you can totally bypass ML detection (and everything else for that matter).

Basically if you think of ALL of the unique variables that are happening back and forth in that conversation it's a finite list. If you can check off each and every one of those you can get past anti-bot measures no-problemo, it's just a matter of budget/time. ML can HELP to identify bot traffic, but if you're sending perfect headers/traffic/browser metrics/CC numbers/shipping addresses (this list gets long) you're still going to squeak by with an acceptable risk score without a problem. The other thing is going raw-HTTP request often bypasses almost all of that crap, way more than one would think! I will often get "fingerprinted" with a very valid browser, then continue my work after treating their site as an API; ie: talking directly to the backend (or rendered HTML page) and no one else.

The #1 thing I'd say where bot classification works is network reputation... so I use services that allow me to proxy-out to VERY reputable networks that are actually business/residential ISP connections. This lets me get past the majority of countermeasures because if they start blocking those sort of IP addresses/ranges they're going to block real users at some point. Unfortunately, highly reputable proxy services do cost money - but for someone who does this professionally it's all about budgeting etc.

To implement these systems well takes a really keen implementation between your front-end and back-end and most companies (even the big ones) don't have the development sophistication to pull it off. Those that do are just more expensive because you'll be bouncing around between 40 different "origins" with unique browser profiles.

Sorry for the essay =)

> I will often get "fingerprinted" with a very valid browser, then continue my work after treating their site as an API; ie: talking directly to the backend (or rendered HTML page) and no one else.

This seems like just the kind of behavior that an ML approach could easily identify. Even just feeding a trained model your basic request log data would show you as quite a different kind of user: you're not fetching images, javascript, etc and would have a substantially different traffic profile. Obviously you could get around that by scripting a browser, but that just kicks the can down the road: a scripted browser will still likely behave in some measurable way different than a human-driven browser, and the specifics of those differences are unlikely to be found by intuition but rather by ML which can hone in on things we wouldn't think of. For example, the time spent in certain pages/activities, or the position of the cursor on links being clicked (when you tell a headless browser to click a link, do the mouse coordinates in the click event look normal or are they at the upper left coordinate of the link's position?) etc. The more data you feed such an approach the more details it can use to find anomalies that differentiate humans from bots.

Totally agree but the thing is it's a TON of sophistication to pull that off and block proactively to the point that I'd say the only people who employ methods like that are Amazon (that I've encountered). Typically when you do that you will spoof a crawler and it gets you by just fine.

That’s not a paraphrase of Sinclair. Sinclair’s saying is about people not understanding something that conflicts with their income.

Refusing to give away a secret has absolutely no overlap with Sinclair’s saying.

I guess I should have said "adapt" or "inspired by" or "riffing on" or something to indicate to the literal-minded that I was merely copying Sinclair's phraseology, rather than his meaning.

I thought "paraphrase" was sufficient, but I appear to have misjudged.

The reason I hate recaptcha: it's not just a rate-limit for one site, but for the entire web. Run a google dork? You'll have to find three more fire hydrants the next time you're signing up for a service. Install an ad blocker? Six more fire hydrants. Log out of google? Twelve more. Heaven forbid if I _actually_ scrape something. Hitting one site harder than an average user shouldn't force me to fill out captchas on every site until my "reputation score" or whatever is back up. Feels like social credit for web sites.

Yeah, I'm getting incredibly frustrated with it as well. I block tracking on the web, so I'm constantly doing multiple pages of free identification for Google.

If I were building a bot for a site that uses captchas, I'd just use one of the many paid services that solve captchas. Last I checked, it was ~$0.003 per solve, hardly a blocker. To be honest, I wish I could easily use one of these solvers in my normal web browser...

As someone who actually needs/wants to visit about 50% of the recaptcha-using sites: Do the audio challenge. Type something close, the audio challenge barely cares what you type, it has fewer repetitions than the image challenge and is just generally easier.

I've increasingly had reCAPTCHA refuse to give me an audio challenge.

I was having fun with recaptha the other day on Dan Harmon's (of rick and morty fame) site called Channel 101.

His sign up page was all sarcastic and the recaptcha test asked

{ Image of distorted random letters and numbers } "Are you human?" [text box] Prove it...

And I kept trying answers like.

"Okay blood's drawn, where do i send the sample?"

"uhhh so I'm blind..." (no voice alt test)

"a robot testing a human for humanity? (this is going to go nowhere good quick...)

"Morty, its your grandpa Rick! Let me in Morty. belch"

"I identify as a pro exclusionary Cylon. My prefered pronouns are su, pid 1, root, or if you prefer just refer to me as Zuck" (okay i didn't get to enter that last one in. too long)

"Isn't putting random numbers and letters the kind of answer a ROBOT would make. It's only an answer written in THEIR language! o.O

Unfortunately Mr. Harmon's test had a fatal bug or something because I never could get past the sign up page. :'(

Or maybe I'm not human or i'm just missing something? idk.

Rate limiting would not prevent individuals running their own bots, or a service that uses a different IP for each request.

Which is exactly what's happening.


Recreation.gov has existed at least since Obama's presidency and probably before then.

This site seems rather non-political, not sure why it needs to be framed as such


What do you think would be a better title?

"Recreation.gov is a travel site for the USA's national parks with easy access to maps, permits, tours and activities."

Really though anything would be better than just linking a site and repeating its URL. That is just lazy clickbait that implies something so special that no description is needed. I'm not sure why this site seems to be infatuated with mystery titles with no description at all.

Why was this submitted here and how did this even get to the top?

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