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Old 04-02-2016, 10:30 AM   #1
rbi99
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Large backpacking groups

After driving 10 hrs to get to my trailhead, I am always concerned that when I get there I will see a parked bus and a herd of people who had decided to camp where I also was headed. Not knocking those groups because they do good things, but is there some way of finding out in advance if such a group is planning to be in a particular area at a particular time?
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Old 04-02-2016, 10:55 AM   #2
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Not really with 100% accuracy. These groups come from so many different sources- scout groups, meetup groups, faith-based organizations, summer camps, etc.

You could probably keep track of some groups by joining some of the larger hiking meetup groups in the northeast, but even they are going to represent only a fraction of the "large" groups that use the backcountry.

A willingness to be flexible, and to camp primitively at non-designated, non-established sites (following Leave No Trace as much as possible) is, I think, a better approach to facing the possibility of encountering other users occupying any area you trekked into while still preserving the enjoyment and satisfaction you desire in backpacking.

Even without large groups, not everyone is always able to get the nicest campsite for themselves, or always enjoy a beautiful and remote backcountry destination without having to share it with other users.
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Old 04-02-2016, 11:27 AM   #3
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But don't they have to permit or something before marching in mass into the woods? If they do have to have a permit, wouldn't there be a record? In a perfect world a centralized record location.
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Old 04-02-2016, 11:54 AM   #4
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But don't they have to permit or something before marching in mass into the woods? If they do have to have a permit, wouldn't there be a record? In a perfect world a centralized record location.
Overnight groups larger than 9 people need a permit. And the DEC will only give out permits for groups up to (I believe) 12 people (so you shouldn't ever actually be seeing a "bus load" show up). And those permits are only issued for Wild Forest Areas, never Wilderness.

Permits are issued by Forest Rangers. DEC offices eventually receive copies of the permits from the Forest Rangers, but I'm not sure how "up to date" the records for permits are at each office. You could try contacting the ranger whose district you'll be camping in in advance, as they might be willing to give you at least general information about any large groups they'd issued permits for... but there are possible privacy issues with this, too, I think. (Especially if the group is a summer camp.)

But even 9 people is a lot- more than enough to take over a single tent site or lean-to. And no one in the DEC would generally have any previous knowledge that such a group was planning to camp in a certain area, because such a group does not require a permit.

Again, a willingness to be flexible in your plans is ultimately your best recourse. And that's not just for large groups- there are a multitude of situations possible on any backpacking trip that could force one to modify their itinerary. Whenever I plan backpacking trips, I always have a "Plan B" and often even a "Plan C" in mind for camping locations for each night.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:01 PM   #5
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Never hurts to have plans B, C, D, and an extra if you drive 10 hours to go to a pinpoint on a map and expect to have it all to yourself

ETA: Just saw you are planning for late May. Hope for some warm weather to make sure the blackflies help you to find your solace and have the back up places in mind as well.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:09 PM   #6
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Another option would be to plan the timing and location of your trips to minimize the possibility of avoiding large groups. If you can go mid-week, your chances of encountering other groups is lessened. Summer camps do operate mid-week, but there is rarely more than a couple of summer camp groups operating in the same geographic area, so it's usually not hard to find other sites open nearby if a summer camp group is camped at the exact site you hoped to use.

I personally plan most of my trips for which I have the greatest expectations of solitude for mid to late Autumn, during the post-Columbus Day weeks. As October wains and November arrives in earnest, the backcountry tends to become a very quiet place.

A willingness to bushwhack will give you solitude just about any night of the year (although, admittedly, I used to work for a youth program that bushwhacked about 75% of the time while taking kids into the backcountry, so never say never. )
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:11 PM   #7
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ETA: Just saw you are planning for late May. Hope for some warm weather to make sure the blackflies help you to find your solace and have the back up places in mind as well.
If you're planning a trip for Memorial Day weekend, I wouldn't be worried about large groups as much as I would be worried about encountering a lot of small groups that add up to large numbers.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:21 PM   #8
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I've had very good luck planning to start my trips on Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings. Sometimes just a half day head start is enough to get you out in front.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:38 PM   #9
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I've had very good luck planning to start my trips on Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings. Sometimes just a half day head start is enough to get you out in front.
Or Saturday mornings if you can't get started until late Friday anyways (due to work, school, etc.). Sure, you'll arrive after most of the best sites have already been occupied, but at least you're not wandering around in the dark with all of the frustrations of being tired and hungry added on top of the disappointment if your plan already being sent askew. Plans "B," "C," etc., are always a lot easier to act upon when you're still feeling well rested and have plenty of daylight hours ahead of you.
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Old 04-02-2016, 01:17 PM   #10
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I do almost all of my backpacking in late May, mid September or after the leaves are down. I also try to hike in on a Tuesday. I have been lucky in that several times I was coming out while very large groups, even groups that break up so as to not be too large, where hiking in. I have been at Duck Hole for five nights without a single person around, and have had Lake Colden to myself for several nights. I have even had Pharaoh Lake all to myself and my dogs. My worst nightmare would be arriving at my site only to find out that (God Love Em!!!) a group of boisterous scouts had either beat me there or where coming up from behind!!!

As obvious as it is now that others have mentioned it, while I look at various spots to backpack to, once I have chosen my route that is where I go. I will now also include a Plan B and C. Seems like I didn't see the forest for the trees!!!
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Old 04-02-2016, 04:28 PM   #11
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Or Saturday mornings if you can't get started until late Friday anyways (due to work, school, etc.). Sure, you'll arrive after most of the best sites have already been occupied, but at least you're not wandering around in the dark with all of the frustrations of being tired and hungry added on top of the disappointment if your plan already being sent askew. Plans "B," "C," etc., are always a lot easier to act upon when you're still feeling well rested and have plenty of daylight hours ahead of you.
This is also a plus for the people who arrived before you and tend to not have fires, because it keeps you from stumbling into their camp after dark and freaking them the hell out.

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Old 04-04-2016, 07:10 AM   #12
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A willingness to bushwhack will give you solitude just about any night of the year
Agreed. There are countless options & rewards for exploring off the beaten path.
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Old 04-04-2016, 07:41 AM   #13
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Groups travel slowly, you can almost always outhike them, which gives you the initiative on where to go and where to stay.

But, they are a pox on the backcountry.
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