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The Best US National Park Campgrounds for Every Traveler

By Amy C. Balfour
updated September 29, 2021
Big Bend National Park Tent
Barcroft Media / Contributor / Getty
​Whether you’re looking for a mountaintop meadow, a tall forest or a red-rock wonderland, there’s a national park campground to match your geographical preference.

These top US national park campgrounds offer unrivaled scenery, easy access to outdoor fun and prime wildlife watching.

Best campground for stargazers

Chisos Basin Campground – Big Bend National Park, Texas

Flanked by the rugged Chisos Mountains at an elevation of 5400ft, this remote campground doubles as the finest performance hall in the park system. Nearby, an enormous gap in the mountains, known as The Window, frames the West Texas desert far below, and the show at sunset is memorably gorgeous. After the sun drops, Mother Nature pulls back the curtain overhead at this International Dark Sky Park, revealing a dazzling display of more than 2,500 stars on the clearest nights.

Website: www.nps.gov/bibe
Reservations: www.recreation.gov
Open: year-round
Fee: $14 per night

Best campground for amateur geologists

Devils Garden Campground – Arches National Park, Utah

The enormous red rocks overlooking this popular campground may have been named for the Devil, but wind, rain and the steady march of time did all the hard work in its creation, eroding the fiery sandstone into a fantastical assortment of towering arches and hulking fins. Botanical flourishes include yucca plants, prickly pear cacti and juniper and piñon pines. The only campground in the park, Devils Garden is 19 miles from the entrance to Arches and 23 miles from Moab.

Website: www.nps.gov/arch
Reservations: www.recreation.gov
Open: year-round
Fee: $25 per night

Best campground for wildlife spotters

Cataloochee Campground – Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Elk and wild turkey roam the surrounding meadows and forests with photogenic abandon at this camping spot in the secluded Cataloochee Valley - once a thriving southern Appalachian farm community. Overhunting and loss of habitat caused the decline and disappearance of elk here in the 19th century, but the majestic beasts were successfully reintroduced in the early 2000s. Campsites are scattered between hemlocks and white pines beside Cataloochee Creek.

Website: www.nps.gov/grsm
Reservations: www.recreation.gov
Open: mid-Apr-Oct
Fee: $25 per night

Best campground for hikers

Bright Angel Campground – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

You’ll earn bragging rights after an out-and-back hike to this campground at the bottom of the Big Ditch. Sitting a half-mile north of the Colorado River and shaded by cottonwood trees, this lovely creekside spot is reached by a nearly 10-mile hike from the South Rim or a 14-mile hike from the North Rim. Hard on the knees? Yes. But the vast canyon views on your descent are simply gobsmacking. A Tecate beer at the Phantom Ranch canteen just down the trail is a fine post-hike reward.

Website: www.nps.gov/grca
Reservations: Fax or mail a backcountry permit request form to the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Center. See park website for detailed instructions.
Open: year-round
Fee: Backcountry permit per campsite $10, camping fee per person per night $8

Best campground for families

Big Meadows Campground – Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Big Meadows is big fun. Tucked between the Appalachian Trail and lofty Skyline Drive, this woodsy campground is smack dab in the middle of the park – and the action. Kids can tackle the three waterfall trails or walk to the Byrd Visitor Center for Junior Ranger Programs and exhibits about the history of the park. Other distractions include raptor talks in the amphitheater, ranger-led walks through a wetland meadow and wagon rides. Stop by Big Meadows Lodge for trivia nights, craft workshops and live music. The campground is 100 miles southwest of Washington, DC.

Website: www.nps.gov/shen
Reservations: www.recreation.gov
Open: Apr-mid-Nov
Fee: $20

Best campground for forest bathers

Jedediah Smith Campground – Redwood National & State Parks, California

Seamlessly intertwined with three California state parks, Redwoods National Park holds 45% of California’s old-growth redwoods, which are some of the world’s tallest trees. In the northernmost reaches of the 200-sq-mile park, you can pitch your tent inside a thick stand of these ancient showstoppers, all soaring skyward from their lush surroundings. It’s the perfect place for forest bathing, the Japanese-inspired art of relaxing in the company of trees. Several campsites border the Smith River, the longest major free-flowing river in the state. Trails to more redwoods can be accessed from the campground.

Website: www.nps.gov/redw
Reservations: www.reservecalifornia.com
Open: year-round
Fee: $35 per night

Best campground for beach-goers

Assateague Island National Seashore Campground – Maryland

This campground is within a national seashore, not a national park, but who’s quibbling with boring federal distinctions when you can camp beside sand dunes a few steps from the surf on a rugged barrier island, with wild horses galloping past as the sun goes down? Add wind-swept sea oats, egrets and herons, crabbing and kayaking, and mythic stories of Atlantic Coast seafarers, and you’ve hit tent-life perfection (but bring bug spray). The campground is 145 miles east of Washington, DC on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Website: www.nps.gov/asis
Reservations: www.recreation.gov
Open: year-round
Fee: $30 per night

Best all-around campground

Norris Campground – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We’re not saying this is the best campground in the entire national park system, but it does hit all the bases for a satisfying outdoor stay. Spread across a scenic and open lodgepole-pine forest on a sunny hill overlooking meadows and the Gibbon River, this is one of the park’s nicest campgrounds. Watch for roaming bison, attend a campfire program or follow a one-mile trail to the geothermal action at Norris Basin. Centrally located just north of Norris Junction, the campground is a convenient base for exploring the entire park.

Website: www.nps.gov/yell
Reservations: first-come, first-served
Open: mid-May-Sep
Fee: $20 per night

Visit individual park websites for detailed reservation information; many of these campgrounds also offer first-come, first-served camping. Prices do not include park admission fees.

Camping Deals:

For great camping deals be sure to check out our partner Campspot

Campspot is the only online booking platform that lets you research, discover, and instantly reserve the best camping stays at the lowest prices from premiere campgrounds across North America. They give campers more control of their trips by offering more options to choose from and an easier way to book. They are experts in the outdoor industry, so they know what campers and campgrounds care about and use technology to better serve them both.

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National Parks

Celebrate National Park Week with these 5 ideas!

1. Play one of these games with your family - the Park Service has a great list of games designed for families to play while in social isolation. Think you know the most about the parks? Love baby animals? They have a game for you! 2. Take a virtual visit to a national park - spend an afternoon exploring Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, or the Clara Barton National Historic Site where the Red Cross was founded. You can also check out live webcams of the Statue of Liberty and Yellowstone! 3. Join a virtual event from your favorite park! The parks are famous for their ranger-led activities, and most of our favorite parks have moved these ranger talks online. Check out live trivia at Hot Springs, or even livestream the sunrise from Bryce Canyon! 4. Recreate a national park trip in your backyard! Now that spring is finally here, put that camping gear to good use. Practice setting up your tent, lighting a fire, and then sleep outside and look up at the stars! 5. Dive into the history of the United States with the National Register of Historic Places. Are there historic places in your neighborhood you never knew about? Map out where they are, and how they are relevant to your community.

National Parks

Current status of National Park closures due to COVID-19

On April 2, 2020, the National Park Service has announced the closure of two more national parks, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree due to COVID-19. A few of the major parks that are still open to visitors (with minimal services) are: Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Shenadoah, and Zion. As always, please check with the National Parks website before you plan a trip, and make sure you adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines. Here is the current status of all 62 national parks as of April 3 2020: Acadia - park roads, facilities and services closed to slow spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) In support of federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), all park roads, facilities, restrooms, carriage roads, campgrounds, visitor centers and services are closed. Please call or email for park information. Arches National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Badlands Visitor Centers and Entrance Stations Closed as of 3/18/20 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Visitors Centers and Entrance Stations are temporarily closed. Roads/trails/campgrounds remain open Big Bend National Park Temporarily Closed No entry will be allowed into the park, except for employees, residents, and other authorized persons. Through traffic will be prohibited, as will travel on Terlingua Ranch Road within park boundaries. Until further notice. Biscayne Bay - Modification in Operations Land facilities at Convoy Point, Boca Chita, Elliott and Adams Keys are closed temporarily to public access. Visitor activities and Biscayne National Park Institute tours are suspended until further notice. Park waters remain open. Black Canyon of the Gunnison: South Rim Campground and Visitor Center Closed The South Rim Campground and Visitor Center are closed until further notice to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Bryce Canyon is Open - Though Some Facilities Have Closed Updated: Tuesday March 31, 2020, 11 am. Precautions are being taken due to the novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19). Shuttle operations will be delayed. Follow the link for the latest updates. Canyonlands National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Precautions are being taken due to the novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19). Follow the link for the latest updates Capitol Reef National Park is Open - Visitor Services Limited The park remains open. To support CDC recommendations, visitor services are limited. The visitor center building and the Gifford House are closed. Park staff will rove to provide information and be available by phone. The Fruita campground is closed. Carlsbad Cavern and Visitor Center are Temporarily Closed as of March 21 Following guidance from the CDC and state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, the cavern and visitor center are temporarily closed. Park roads, desert trails, and picnic areas will remain open. Channel Islands COVID-19 Park Closures The mainland visitor center is closed until further notice. The park transportation concessioner Island Packers has temporarily cancelled boat service to the islands. However, the islands are open for private boater landings. Congaree National Park Closed (4.2.2020) Congaree National Park has modified operations in order to implement the latest health guidance. Congaree National Park, including all facilities and trails, will be closed until further notice. All in-park programs are cancelled. Crater Lake National Park is Closed In accordance with Executive Order 20-12 issued by the governor of the state of Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is temporarily closed to visitors to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Highway 62 through the park remains open for travel. Cuyahoga Valley is OPEN Boston Mill Visitor Center is CLOSED until further notice. Park information is available at the kiosk outside. All programs are cancelled. Park trails, parking lots, and some restrooms in popular locations are open. Death Valley: All park facilities are CLOSED All restrooms, campgrounds, and visitor centers are closed. Some trailheads and secondary roads are closed. Denali's Visitor Centers are Closed Following guidance from the CDC and from state and local public health officials, the Winter Visitor Center, Sled Dog Kennels, and Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station are closed. Public spaces throughout the park remain open (e.g., winter trails). Dry Tortugas Islands and camping closed, no programs or services Following guidance from the CDC and federal/state/local public health authorities, Dry Tortugas National Park has temporarily closed islands and camping. Programs and concession tours are cancelled. Marine waters and both harbors remain open. Everglades Wilderness Campsites Closed Effective April 1, 2020 at 6:00 a.m., wilderness (backcountry) campsites with chickees and ground campsites will be closed until further notice. Portable toilets parkwide will also be closed. Beach campsites are open and permits are not required. Park Land Access is Closed, Programs Cancelled Land-based park access has closed to the public at Gulf Coast (Everglades City), Shark Valley, East Everglades area, and the main park road from the Homestead entrance to Flamingo. Park waters remain open for access from outside the park. Glacier National Park Is Temporarily Closed  Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health authorities in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Glacier National Park is temporarily closed. Glacier Bay Facilities Temporarily Closed As a public health precaution, Glacier Bay NPS facilities are temporarily closed to non-approved entry. To reach someone in the park please call them directly or call the park's general information line for assistance: 907-697-2230. Grand Canyon National Park Is Closed Due to Public Health Concerns (COVID-19) Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2020, 7 am. Visit the link below for details. Grand Canyon National Park is closed until further notice. Grand Teton National Park is Closed In consultation with local county health officers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Great Basin Cave Tours Temporarily Suspended, Lehman Caves Visitor Center and Campgrounds Temporarily Closed Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, cave tours, Lower Lehman Campground, and Lehman Caves Visitor Center are temporarily closed Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center is Closed and Campground Opening Delayed All outdoor spaces in the park and preserve are open. Following guidance from federal, state and local authorities, the Visitor Center is temporarily closed and the campground opening is delayed. Great Smoky Mountains Park Extends Closure to Support Regional COVID-19 Prevention Efforts Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that all park areas, except the Foothills Parkway and Spur, will remain closed until further notice. The park is likely to remain closed at least through April 30. Guadalupe Mountains is OPEN Changes in Park Operations to Protect Visitors and Employees from the Coronavirus pandemic Effective March 25th, 2020. The park will be closed to all overnight camping and backcountry camping. Visitor Center and contact stations remain closed. The park trails will remain open for day use only. Haleakalā National Park Summit Closed as of March 21, 2020. Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Haleakalā National Park will temporarily close, this includes the Kīpahulu District and Summit District. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Closed In response to the latest health guidance from the CDC and actions outlined by the Governor of Hawai‘i, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice. Hot Springs Gulpha Gorge Campground & picnic area temporarily closed as of Thursday, April 2, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media. Additional Information on Current Conditions Page.more info Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center is temporarily closed as of Wednesday, March 18, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media. Additional Information on Current Conditions Page. Indiana Dunes is OPEN Temporary Closure of Buildings and Restrooms As a public health precaution, Indiana Dunes National Park buildings and restrooms are temporarily closed for the safety of staff and visitors until further notice. Check back for updates via social media and park website. Isle Royale National Park Houghton Headquarters & Visitor Center is Closed to Non-essential Visitors In response to the developing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Isle Royale National Park has closed the Houghton Visitor Center and Headquarters complex to all non-essential visitors. This closure will be evaluated daily as conditions evolve. Joshua Tree National Park is Closed In consultation with the local county health office to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Joshua Tree National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Kenai Fjords National Park public building closures Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health officials, the Park Headquarters building and Exit Glacier area winter public use cabin and vault toilets are closed. Public spaces will remain open. Kings Canyon is CLOSED Effective 3/25, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice. CA Hwy 180 remains open for through traffic to access Forest Service land and private property. All other roads and parking lots are closed. Kobuk Valley Northwest Arctic Heritage Center Closed As a public health precaution, the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center is temporarily closed for the safety of staff and visitors as of March 16th. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media channels. Lake Clark Park Headquarters in Port Alsworth is closed indefinitely Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the NPS' goal to protect staff and visitors, the Park Headquarters is closed to the public until further notice. Staff are still working and can help you with any requests. Please call (907) 781-2218 for assistance. Lassen Volcanic National Park is Temporarily Closed Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Lassen Volcanic National Park is temporarily closed. Mammoth Cave is CLOSED The Visitor Center, Cave Tours, and Campgrounds are Closed On Tuesday, March 24, all campgrounds in the park will be closed until further notice. The park has already closed all cave tours & the visitor center in response to the CDC guidance. Surface trails are still open for hiking, biking & equestrian use. Mesa Verde National Park is temporarily closed as of sunset, March 25, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Mesa Verde National Park is temporarily closed as of sunset, March 25, 2020. Mount Ranier is CLOSED Temporary Closure of Park Facilities and Roads Following guidance from the CDC and state, local, and NPS public health officers, all park roads are closed to vehicles. Backcountry areas remain open to dispersed recreation. All park visitor centers, lodges, shops, and restaurants are closed. North Cascades NPS Complex is Temporarily Closed Effective April 3, 2020, North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area will be closed to all park visitors until further notice. SR20 will remain open to just west of the town of Newhalem. Olympic is CLOSED Temporary Closure of All Park Facilities, Roads, and Campgrounds as of March 24 Following guidance from the CDC and state, local, and NPS public health officers, and in response to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Proclamation by Washington State, park entrance roads, facilities, campgrounds and restrooms are closed. No services available Pinnacles is Closed to All Day-Use Visitation The campground remains open. Existing reservations are required to enter the park, prior to arrival. Campers must arrive between 8am-6pm. No walk-ins permitted. Previous closures remain in effect. See our News Release or social media for more information. Limited Services Available in Pinnacles National Park Following guidance from the CDC, the West side of the park, and all Nature Centers and Visitor Centers are closed. Shuttles are not be operating at this time. Trail Closures Are In Effect Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Safety Officers, the Bear Gulch Caves, Balconies Caves, and High Peaks Steep and Narrow trails are closed, effective 3/19/20. Redwood National Park is Open but Facilities and Many Roads Closed; Services Extremely Limited March 29: The park remains open but modifications to operations are in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, including: closed facilities, limited services, and closures of many areas and roads to vehicles. Rocky Mountain National Park is temporarily closed as of March 20, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Rocky Mountain National Park is temporarily closed. Saguaro National Park Visitor Centers and Restrooms are Closed Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from public health authorities, Saguaro National Park is temporarily closing visitor centers, restrooms and all public programs. Fee collection operations are also suspended until further notice. Sequoia National Park is CLOSED Effective 3/25, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice. CA Hwy 180 remains open for through traffic to access Forest Service land and private property. All other roads and parking lots are closed. Shenandoah Shenandoah National Park is open Please check our website or social media for details. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open. Visitor Centers are temporarily closed as of March 18th. Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Services, TRNP Visitor Centers are temporarily closed. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media. Virgin Islands National Park is OPEN As of March 23, 2020 the Cruz Bay Visitor Center is closed. All programs are cancelled and all restrooms are closed. Food service and watersports rental at Trunk Bay is closed and fees are not being collected. Park trails, beaches, and waters remain open. Voyageurs National Park is Still Open; Visitor Centers & Headquarters are Temporarily Closed The park remains open to visitors year-round, and we encourage visitors to get outdoors and experience the park. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center and Park Headquarters are temporarily closed. These closures will be evaluated continually as conditions evolve. White Sands National Park is temporarily closed as of Sunday, March 22, 2020. Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, White Sands National Park is temporarily closed. Wind Cave National Park is OPEN Following CDC and state and local public health authority recommendations, the park visitor center and the Elk Mountain Campground are closed now through April 15. Park roads and hiking trails remain open at this time. Yellowstone National Park is closed In consultation with local county health officers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Yosemite National Park is closed Yosemite National Park has modified operations at the request of the local health department. Yosemite National Park is closed to all park visitors until further notice. Zion National Park is open Zion National Park has limited service available to the public and the park is recommending visitors comply with the Governor’s directive to temporarily discourage unnecessary travel and concentrated recreational use to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

National Parks

A Grand Canyon park ranger's plea to the public: "please, stay home!"

During the time of COVID-19, there are quite a few National Parks that remain open to the public. We spoke with a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park to get a detailed view of what’s happening on the ground in one of America’s most popular parks. Our source requested to remain anonymous to protect their job. This interview took place the week of March 23, 2020. Question: How is Grand Canyon National Park handling the COVID-19 crisis? Answer: The park has been closing visitor services bit by bit as we can. It is Spring Break, and visitors are coming from across the US and risk spreading the virus to park staff and visitors. It’s frightening to see how many visitors are still coming to the park, crowding the rim, and acting as if there is no pandemic. Especially since we’ve pulled staff from manning entrance booths for their safety, there is minimal crowd control. The National Parks in general are already short-staffed and unable to deal with a pandemic. I do not feel like we have the ability and resources to keep visitors safe, nor to protect our natural and cultural resources from the people crowding into the park. Q: How is park staff specifically affected by the crisis? A: Around 2,500 people live & work at the Grand Canyon. A third of those people live below the poverty line and many don’t have health insurance. We are 1-1.5 hours away from any social services, and our community cannot afford to be swept by this virus. We have a tiny medical clinic that will be overloaded quickly. Our one small school has closed, and our small food pantry is already empty. In the course of the job, staff interacts with thousands of people, and the infection risk is off-the-charts. We can't manage to have "fewer than 10" people at one location nor can we manage "social distancing". I have seen the most oblivious behavior from visitors: how can they not know we are in a pandemic, or do they just not think they can get sick or make others sick? Park staff have been exposed to visitors from all over the world for several weeks. Everyday we get an update on the number of people from our community who have contracted the virus, the number of people in the county who have it, and the number who have died. The Navajo Nation has requested that all of their people return home and shelter in place: they have more courage than the political leaders of Arizona. Q: How could people respond better to the pandemic with regards to the National Parks? A: People don't seem to realize that the same reasons that sporting events, restaurants, Disneyland, movie theaters, etc. are closed are the exact same reasons why it is unsafe to visit national parks at this time. "Fresh air" and being outside is all well and good: sharing that space with others is not. Please, PLEASE ask the public to stay away from the parks at this time. Despite what the Secretary of Interior is saying, most of my colleagues at the Grand Canyon feel the park should be closed. I want to enjoy our public lands, and I want others to enjoy them as well. Now is not that time. Only a tiny percent of people ever get into the backcountry: most are crowded into small areas. Now is not the time to come to national parks. Please, America, stay at home. Update as of 4/1: Grand Canyon National Park has been closed to the general public indefinitely.

National Parks

How America's National Parks are responding to Coronavirus

The novel Coronavirus has most Americans staying in their homes, going a little stir crazy, and looking for things to do to pass the time that still adhere to social distancing guidelines. To that end, spending time in the wilderness is a good alternative activity. How are America’s National Parks handling the crisis, and how should we enjoy them responsibly during this historic time? On Wednesday, the Department of Interior secretary David Bernhardt waived entrance fees for the National Park system, in order to make it easier for Americans to get outside. In most of the vacation towns surrounding some of the remote parks, hotels have been closed, preventing people from traveling from far away. Should you want a National Park adventure near your home, that is an affordable option. In a press release, the National Park Service said that “The NPS is modifying operations, until further notice, for facilities and programs that cannot adhere to this guidance. Where it is possible to adhere to this guidance, outdoor spaces will remain open to the public.” Each park is taking different steps to mitigate the risk of the virus, as determined by each park's superintendent. Parks that are in cities and see heavy crowds, such as the Statue of Liberty or Smithsonian Museums, are closed entirely. Parks that see heavy crowds in more remote locations have opted to encourage social distancing by closing shuttles, visitors centers, and sometimes the park entirely. For example, in Zion National Park, the shuttle system has been closed down, causing long lines for parking. If you do decide to travel to a National Park, please do your best to be mindful of your personal impact. Continue to follow social distancing guidelines, as well as good Leave No Trace guidelines. We urge you to check the National Park Service website for the National Park of your choice to be sure you are aware of any contingencies that need to be made.