Alberta Parks is changing its online reservation system for campsites next month.
Previously, the online reservation system opened on a certain date, but starting January 11, the system will be available year-round. Campers will be able to reserve individual sites 90 days in advance and group and comfort camping 180 days in advance. The booking window will advance by one day every morning at 9 a.m., according to the Alberta Parks website.
"This means no more stressful launch dates," promised Alberta Parks in a Facebook post Wednesday morning.
The province is also reducing the maximum number of consecutive nights Albertans can book at campgrounds from 16 to 10. The Facebook post said Albertans will still be allowed to camp in one location for 16 nights, but they will require separate reservations to do so.
Bridget Burgess, a communications advisor for the environment and parks ministry, said changes were necessary "to reduce the volume of online users at one time and ensure equitable access to campgrounds."
She said there has been a 148 per cent increase in the number of transactions and camping reservations across the parks system since 2019.
Reservation opening days, especially in recent years, have been chaotic, with the website struggling to handle heavy traffic.
Burgess said launch days also often led to last-minute cancellations and no-shows.
Other agencies, including Ontario Parks and most American parks agencies, already offer year-round reservation systems, she said.
Mixed reactions from campers
Dan Chernyk, a camping enthusiast in Edmonton who runs a YouTube channel on outdoor pursuits, said he is optimistic that the changes will make booking campsites easier.
"Hopefully it takes a bit of pressure off that system," he said.
He figures reducing the number of consecutive bookable days from 16 to 10 could help deter people from booking off more time than they will use.
Burgess said that was the intent of the change.
She said the number of campers booking more than 10 consecutive nights increased by 154 per cent this year. Long-term bookers changed their reservations much more than short-term bookers did and 27 per cent of 16-night bookers cancelled their reservations entirely.
Ian Urquhart, executive director of the Alberta Wilderness Association, has a different view of the reduction in the maximum consecutive bookable days.
"Sounds to me like it's a bit of a cash grab, frankly, because if I want to go out for two weeks, I can still go for two weeks, but I have to make two separate reservations in order to do that," he said.
Carrie Malin, an outdoor enthusiast in Edmonton, is skeptical that removing launch days will fully solve congestion problems on the website.
"They're really trying to spread out that initial tidal wave, and I can see why they're doing that, but all that really is going to solve is that initial wave," she said.
She anticipates campers looking to book holiday weekend sites will still be competing for website access and she doubts the user experience for frequent campers like herself will be better overall.
"I used to actually book the day off work, write out all my campsites, have a priority, book it all in one day and be done with it for the first 90 days," she said.
"Now it's going to be this constant, steady reminder going off every weekend that I need to book."
Burgess said the booking website will still use a queue system to manage users and the site received several technical upgrades this year to improve performance.