Provincial officials are expecting thousands at Alberta parks and campsites this weekend and are urging visitors to be mindful of COVID-19 restrictions, wildlife, and garbage left behind.
Alberta Environment and Parks said that about 161,000 campsite reservations were made across the province as of May 20 — more than double the 74,000 reservations made on the same date before the pandemic in 2019.
Kanananskis Country Area Manager Debbie Mucha said that despite a drop in temperatures and precipitation in the long weekend forecast, campsites in her region are in extremely high demand.
"It's a little bit chilly out there, but we know Albertans want to get out and about," Mucha said.
"It's going to be quite busy."
She is hoping that avalanche risks, bear activity, littering and COVID-19 health restrictions like physical distancing will be top of mind for Albertans.
"We want everyone to be mindful of COVID-19 guidelines," Mucha said. "But we're also asking visitors to plan ahead."
How to plan ahead
This involves bringing extra personal items like masks and sanitizer — but be prepared to pack out what you pack in, Mucha said.
Garbage should go into proper bins to avoid trash on the trails.
Parks Canada staff and hikers alike noticed more litter on trails and in campsites last summer, likely due to increased use.
"Litter was definitely a concern across the province," Mucha said. "It's quite easy, when you're traveling inside a park or to the outdoors, to just bring some extra garbage bags."
Traffic and parking congestion is likely, so have a few destinations in mind, and consider visiting during off-times.
Avalanche risks are present in some parks around the province, so check forecasts before you go.
And be mindful of the wildlife that is now returning to the landscape — particularly bears, Mucha said.
"Carry bear spray, have it safely stored, have it accessible, and especially know how to use it when you're recreating outdoors," she said.
Banff braces for visitors, RCMP prepares to enforce sober driving
Earlier this week Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, urged Albertans to stay home for the long weekend if they can.
However, she said those heading out for a weekend of camping should stay with members of the same household and make advance preparations — like stocking up on supplies at home — to help minimize contact with others.
Meanwhile, Parks Canada said that it was bracing for an influx of visitors to Banff National Park, and only services and activities where health and safety risks can be mitigated will be available.
"While Parks Canada continues to remind the public to follow public health orders that [suggest] staying close to home, Parks Canada must prepare for the possibility of a busy May long weekend in Banff National Park," Parks Canada spokesperson Justin Brisbane said.
"All visitors must follow travel restrictions and respect the guidance of public health experts."
Brisbane said visitors are strongly encouraged to plan ahead and consult Alberta Health Services, Banff National Park and the Town of Banff online for up-to-date information on restrictions.
Alberta RCMP said Tuesday that it will also be patrolling the roads to enforce sober driving this weekend as part of Canada Road Safety Week, a national campaign that aims to curb impaired driving, distracted driving and speeding.
"Last year, Alberta RCMP charged 40 motorists with impairment over the Victoria Day Long weekend alone," Chris Romanchych with Alberta RCMP Traffic Services said in a statement.
"We want to ensure that everyone, wherever they may be travelling over the long weekend, does so safely."