Sick of pandemic lockdowns, eager campers flood Ontario park-reservation sites

·3 min read
Dreaming of a summer getaway after weeks of winter lockdown? You're not alone. Ontario Parks says bookings in the first part of the year nearly doubled as people look to staycation close to home this summer.  (CBC - image credit)
Dreaming of a summer getaway after weeks of winter lockdown? You're not alone. Ontario Parks says bookings in the first part of the year nearly doubled as people look to staycation close to home this summer. (CBC - image credit)

Ontario Parks said it's seeing a sudden surge of people looking for campsites, with bookings nearly doubling in the first few weeks of this year.

The provincial parks service said bookings jumped from 29,504 in the first few weeks of 2020 to 58,475 for the same period this year, a potential sign that after weeks of lockdown and a delayed March break, people are yearning for some type of getaway to relieve a collective cabin fever.

"We really like camping, and, obviously, with COVID, nothing is going to open up," said Gary Cunliffe, a London, Ont., man who has been trying to snag a campsite in July for his family for weeks.

Campsites at Ontario parks can be booked up to five months in advance. The parks service starts taking online bookings each day at 7 a.m. ET.

Cunliffe and his wife have spent every morning on their respective devices, fingers hovering over the "reserve now" button. The problem is, they aren't alone.

"You hope that you're the one that's going to be chosen," he said. "For the past week and a half, we have been met with, 'Sorry that site has already been booked.'

"It's been frustrating, but I kind of get what's happening out there."

Ontario Parks offers tips on beating the crowds

It's the latest chapter in a pandemic that can be partly told through the shortages. From early days of grocery store shelves devoid of toilet paper to scant supplies of trampolines and pools in the summer and fitness equipment in the fall.

And the Ontario numbers — provincial park officials say there is an almost 100 per cent increase in reservations over the same time last year — are mirrored in much of the country.

Many of Quebec's provincial campgrounds have been largely booked as well, especially those closer to urban areas. Alberta is opening its online reservation system next week and B.C. the following week.

Bookings for Ontario campsites, such as Rondeau Provincial Park in Chatham-Kent, jumped from 29,504 in the first few weeks of 2020 to 58,475 for the same period this year. It's a trend seen in other provinces, too, as people look forward to being out of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Bookings for Ontario campsites, such as Rondeau Provincial Park in Chatham-Kent, jumped from 29,504 in the first few weeks of 2020 to 58,475 for the same period this year. It's a trend seen in other provinces, too, as people look forward to being out of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Demand is so strong, Ontario Parks even published a list of tips to help people who are having no luck beating the crowds.

"With double the number of customers attempting to make reservations during the months of July and August compared to last year, it is more competitive when trying to obtain a site," the parks service website said.

"In many instances, there can be hundreds of customers vying for the same site for the same arrival date."

Among the tips are avoiding Algonquin, Killbear, Pinery, Sandbanks and Bon Echo provincial parks and choosing less-popular parks.

It also recommends camping in spring or fall and, where possible, booking early. If booking early fails, it recommends leaving booking to the last minute.

"Our parks get thousands of cancellations every year, many at the last minute. Savvy campers keep a close eye on the reservation system, ready to snatch up newly available sites," the website says.

For Cunliffe, two weeks of getting up early and trying to book on multiple devices finally paid off. He said his family managed to find a site at one of their favourite campgrounds in Pinery Provincial Park.

"We just got a site in late July for two weeks this morning," he said Thursday.