There’s a mad rush for summer campsites in Ontario Parks right now

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, a colder than normal winter and a delayed March break, people are yearning for some type of getaway to relieve a collective cabin fever. 

“We really like campaign 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 must be booked at least five months in advance. The parks service starts taking online bookings each day at 7 a.m. It means Cunliffe and his wife have spent every morning on their respective devices, hovering over the ‘reserve now’ button. The only 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.”

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, then fitness equipment in the fall. Now, it seems, demand for campsites may be the latest reflection of the complicated way we collectively deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ontario Parks offers tips on beating the crowds

Demand for campsites may be the latest reflection of the complicated way we collectively deal with the coronavirus crisis.  (Monique Rose/Facebook)

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.”

In response to the fierce competition, the parks service has published a list of tips to help would-be campers navigate the stampede of people looking to sleep under the stars this summer. 

Among the tips are are avoiding Algonquin, Killbear, Pinery, Sandbanks and Bon Echo Provincial Parks and choosing an alternative, less popular park. 

It also recommends camping in spring or fall and, where possible, booking early. If that doesn’t work, it also recommends booking late. 

“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 parks 

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

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