Have you booked your camping trips for the season yet? We have been in the midst of planning and booking sites at Ontario Parks these last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d share a few tips we follow for booking a site in our provincial parks.
If you are a back country or crown land camper, you don’t need to worry about registering far in advance as much as the rest of us. But if you plan on staying in an Ontario Parks organized campground you need to plan ahead and get yourself booked to avoid disappointment later in the summer. This year, in particular, you may need a little more planning. With Canada 150 and Ontario 150 celebrations happening across the province, I’ve been hearing a lot more about people wanting to get outside in our parks.
1) Be aware that Ontario Parks and Canada Parks are run by two different governments and have two different registration systems.
2) Consider trying a place you’ve never been or is a little farther than you would normally travel.
Ontario boasts more than 100 parks, but if I asked you for the name of the first park that pops into your mind, there is a good chance your answer would be one of the “top five”:
- The Pinery
- Bon Echo
That makes these campgrounds some of the most difficult to reserve – especially if you haven’t planned 5 months in advance.
3) Do your research in advance and choose your park and campsite BEFORE the registration date opens.
One of the best features of the Ontario Parks reservation site is the availability of photos for each campsite. Pay attention to the site description and compare it to the photo to be sure the site is right for you.
4) Have a first, second and third choice of campsites.
Competition for great sites is fierce, especially for sites that are beside water. By having three choices planned in advance you have a good chance of securing a site that meets your needs when you log on to register. Over the last two years we have rarely been able to book our first choice site. But because we were prepared, we were happy with our second or third choice sites.
5) Set-up your Ontario Parks Reservations account BEFORE the date you plan to register for a site.
In the time it takes for you to register your account (just a couple of minutes) you could lose your first, second and third choice site to someone who was more prepared. Being familiar with the site and registration system will allow you to make your booking faster.
6) Book exactly five months before your departure date.
It amazes me how often I hear people talk about going camping in some of the most popular parks in the province just a few days before they plan to arrive, and they haven’t booked a site. I’ve also been a witness to far too many people who have driven hours to go camping, only to be turned away from a park office registration desk because the campground was full and they didn’t have a pre-registration.
Mark the reservation date on your calendar. Turn on notifications for a reminder. Don’t forget!
7) Get up early and log in to the Ontario Parks Reservation System before the reservations open.
The system “opens” at 7 am, but you can log on to the website and be on the reservation page earlier.
What if advanced booking is not possible? Sometimes it’s tricky to book your trip five months in advance. Sometimes you find yourself at the last minute with a free weekend to go camping.
8) Starting in May, you can find out which parks have available sites on the Ontario Parks Campsite Vacancies page before hitting the road or trying to book that last minute reservation.
While most of the time we get the sites we want on the days we want, it is never guaranteed. In fact, we had to make some snap decisions at 7 am on Sunday morning to ensure one trip we have planned actually happens. We didn’t get our first or second choice of a site, but at least we know we have a place to lay our heads when we get to the park.