Ontario Parks to restrict campsite bookings next summer

Illuminated tent on a campsite in the forest at night in a provincial park Photo by Bastian Sander/Shutterstock

Campsites in Ontario have become hot commodities, especially since the pandemic sent city dwellers scrambling for the outdoors. To accommodate the influx of campers, Ontario Parks has announced that it will be limiting the number of nights an individual can book a campsite at its provincial parks during summer months.

Previously, campers were able to book sites for a maximum of 23 days, but starting in 2023, Ontario Parks will limit the maximum stay in its more popular destinations to seven or 14 nights, depending on the park.

The limited stay will be in effect from July 1 to the Saturday of the Labour Day long weekend, and does not pertain to backcountry camping or roofed accommodations, only campground campsites.

The government agency says its goal is to provide more people with access to summer campsites, especially as interest grows. In 2014, Ontario Parks recorded 4.3 million camper nights. In 2021, that number grew to 6.6 million camper nights. This initiative will provide more booking dates, accommodating a greater diversity of campers.

“I’m really glad they made that decision because it’s going to make it easier for a lot of people to get campsites,” says Michele Craig, a camper who books sites four to five times each summer.

Some of Craig’s favourite parks include Algonquin, Arrowhead, and Grundy Lake, but she’s struggled in the past to book sites. In 2019, Craig booked a campsite in Bon Echo, but hasn’t managed to get one since. “That one’s very hard to get into,” she says.

By limiting the number of nights people can stay, Craig says she also hopes it puts an end to people overbooking. “You can start your booking five months before your arrival date,” she says. “So, people would book the whole 23 days when they only wanted the week at the end. And then they would start reducing their reservation.”

This way, people have a guaranteed three-week block, giving them more choice over which days they want to camp. But it also prevents others from booking those days. Craig says she found that it’s easier to book a campsite three to four months before her arrival date when the individuals who book the three-week blocks cancel the days they don’t want.

Sometimes—to avoid the cancellation fee, which can be as much as 50 per cent of the campsite’s total fee—these individuals resell the dates on other sites, such as Facebook. This way, the individual only has to pay the transfer fee, which is $7.52, Craig says. This also prevents the dates from going back into the system and being fairly distributed among everyone.

Craig says she does feel bad for the people who do stay for the full 23 days, especially those who use it as their summer vacation. “But unfortunately, that’s the game that has been played,” she says, “and I’m glad [Ontario Parks] is taking action.”

In a discussion on the Algonquin Parks Facebook page, one user, who’s supportive of the change, points out that prior to July 1 and after Labour Day, 23-day bookings are still allowed. “Learned to love camping in September/October, [because] I could never get a site earlier than that. I do book 3 weeks, but I actually stay 3 weeks,” the post says. Plus, the nightly limit only applies to certain Ontario Parks.

“I’m feeling positive about the change,” Craig says. “And I know that the reason is just that our parks are so beautiful and popular, and it’s not hard to see why.”

Maximum 7-night stay

  • Algonquin
  • Bon Echo
  • Killbear
  • Pinery
  • Sandbanks

Maximum 14-night stay

  • Arrowhead
  • Awenda
  • Balsam Lake
  • Bass Lake
  • Blue Lake
  • Bonnechere
  • Charleston Lake
  • Chutes
  • Craigleith
  • Darlington
  • Driftwood
  • Earl Rowe
  • Emily
  • Esker Lakes
  • Fairbank
  • Finlayson Point
  • Fitzroy
  • Fushimi Lake
  • Grundy Lake
  • Halfway Lake
  • Inverhuron
  • Ivanhoe Lake
  • Kap-Kig-Iwan
  • Kettle Lakes
  • Killarney
  • Lake St. Peter
  • Lake Superior
  • Long Point
  • MacGregor Point
  • Mara
  • Marten River
  • McRae Point
  • Mikisew
  • Mississagi
  • Murphys Point
  • Nagagamisis
  • Neys
  • Oastler Lake
  • Pancake Bay
  • Point Farms
  • Port Burwell
  • Presqu’ile
  • Quetico
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Rene Brunelle
  • Restoule
  • Rideau River
  • Rock Point
  • Rondeau
  • Rushing River
  • Samuel de Champlain
  • Sauble Falls
  • Selkirk
  • Sharbot Lake
  • Sibbald Point
  • Silent Lake
  • Silver Lake
  • Six Mile Lake
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Sturgeon Bay
  • Turkey Point
  • Wheatley
  • Windy Lake

Maximum 23-night stay

  • Aaron
  • Arrow Lake
  • Bronte Creek
  • Caliper Lake
  • Ferris
  • Kakabeka Falls
  • MacLeod
  • Missinaibi
  • Ojibway
  • Pakwash
  • Sandbar Lake
  • Silver Falls
  • Sioux Narrows
  • Voyageur
  • Wakami Lake
  • White Lake

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