Even before the pandemic-driven spike in visits to campsites, securing a spot at some of Ontario’s provincial parks can be as challenging as trying to get tickets to a Justin Bieber concert. Though online reservations have made the booking process more straightforward, it’s also increased competition—so much so that Ontario Parks decided to limit the number of nights you can book at popular parks.
For most parks, reservations for campsites and roofed accommodations open at 7 a.m., five months out from the first day of your trip—so if you’re looking to camp over May long weekend, that’s as early as the end of December. Here are some tips to guarantee you get the reservation you want for your summer adventure.
Prep your device in advance
Earlier this year, Ontario Parks revamped their website and reservation system to make it more streamlined—and they’ve even published a guide on how to prepare your device for online booking, whether it be a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop.
- Make sure your browser, software, and all applications are up to date. This may seem basic, but if you’ve ever had the experience of trying to join a Zoom meeting only to have Zoom suddenly run an update, you know how frustrating it can be. The Ontario Parks site is compatible with Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, and Safari. Also, check that your browser’s privacy settings allow pop-ups, just in case—and be mindful that private browsing mode or ‘incognito’ may mess up the process.
- Clear your internet cache beforehand. A full cache (the data on your browser of recently visited websites) can slow down your browser and computer. Clear it before you start.
Have your key info on hand
Depending on the reservation type, you may need the license plate numbers of the cars at the campsite, the names and addresses of guests joining you, and your credit card/payment information. Also, if you have a Seasonal Day-Use Permit, you may want to have that on hand; consider purchasing one if you visit the parks often.
Sign up for availability notifications
Despite careful planning and preparation, some Ontario parks book up fast, and you may not get the site you want. It’s definitely worth it to sign up for email notifications for availability at a specific park; as Parks staff note, cancellations often happen, many last minute.
Cancelling or shortening a trip
The minimum cost of cancelling or shortening a trip is $7.95 plus HST. However, it goes up from there based on a tiered system which you can see here. You also have the option to transfer a reservation to someone else if you can’t make it.
Other key tips:
- Make use of the ‘similar experiences’ feature. Introduced this year, this feature aims to give visitors similar options if the campsite or trip they usually do is booked up. Take the leap and try a new adventure!
- Set a reminder to book your daily vehicle permit. In 2021, Ontario’s busiest parks introduced this requirement, and they still apply even if you’re arriving for an overnight stay. You can reserve it up to five days before the first date of your trip, online or by phone. It’s easy to forget, especially if you book months in advance, so set a calendar reminder—and remember that a Seasonal Day-Use Pass doesn’t automatically come with a spot; you still need to book.
- Try a park in Northern Ontario. Some of the most beautiful, secluded, and easier-to-reserve parks are just a couple of hours north of the more popular Central Ontario. Try places like Sleeping Giant, Pancake Bay, or Quetico, which have stunning lakes, beaches, backcountry sites, and are far less crowded than Algonquin or Sandbanks.
- When in doubt, pick up the phone. Parks staff still encourage folks to call if they’re having trouble with the online system (1-888-668-7275). You can still make reservations this way, and if you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, it may be better to speak with a staff member.
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