There’s a bit of good news this year to lessen—slightly—the frustration front-country campers have while trying to reserve their favourite campsite at one of the province’s most beloved parks.
I’ve already mentioned the new rule of only staying seven days rather than the regular 23 at the top five Ontario Parks (Algonquin, Killbear, Pinery, Sandbanks, Bon Echo), as well as 14 days instead of 63 for all 84 parks. This will definitely help more campers grab some of the prime sites that others would hold the entire season, but there are a few more additions that will also help out.
The first is the “Notify Me” button on the Ontario Parks reservation page. When you go to the desired park and discover that the site you want is already booked, go to the upper right-hand corner of the page and click on the “Notify Me” button. The computer system will then email you a notification when there is something available that matches your criteria. Take note, however, that the notification goes to everyone that matches. That’s a lot of people. So be ready to reply and book immediately
Another addition is the “Similar” button. It’s located in the same area of the “Notify Me” button. If you click on it, the system will show you other parks and campsites in the neighbouring area that have similar criteria to what you are looking for.
A helpful button on the reservation page is “Calendar View.” Click on your desired site, then the calendar view button, and you’ll see a calendar showing when that site is available.
Something else to help campers is that when you begin placing in information for your campsite reservation, the computer system holds that site for 15 minutes for you. Make sure you have all the information you need to add (i.e., names of campers, license plate #…). You’ll notice a clock on the upper portion of the screen. Be warned though, once the 15 minutes are up, you’re booted out and will lose your site.
Knowing about the 15-minute interval might be a good thing. If you notice your desired site is taken, wait 15 minutes and try again. Someone might be doing the same thing you are doing—holding a site while looking for a better one. Your site might be open when you re-check at a later time.
If all else fails, there are some alternative options. There is a Facebook Page called “Ontario Parks Cancellations” where people post sites they need to cancel and instead of paying the cancellation fee, they offer it up to other people online. The amount is the same—plus the $7.52 cancellation fee. To ask for more than what the site is worth is unethical and illegal (but it still happens).
CampNab is also an option. The company monitors campgrounds for cancelled reservations and notifies you with a camp alert when a campsite opens up. Prices range from $10 per month to $90 per month, depending on how often you want them to search for you. Some campers love this app, and others think it shouldn’t be allowed for Ontario Parks.