How to snag an Ontario Parks reservation

You’ve read on social media and in the news about how hard it is to snag a site, so what’s the deal?

When there are increasing stressors in our lives, people choose nature therapy to restore balance.

Time outdoors positively impacts mental health, so after stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, everybody is ready #optoutside.

This means there is a higher demand for glamping, camping, and backcountry site reservations.

When Ontario Park reviewed the number of reservations made between January and March, they discovered the increase was more than double compared to bookings during the previous year.

Check out Ontario Parks’ Twitter post: in the first few weeks of 2021!

“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,” says Ontario Parks. 

“In many instances, there can be hundreds of customers vying for the same site for the same arrival date.”

I’ve always had difficulty booking roofed accommodations, so I felt fortunate to book one glampsite in 2020 when I couldn’t secure a reservation in previous years. Despite the challenges, I had great luck in 2021 – despite cancelled bookings due to lockdowns.

These are my tips. This approach helped me reserve most of the glampsites and campsites I desired.

2021 Glampsite Bookings

2022 Camp/Glampsite Bookings

There isn’t a magic formula, but here’s what I know:

1. Rethink Annual Trips

Increased demand means you can no longer count on your usual sites and dates to be available.

I’ve read dozens of comments from campers who expect the same site and dates to be available year after year for annual trips. While it must be wonderful to have these long-standing traditions, what it means for Ontario Parks is that they are not operating at capacity, which is not sustainable.

I’m happy that Ontario Parks’s overnight facilities will be operating with almost 100% occupancy, even with higher competition for sites. It’s not good for anyone who has come to love the quiet of semi-full campgrounds, but it is great for the parks.

2. Flexible travel dates

Tying into point #1, when searching for availability, keep your dates and sites open to change, and peruse more than one Ontario Parks to book your getaway.

3. You can book 5 months ahead of time

If you’re lucky enough to know when you’ll have time off, early bookings are your best option.

4. Be flexible with Ontario Parks campgrounds

You’ll have better chances at securing a booking if you open your search to include multiple parks – and understand that the top Ontario Parks will have stiff competition for prime sites!

Make a list! I made a list of 10 Ontario Parks, with at least three sites or more from walk-in, backpacking & paddling sites at each destination so that I’m more likely to find a reservation.

If I only consider a few sites at Ontario Parks (as in previous years) I’m more likely to be disappointed.

5. Look for Cancellations

Bookmark a selection of dates and campgrounds at various Ontario Parks to click through when you think of it.

You may have heard that some reservations are being made in blocks of three weeks (the maximum allowed at one site) and at later dates, these bookings are reduced to the time actually needed. I know it’s frustrating to think that someone is holding onto your campsite, but this is one way that last-minute availability at campgrounds can open up.

I had almost given on glamping in July and August. I had checked regularly for availability when I came across a few cancellations. By the time I’d completed my first reservation, the other glampsites were taken.

Cancellations and consequent bookings happen fast; you’ll only be rewarded if you look. Often.

6. Use Ontario Parks Notifications

Ontario Parks has introduced a notifications system for campgrounds, so you’ll be notified if a spot becomes available but is not site-specific. If you’re open to any campsite, then sign up to be notified when someone cancels their reservation.

7A. Ontario Parks Game: 700AM

What is the best advice for winning this lottery? I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve played but I’ve won, twice.

Log in, get everything ready and don’t refresh the reservations page once your campsite is loaded as you’ll risk a timeout connection as everyone is logging on at the same time.

I counted with the system time (you’ll see the link at the top of the reservations screen) 58.. 59… 700 clicking as I spoke and successfully booked a glampsite for late September. I’ve clicked to reserve a site so often that I didn’t expect anything to happen but, for the first time since playing the games, the block turned into a blue shopping cart.

I can tell you that if you don’t see that blue shopping cart within 5 seconds of clicking, you probably lost – if you refresh at this point, the whole page might crash… that’s how you know you really lost it. 🤣

I’ve heard that clearing your cache works, tried it a dozen times but it didn’t seem to make a difference when I tried.

8B. Ontario Parks Game: 715AM | Take two

Sometimes what was fully booked at 700am is released into the system when carts are purged 15 minutes later. If someone did not complete their reservation, this is your opportunity to grab it. I read about this in a CBC news article.

Personally, I have not had luck with the 715AM Game but that’s because I have become distracted by then.

8. Are bots ruining my chances?

Maybe, at one time.

The people trying to book sites daily far outnumber the possibility of registered accounts whose bots are booking Ontario Parks sites for them. As far I’ve discovered, only one bot, Camping Bot, claimed to be able to book Ontario Parks sites on a Kijiji ad – which has been taken down and the linked website is no longer live.

All other mentions, as far as I can tell, are hearsay. I might it’s easier to blame a computer program, and it certainly doesn’t help that multiple sources are reporting about bots when there may have been only one – and that’s even up for debate.

Try and accept that dozens of people (if not hundreds) are trying to book the same spot as you and that hundreds more are on the Ontario Parks system reserving other sites at 700am.

P.S. Ontario Parks has introduced fines for anyone who ‘sells’ OP’s campsite reservations at a profit.

10. If you see it, snag it

Don’t question if you should reserve those few days you just spotted on the reservations site, just do it.

When I came back from my one and only Ontario Parks trip in 2020, I had an inkling that the demand was only going to increase as the months ticked by. My family probably grew bored of my predictions. I may have talked obsessively about how much harder it was going to be to book sites in the future and that I should start reserving glampsites when I found them.

I’ve been playing the 700AM game since mid-December and trolled many campgrounds for glampsites.

11. Don’t give up!

Join the Facebook Ontario Parks Cancellations group – members post reservations they need to transfer, cancel – and you can post about sites you’re looking for.

There are only a few rules – be nice to other members and no profits can be made!

Good luck!

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