How to snag an Ontario Parks reservation
You’ve heard about how hard it is to book 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 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.
On February 9th at 8am reservations for Camp Henry launched!
By 8:30am there were 695 reservations.
By 9:00am there were 844 reservations.
In total, 999 reservations were taken!
If you were not able to get a reservation, please check back for cancellations throughout the year: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/reserve
There is still availability from September 2022 to March 2023.
– Point Pelee National Park, Parks Canada, February 13, 2022
“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.
I had great luck in 2021 – despite cancelled bookings due to lockdowns, finishing the year with 8 Ontario Parks trips.
For 2022, I switched from glamping to camping in increase my chances at booking at site.
I chose from 19 parks and parklands near me to make a list of 36 campgrounds with up to half a dozen sites I liked at each.
My selections include walk-ins, beginner backpacking and paddle-in sites – my overzealous approach to booking sites when available has led to a reservation almost every week from May until mid-August.
The following tips helped me reserve most of the sites I desired. There isn’t a magic formula, but here’s what I know:
1. Rethink Annual Trip Locations
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 will be operating at (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.
Keep in mind: Sandbanks, Algonquin, Pinery, Killbear, and Bon Echo have the highest demand of any provincial park for reservations.
2. Flexible travel dates and destinations
Keep your dates and sites open to change, and peruse more than one Ontario Parks to book your getaway.
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!
Trying to book weekdays during the height of summer isn’t going to work well at the most popular parks. Adjust your expectations, amend your destination, and you may find a premium site that’s perfect for you.
Make a list! I made a list of a dozen 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.
Look for alternate locations such as Conservation Ontario, North Frontenac Parklands, Parks of the St. Lawrence, and Algonquin Highlands.
3. Use Ontario Parks Notifications
Are you stuck on a particular location? Ontario Parks has introduced a notifications system for campgrounds, so you’ll be notified if a spot becomes available at your chosen park but it is not site-specific nor campground-specific. If you’re open to any campsite, then sign up to be notified when someone cancels their reservation – and see a list of what’s available through your OP account.
4. 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 but they won’t always pan out. Have a backup plan.
5A. 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.
5B. Ontario Parks Game: 715AM | Take two
Any incomplete reservations added to carts at 700am are released into the system 15 minutes later. If someone did not finalize 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.
6. Look for Last-Minute Cancellations
If you don’t utilize the Ontario Parks notification system, bookmark a selection of dates and campgrounds at various Ontario Parks to click through when you think of it and look for openings.
You may have heard that some reservations are being made in blocks of 23 days (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 opens 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.
7. 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.
8. If you see it, snag it
Don’t question if you should book those few days you just spotted on the reservations site, just do it.
9. Go Camping During Bug Season
Sure, this is an unpopular option for many, but if your desire to glamp and camp is persistent, consider sharing the park with biting bugs like I am. I booked sites at the most popular provincial parks for June when the sites in July fully booked up in a matter of minutes.
10. Walk, Hike, Paddle
Yes, the competition is tough for walk-in and interior sites, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be on your radar or that you shouldn’t try a new adventure.
This approach has filled up my calendar with car camping on the beach, plus 4 walk-ins, 5 backpacking and 3 paddle-in camping trips.
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!