The events were foreshadowed on social media. Images and jokes were circulating around about Ontario residents waiting at the computer with their finger on the mouse, keen to reserve a summer adventure with just a click. Alas, when the click faces the clock, there’s a lot working against you to get a spot.
In an attempt to book some accommodation for my family this summer in Killarney Provincial Park, I found myself at the computer screen, site selected, credit card ready. Like most all other sites right now, they must be booked five months in advance due to the incredible volume.
I was like many who sat with a cup of coffee by the screen at 6:59 a.m., in order to click and reserve a spot at 7 a.m. for sometime in July. The clock strikes the hour, and I click. As quickly as I clicked, I became one of the many who felt the quiet nothingness to follow, accompanied by a pop-up window saying ‘Site occupied,’ although we all know it wasn’t just seconds ago.
The good news is that your trip hasn’t capsized just yet. The COVID days have caused us to adapt and get creative as things change quickly. Faced with a new-found demand for nature in Ontario citizens, we see unforeseen numbers of people going online to book. The Ontario Parks system is filling up fast, and in many cases, it’s already full into summer bookings.
On Feb 23, Ontario Parks posted that 58,475 reservations were made in the first few weeks of the year. In 2020 last year, pre-pandemic, it was only 29,504 reservations for the same period, nearly doubling the number.
I believe I see what’s going on. With the uncertainty of lockdowns looming almost a year after the first one, Ontario residents are grasping at their local provincial options as the inviting warm weather rounds the corner. I can’t blame them. People want to get out and breathe fresh air, try new activities, and be with loved ones in less controlled outdoor settings. It’s going to be very competitive, and not just for prime spots, but all available spots.
If you find yourself discouraged, either before or after trying the Ontario Parks system, there are some other outdoor avenues you can consider which can provide just as valuable an outdoor experience.
Firstly, check out the many local conservation areas in Ontario. Each region of the province has such a legislative body, and many of them here in Southern Ontario have a handful of conservation areas which offer family-friendly camping. They are usually similar in style to many of the provincial parks, but they are often more quaint. Based on COVID closures, be sure to check if the local conservation authority is offering such camping experiences, as it may differ region to region.
There are also plenty of private campground options available out there. Sometimes they operate much like an organized park, but they might be family-owned and provide unique, exquisite camping sites. Furthermore, many of these private camps might be close to nature access points. Some properties have private hiking trails available to their guests, or they might be adjacent to the Bruce Trail or a popular canoe access point.
While I write this, I recollect some good experiences with rural Airbnbs, where you are sometimes offered the camping option at the back of someone’s 40 acres. These may be properties where guests have total privacy and can have a fun night of tenting under the stars.
Of course, there is also the exciting adventure of back-country or crown land camping. With designated back-country spots also being booked at an astonishing rate, there is the option to access crown land and camp like an explorer. Of course, this requires serious preparation, and considerations before attempting, but it may be a new and healthy, challenging option for adventurers who want to try something new.
There is also an opportunity for some of us to reach out to family and friends who might have large, wild properties. I’ve always been a firm believer that you can achieve the camping feel-good basics right in your own backyard if done right. Having said that, not everybody has a backyard or access to large, natural spaces. So, if you know someone who might own such property (and you haven’t seen them in ages), maybe ask if you and the family or some friends can do a backyard campout in the forest or down by the creek in their backyard.
At this rate, it doesn’t look like our indoor life is going to get much more lively in the near future, so we best be prepared to navigate the new wave of those trying to get outside, plus the benefits and challenges that come with this.