If you can't find a summer cottage rental in Southwestern Ontario and your Plan B is camping, better start thinking of a new backup.
Summer campsites at Ontario Provincial Parks are being snapped up months ahead of time, with some of the most popular times in the region already booked full.
Chalk it up to a second summer of the pandemic's fallout, with traditional vacation travel no longer an option and people with a year of COVID-19 restrictions under their belt thinking far ahead.
“We’re anticipating a really busy 2021 season,” said Megan Loucks, discovery specialist at Pinery Provincial Park. “We’ve noticed a lot more people are trying to book . . . it’s more competitive this year.”
Bookings at Ontario Parks made between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5 nearly doubled over the same time last year, rising to 58,475 reservations provincewide, up from the 29,504 in the same period in 2020.
More than half of the reservations are for the province’s five busiest parks: the Pinery near Grand Bend, Algonquin, Killbear, Sandbanks and Bon Echo.
In Southwestern Ontario, the Canada Day long weekend is already fully booked at the Pinery, Turkey Point, Long Point and Sauble Falls.
While getting a reservation at the Pinery is often difficult during the height of the summer even in a normal year, Loucks said the shoulder season is becoming more popular.
“We definitely noticed an increase in our spring reservations, much like all throughout the year,” she said, adding winter day use has also spiked.
Park bookings open up five months in advance at 7 a.m. each day, but cancellations can free up spots last minute, Loucks said.
Last year brought record numbers to Ontario Parks, with more than 11 million visits for day use or overnight camping.
Loucks said that’s not likely to slow down this summer, as lockdown-weary residents seek safe, outdoor getaways within the province amid the ongoing virus crisis.
“A lot of our visitors are just looking for that outdoor space and being able to get outside and connect with nature,” she said. “I think that has a lot to do with our increased visitation.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press