Couple sits at a picnic table drinking coffee next to a dog

Why Ontario Parks moved to 100% reservable car campsites

In October, Ontario Parks updated our reservation system and are offering new and exciting services to our visitors. One of the biggest changes is that all our car campsites are now fully reservable — no more first-come, first-served sites.

Most of our visitors are excited by this change, and so are we. We heard overwhelmingly that our customers prefer having a reservation in advance, so they know for sure that they have a campsite before they show up.

However, there have also been some questions from our visitors who enjoyed the first-come, first-served option, and what this change means for them.

Here are the most common questions we’ve encountered so far:

How many campsites does this affect?

The vast majority of our car campsites were already reservable. Historically, 85-100% were reservable up to five months in advance of the arrival date.

Exact figures varied from park to park, and some did not offer non-reservable sites (first-come, first-served) at all.

Why did we make this change?

In the last decade, Ontario Parks has seen an increase in reservations and a decrease in the occupancy of our first come, first served sites. Many of our non-reservable campsites were being left vacant.

Many visitors didn’t want to gamble on first come, first served sites. It’s frustrating and stressful to buy supplies, load up your car or RV, and travel long to a park, only to find no campsites available.

This kept many people home.

Empty campsite in the summer

The non-reservable campsites also caused confusion and frustration in some of our visitors who did not understand why they could not call ahead to secure a first come, first served site.

This new system will solve these problems by showing our visitors when and where there are openings, and allow them to lock down their campsite before hitting the road.

Prefer a truly last minute trip? Ask your navigator to flip open their phone and book a site en route and in real time.

Can I still show up without a reservation?

Absolutely!

We understand that many of our visitors don’t know their vacation schedule five months in advance. Others may simply prefer to travel spontaneously.

While encouraged, there is no requirement to reserve ahead of time. Where we have availability, Ontario Parks will continue to accommodate last-minute arrivals who don’t have reservations.

A couple checking in at the front counter

Reservations are available online or through the reservation call centre at 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275) up to and including the day of arrival.

Doesn’t this mean that my favourite park is going to fill up and I won’t be able to get a site on short notice?

It depends on your favourite park.

With the exception of long weekends, many parks have vacancies all summer long.

Additionally, cancellations are common, and sites that were previously booked often become available. That means it’s important to keep an eye on our reservations page, even if the park looks like it’s fully booked the first time you check.

Arial shot of a group with several tents on the sand
Long Point Provincial Park

If your favourite park does happen to be full when you want to visit, we have over 100 other camping parks in our system that would be happy to accommodate you. It’s a great chance to try out a new park tradition!

When Bon Echo is full, you might want to check out Murphys Point Provincial Park or Charleston Lake Provincial Park. If it’s Killbear, then Sturgeon Bay (with its easy access to Georgian Bay) or Six Mile Lake are great options.

Check out this article for more ideas.

Yes, but didn’t the previous system ensure that my favourite park would never fill up and I could always get a spot?

Not necessarily.

Even with our old system, there was never any guarantee that you could arrive at a park and have a site available. If others arrived before you and there was nothing left, then we were not able to accommodate you.

This same principle applies with our new system. You are still able to make last-minute or spontaneous trips to our most popular parks; you just now have the option to check online or call ahead of time to see if campsites are open.

Does this change apply to backcountry camping as well?

No. While all backcountry parks are now online, there continue to be different types of bookings depending on where you camp.

Every backcountry park will offer either full reservation or advance registration.

Two individuals next to a tent and one standing by a lake
Lake Superior Provincial Park

Please visit our backcountry webpage, or the specific page of the park you would like to visit, for more information.

Reserve now

Ontario Parks strives to meet customer needs and address all concerns. We assure you that we will continue to ensure the reservation service policies are fair for everyone.

To make a reservation today, please visit our reservation service online or call us at 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275).