COVID-19 created a record rush to provincial campgrounds in 2020, and Alberta Parks doesn't expect the numbers to ease at all this year when online bookings open on March 4.
Alberta Environment and Parks says last year was the busiest camping season the province has seen to date. Alberta's 250 campgrounds saw 288,000 total reservations in 2020, up from 193,000 in 2019, and the province is expecting similar numbers this year.
There will be more availability, though, as Alberta Parks has enhanced COVID-19 measures to allow campgrounds to operate at 100 per cent capacity for the entire season. In 2020, campgrounds were at 50 per cent capacity for the first month before increasing to 100 per cent in early July.
Meanwhile, anyone looking to book a spot at a national park in Alberta will have to wait until April.
"We purposely are not opening reservations until April 9 because people will have a better idea of what is going on with respect to COVID-19," said Jasper National Park spokesman Steve Young, adding "We usually open reservations in January."
On the heels of 2020, which saw the Jasper campgrounds running at about 95 per cent capacity, Young said they expect interest to be high again this year.
While all 38 campgrounds will be operating in 2021, the Whistlers site is not expected to be ready until mid-summer. The first campground scheduled to open will be Wapiti on May 5. Group camping is not allowed.
Young urged all those planning to book a campground to create an account before going online.
“We’ve been told that people compare it to trying to get tickets for a big concert.”
Another suggestion from Young was to encourage those travelling to Jasper to include two-wheeled transportation.
"Bring your bikes to Jasper. We have a real good trail system and it is easier to practise social distancing."
A privately run RV park just north of Cochrane is anticipating a busy season in 2021.
"It'll be a little more predictable this year," said Sean Veraart, owner/operator of Spring Hill RV campground, adding COVID-19 protocols are still in effect but now allow showers and a children's play area to be open.
"We had mostly locals coming here last year so we will continue with our Staycation package. With the border closed there are no Americans coming here," Veraart said.
Edmonton's Bill Burnett, an avid camper who is also general manager of Trailblazer RV, is looking forward to enjoying the outdoors in 2021.
"We stayed in Wabamun and Jasper last year. We haven't booked yet this year."
Burnett said he and his wife, Mandy, plan to load up their SUV and 15-foot trailer by mid-June.
"Once we are sure all of our customers are taken care of, we'll head out," said Burnett.
When camping, they follow COVID-19 protocols, saying, “having your own washroom and camp site make social distancing much easier."
Burnett added, “Of course the circle around the campfire is a little larger to keep social distance from family."
Similarly, all measures at provincial parks introduced last year will remain in effect for 2021.
Most shower facilities will remain closed and shared sites with shared amenities like picnic tables and fire pits will have one half of the site closed. While comfort camping is available, group camping will be closed.
Alberta Parks also announced there will be greater enforcement this year.
"Alberta’s government agencies will have increased boots on the ground to strengthen public safety and environmental protection,” stated a government release.
Online reservation for camping opens March 4 for individual campsites for arrival dates up to 90 days in advance. Comfort camping reservations open March 5 for arrival dates up to 180 days in advance. Sites can be booked at https://reserve.albertaparks.ca/ or by calling 1-877-537-2757. Backcountry camping is currently open for bookings online.
For details on all booking in national parks, go to https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/reserve or call 1-877-737-3783
Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Google News Initiative.