KINGSTON, ONT. -- There has been a massive surge in bookings at Ontario provincial parks in the first two months of the year, as Ontarians plan for another summer under the pandemic.

Ontario Parks says they’ve seen demand nearly double over this time last year, with almost 60,000 bookings in the last few weeks, compared to 30,000 this time last year.

The popularity of the sites during the pandemic has many residents scrambling for a coveted spot.

Angus Howieson says he managed to book four nights for his family in July at Sandbanks Provinical Park, but it wasn’t easy.

“It was just panic city,” he told CTV News Ottawa.

Howieson said that after a failed attempt at getting a spot the day before, he enlisted the help of several members of his family.

“We had six people and eleven computers going all at the same time,” he laughed. “At 6:59:59 people were booking sites, that’s the time to press enter. It was like a booking high, everybody was just so excited that day. The whole mood had changed from night to day.”

He said he witnessed first hand the popularity of the provincial park last year, and didn’t want to let this season slip away.

“We were absolutely trying to prepare ourselves as best we could,” he said. “Going into the July timeframe, when it’s normally more difficult to get sites, that we were just preparing ourselves for the worst, so we just loaded our guns the best way we could to try to increase our opportunities.”

Advice for Campers

Interested campers can book their spots up to five months in advance on the Ontario Parks website.

Parks officials warn that popular destinations like Sandbanks and Algonquin Park are already quickly being snapped up, so they have some tips:

Plan in advance and book early: More than half of the reservations made between Jan. 1 and March 31 are for Ontario’s five busiest parks, write officials.

Those include Algonquin Provincial Park, Sandbanks Provincial Park, Killbear Provinicial Park, Pinery Provincial Park, and Bon Echo Provincial Park.

“Our online reservation system opens at 7:00 a.m., five months in advance of the first date of your trip. If you want the best chance of getting your dream site, pick your campsite in advance, prep your device, and book as soon as the window opens.”

Try a new park: The site has a list of lesser-known provincial parks for you to consider. 

Book late: There are thousands of cancellations each year, so try to grab up those last minute spots after some people cancel their plans.

Be flexible: “The more flexible you’re able to be about campsite specifics, the easier you’ll find it to land a campsite, especially at a busy park or during a busy weekend,” reads the site.

Try a weekday and avoid the high season: “Campsites and cabin/yurt rentals book quickly on weekends, holidays, and during peak vacation times (July/August). However, we often have top-quality cabins and campsites (including electrical sites) sitting empty during the week, particularly in the spring and fall.”