Reserving Campsites Through Parks Canada
This August, my quest for adventure moved to the incredible National Parks in Alberta, Canada including Jasper and Banff National Park. Planning a backpacking trip is a difficult process for this area because there are so many options! Just choosing amongst the hundreds of itinerary options can be enough to dissuade even the most ambitious adventurers. I had done my research and decided on a basket of different hikes that I wanted to pursue. With these in mind, the next step was to learn about the campsite reservation process.
Park Canada has a online reservation service they use to book all campsite reservations. Having a completely online process has its pros and cons. On the one hand, anyone can have instant access to site availability. But with online services, you lose the flexibility of working with a human that can put together a complex plan. I had a lot of issues booking my reservations through Parks Canada. The online process is flawed, and those that don't understand how the website works are prone to spending copious amounts of that hard earned cash on change fees and other harsh financial penalties.
HOW TO RESERVE CAMPSITES THROUGH PARKS CANADA
Backcountry campsite reservations can be made on the Parks Canada Website. You can make reservations for any of Canada's National Parks through this service. After you select the park, type of campground, size of the group, number of tent pads, click to find sites "On a Map" and you will get a screen that looks like this:
This is a very helpful tool to see the availability of the campsites on each day. The markers for each campsite will change from green to red indicating its availability. After you've selected your first night, Step 5 screen will appear like this:
It is really important that for any reservation involving consecutive days, that you select the "Click to add night" button instead of hitting reserve right away. I did not originally see this option and thought I needed to make separate reservations for each night in the park. This was a big mistake.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RESERVING CAMPSITES THROUGH PARKS CANADA
1) Parks Canada Imposes A Lot of Financial Penalties for Changing/Cancelling Reservations
For every "reservation" you make through Parks Canada, you pay an 11 CAN reservation fee. This is a nonrefundable fee. Then if you need to cancel or make changes, you have to pay an additional 11 CAN fee. This would not be a big deal if you only have to make one reservation for the entire trip. The problem is the online system forces you to make separate reservations for any parts of the trip that are separated by either a day or trailhead. A single reservation can only be made for consecutive days along the same route. Make sure to only make one "reservation" for each part of your trip that involves consecutive days inside the same park. Separate reservations are required any time you switch National Parks.
2) Make Reservations AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
I booked my sites for the end of August in mid-April and BARELY was able to get what I wanted. There were plenty of trails that were completely booked already, in particular, the Skyline Trail. Reservations for Parks Canada are available in January, so if at all possible try to have a plan by then so you can get the sites you want.
3) Tent Pads Requirements
Each tent pad is technically allowed to have up to ONE tent and 4 people. This is silly to me because four-man tents are seldom found in the backcountry since they are too bulky. So if you are traveling with 4 people and 2 tents, you will need 2 tent pads. Luckily the cost of the reservation is independent of tent pads, just number of people.
4) Provincial Parks vs. National Parks
Parks Canada site only allows for reservations throughout the different National Parks. Provincial Park reservations need to be made through the individual park's reservation site.
5) Making Changes to Your Reservation
If life happens and you have to make changes or cancel a reservation, know that you can do it online or by phone (877-737-3783). Doing it over the phone causes a greater expense (13.50CAN over the phone vs 11 CAN online). If you have a lot of changes it might be worth doing it over the phone.
After many correspondences with the Canada Park Service, I was able to remedy my mistake of making separate reservations for each night. They were extremely helpful. Hopefully, this quick guide will help you navigate the proper use of the Parks Canada Reservation Service. The planning is always the hardest part, but I absolutely cannot wait for this next adventure!