Obstensibly, camping is an outdoor pursuit, not deserving of discussion on a technology blog such as this. While possibly true in decades past, today booking a campsite is now an escalating arms race between new online booking systems run by National/Provincial/State parks and automated alert systems such as Campnab and Schnerp.
These days, most campsites are reservable months in advance and are often booked solid minutes afterward. Canada parks such Banff and Jasper often have a single time slot to get a reservation, requiring an early morning in the middle of the winter. Provincial campsites are often on rolling windows 60, 90, or 120 days in advance. Naturally weekends, particularly long weekends, book up fastest.
Beyond campsites, the national parks are becoming so overwhelmed they are rationing access to shuttles and even roads. For example, it has long been the case that spots on the bus up to beautiful Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park have been hard to come by. In the past few years, Glacier National Park even started rationing slots to drive the famous Going to the Sun Road.
So given the limited spots and the challenge of booking for a family many months in advance, I’ve discovered that there is a sweet spot about 3-6 weeks in advance of your desired vacation dates. This window is caused by all those folks who woke up early in January realizing their plans don’t line up and having to cancel their prized bookings. These cancellations then appear on the Park’s booking site. You want to snap these up as soon as they become available.
For the last few years, I have used Schnerp to snag spots in both National parks like Waterton, Banff, and Jasper. As well, I’ve used this site for provincial campgrounds in British Columbia and Alberta. For example, this allowed us to camp twice on the shoreline of Two Jack Lake in Banff
For an upcoming trip I planned to Glacier National Park, I relied heavily on Campnab to book cheap stays at campgrounds inside the park. For about $30/night, I was able to avoid $90/night private campgrounds outside the park, and even better avoid $300/night hotels outside the park. Booking a campground inside the park also covers the vehicle registrations for access to relevant roads.
Using Campnab about 2 months in advance we have a week’s worth of camping booked for this summer, despite most people saying one needs to book a full year in advance. As well, we are using an itinerary from a retired Glacier Park Ranger.
Given the overall growing demand for all things these days (inflation anyone), it’s become clear that one needs to employ technilogical assistance in all vactation planning and especially bookings.