CALGARY — Campers logged into their computers, tablets and smartphones bright and early Thursday morning hoping to book their favourite sites in Banff National Park this summer.
Some people got an early spot in the online queue, while others were as far back as 40,000 in line.
"It was actually fairly seamless," said Calgarian Michael Kwadrans, who was able to log into the site relatively quickly after getting a spot in the 2,000s when reservations opened at 8 a.m. local time.
"I gripped about the old system a few times. I didn't have high hopes for the new system."
Parks Canada brought in a new online reservation system earlier this month because its old one was getting outdated and needed some upgrades. Users found it was prone to crashes and glitches.
The new system has different reservation dates from mid-March to mid-April at each national park, historic site and marine conservation area, which are listed on the Parks Canada website.
It's set up to allow the "maximum volume of users, including a virtual waiting room which ensures equitable access to the reservation service for everyone, helps maintain optimal performance ... and mitigates the risks of access by automated programs and bots," the federal agency said in a statement.
"These adjustments have been successful in meeting the high demand for camping since reservations were launched."
Bookings started in British Columbia, some of the eastern provinces and for Jasper National Park in Alberta last week, while reservations for Ontario sites opened Tuesday. Parks Canada's busiest location — Banff National Park, also in Alberta — opened Thursday.
Parks Canada said there were nearly 50,000 devices connected to its reservation system when it opened and more than 42,000 reservations had been made in the first six hours.
"These numbers are not unusual on launch day for Banff National Park," a spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.
Kwadrans said he didn't have much luck booking in Jasper, but he was able to reserve several camping sites in Banff, including on the July long weekend, because he landed an earlier spot in the queue.
"It's equitable," he said. "Everyone has an equal chance."
Backcountry reservations for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, located in the mountains in Alberta and British Columbia, also opened Wednesday.
Annalise Klingbeil, who co-writes an email newsletter called Go Outside, said the reservation system has improved and she was able to book two backcountry trips this summer.
"It was certainly better this year," she said in an interview. "The old website — it was glitchy, it would kick you out, you would get error messages. This is no exaggeration, it took me 13 hours to book Rockwall (in Kootenay National Park) in 2021.
"This year it was certainly better, but my goodness it was busy."
Sites quickly disappeared for busy summer weekends and popular campsites such as Two Jack Lakeside booked up for much of the season in the first hour or two.
Parks Canada said any dissatisfaction with the new site appears to be people not being able to get their first choice of campsite or dates at popular sites, which it noted is not unusual.
Klingbeil said she hosted a chat for her newsletter this week and opinions on the new site were mixed.
"There were some people who were like, 'Oh, my goodness, I lucked out. I got the one thing I really wanted,'" she said. "There are others who said they didn't even try for Banff.
"Several people said they are holding out hope for Lake O'Hara. I think everybody is, so we'll see. That will be interesting to see how that goes."
Access to Lake O'Hara, a popular backcountry area located in Yoho National Park, is mostly limited to those who are able to book a backcountry hut or lodge, secure a camping site or get a spot on a Parks Canada shuttle because it is a sensitive alpine environment.
The camping reservations open on Tuesday, while the day-use shuttle is set to open on April 12.
Access to another popular area, Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, is also restricted to Parks Canada shuttles, regional transit or commercial vehicles this year. Shuttle reservations for Moraine Lake and nearby Lake Louise begin on April 13.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press