B.C.'s Discover Camping reservation system shuts out hopeful campers

The annual frenzy to secure a coveted camping spot in a B.C. park got off to a rocky start Tuesday when many found themselves shut out of the Discover Camping online reservation system.

Website 'not available' to many hoping to reserve a B.C. Parks camping spot

At $35 per night, Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria is among the most expensive camping spots. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The annual frenzy to secure a coveted camping spot in a B.C. provincial park got off to a rocky start Tuesday when many hopeful campers found themselves shut out of the Discover Camping online reservation system.

Repeated attempts to access the website returned a message that "the service is unavailable".

Some reported better luck through mobile access to the site, but long wait times were common.

Discover Camping released a statement claiming the computer problems had been fixed. 

"Although BC Parks anticipated high traffic volumes on our Discover Camping website this morning, at 7 a.m., we experienced three times the traffic we received last year," read the statement. 

The fees at about half of the parks have gone up by a couple of dollars again this year, following increases of up to $5 dollars per night at some parks last year. The cost of some group campsites in 2016 will also hit $120, compared with $100 last year.

The most expensive individual campsites top out at $35 per night in popular parks such as Goldstream, near Victoria.

The fee at Goldstream did hold steady for 2016 after a hike last year, but it's still one of the most expensive in the province. For some like Jennifer Lewis it's too much to pay.

"It's a beautiful park, but for that much you would expect to get more for your money," she said at the park gate on Monday as she was leaving.

"You don't get power. The bathrooms are not in the best conditions. For $35 you expect more."

Lewis said she planned to take her camper to a private campground nearby instead because it offers the benefit of utility hookups for a similar price.

Jennifer Lewis said she planned to camp at Goldstream Park near Victoria, but is moving on to a private campground after discovering the fee is $35 per night. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Annual increases?

The fee increases over the past two years were needed to maintain operations at B.C. parks, said Nathalie Dechaine, the lead for the Discover Camping reservation service.

"The relative price increases are just covering some of our increased costs, but I think we still offer excellent value in that people can still go and have a really enjoyable camping trip with their friends and famlies."

But NDP environment spokesman George Heyman said he's worried the province plans to hike fees annually.

"I think it's just a shame for families where there is not a lot of disposable income but they want to do something memorable with the kids," he said.

"We are getting to the point where people can't even afford to do that in the campgrounds that we actually own collectively as British Columbians."

Booking frenzy

Despite the higher costs, bookings in popular parks were expected to go quickly again this year when the online booking system Discover Camping opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

About 5,000 reservations are typically made within minutes after the online system opens, said Dechaine.

"There is a lot of demand within the first hour of us opening and especially the first 20 minutes," she said.

Reservations can be made online, or through the Discover Camping call centre, up to three months ahead of an arrival date for camping.

The booking system has proven popular. Camping reservations in B.C. parks were up 19 per cent last summer compared to the previous year, which set a record. Reservations also grew by 13 per cent the year before.

About half of all campsites in B.C. parks are still available throughout the season on a first-come, first-served basis.

With files from Karin Larsen

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