Camping during COVID: What first-timers need to know in Manitoba
Opening day bookings for campsites surged by 40% over last year, province says
Manitobans are adding hand sanitizer to their camping checklists this season, as more people swap their far-away travel plans for in-province trips during the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 40 per cent more people booked a provincial park campsite on the first day they were available this year compared to last year's opening day, according to a government spokesperson.
The manager of a Winnipeg outdoor supply store says that spike may be from Manitobans who are feeling cooped up during the pandemic.
"Just about everyone I've talked to is really just looking for any opportunity to enjoy something outdoors," said Garrett Tremblay, store manager at Wilderness Supply in Winnipeg.
He said many of his customers and friends are considering camping for the first time this summer because they can't get away otherwise, with tourist travel to the U.S. banned, a requirement to self-isolate after visiting other provinces, and even travel restrictions to northern Manitoba.
"I think that any opportunity to get outside and enjoy the outdoors should be welcomed — certainly with the way things are feeling sort of locked-in."
Foolproof parks for 1st-timers
Birds Hill Provincial Park
The park that's "literally just outside of the city" is a great place for Winnipeggers to try camping, according to Ian McCausland.
The Winnipeg photographer and Scouts leader has been taking his family on camping trips for years, and highly recommends Birds Hill to beginners. It's just 30 minutes northeast of Winnipeg — which is handy if you need to get home quickly, he says, based on personal experience.
"One May long weekend, on Friday night, it started to snow," he said.
"It was miserable and cold, and I just finally said to my wife, 'look, in 45 minutes, we can go home and have a great sleep, and come back the next day. We'll just leave everything set up.' And that's what we did."
Whiteshell Provincial Park
For a slightly longer trip, but one with plenty of options, Stephanie Woltman suggests driving 90 minutes east of Winnipeg into Whiteshell Provincial Park.
"There are a lot of campgrounds that are modernized, so they have running water, toilets, showers … potable running water, so you don't have to bring water with you," said Woltman, a Winnipegger who goes camping almost every weekend, year-round.
Woltman herself is heading on a four-day hike down the Mantario Trail this weekend. While she also suggests Birds Hill and St. Malo provincial parks for beginners, Woltman said Whiteshell offers more of an adventure in Manitoba.
"There's so much accessibility for hikes, and there are so many more lakes to be able to explore," she said. "It just makes your camping experience 10 times better."
Turtle Mountain Provincial Park
It's all about variety for camping beginners at Turtle Mountain Provincial Park. Campers can charge their iPhones at campsites with electricity, or venture into the back country of the park, about 240 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, if they're brave enough.
No matter where you end up, the best way to have a great experience the first time around is to accept when things go wrong, and make it a great camping story, according to Tremblay.
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"You never know what might go wrong or what might go really right on your camping trip," he said.
"It's going to be a part of the memory for a lot of people, so I just tell everyone to keep an open mind."
Gather around the campfire — in a small group
Physical distancing rules still apply to campers in Manitoba. That includes a provincial health order that prohibits gathering in groups of more than 10 people.
Health officials also say you should avoid prolonged contact with people who don't live with you. The province's reopening plan says that people at parks and campgrounds have to maintain separation of at least two metres, "except for brief exchanges."
On Thursday, the province announced more enforcement to make that happen.
Park patrol officers will work with Manitoba Conservation officers to enforce the public health orders. Breaking an order can cost you $486.
The idea for camping during COVID-19 is to go directly to the campsite — minimize how many stops made in one trip.
According to the province, that means filling the car with gas before heading out, not visiting friends or stopping at other residences along the way, and only visiting stores with curbside pickup options.
If campers do need to buy something, avoid paying with cash.
Campers need to add their own toilet paper and hand sanitizer to their lists, and check them twice.
"Even though we go camping every single weekend, we always run through our checklist Friday before leaving the city to make sure that we have everything packed," said Woltman.
"Especially right now with COVID, you're really not supposed to stop anywhere if you forget something … so we like to make sure we're completely self-sufficient."
The province also asks Manitobans not to use any health services during their travels, unless it's an emergency.
Keeping staff safe
Provincial park staff are changing how they work, staying physically distant from campers as much as possible.
Manitobans don't need to check in with staff when they arrive — instead, just go straight to the reserved site and set up. Park staff are automatically checking campers in, and will drop off a camping permit later in the day.
Park offices are open, but only one camper is allowed in at a time.