Staycationers booking up cottages, campsites at unprecedented pace

As Ontario continues to loosen pandemic restrictions, cottage owners and campsite operators in eastern Ontario are seeing bookings surge. That means hopeful holidaymakers could be out of luck if they haven't already snatched up a spot — especially on weekends.

If you haven't reserved your Ontario getaway yet, you could be out of luck

Cottages are a hot commodity this summer, especially waterfront properties. (Submitted by Christine Brown)

As Ontario continues to loosen pandemic restrictions, cottage owners and campsite operators in eastern Ontario are seeing bookings surge.

That means hopeful holidaymakers could be out of luck if they haven't already snatched up a spot — especially on weekends.

The Ontario government allowed short-term rentals to resume June 5.

Randy Clough, who runs a website called Ottawa Valley Cottage Rentals and also rents out his own properties near Calabogie, Ont., west of Ottawa, said he saw a "dramatic peak" in requests that day, and has had thousands more since.

Waterfront cottages were gone within a few days, followed by properties away from the water, Clough said.

"It's unprecedented [that] you would see entire weeks booked out for non-waterfront," he said.

It may be too late to find a place like this. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Generally, prices in the area haven't risen significantly, Clough said. "By the time we knew the amount of demand we were getting, it was too late to change, really, and make an increase." 

For those still looking to book a place, Clough suggests giving up on that dream of staying on the waterfront. A chalet in the hills will still let you get away from it all — and there are still some left. 

Campsites filling up

Provincial parks began reopening on June 12, and campsites went fast, said Connor Oke, a content development specialist with Ontario's parks service.

"We have seen an increase in reservations overall this year," Oke said.

Campsite occupancy is limited, and group sites won't open until Labour Day, contributing to the low vacancy rate.

Some spots remain open in August, mostly mid-week, at Bonnechere, Lake St. Peter and Rideau River provincial parks, Oke said. It's also worth keeping an eye on the Ontario Parks website for cancellations.

Campsites are booking up quickly, too. (Mike Borger)

Across the Ottawa River, the situation is similar.

"It's been very busy since we've opened mid-June," said Alain d'Entremont, the NCC's senior manager for visitor services and recreation programs at Gatineau Park. 

If you're flexible, there are still a few spots mid-week and toward the end of the summer, he said. 

RVs another popular option

If you can't get a space at a provincial park, private campsites could be another option — but they're going fast, too. 

"Our industry's had very, very good years, but this year our website is just off the charts," said Alexandra Anderson, executive director of Camping in Ontario. "People that used to go for a couple of days are sort of lengthening it this time."

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Alexandra Anderson, executive director for Camping in Ontario, says interest in camping is “off the charts” as Ottawa residents choose to vacation closer to home during the pandemic.

Some parks are encouraging longer stays to avoid frequent turnover, she said. Others are unable to operate at full capacity.

A sudden spike in RV sales is driving that demand, Anderson said. "RV units are completely self-contained, so you don't really need anything. You don't need to interact as much." 

Avoid weekends, head north

Anderson suggests campers might have an easier time finding a spot if they can avoid weekends.

"If you're in a position where you are working from home, find out if a campground can accommodate you with good Wi-Fi," she suggested.

RV sales are up this year, and so is demand for campsites. (Submitted by Mervin Gruben)

Her next tip is to head north along Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. "It's absolutely spectacular. And there's lots of availability," she said. 

And with the Canada-U.S. border still closed, at least you won't be competing with American tourists for a campsite, Anderson pointed out.

Resorts open for business 

As much of Ontario prepares for more relaxed restrictions, staycationers could look to resorts to get that out-of-town experience. 

Business is still picking up in the Ottawa region, said Shane Bage with Resorts in Ontario. 

"Some of these places are slowly rolling out and getting things up and running," he said

Bage said he's talked with a lot of businesses whose bookings are still down as they sort out the new protocols and procedures, but he's hoping they'll soon be as swamped as the cottages and campsites.


Jennifer Chen is a journalist and digital/radio producer at CBC Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a radio producer at CBC Vancouver for 14 years.

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