Planning a spur-of-the-moment family stay at a B.C. Parks campground on Vancouver Island has become increasingly difficult thanks to a record-breaking number of reservations.

Record demand makes it hard to find a provincial campsite on Vancouver Island

Long weekend reservations sold out, stays in most popular B.C. Parks campgrounds not easy to book until mid-August

Looking for camping getaway in one Vancouver Island’s plethora of B.C. parks this Canada Day?

You’d have better luck scoring four tickets to the Tragically Hip farewell tour at face value.

Not only is every reservable provincial campsite on the entire Island booked for the July 1 weekend, by the time you read this that will likely be the case for the August B.C. Day long weekend as well.

In fact, if you want to reserve a site at any of the Island’s four most popular provincial campgrounds any time between now and mid-August, you are going to have to aim for mid-week and cross your fingers.

“Yes, it appears to be another record year for Discover Camping reservations,” B.C. Parks spokesperson David Karn said in an email.

Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville — the Island’s most popular campground — is at 98 per cent capacity for the entire summer, while Gordon Bay on Cowichan Lake features only scattered availability until late August.

Your chances are probably a little better at Langford’s Goldstream or Miracle Beach in Black Creek, as long as you are OK with a mid-week booking.

The demand has created a phenomenon usually reserved for hockey teams and rock stars: ticket scalpers.

Karn says the practice is rare — a Black Press online search found no current evidence of it — and contrary to a provincial policy prohibiting reservation transfers.

“In the last five years, less than a dozen incidents of people trying to resell their reservations via social media has come to B.C. Parks’ attention,” he said. “We have not received any verified reports to date that people are trying to resell their reservations at the side of the road.”

More common is the beat-the-pack practice of reservation overbooking, which has left many campers stunned to discover a campground already full on the first morning reservations become available.

It works like this: reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance of the arrival date. In order to get a jump on Canada Day, 90 days before June 24 queue-jumpers make a two-week reservation starting June 24. They then cancel the first week, which they never intended to use in the first place and are left with the coveted long weekend dates.

Karn said a recent analysis showed less than one per cent of reservations had been reduced by seven days. Determining why people cancel is difficult and there are no easy answers.

“The solutions we’ve heard to stop this practice (e.g. increasing the cancellation fees and shortening the allowable length of stay) unfortunately cause other issues in the system and are very restrictive for other customers,” he said. “The challenge B.C. Parks faces is to address the people who might be taking advantage of these policies without over-penalizing the people who legitimately wish to manage their reservations in case their plans change.”

The high local numbers mirror a trend that has seen 115,000 reservations made so far this year across the province, a 10 per cent increase over last year. The majority — 73 per cent — come from  B.C. residents, while 6.6 per cent are from overseas and 3.6 per cent from the U.S.

The Island’s busiest campgrounds consist of almost exclusively reservable sites, but if you are willing to take your chances on a first-come-first-serve site, be aware that even those parks with a significant number of non-reservable campsites — Strathcona, Elk Falls and Englishman River — have issued warnings that your chances of getting one on either the Canada Day and B.C. Day long weekends are very low.

Reservations remain your best option. Karn suggested making plans well in advance, while targeting more remote campsites during low-demand windows.

“Planning to arrive on a Sunday evening is much less in demand than a Friday night arrival,” he said. “Or if you are willing to drive just a bit further up north and away from large urban environments, there are other opportunities.”

B.C. Parks maintains 19 developed, vehicle-accessible campgrounds on Vancouver Island with about 1,600 campsites, approximately 300 of them first-come, first-serve.

To the north, Strathcona Park offers two campgrounds: Buttle Lake and at Ralph River, while the Miracle Beach, Loveland Bay, Morton Lake, Schoen Lake and Elk Falls parks each have one.

Meanwhile, in the south Island, campsites include Goldstream, French Beach, Juan De Fuca and Bamberton, while central Island options are Cowichan River, Gordon Bay, Englishman River, Little Qualicum, Sproat Lake, Newcastle Island, Stamp River and Rathtrevor.

According to Karn, there are no immediate plans to create new campgrounds, improve amenities at less-developed campgrounds, or expand the number of sites.

“Even if B.C. Parks is able to identify and develop new camping opportunities, it is very likely that long-weekends at premium campsites will still have more demand for camping opportunities than B.C. Parks can supply,” he said.

Karn does not expect the demand to drop any time soon.

“B.C. Parks’ recreational opportunities offer excellent value, safety, privacy, facilities and experiences: from old growth forests, to oceans, fresh water lakes and viewscapes of snow-capped peaks. It’s difficult to find similar experiences anywhere else in the world.”

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP