CALGARY -- Albertans looking for a way to be active and outdoors while adhering to public health measures have overwhelmingly turned to one activity during the pandemic — camping.

Numbers from the province show a massive jump in provincial park campsite reservations in recent months, going from 5,209 in September 2019 to 286,657 in September 2020.  

That's an increase of more than 5,400 per cent.

It was much the same the month before, with 21,881 reservations made in August 2019, compared to 274,423 in August this year.

July 2019 saw 34,008 reservations, which jumped to 236,432 in July 2020, in June it went from 32,632 in 2019 to 181,570 in 2020 and May saw numbers more than double year-over-year, going from 40,893 in 2019 to 90,012 this year.

The numbers mark when reservations were made, rather than when they were used.

"This year was absolutely bananas," said Clay Geddert, a manager at Camper's Village, a retail store in southeast Calgary.

New users, said Geddert, make up a majority of the customers they are seeing.

"It's not necessarily our regular backcountry users going out more than normal," he said.
"That may have been happening but in reality it was just so many new people. New pairs of hiking boots going out the door with people who have never had hiking boots, that was common to see."

Reservations made from January to March were cancelled and refunded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then on May 14 reservations were reopened at 50 per cent capacity and on June 12 it was increased to 100 per cent. Group camping reservations were reopened on July 14.

Along with campgrounds, Geddert said he noticed hiking trails west of the city were also much busier than usual this season.

"The popular trails you can find on Google with a quick search, those were absolutely insane, it was wall-to-wall with hikers," he said. "Not only that, parking lots that would typically fill up and spill over a bit onto the road were now lined up with cars three kilometres down the road on each side. It wasn't a just a small increase, it was two or three times the traffic I've ever seen."

And Geddert is hopeful those new to outdoor activities will continue their pursuits both during the winter months, and next spring when the warm weather returns.

"It seems like it is going to carry over for a while," he said. "For a beginner backpacker for instance this season, we saw lots of people go out and go backpacking for the first time then come back to us and upgrade some of their gear, so that's good news. I think this is a few years of a lot of new users and new hikers make more new hikers, typically."

Recent snowfall will slow the camping down, but not outdoor activities.

"One thing that people are gearing up for is an insane influx of snowshoers, cross-country skiers and backcountry skiers," he said. "We're almost out of snowshoes already."

Officials with the Ministry of Environment and Parks did not return multiple interview requests.

Provincial park campsite reservations in Alberta:


2019: 40,893

2020: 90.012


2019: 32,632

2020: 181,570


2019: 34.008

2020: 236,432


2019: 21,881

2020: 274,423


2019: 5,209

2020: 286,657