The camping season was delayed due to COVID-19, but Gary Snydmiller of Camrose is already on pace to stay overnight in the great outdoors this year as often as any other.
"I usually average about six weekends a year and this year we've already been out three times," said Snydmiller, who is usually joined in the family trailer by wife, Peggy, daughter Anna, 17, and son Ian, 14.
As a veteran of four decades of exploring the great outdoors, Snydmiller says the camping experience in 2020 "is not that different" but stressed "you need to be more organized this year."
All campgrounds, from private to provincial to federal, require that everyone book in advance either online or via a phone call.
"There are green spaces that you can just drive off and camp in, but that's it. Otherwise you need to know where you are going." said Snydmiller, who noticed alot of people camping in public areas when his family parked their truck and trailer at an open space near Nordegg in late June.
The Snydmillers have also stayed at a site in Fish Lake Provincial Park and Jasper Gates Resort and RV, a private campground with washrooms and showers available.
He said occupancy appears to be about 50 to 60 per cent at the two campgrounds he visited — on par with what he's observed in previous years.
"When you arrive at the campground you still need to register so you can get your spot. There is social distancing in the office. And you do see alot more cleaning going on in the bathrooms," he said.
Snydmiller said all other elements of any camping experience — like hiking, biking and fishing — "is pretty well normal."
Avid tenters Caroline Winn and Wayne St. John, of Sherwood Park, said they are planning to book a campground near Rocky Mountain House next month, as long as the washrooms and showers are open.
"We're dying to get back out there. That's the only thing stopping us from camping is the fact that the washrooms and showers aren't open," said Winn, adding she and St. John usually camp with their sons — aged 12 and 17.
"We like to go fly fishing. That's what I'd like to do to celebrate my 50th birthday," said St. John, who turns the calendar in mid-August.
Provincial campgrounds have been open to residents of Albertans since June 1, but with restrictions.
"There are many great camping options to explore in the province. We’re working hard to bring all services online, but please check ahead on Albertaparks.ca for the latest updates on what is available," said Greg Part, Alberta Parks spokesman, adding "we ask campers to continue to follow all Alberta Health guidelines when visiting parks."
No recent usage statistics were available, although back in mid-May when the province allowed people to book and rebook, there was an online rush at selected sites, causing the system to crash.
The Alberta Parks website states: "All showers and flush toilets will open by July 30, as operationally feasible. Please check specific park or campground pages for the current availability of both showers and flush toilets."
Part pointed out campers can reserve online at Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca or by calling 1-877-537-2757 (toll-free). There are more than 14,000 individual campsites and 165 group camping areas in Alberta Parks.
At the federal level, Parks Canada said occupancy was slow at Jasper National Park in the first few days after the June 22 reopening, said a spokesman.
"However the two main campgrounds, Wapiti and Wabasso have been close to capacity since then," said JNP's Steven Young, adding the Snaring campground just opened in early July and has been "ramping up gradually in use to an average of 50 per cent capacity." Jasper National Park's largest campground, Whistlers, is closed for reconstruction in 2020.
The washrooms are open but the showers are closed in Jasper National Park.
At Banff National Park, a spokesman said bookings are down due to overall capacity reductions, however, on weekends most campgrounds are full.
"There continue to be reservations available midweek for campgrounds," said Lindsay Mcpherson.
To book a campground in a federal park — and to check on COVID-19 restrictions — go to pc.gc.ca
And to book a campground at a private facility in Alberta, go to albertacampgroundguide.ca
Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to AlbertaPrimeTimes.com. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.