As anyone who plans to go camping this summer probably already knows, trying to reserve a campsite at popular provincial campgrounds is like trying to reserve a COVID-19 vaccination: The competition is fierce and the spaces limited.
What some may not know is that there is a fair amount churn in campground reservations. Cancellations happen all the time, so if you keep trying, you may see openings on the Discover Camping website, or any number of other booking sites.
But who wants to spend all day refreshing their browser in the hope a reservable campsite happens to become available?
If you are willing to pay $10, a service called Campnab will monitor reservable campsites for you and notify you by text the instant it becomes available.
It’s up to you to immediately book your site, and there is no guarantee it won’t already be nabbed by someone else.
Campnab won’t book the site for you – it will just improve your chances of booking a site by letting you know when one becomes available to reserve.
“We don’t book anything or resell anything,” said Eric Karjaluoto, who co-developed the app with his business partner, Eric Shelkie, who are website and app developers. “We only alert people of the availability.
“We do occasionally get hate mail where people think that we’re booking all the spots and then reselling them at a profit, and we just don’t do that,” Karjaluoto said.
The idea for Campnab came about four years ago when Eric Shelkie and his wife were trying to book a campsite, and found all the reservable sites booked.
But Shelkie’s wife persisted, and discovered that, after continually refreshing a campground booking website, a campsite that had been reserved was suddenly available.
Shelkie decided to develop an automated system that would monitor campground reservations and notify people when a campsite becomes available.
They started with B.C. then started adding other provinces and, later, American states. Four years on, Campnab is now their main business and has been growing by word of mouth.
To date, Campnab can scan 3,200 provincial, national and state parks and 8,000 campgrounds in Canada and the U.S. It also can monitor booking sites for some backcountry destinations, like Berg Lake and Garibaldi Provincial Park.
As of December last year, a total of 350,000 alerts have been sent to Campnab users.
Users enter the campground they wish to book and the dates. Whenever a campsite becomes available, the user is sent an alert by text. Per-per-use rates start at $10, and increase by the number of campgrounds you want to monitor.
There are also annual memberships, which start at $10 per month.
“The memberships are more for people who camp more frequently,” Karjaluoto said.
Karjaluoto cautions that there is no guarantee you will ever get an alert, especially if you are too picky.
Someone who selects a single campsite in a popular campground and wants to book it for eight days, straddling a long weekend, is going to have a lot less chance of getting an alert than someone who will settle for any site in that campground for a shorter stay.
“The ones who don’t do as well tend to set unrealistic expectations,” Karjaluoto said.
“This year the demand is so much higher than ever before that we’re seeing often folks will get an alert but the spot is already rebooked. In places like Yosemite it’s just crazy. Spots are literally rebooked in under a minute.”
In the first year that Campnab was launched, it revealed just how much churn there is in campground reservations.
“In that summer, in between B.C and Ontario alone, in the course of a day we’d see up to 4,000 new cancellations in a single day in the middle of summer,” Karjaluoto said. “There’s a lot of churn in campsite reservations.”