riverside campsite

Why do I see empty campsites at busy parks?

We get this question a lot: “Why do I see empty campsites but there are so few campsites available when I’m making a reservation?”

In recent years, our parks have seen a big increase in reservations. We’re so glad that so many people want to spend time in our wonderful parks, but the increased interest can also make it more competitive to book a campsite, especially at busy parks and on popular dates.

When you’re reserving right at 7:00 a.m., there could also be many, many other visitors trying to reserve for the same arrival date, at the same park, or even the same campsite.

So we completely understand why it would be confusing and frustrating to arrive only to see vacant campsites throughout the campground.

We want to share some of the reasons you might see empty campsites, even at a busy park:

The empty sites might not have met your search criteria

When creating your reservation, only the campsites matching your search criteria will appear available (green).

Search criteria includes dates, number of nights, party size, and equipment type.

screenshot of filters

Additional filters can be applied such as restrictions (radio free, generator free, etc.), service type (non-electric or electric), double site, pull-through, site shade, or barrier-free.

site map

Campsites that may be vacant when you’re at the park may not have met your search criteria, so they did not appear available for you to book.

These sites may also have other reservations on them for only one night or part of your stay.

Learn more about using filters when searching for a campsite.

Your fellow campers haven’t arrived yet

At some of our most popular parks, there could still be hundreds of reservations yet to arrive.

family setting up campsite

Fellow campers may not be able to set up camp right away due to delays, travelling from afar, or other reasons.

Further, their arrival date may not match yours, therefore the campsite wouldn’t have appeared available if there’s a bit of overlap in your trip dates.

Last-minute cancellations

Life happens. Perhaps a flat tire, illness, or a family emergency.

Although we encourage cancelling early, emergencies happen. We have all planned an amazing camping trip and then something comes up and you have to cancel at the last minute.

group on dock

It’s always disappointing when a camping plan doesn’t come to life. When cancellations happen at the last minute, campsites are often left vacant.

Closed for wildlife, site rehabilitation, or hazards

Campsites may not be empty; they could be occupied by park residents such as nesting birds or turtles.

Parks are home to many species and sometimes protecting their homes and habitat means that campsites may have to close.


Campsites may also be closed for site rehabilitation. Environmental impacts like flooding, storms, and invasive species damage may have affected campsites.

These sites may require restoration work for future campers to enjoy the site again.

campsite with cut logs
Ash tree removal at Port Burwell due to Emerald Ash Borer

Hazards — such as a rotten tree — on or near a campsite may also cause a park to close campsites. We want to prioritize camper safety at all times!

Having trouble finding a campsite?

We understand it can be challenging to book a campsite at some of our busier parks.

Here are a few of our top tips for booking a site:

  • sign-up for availability notifications and keep an eye on the reservation system for last minute cancellations
  • book a mid week trip
  • share a campsite with friends! (Note: the maximum number of occupants on a single campsite is six)
  • adjust your filters when searching for a campsite
  • try a new park and use the find similar experiences feature
  • head north! Our northern parks often have more availability

To learn more, read through our tips for reserving an Ontario Parks campsite.