My mouse hovered over the “reserve” button, waiting for the clock to tick from 6:59 to 7 a.m.
Jan. 9 was opening day for making camping reservations at Jasper National Park in Canada, and I was ready. Somewhere in Lake Stevens, my sister-in-law was at her computer, too — fingers crossed.
I had never planned a camping adventure this ambitious. Jasper is 536 miles away in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. As a little girl growing up in San Diego, I didn’t even know where Alberta was, let alone contemplate going there.
Sure, I watched “River of No Return” starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe whenever it aired on TV, but I didn’t know it was filmed in Jasper and Banff. Nowhere, I was plotting to take my family on our own adventure, two weeks on the road in our tent trailer. We’d visit Jasper, Banff, Fort Steele, Silverwood and more — but only if we could get reservations.
“We’re booking sites during the most popular time in summer and these campgrounds will fill up fast,” my sister-in-law told me. She’s a seasoned RVer. Their family has taken their trailer to some of the most desirable camping destinations in America, including Yellowstone National Park. “We need first choice, second choice and third choice spots.”
In Jasper, our goal was to stay at Whistlers campground. We wouldn’t have hookups, but there would be hot showers, a playground, evening shows and a trail running directly from the campground to downtown. This year is the last chance to stay at Whistlers in its iconic condition. In 2019, it will be closed for refurbishment.
After four nights in Jasper, the plan was to drive down the Icefields Parkway and spend four nights in Banff National Park. Reservations for Banff opened the following morning, on Jan. 10. We wanted to stay at Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court, which offered full hookups, beautiful views and its own bus stop to downtown.
After Banff, we would part ways with my in-laws, and the four of us Bardsleys would stop a night in Cranbrook, B.C., so we could visit Fort Steele Heritage Town. “Enjoy old-time trade demonstrations, steam-train rides and Clydesdale horse-drawn wagon tours!” boasted the website. Would it be like Canada’s version of Colonial Williamsburg or like Pioneer Farm on steroids? I had no idea but was excited to find out.
On the way home to Edmonds, we would swing through Idaho and spend a couple of days at Silverwood Theme Park. After all that nature and history, my kids would (hopefully) deserve some amusement of the rollercoaster variety.
But the first step was to secure camping reservations.
The clock clicked to 7 a.m. and I tapped my mouse. “That site is no longer available,” the website told me. Gulp. I scrambled to type in our second choice. Victory!
Eleven minutes later, when I had printed out our confirmation, I looked back at the availability map. The entire loop was booked. Apparently, my family’s not the only one excited about a Canadian adventure.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.