More than 5,400 British Columbians took advantage of the new Discover Camping reservation system that opened Thursday (April 1), according to The Vancouver Sun.

The ability to reserve specific campsites online or by phone proved to be popular with would-be campers, who had only been able to make reservations on the phone in past years, but only for the campground not for specific sites.

The British Columbia Parks online system faced “extremely high demand” by midday and many campers were not able to get through.

Environment Minister Barry Penner said he was very encouraged by the demand for the new system, noting between the new online system and call center there was a 35% increase in first-day reservations over last year.

“We were very busy first thing this morning. If people had to wait awhile, I apologize and sympathize. There’s been a tremendous increase in traffic,” said Penner, who once worked as a parks ranger before law school and is an avid camper himself.

He said he didn’t get a chance to reserve a site himself, but is leaving that to his wife, who has a preference for Manning Park where she also worked for British Columbia Parks in the 1980s with Penner.

The No. 1 campground destination is Haynes Point, which sits on a pencil of land jutting into Osoyoos Lake.

The other top campground destinations on the first day of reservations included Alice Lake, west of Squamish, Bear Creek in Kelowna, Cultus Lake, Kikomun Creek in the Kootenays, Golden Bears, Rathtrevor Beach, south of Parksville, Rolley Lake near Mission, Sasquatch park near Harrison Hot Springs and Shuswap Lake near Salmon Arm.

Penner said 60% of the provincial campgrounds cost $16 or less with some in the backcountry, accessible only by hiking, range from free to $10. The premium front country sites, like the 41 reservable campgrounds at Haynes Point, are accessible by car, have flush toilets, showers, paved roads, picnic tables and 24-hour security costs $30 daily. There’s also a $6 reservation fee.

Penner said British Columbia Parks holds back some of the campsites in order to allow drive-up traffic for those campers who spontaneously go camping.

He said the new system in which campers can choose specific campsites was a response to requests from campers who wanted the ability to choose a favourite site in advance or to know they would be able to camp next to family and friends.

There are 72 reservable parks in British Columbia, up from 68 last year.

The improvements were billed as being made as part of “Parks 100” celebration, marking the 100th birthday of BC Parks in 2011.