Editor’s Note: This story was first published in July 2018, and updated in March 2019 with new details.
Jasper National Park’s largest and most popular campground will not open to campers in 2019 because it is undergoing a major renovation.
Whistlers Campground was built in the 1960s, when RVs were relatively uncommon and much, much smaller. People also expected fewer amenities, explained Jasper National Park’s communications officer Steve Young in 2018.
“Instead of the Band-Aid solutions or doing a little bit at a time, we’re going to close it for the year and do it right. All 781 campsites renovated.”
Work to completely re-do the campground started in October 2018. The plan is to reopen the campground in the spring of 2020.
The renovations will feature new combined bathrooms and showers. Currently, there are only two shower buildings located at one end of the campground, and 27 washrooms.
They will be replaced with 17 new combined washroom and shower facilities throughout the campground. Parks Canada said campers will not have to walk more than 250 metres to use them.
There will be a new registration centre to help eliminate the long check-in lines.
A new road will create a second entrance into the campground for registered campers, and the roads within Whistlers will be widened to accommodate two-way traffic and larger RVs.
Campsites will also be levelled, delineated, and re-sized. Underground services, including water, sewer and electrical systems are also being replaced and existing campsites will be equipped with more 50 Amp capable power sites.
“It will be a lot more reliable. We will also put in a recycling program,” Young said.
The Lemiere family from Montreal was travelling across Canada with their two young children. They said they came to Whistlers because of its beautiful location — not necessarily its services — but they are supportive of the improvements.
“That sounds amazing. A good plan actually. We can say that it’s a bit, well… not fresh,” father Roxan Lemiere laughed.
“It’s not the best restroom around.”
The new amphitheatre, officially opened in 2017 for interpretive programs, is one of the only aspects of the campground that will not be touched during construction.
Whistlers boasts nearly 800 of the 1,800 campsites in the park, and local businesses are not happy about the impact the closure will have on tourism.
“Closing such a large campground during our peak time is obviously never ideal, particularly as this destination continues to grow and grow,” Chamber of Commerce president Richard Cooper said.
Cooper said Parks Canada has worked to keep local businesses in the loop though, and everyone realizes the work needs to be done.
“I know Parks Canada looked very closely at how they could potentially close it at non-peak periods, but due to the seasonality of our weather, it’s simply not a practical solution.”
The owner of Bear’s Paw Cafe, Kim Stark, said in addition to her bottom line, she’s worried the closure could increase the amount of illegal camping happening on the side of the roads in the park.
“That’s an issue for the animals. It’s an issue for the park. It’s happening now with that site open. So when it’s closed? It’s going to be a nightmare,” she said.
Parks Canada has nine other campgrounds in Jasper that will be open, as well as one additional space.
“We’ll have the overflow going. We use the overflow quite a bit in the summer. It’s over just off Highway 16. But it isn’t the iconic experience that you have with the woods in Whistlers,” Young explained.
There are also other options just outside the park boundaries.
“I know the private campgrounds have been in touch with us about how they can fill the void. There’s good opportunities both on the Valemount side — the B.C. side — and the Hinton side.”
Cooper said his best advice for tourists is simple.
“Book early, get ahead of it. The booking window for Jasper gets further and further out.”
Last season, nearly 2.5 million people visited Jasper National Park.