The highways, borders, ferries, parks and public places across B.C. figure to be bursting at the seams as B.C. long weekend gets underway.
Here are some things to know and helpful travel tips depending on where you’re going and how you plan to get there.
Taking a ferry?
B.C. Ferries has been infamously plagued by breakdowns, staff shortages and other operational issues for months, but the company insists all its vessels are back in action and it’s doing its best to accommodate travellers this weekend.
Nonetheless, this is historically the busiest weekend of the year for the ferry service, with 580,000 passengers and 210,000 vehicles expected. So reservations are highly recommended. The website has also experienced glitches through the summer, but customer service staffing has been beefed up for this busy stretch and there is now a virtual waiting room to avoid site crashes.
B.C. Ferries says all the major routes figure to be busy, but especially sailings to Vancouver Island Thursday and Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, and Monday and Tuesday morning heading back to the Lower Mainland. Choosing travel times outside those slots is encouraged if possible.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the ferries were reporting no sailing waits, though parking was already limited at some terminals.
Crossing the border?
Lineups are always expected at the U.S.-Canada borders on long weekends, with lengthy waits typical at Peace Arch and Highway 15 crossings.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) advises checking local media and border wait times websites before venturing out. When heading south, check U.S. Customs and Border Protection for Pacific Highway (Highway 15) and Peace Arch. The inland Aldergrove-Lynden crossing is often less busy if you don’t need to travel directly onto the I-5.
Coming back to Canada, check the CBSA wait times here.
As with the ferries, the busiest times are mid-morning to mid-afternoon, so going across early in the morning or late evening is recommended. The long-weekend Monday is usually the busiest for travellers heading north, so choose a different day if you can.
Make sure you have the right travel documents, usually your passport or Nexus card, ready to go. And when returning with goods purchased outside Canada, check the CBSA duty and tax calculator for your exemption limits and have receipts at hand.
Also, don’t forget cannabis products of any kind remain verboten at federal borders. Don’t take it out, don’t bring it in, warns the CBSA.
Hitting the highways?
The B.C. Day long weekend is among the busiest on the highways, too, and the Ministry of Transportation advises planning ahead and to expect very high traffic volumes no matter where you go.
Delays are likely on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5), with 70 km/h construction zones at the Bottletop, Juliet and Jessica bridges.
The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) between Hope and Spences Bridge will also probably be slow, with piloted single-lane, alternating traffic and a temporary traffic light at a rail crossing.
On Vancouver Island, the Malahat Highway (Highway 1) will also be congested, especially Thursday evening. Consider leaving early in the morning or later at night to avoid the crowds.
There are no planned disruptions at the Malahat Tunnel Hill project, but construction speed zones will be in effect. Work there will be paused early Friday and won’t resume until Tuesday.
General advice from the ministry includes allowing lots of time to get to your destination, making sure your vehicle is travel-ready and has a full tank, packing food and water for both people and pets, and using rest areas for breaks.
Flying the friendly skies?
Though Vancouver International Airport won’t be the busiest spot in B.C., YVR is expecting about 20 per cent more travellers to pass through over the long weekend than a week earlier.
The airport says its forecast is for 80,304 passengers on Friday, 79,404 on Saturday, 81,030 on Sunday and 77,623 on Monday.
This summer, YVR has developed a new timeline tool that lets passengers use a QR code and insert their flight number. The service, which is offered via SMS texts and WhatsApp, will help fast-track passengers through security if it identifies they’re at risk of missing a flight.
There’s also a new operations dashboard that gives a snapshot of the situation at the airport at any given moment.
As always, if you’re arriving back in Canada, you can use the CBSA’s advance declaration to speed things up at border security.
If you’re planning to stay at a B.C. Parks front-country campsite, hopefully you’ve already booked a reservation because they can be made up to four months in advance. Long weekend bookings must be for the entire three days, so the minimum booking for B.C. Day weekend is Friday through Sunday nights.
The backcountry — defined as campsites more than a kilometre away from a highway or park road, with no vehicle access and limited facilities — figures to be bustling as well. You can check on some of the popular sites at bcparks.ca. A permit is required for the more remote spots, but if you’re new to off-grid camping, a long weekend likely isn’t the time to start.
Last-minute campers can try to snag a cancelled spot with B.C. Parks’ new notification service. Go to the reservations page, choose a site and date(s), and hit the “Notify me” button. You’ll get an email if a spot becomes available.
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