Lakes, trails, forests and parks – camping is the best way to take in everything that Ontario has to offer. Now’s the time to rally your friends for a long weekend camping trip, plan a summer vacation with your kids, or prep your canoe for a dip into wilder places.
Whatever way you choose to enjoy Ontario parks, the province has endless hidden gems to discover and explore. With free admission to Parks Canada places in 2017, visiting parks is going be a popular way to get outside this year (tip: you can get your free parks pass from MEC). To help you figure out where to camp in Ontario, here are six incredible – and perhaps lesser-known – places to start.
Wheatley Provincial Park
Located at Ontario’s most southern point (at the same latitude as Northern California!) in Chatham-Kent, Wheatley Provincial Park is a quiet campground that’s great for those looking for some solitude on a weekend getaway or a family camping trip. This park features tangles of creeks, Carolinian forests, creekside campsites and long stretches of sandy beach.
The weather in this neck of the woods tends to be warmer, so you’ll be able to use your usual summer camping gear. If you’re new to camping, you can rent big ticket items like tents and sleeping bags as you sort out your packing lists.
Thousand Islands National Park
Eastern Ontario is a real playground for people who like to paddle. There’s no better way to take in Thousand Islands National Park than on the water – with plenty of islands and rivers to explore, bringing a canoe or kayak is a must (rentals are available from MEC). Another cool thing about this park? It has oTENTiks to stay in, which are part tent, part cabin.
When you pack for your canoe trip, remember to bring long, loose pants and shirts for your time in the forest (ticks are a fact of outdoor life in many parts of eastern Ontario), along with the rest of your gear, so you can spend the night on an island with the stars above your tent.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Big views of Lake Superior and abundant wildlife watching make Sleeping Giant a perfect camping spot. Located on the Sibley Peninsula in northwestern Ontario to the east of Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant offers 80km of hiking trails and lots of campsites to choose from, a quiet handful of which are tucked on the west side of Marie Louise Lake.
There are plenty of options for dayhikes in the park, along with some trails for biking. If you’re looking for a more challenging overnight trek, the 40-km Kabeyun Trail is an ideal pick (you can also do sections of it on shorter dayhikes). Pass by hidden coves along the way and take in the glorious blue of Lake Superior from Tee Harbour’s cobblestone shore.
Driftwood Provincial Park
With panoramic views of the Laurentian Hills, Driftwood Provincial Park near Stonecliffe is a nice basecamp to see the Ottawa River by canoe or kayak. An added bonus: Algonquin Provincial Park is only a couple hours away by car, which makes Driftwood a good homebase for campers who want to skip Algonquin’s busy campsite but still paddle its world-renowned canoe routes.
Canoe rentals are available on site, which include PFDs and a boat safety kit. You’ll also want to pack some sunscreen, a hat, a dry bag to store electronics, snacks and a map case to protect your goods from water.
Ferris Provincial Park
A short drive from Toronto is the town of Campbellford, a spot known for friendly locals and pretty scenery. It’s also your last stop before you enter Ferris Provincial Park – and once you’re inside the park, you’ll never want to leave. Ferris has lots of campsites to choose from along the park’s edges and deep in the forest, so if you’re after a nicely secluded site, Ferris will give you the peace and quiet you’re after. This little-known gem has acres of rivers and forest to wander, but for something different, walk the River Gorge trail to the 300-ft long suspension bridge for a spectacular view.
Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park
Located in the heart of the Temagami region, in the middle of 2400km of forests and lakes, Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater is a truly wild camping experience. Since this is a designated “wilderness class” park, no cans and bottles are allowed – be sure to pack your food in reusable containers.
Since this park is located about an hour north of North Bay, you’ll likely have warm days but cold or cool nights. Make sure to pack a sleeping bag rated to at least -7°C, a good sleeping pad for insulation, and cozy layers for brisk evenings. Waking up in the forest makes the chilly nights worth it – nothing beats camp coffee when you’re surrounded by towering pines.
Where to find these parks
A few more tips before you go
Ontario weather can change in the blink of an eye, and gusty winds and rain can come at any time. On your camping checklist, make sure to pack a rain jacket and warm layers, even if the forecast predicts sunny skies. You’ll be happy to have them if the weather turns.
Finally, no matter where you’re camping in Ontario, get to know the Leave No Trace principles; they’re simple things that make a big difference. Let’s keep our parks pristine for all to enjoy.