Lake and dock view in Ontario's cottage country

Where to camp in Ontario’s cottage country

When you hear about Ontario’s “cottage country,” you typically think of recreational lakes and comfortable summer homes. A weekend at a lakeside cottage may be the quintessential Ontario getaway, but for those who don’t have a cottage at our disposal, or would rather experience Ontario’s great outdoors from a tent, Muskoka, its surrounding lakes and nearby areas are still a great break from the city.

Check out these awesome camping weekend getaways in Ontario’s cottage country.

Balsam Lake Provincial Park

Balsam Lake Provincial Park, in the Kawartha Lakes region along the Trent-Severn Waterway, is perfect for a weekend away. The park offers a variety of car camping sites, as well as walk-in sites that are radio-free for a quieter, more natural experience.

The park has two hiking trails that are nice for morning hikes. The 2.6km Lookout Trail takes you through eskers and kames to a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding area. The longer Plantation Trail, a 4.2km moderate route, goes through logging sites, old farm fields and reforestation plantations. You can then spend the afternoon having a beach picnic, or if that isn’t your thing, rent a canoe or kayak to explore Balsam Lake.

Six Mile Lake Provincial Park

Canoeing in Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, Ontario

Canoeing at Six Mile Lake. Photo by Ontario Parks.

Located in Port Severn, close to Muskoka and Gravenhurst, Six Mile Lake Provincial Park offers the perfect base camp for a fun car camping weekend in Ontario’s cottage country. The provincial park has many large semi-private sites, sandy beaches, and three short and easy hiking trails, so make sure to pack your bathing suit and some hiking shoes.

If you’re looking for a long weekend getaway or some time on the water, bring a canoe (if you don’t own one, you can rent one from MEC), a friend and your essential canoe-camping gear. Six Mile Lake Provincial Park happens to be a great starting point for the Gibson-MacDonald Canoe Route, a 56km loop with nine easy portages that you can do over the span of four days.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Hiking viewpoint in Frontenac Provincial Park, Ontario

Enjoying the view at Frontenac. Photo by Ontario Parks.

Frontenac Provincial Park, located 45 minutes north of Kingston, is a personal favourite. This huge park is just the spot for anyone who loves nature and needs a weekend away from the world to recharge their batteries. Campsites are only accessible by hiking or by canoeing in, and the hikes in can vary from a simple 20 minutes to as much as three hours. Pick up a Frontenac Park map before you go for lots of useful info.

If you’re looking for a shorter trek, there’s a cluster of four campsites located on McNally Bay of Kingsford Lake that you can access in about 30 minutes from Kingsford Dam. These campsites offer good privacy with enough space for two small tents along the shoreline.

If you’re up for a longer hike in to get to more remote campsites, start at Doe Lake. From the park office, it takes approximately two hours to hike in or two and a half hours from the Big Salmon parking lot. From there, you can get to a number of other trails to continue your camping adventure or loop back to your cozy spot for the night.

Where to find these campsites

Where to camp in Ontario's cottage country: map

Map of park locations

Some things to know before you go

Whether you’re going car camping for the weekend or taking off into the backcountry in a canoe, it’s important to consider the following.

  • Dress appropriately. Ontario weather can be temperamental and unpredictable, so make sure to always pack a rain jacket, some warm layers and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Read up on some other Ontario camping essentials.
  • Always bring a first aid kit with you – better safe than sorry!
  • Don’t forget your navigation essentials. A GPS is good, but it’s always smart to bring a map of the area along with a compass, too.
  • Don’t forget extra ropes, guylines and bags to hang your food, tie down your tent if it gets windy, or make a clothesline to dry stuff off.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with someone. It’s always important that someone knows where you’re heading, especially when you’re off the beaten path.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace principles wherever you’re heading.

Ontarians flock to these lakes, beaches and backcountry trails for good reason. Regardless of whether you’re staying in a summer home or sleeping under the stars, you’ll be able to experience Ontario’s cottage country to its fullest.

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Elena Elisseeva

Joanie Gaudreau

Writer and fitness enthusiast always chasing her next mountain peak. Also coffee. She chases coffee, too.