Camping at an Ontario Provincial Park: Everything you need to know

Every August long weekend during summer holidays, we venture off as a family and explore a different Ontario Provincial Park. I always look forward to this time of the year because it’s exciting to simply sit back and relax, get away from the hustle & bustle, put the phone away and just enjoy the surroundings of nature. Because each provincial park is very different from one another, it’s also exciting to see what the campgrounds offers in terms of amenities and activities.

There are 45 provincial parks in Ontario and around 5 million visitors annually! We visited Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park this year which is approximately a 3 hours drive from downtown Toronto but this post will be a general guide for all provincial parks in Ontario! However, all photos in this post were taken at Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park.

– in collaboration with Ontario Parks –

The Provincial Parks are separated into 5 different regions in Ontario: Northwestern, Northeastern, Central, Southwestern & Southeastern. Some of these campsites are “day use” only while others have campsites available. I’ve included links to each of the individual parks so I will indicate which parks are “day use” only please research further to see which campsites have are with/without electricity.

Northwestern Parks include:

AaronLake SuperiorPakwashSandbar LakeWhite Lake
Arrow LakeMacleodPigeon RiverSilver FallsWoodland Caribou
Blue LakeNeysQueticoSioux Narrows
Caliper LakeOjibwayRainbow FallsSleeping Giant
Kakabeka FallsOuimet CanyonRushing River Wabakimi

Northeastern Parks include:

Batchawana Bay Fushimi LakeLady Evelyn
Smoothwater
NagagamisisSpanish River
Biscotasi LakeHalfway LakeMakobe-Grays
River
Obabika RiverSturgeon River
ChutesIvanhoe LakeMarten RiverPancake BayTidewater
Esker LakesKap-Kig-IwanMisery BayPotholesWakami Lake
FairbankKettle LakesMissinaibiRene BrunelleWindy Lake
Finlayson PointKillarneyMississagiSolace

Central Parks include:

Algonquin
– AchrayCanisbay Lake– Kiosk – Pog Lake– Whitefish Lake
– Backcountry– Coon Lake– Lake of Two Rivers– Rock Lake
Brent– Kearney Lake– Mew Lake– Tea Lake
ArrowheadFrench RiverMikisewRestouleSturgeon Bay
BonnechereGrundy LakeOastler LakeSamuel de
Champlain
The Massasauga
Driftwood KillbearOxtongue River
Ragged Falls
Six Mile Lake

Southwestern Parks include:

AwendaInverhuron Mono CliffsRock PointTurkey Point
Bronte CreekJohn E. PearcePineryRondeauWasaga Beach
CraigleithKomoka Point FarmsSauble FallsWheatley
Earl RoweLong Point Port BruceSelkirk
Forks of the CreditMacGregor Point Port BurwellSpringwater

Southeastern Parks include:

Balsam LakeFerrisMaraPresqu’ileSilver Lake
Bass LakeFitzroyMark S. BurnhamRideau RiversVoyageur
Bon EchoFrontenacMcRae PointSandbanks
Charleston LakeKawartha HighlandsMurphys PointSharbot Lake
DarlingtonLake on the Mountain North BeachSibbald Point
EmilyLake St. PeterPetroglyphsSilent Lake

How & When to Book

Although there are around 45 campsites to choose from, 50% of the reservations are made between January 1 – March 31st. We booked our campsite on March 23rd and by that time, most of the parks we had in mind were already reserved. Keep in mind that by booking early, this also means you can secure a specific campsite. Some people like to pay a little bit more to reserve a campsite closer to the beach; while others don’t really have a preference as long as they are somewhat far away from the toilets (smelly!) but close enough to the showers. If a campground map is not available during booking, you can always go back to the individual’s park website (linked above) to look up the ideal location that works for your group.

The best way to secure a spot is by making reservations online here. There are a few campsites that do not accept reservations but for the most part, the most popular campsites do offer reservations and also allow you to preview the campsite while making the booking.

Alternatively, reservation by phone is another option. Phone lines are opened 363 days a year. For more information about phone reservations, please click the link here.

If this is your very first time booking a camping trip and you have no idea where to start, Ontario Provincial Parks website listed their top 5 most popular provincial park which I’ve included below. This would be a good place to start:

  • Algonquin Provincial Park
  • Killbear Provincial Park
  • Pinery Provincial Park
  • Sandbanks Provincial Park
  • Bon Echo Provincial Park

How to choose the best Park and Campsite for you & other things to consider:

Choosing the best Park & Campsite for you depends on your group’s interests and personal preferences.

Distance

With 45 Provincial Parks dispersed across Ontario, that gives you lots of Park options to choose from. The most popular parks listed above are around a good 3-3.5 hour drive (it could take longer depending on traffic conditions & pit stops along the way). Ultimately distance depends on how far your group is willing to travel & the size of your group.

  • Algonquin Provincial Park (approximately 3.5 hours)
  • Killbear Provincial Park (approximately 3 hours)
  • Pinery Provincial Park (approximately 3 hours)
  • Sandbanks Provincial Park (approximately 2.5 hours)
  • Bon Echo Provincial Park (approximately 3.5 hours)

Park Size

We’ve stayed at both larger and smaller scale camp sizes. There are both pros and cons to each but it ultimately depends on the group’s preferences. Smaller parks are great and usually a little bit more quiet – however this does mean that there are less amenities/ activities compared to larger parks. If your group prefers something more quiet, I recommend looking up some parks and doing a quick search to see the size of the park and gauge how many campsites the park can accommodate. The park we stayed at recently, Sturgeon Bay, holds 81 campsites and is actually considered a smaller park – you can probably expect it to be less crowded. In terms of showers and toilets, from my experience, whether the park size is large or small, we’ve never ran into any issues in terms of waiting times for washrooms or showers. People typically tend to shower after dinner so there is sometimes a little bit of a wait so I try to avoid that time. Generally speaking, the parks do ensure to have enough facilities to go around the park and the park staff do a great job of making sure the facilities are well maintained.

Types of Accommodation

There are a couple of accommodation types to choose from: cottage, cabin, tent (bring your own), group etc. Group campsites, depending on the park, can accommodate 30-60 people. However, not all Parks accommodate groups. When you’re making your reservation online, the website does a great job of helping you narrow down what you’re specifically looking for even if you have no idea where to start.

There are electrical campsites that are typically for RV’s (recreational vehicles) and also non-electrical sites, which is what we usually opt for.

Park Activities

The first thing I usually do when I land on a few potential parks is look up the activities available at that park. For example – Algonquin Provincial Park offers a long list of activities (as it is one of the largest parks in Ontario). They offer biking, birding, boating, canoeing, portaging, and discovery programs such as guided walks, programs for kids, special events and evening programs as well. They also offer fishing and a long list of hiking trails, hunting, swimming and winter activities! For further details please visit the Algonquin Park website here. Please keep in mind that some parks that are as large as Algonquin do require a short drive between activities.

Parking

Your overnight stay at the campsite usually includes 2 parking spots but this also depends on the type of reservation you make and the # of guests staying. I would double check on the park’s website or give the park a call to be safe.

Foods to Pack

When coming up with foods to pack for a camping trip, it ultimately depends on the number of days you’re staying at the campsite and the type of accommodation you have. We usually stay at a campsite with NO electricity for 3 days and 2 nights. The first couple of meals are usually pretty nice because we’re trying to eat all the stuff from the cooler that tends to go bad. So we always end up having a good old barbecue on the first night and end up eating cup noodles or canned food on the second half of the trip.

Breakfast Ideas: Eggs & Ham, Pancakes (Pancake Mix), Mac N Cheese, Cup Noodles, Oatmeal

Lunch Ideas: Canned Salmon/ Tuna Sandwiches with tomatoes & onions, Peanut & Jelly Sandwiches

Dinner Ideas: Barbecue, pre-made chili that we keep frozen, dry food packages that can be purchased from MEC, canned pasta

Camp grill & Cooking

The only time we really use the campgrill fire pit is to cook dinners or campfire snacks. All the other meals where we cook eggs or heat up food, & boiled water, we use a gas powered stove because it’s less time consuming and a little bit easier to kick start the day.

Each campsite comes with a picnic table & a fire-pit. We buy our fire wood upon arrival at the Park shop. Unfortunately the first time we went camping, the camp grill we purchased before hand didn’t fit the fire pit so we had to drive and purchase one from a local convenience store. Luckily, all the fire pits across several parks we’ve visited the past few years all use the same size fire pit so we’ve been good ever since! If you need to purchase a camp grill that matches the size of the fire pits at Ontario Parks, you can buy it here.

Packing list

Camp: Tent, a few tarps, tent strings, hammer, camping chairs, flash lights, mosquito coil

Cook: Pot, Pan, Cutlery, table cloth, bucket (to wash dishes in), paper towels , cooking utensils (tongs), extra gas bottles for portable stovetop, camp grill

Clothes: Sweaters and sweat pants (when it gets super cold at night), bathing suits, towels, extra socks, flip flops, hiking shoes

Activities: Floaties, life jacket, paddles

Other: bug repellent, sunscreen

Pit Stop

For those Driving By Hwy 11, make sure you stop by Weber’s Hamburger. This old school joint is a great pit stop for burgers & milkshake. Not the JUICIEST burgers ever but it’s definitely a great space to stretch your legs and get out of the car. The best part about this is the price for a burger is ridiculously cheap for what you’re getting! I always look forward to stopping here (they have great washrooms) and an amazing train cart that turned itself into an eatery.

That’s it from me guys! Hope you guys find this post helpful & be sure to leave a comment if you have a favourite park you usually visit. Feel free to also follow along my Instagram page where I update daily with what I’m up to.

Written by Grace Yeung
Edited by Eden Yeung

This post was done in collaboration with Ontario Parks but gracelisamay.com remains unbiased in our content.

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