Five lesser-known camping spots in Ontario parks


About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to explore. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, ands show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”

Who isn’t transported by the scent of cedar along a forest trail or the call of a loon greeting you as you open your tent’s flap at dawn? Such tranquil campsite imagery is quickly dispatched, however, if you arrive at an overly popular park and you end up spending hours waiting in a lineup of cars to get past the entrance gate.

The thing is you needn’t visit one of Ontario’s more popular destinations – those that make all the best-of lists – to spend a rewarding weekend enjoying the great outdoors. After all, there are 340 provincial parks to choose from for your next escape. Here are five lesser-known parks in Ontario.

Balsam Lake Provincial Park
Only an hour’s drive north of Peterborough, Balsam Lake Provincial Park is a 450-hectare forested oasis connected to the Trent-Severn Waterway. Visitors can explore the Kawartha Lakes by canoe, kayak or paddle boat — all of which are available to rent. There’s a large sandy beach for swimming and plenty of fish to lure anglers (including bass, muskellunge and walleye). The park’s 2.6-kilometre Look Out Trail winds its way past 10,000-year-old eskers (which are glacially formed ridges), while the 4.2-kilometre Plantation Trail is ideal for birdwatching (you may even see hawks and osprey). Camping options run the gamut from walk-in sites to RV spots. There is also one fully furnished four-bedroom cottage near the water’s edge that books up quickly.

How to get there:  Follow the Don Valley Parkway to Highway 404. Turn east on Highway 32 just before Keswick. From there, follow Highway 48 to the park.

Bass Lake Provincial Park

Bass Lake Provincial Park, as with the relatively close Mara Provincial Park and McRae Point Provincial Park, should be on the radar of novice campers as all three offer the Learn to Camp program, which includes the option of having a one-on-one session with a camping expert. This 65-hectare park on the western shore of Bass Lake is an easy 10-minute drive from Orillia. Activities include swimming (Bass Lake is clear and shallow), biking, canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding (rentals are available at the park store), fishing and hiking. One option is to hike a 2.8-kilometre trail to the remains of the historic Rowe Homestead, which dates to the 1830s. Camping options include car camping, group sites and RVs.

How to get there:  Drive north on Highway 400 and take the Highway 11 exit just past Barrie. Once in Orillia take Highway 12 before exiting at Ridge Boulevard and merging onto Bass Lake Side Road.

Provincial Parks

Bonnechere Provincial Park

The 168-hectare park, located at the southeast boundary of the much-busier Algonquin Provincial Park, offers visitors a choice of 128 campsites – which are close to the Bonnechere River – day use areas, laundry, shower facilities and playgrounds. Anyone disinclined to bed down in a tent or trailer can book one of its four rustic pine cabins. Guests can pass summer afternoons at the sandy beach on the shores of Round Lake, hike McNaughton Trail (marked with interpretive signs) or visit the park’s historic log cabins. There’s a network of 10 trails called “Walks of the Bonnechere River.” Birders have sighted as many as 297 species in the area. Canoe and kayak rentals are available. Daily presentations at the park’s Davenport Centre have included “Awake in the World: Mindfulness and Environmental Connection” and “Archaeology Day.”

How to get there: Drive from Toronto to Peterborough. Once there, follow Highway 28 before switching to the Musclow Greenview Road near Bronson. Once in Maple Leaf, drive east on Highway 62 followed by Old Barry’s Bay Road and then Hopefield Road to Highway 66. From there, turn east on Highway 60 followed by 67 to Round Lake Road and the park.

Provincial Parks

Marten River Provincial Park

The 400-hectare Marten River Provincial Park is considered the southern gateway to the Temagami region, one of our province’s prime wilderness areas. Campers (often a mix of canoeists, boaters, hikers and anglers) can choose from 193 campsites, all of which have easy access to water taps, comfort stations and laundry facilities. Plus, there are three beaches for swimming. Exploring by foot can lead you to two park highlights: the remnant of a stand of massive pines, including a 350-year-old white pine on the Transition Trail; and a reconstructed 19th-century logging camp that includes a cookery, bunk house, barn and blacksmith’s shop. The Exploration Centre at Chicot Beach regularly hosts guest speakers on topics such as birding, geology and aquatic wildlife.

How to get there: Drive north on Highway 400 followed by Highway 11 through North Bay. The park is just before the junction of highways 11 and 64.

Provincial Parks

Restoule Provincial Park

Restoule Provincial Park is an out-of-the-way nature area in Parry Sound District, between Restoule Lake and Stormy Lake. This heavily treed park (including lots of ancient cedars) with several rocky bluffs (as high as 92 metres) extends along the Restoule River to its mouth at the French River. The 2,800-acre park has more than 10 kilometres of hiking trails, including the Fire Tower Trail which passes a 30-metre fire tower (no, you can’t climb it). Wildlife sightings have included coyotes, otters, moose and white-tailed deer. Birders have spotted falcons and herons, among other species. Choose from various camping options, including backcountry sites on Stormy Lake and on the Restoule River, easily accessed by canoe or kayak, which can be rented.
How to get there:  Drive north on Highway 400 and exit onto Highway 11. At Trout Creek, head west on Highway 522, followed by the 524 and 534.

Provincial Parks

For the drive

Pamela and Tim Good chronicle their blended family’s campground pursuits on the “Super Good Camping” podcast. They cover subjects such as how to deal with bad weather, camping with your dog, campground etiquette and choosing the best tent. The duo also dedicates episodes to specific Ontario Parks. It is available on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.


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