Come explore Ontario Parks. Encounter Canadian wildlife,
learn about Ontario history and heritage, wander our wonderful walking
and hiking trails.
A Rose By Any Name
Parks in Ontario go by a number of different names: national parks, Ontario provincial parks, regional conservation areas, municipal parks, wildlife sanctuaries, nature reserves. A lot of that has to do with who funds them and who runs them.
To the average visitor, though, that doesn’t really matter. What matters are the wonderful attractions they offer, especially to those of us who live in cities and need that escape to nature to keep us sane. These attractions include: encounters with Canadian wildlife, opportunities to explore hiking trails, a look back in time at Ontario history, and sporting adventures.
If you were raised in Ontario, you probably feel the same way as I do about Ontario parks. They inhabit a special place in your heart. If you’re just moved to the province, or or are just visiting (welcome!!), then these parks will soon squirrel their way into your heart.
I spent much of my childhood summers in Ontario parks. My family used to go camping in Algonquin Park, picnicking in Balls Falls, and strolling in the manicured landscapes surrounding Niagara Falls. Because of our “history” together, I feel that these green oases are a big part of my identity. I treasure them, am proud of them, and welcome visitors to share them with me.
Some parks are very close to their natural state and offer basic trails only (and in the wilderness no trails at all!), while others cater to all kinds of sporting and cultural interests. Some welcome only day-trippers, while some welcome overnight campers as well. Features vary from park to park, so it’s best to investigate before you visit to ensure you’ll find the features you’re seeking.
1. Nature viewing
Nature-viewing is one of the biggest draws in the parks. If you're looking for large wildlife like moose, Algonquin Park is ideal. The parks are also home to a broad range of birds; some of the parks popular with birders include the famous Point Pelee National Park or Cootes Paradise in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. For a really neat way to build your own field guide according to the region, see http://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/fieldguides.php. Includes pictures and recordings of bird calls!
Are you a worshipper of waterfalls? Niagara Falls may be the best known, but they aren’t the only falls in the province. Southern Ontario has many waterfalls, especially around Hamilton. Check out some of my favourites, Websters Falls or Balls Falls.
Many parks, especially those in urban areas, have spectacular flower gardens; the Royal Botanical Gardens are the most famous. Some of the prettiest and most popular gardens are along the Niagara Parkway which runs through the city of Niagara Falls.
Sports lovers can enjoy the hiking and biking trails and sports grounds like bocce courts, volleyball and basketball courts, soccer fields, and children's playgrounds that you'll find in many parks. The more adventurous will want to check out opportunities for rock-climbing as well. You can also find parks that offer horse riding lessons.
Of course with all our lakes, boating and watersports are popular past-times. Some parks such as Fifty Point Conservation Area") offer equipment rental on-site which is handy.
Don't forget winter sports either. Have you ever experienced toboganning, snow-shoeing, or skiing?
For more information about activities see my page on Outdoor Adventures.
3. Special events and programs
One of the functions of Ontario parks is to teach the public about wildlife and wildlife protection. Some of the parks have staff who rehabilitate wildlife who have been injured. Visitors can sometimes view these animals. One example of a program like this is the one at the Raptor Centre at the Mountsberg Conservation area.
Some parks, like Algonquin park, offer guided hikes by conservation and animal experts.
There are also sporting and food festivals in some parks (e.g. International Wakeboard Festival in late June at Current River Greenaway Park or Ribfest at Spencer Smith Park in Burlington). Some parks offer occasional outdoor concerts too.
Although parks are generally nature reserves, some of them had pre-existing buildings located onsite before they became parks, and these original heritage buildings have been incorporated into the park. For example, at Ball’s Falls in the Niagara region you'll find a ghost village including a log cabin, a mill and church on site. In Bronte Creek park there's a beautiful Victorian heritage home. Crawford Lake features reconstructions of a Wendat village including a longhouse and timber pallisade -- quite an exciting and unique feature.
If you're looking for something really old and original though,
you should check out the pictographs, which are prehistoric drawings by
Aboriginal people, usually painted on rocks in caves, at the Petroglyphs
Provincial Park near Peterborough.
Algonquin Park, which covers a huge swath of land, has a few inns and several campgrounds, and many parks in the province have camping opportunities. Others, however, allow day visitors only. For more information check out my page on Campgrounds in Ontario.
Dining opportunities vary. It's wise to check in advance when you're planning a trip as some parks have snack shops and restaurants (e.g. the wonderful restaurant in Queenston Heights Park) while others have nothing at all. In this case, you'll want to pack a picnic. Almost all parks have picnic areas and most have public washrooms (particularly the parks closer to cities).
Ontario provincial parks are the most numerous. Algonquin Park is the best known for wilderness trips. An example of a tamer, more suburban one is Bronte Creek.
Canadian National parks - There are 5 in Ontario:
Bruce Peninsula National Park of Canada
Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada
Point Pelee National Park of Canada
Pukaskwa National Park of Canada
St. Lawrence Islands National Park of Canada
For local municipal or regional parks not run by the above two organizations, check local tourist sites and look for nearby parks.
URBAN PARKS: No time to get out of the city? Visit these great Toronto Parks to satisfy your urge for green space: Toronto Parks.
A special note for local residents
If you love nature and aren’t a member already, consider joining Nature Conservancy of Canada. They buy wilderness land and preserve it for future generations. It doesn’t cost a lot and it’s a wonderful investment in the future.
Ontario Travel Secrets > Ontario Parks