Ontario provincial parks offer raw nature, family fun, romantic settings & more!
My parents introduced me to our provincial parks when I was very young. We used to camp in Algonquin Park and Arrowhead Park and occasionally Killarney. These were our “regulars”.
We also visited other parks on occasion as we explored the province.
Although we travelled a good deal, I’ve still only seen a tiny fraction of what the “Ontario Parks” system has to offer.
Well, for one thing, Ontario provincial parks cover 7,868,641 hectares or approximately 9% of the entire province. In fact, you could fit the entire province of Nova Scotia into the territory covered by these 330 different parks.*
Now that’s a startling image for you.
9% of the province. Nearly a tenth. And it’s a BIG province!
I’m telling you this just so you know that if you’re thinking of visiting all of our natural treasures, you’d better plan on living a very, very long time.
Before you make your list though, I should point out that not all of these parks are open to visitors. About 100 of them are nature reserves and have been created to protect fragile environments. The only human visitors to these areas are scientists conducting research.
Still, there are plenty of others that welcome guests --- more than 9 million visitors per year, in fact, take advantage of the great opportunities Ontario provincial parks offer: wildlife and flora viewing, fishing, camping, hiking, canoeing, swimming, and other sports activities.
Summers in the parks are the busiest (notably weekends) – that's when everyone wants to go camping, or make picnics in the park. If you're planning on camping in Ontario at one of the provincial parks in summer, you'd better book early …like a few months in advance! See more information below under "Booking campsites".
Autumn can be pretty popular too, especially during late September and early October when during the “fall colour” season. Ontarians from the southern reaches of the province (like me) follow the “fall colour report” closely (it’s actually announced on the radio and tv as part of the weather report). Once we know the “peak weekends” we book our trips “up north” to Algonquin Park Ontario or the Muskokas to see the gorgeous colours of the maple trees at their height of drama. (You can see some pictures from one of my recent trips to Algonquin Park here.)
Winter brings out the skiers and tobagganers and snowshoers and skidoo-ers (is that a word?) looking for that perfect crisp white snow, as well as those less athletic dreaming of that classic romantic winter in the country weekend with the roaring fireplace, glasses of Ontario wine and nobody here but the two of us…
And spring? Well, spring's the time for Maple Sugar festivals, like the one I attended at Bronte Creek Provincial Park last year. It's also the time for reconnecting with green nature and all the little creatures coming out of the woods to celebrate the return of the warm weather and nature's miracles, the birth of animal babies.
In 1893 the government of Ontario created the first provincial park, Algonquin Park. This is still today probably the best-known park in the province. Part of its fame comes from the fact that the famous Canadian artists, the Group of Seven, did a lot of their painting there, so we have a visual record of it. Another factor is that it's a fairly short drive (only a few hours) from the southern part of the province where the vast majority of the province's population lives.
Although Algonquin Park was very popular with the public, the government didn't really get cracking on creating more parks until the late 1950s. In 1954 Ontario still had only 8 provincial parks, but by 1960 we had 72! Talk about a growth spurt.
And today, as mentioned above, we have 330 parks.
Since there are so many parks, how do you decide which one to choose?
Ontario Parks is the government body that runs the provincial
parks. Their web site
www.ontarioparks.com gives a good overview of what's available. You can
read their guide online or order a hard copy of their booklet.
You can choose your destination by location, or by amenities, etc. Looking for something within driving distance of your city? While we tend to think of provincial parks as remote wilderness areas, that’s not quite true. You’ll find some close to cities and towns, such as Bronte Provincial Park and Rockville Provincial Park near Dunnville. Looking for certain amenities? If you’re into golf, try Turkey Point; it’s the only Ontario provincial park with its own golf course. Interested in Aboriginal culture and history? Try Petroglyphs Provincial Park for its great prehistoric Aboriginal art.
Although there are 19,349 campsites, they do fill up quickly. A friend of mine books months ahead of time to guarantee her spot. You can book up to 5 months in advance so plan ahead to avoid disappointment!
To learn more about booking campsites, see my article: Campgrounds in Ontario.
In addition to campgrounds, there are other types of accommodation in some of the parks such as:
Fees and for more information
To bring your car into the park for the day, fees vary from $10-18. This helps with upkeep of the land. Check with the individual park for exact dollars.
If you want to camp overnight, fees range from $25-40 per night for serviced sites and about $5-16 for back-country sites (basically, wilderness areas). Check for current prices on www.ontarioparks.com.
Ontario parks offer discounts for seniors and people with disabilities.
*Source of statistics: http://www.ontarioparks.com
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