Lifestyle

7 great waterfront campsites in Ontario

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday (since Confederation) this summer. What better way to mark the occasion than by camping? It’s a classic summer activity, beloved by all generations, that will get you out into Canada’s beautiful wilderness and closer to its stunning geographical sights. In this slideshow, I will take you on a tour of some favorite camping spots in my home province of Ontario. (Admittedly, these are biased to the parts of the province I’ve lived in – mainly Muskoka/Algonquin area and the western coast – so the list is far from comprehensive.)


Algonquin Provincial Park

Algonquin is Ontario’s biggest and most famous provincial park. It’s located 3 hours northeast of Toronto and 3 hours west of Ottawa, making it a popular destination for many urban-dwellers. Because of the sheer size of the park, which covers 7,600 square kilometers (3,000 square miles), and the single major highway through the park, it’s easy to find a piece of wilderness, far from the hordes of tourists. Algonquin is best for canoe-tripping, although you can camp in any of the regular campgrounds along Hwy 60. Every Thursday night in summer features a famous public wolf howl, and you will often spot moose along the highway in springtime. There’s a wonderful logging museum that brings the park’s incredible history to life.

credit: K Martinko — A view of Indian Head Cove on Georgian Bay

Cyprus Lake

There’s a lot going on at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, where land partially separates the rest of Lake Huron from Georgian Bay. Cyprus Lake is located within the Bruce Peninsula National Park, and it’s the access point for the famous Grotto – with an eerie underwater tunnel connecting a cave with the outside world – and exquisite Indian Head Cove that looks like something out of the Caribbean. The water is crystal clear with a turquoise tinge, thanks to the limestone bottom. At the nearby town of Tobermory, home to Fathom Five National Marine Park, you can get on a glass-bottomed boat to visit shipwrecks (there are 22 dive sites), or hop on a boat to Flower Pot Island. Be sure to visit Lion’s Head to the south, a small community with incredible hiking trails, exhilarating cliffs, and views of the Bay.


Killbear Provincial Park

This stunning park, close to Parry Sound, is located on the eastern side of Georgian Bay, where you get those famous views of lone windswept white pines atop granite hills. Whenever my family camped here, we would take a small motorboat and spend the days traveling between the many islands that dot the coastline, keeping a lookout for shoals. (The evenings were spent fending off overly-tame black bears.) The conditions are excellent for windsurfing, too. The area is rocky and rugged, interspersed with lovely small beaches where the campgrounds are located and a 6-kilometer biking/hiking trail. Because it’s quite close to Toronto, it can get very busy.


Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. You can reach it by car, about 6 hours from Toronto, or you can take a two-hour ferry ride from Tobermory. There is a fabulous privately-owned campground at Providence Bay, with a sheltered sand beach, spacious campsites, and clean facilities. A boardwalk links the campground to the town, which also has a good playground and visitor’s center. From Providence Bay, it’s easy to drive to famous sights such as Bridal Veil Falls, the Cup & Saucer trail, the Assiginack Museum, and Gore Bay.


Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Located in what feels like the far north to southern Ontarians, Sleeping Giant is close to Thunder Bay, on Lake Superior. Its name comes from the shape of the Sibley Peninsula when seen from a distance. The park has high cliffs and spectacular views of the lake along nearly 80 kilometers of hiking trails. There are plenty of car-camping sites, as well as opportunities for back-country camping and sea kayaking. About an hour’s drive away, you can visit Ouimet Canyon, a fascinating gorge that’s 330 ft. deep, 493 ft. wide, and more than a mile long. About 55 miles in the other direction, you can see Fort William, an old fur trading post that’s been reconstructed as it was in 1815.

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credit: K Martinko — The rugged waterfront at Craigleith Provincial Park

provincial park campground at Craigleith, a small town just west of Collingwood, is squeezed between Hwy. 21 and Georgian Bay, which makes it a bit noisy at night, but there is so much to do in the surrounding area that it doesn’t matter. (Please note: This is not a wilderness camping experience.) It’s a short jaunt to Blue Mountain, where you can take a self-guided walking tour through scenic caves, try zip-lining, walk on southern Ontario’s longest suspension bridge, or explore miles of mountain-biking trails. The nearby town of Wasaga Beach boasts the longest freshwater beach in the world, or if the weather’s off, check out the Plunge Aquatic Centre at Blue Mountain Resort. If you’re child-free, head to the luxurious Scandinave spa.

credit: K Martinko — An early springtime view of the MacGregor coastline

Macgregor Point

Located near Port Elgin, this campground provides access to the same white-sand, blue-water beaches of the Lake Huron coast that you’d get at the more famous Pinery campground near Grand Bend to the south, but it’s far less busy and congested. Macgregor is a rare provincial park that’s open year-round, with yurts available to rent, and it features wonderful biking and hiking trails through the forest and along the coast. Swimming is great for kids. It is home to the Huron Fringe Birding Festival.

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