Toronto may be Canada’s largest urban centre, but don’t let that give you the wrong idea — some of the country’s best spots to pitch a tent can be found within a few hours of downtown. So, what are you waiting for? Pack the car (or recruit a friend who has one) and hit the road for a break from the hustle and bustle of Bay Street.
Situated on the Niagara Escarpment (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve), Rattlesnake Point’s 17 year-round campsites make the perfect base camp for any adventure. The area around Rattlesnake is well known as an escape for rock climbing in Southern Ontario, with over 200 routes to choose from. And when the snow starts to fall, bring the skis along, and head to nearby Glen Eden for a few runs.
Thousands of lakes. Spectacular scenery. The sound of a loon acting as your wake-up call. Yep, Algonquin is prime Canadian wilderness, and the allure of Ontario’s oldest provincial park isn’t likely to fade anytime soon. Algonquin is maybe best known for its 1,900 backcountry campsites, most of which are only accessible by canoe. So, naturally, that means excellent hiking and fishing opportunities.
The warm summer waters of Lake Simcoe offer a nice change of pace from the year-round frigid temperatures of Georgian Bay or Lake Ontario. Don’t want to actually go in the water? No problem. Choose a campsite close to the sizable beaches at either Sibbald Point or Mara Provincial Park — great places to spend a day or two soaking up the sun and replenishing your stores of vitamin D.
Georgian Bay’s rocky shores make an ideal backdrop for any camping adventure. Tobermory and the North Bruce Peninsula are home to The Grotto, a cave with almost Caribbean-like turquoise water that you’re encouraged to take a dip in. Go sea kayaking or take a few hours to explore Flowerpot Island, a freestanding rock formation a few kilometres offshore from Tobermory’s harbour, before setting up camp near Cyprus Lake in Bruce Peninsula National Park.
And you thought Algonquin was out there? Think again. Drive a few more hours north and you’ll end up in Temagami, a part of Ontario so picturesque you might have to pinch yourself to prove what you’re seeing is real. Launch your canoe from Mowat Landing, and get ready to tackle Lady Evelyn Lake, a challenging paddle even if the wind’s at your back. At day’s end, camp out almost 100 kilometers from civilization on the west side of Lady Evelyn before making your way to Maple Mountain, the tallest in Ontario, for some spectacular views of the route you just travelled.
So this trail’s long — 900 kilometers long. That means hiking a section or two instead of the whole thing is easier to manage. You won’t find many campsites in its Niagara region, but go a bit farther north and you’ll find tons up around the Bruce Peninsula, and even some just north of Toronto. Highlights include Bass Lake Park near Wiarton, and closer to Toronto, you’ll find Albion Hills Conservation Area. Both are within walking distance of the trail and are great spots to take a rest day — if you need one, that is!
Okay, we get it. Maybe you don’t want to canoe or hike for hours to reach a sweet campsite. If that’s you, think about taking a weekend to visit Craigleith. All of its campsites are accessible by car and are just steps from the water. And while Craigleith itself might not be the biggest draw, areas close to it sure are; spots like Blue Mountain Village or Wasaga Beach, the longest freshwater beach in the world.
Hop aboard the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory for the short crossing to Manitoulin Island. Once you get there, put your phone on airplane mode, ignore all those urgent work emails, and set up shop in the centrally located Mindemoya Court Cottages and Campground. Spend a day or two out on the dock, or take a quick drive over to one of Manitoulin’s main attractions, Bridal Veil Falls. Have your camera at the ready for this one — it’s spectacular. Fitt Tip: book the ferry in advance to ensure your spot and avoid the awkwardness of watching the already-full boat leave without you.
Bronte Creek Provincial Park
Think spectacular fall colours, kilometres of hiking trails that show off Ontario’s natural beauty, and even a 1.8-acre outdoor pool (one of Canada’s largest). The best part? It’s all just minutes away from the suburbs. And don’t worry if you forget the tent — Bronte Creek Provincial Park also has three yurts available for rent. It’s a weekend getaway with all the comfort and closeness of urban life.
Long Point Provincial Park
This one’s for the birds. No, seriously — Long Point is one of the top spots in North America to watch bird migration every spring and autumn. Pack the binoculars and bring the canoe along, too, Long Point Bay’s sheltered, calm water is perfect for a quick paddle. Fitt Tip: grab yourself a premium campsite in the loops of either Monarch or Turtle Dunes campgrounds that are closest to the beach; they offer much softer ground for pitching a tent than other areas.
Elora Gorge/Guelph Lake Conservation Areas
Maybe there are those of you out there who don’t want to spend every minute of their camping retreat doing outdoorsy things. Don’t worry — we didn’t forget about you. Book a campsite at Elora Gorge or Guelph Lake Conservation Area and get ready to experience another great Ontario summertime tradition: music festivals. Guelph’s Hillside Festival usually goes down in July, and Elora Riverfest follows in August. And hey, if you ever need a break from the tunes, think about taking a cool-down tube ride on the Grand River and Elora Gorge.