It may seem odd, but for many people the excitement for summer camping in Ontario starts around Christmas time.
I’m not talking about getting a tent or Ontario Parks gift card as a present (although both would be cool), I’m talking about booking a campsite for your first camping trip of the year.
May 2-4 long weekend is the unofficial start to summer camping season and in Ontario you can book a campsite up to 5 months ahead of time. This means when you’re enjoying a Christmas dinner, you can be thinking about where to camp in May. The next long weekend in Ontario is Canada Day and shortly after that is my birthday, so early July is my favourite time for camping in Ontario. Long daylight hours lure me further north in need of a nature fix. Sometimes it’s a park many have never heard of, like Esker Lakes Provincial Park, while other times it is a popular park like Killarney Provincial Park.
Now time for my camping confession:
I have never camped in Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin Park is an icon of Ontario. It is a big park, a very big park. At 7,600sq km it’s bigger than your average Caribbean or South Pacific island. It is also only 250km north of Toronto, making it very accessible to most people who live in Ontario. For outdoor and nature lovers, camping in Algonquin Park is a childhood rite of passage. It is where many people first spot a Moose in the wild, or hear Wolves howling at night. It is where you may first hear the haunting call of the Common Loon, or where you’ll take off on your first back-country canoe camping adventure.
It is one of our most cherished parks in Ontario and I have visited Algonquin Park somewhere around 20 times. But, I’ve only ever visited for day trips, or stayed overnight at cabins nearby, like the Wolf Den Nature Retreat. I did try camping at Algonquin once. It was a July long weekend and we took off to grab one of the first-come, first-serve sites that can not be reserved ahead of time. Standing in line, the person in front of us scored the very last site.
It was July and this massive park was 100% full. It was teeming with Canadians and other visitors who wanted to go camping, canoeing, swimming and hiking. The Highway 60 Corridor, which is home to most of the camp grounds and visitor facilities, had a constant stream of cars zooming along.
So, on a whim, we decided to keep driving north, to another park, in search of a camp site. We drove past Grundy Lake Provincial Park, past Killarney Provincial Park. We kept going past Sudbury, then beyond Sault Ste. Marie. After driving for about eight hours after Algonquin, we came to Lake Superior Provincial Park and set up camp.
It was a great weekend of hiking on quiet trails and enjoying the rugged coastline of Lake Superior. It also got me hooked on the more northern parks of Ontario.
That was many years ago and I have camped at dozens of provincial parks since then but I’ve never had the urge to go camping at Algonquin Park. In a weird way, the popularity of Algonquin helped turn me on to the great, lesser-visited parks we have in our province. I still enjoy visiting Algonquin Park every year as it has superb hiking trails and canoe routes, but when it comes time to pitch a tent, my sights are set further north.
I do know many people who swear by Algonquin Park and will go on 10-day canoeing adventures into the depths of the park. It definitely has a special place in many people’s hearts and I know – one day – I will explore the park more, and go camping there. But the beauty of Ontario is that we have such diversity. Our province is so large that the trees and animals I may see at Wakami Lake Provincial Park may differ from those I see further north at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park or further south at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.
So, to me, as impressive as it is, Algonquin is the ‘everyone’ park that attracts the crowds. Now, I’ll admit I have gone camping at many smaller parks during crowded, noisy times. So it isn’t just the fact that it’s a popular park that makes me avoid camping there. In fact, I know it is such a large park that it is easy to spend a week there without encountering other people. It’s just not my style of travel to do what everyone else likes to do. I crave different experiences in different places. Algonquin is famous for Moose-spotting, but other parks, with different environments and landscapes, are better for spotting other wildlife, a factor that weighs heavily on where I decide to camp.
You will find me up at Algonquin Park soon though. As the spring takes hold and snow begins to melt in coming weeks, the Moose migrate to roadside ditches in search of salty goodness. For a couple of weeks of the year it isn’t unheard of to come across a dozen Moose on a visit to Algonquin during this time. But, it will only be a day trip for me as I have other parks to book my camping sites at.