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The Camp TripperThe Secrets of Successful Family Camping in Ontario
By Patrick Dzieciol
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Patrick Dzieciol
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTrip Planning
Ontario has hundreds of great campgrounds that offer access to recreational opportunities, attractions, and beautiful natural environments. With all of the campgrounds in Ontario, it can be difficult to determine where to camp. How do you find campgrounds in the region of Ontario where you live? Should you camp at private or public campgrounds? How do you know what facilities and services are available at the campgrounds? This chapter will help explain how to research and select campgrounds that meet your needs when you are planning camping trips.
Campground brochures can be found in the chambers of commerce and tourist offices in villages, towns, and cities in your region. These brochures are usually free of charge. Ontario Travel Information offices provide the best hard copy collection of parks and campground information that I have found. You can pick up the Ontario Parks Parks Guide for the current year at Ontario Travel Information offices or at provincial parks campgrounds. This guide contains an overview of all campgrounds and day use parks in the Ontario Parks system. The guide showcases the parks by region with photos and information on fees, reservations, facilities, activities, rentals, and when the parks are open. You can also locate brochures for specific provincial parks, conservation areas, national parks, and private parks at the Ontario Travel Information and tourist offices. Your local library is another source of information.
Another good source for campground information is word of mouth. There is nothing like listening to camping experiences that others have had. Oftentimes, campers can give you tips on the best natural features, activities, and campsites that particular campgrounds and parks have to offer. When I talk to others about their great camping trips, I make notes and add the campgrounds and parks to my wish list for future camping trips.
The Internet has undoubtedly become the best resource for researching campgrounds. From your home computer, you can research campgrounds, parks, events, and activities, and you can make campsite reservations anywhere in Ontario, as well as other parts of Canada, the United States, and the world.
In Ontario, the campgrounds are either public or private. Ontario's public campgrounds are split into national and provincial parks, as well as conservation areas that offer camping or day use facilities and services. The province of Ontario maintains the provincial parks and conservation areas, while the federal government maintains the national parks. Ontario also has hundreds of private campgrounds scattered across the province.
Public campgrounds tend to not have as many facilities and services as private campgrounds. However, public campgrounds tend to be situated in larger, undeveloped environments that offer hills, lakes, rivers, beaches, forests, wildlife, and other natural features to explore. Activities include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, biking, and swimming. When our family plans to engage in outdoor recreation, we usually stay at a public campground instead of a private one because we enjoy hiking, canoeing, biking, and swimming in a natural environment. For the most part, public campgrounds also tend to offer larger campsites with greater privacy.
Camping facilities are not offered at all parks in the Ontario Parks or national parks system. Some parks are day use with no overnight camping. Other parks are wilderness parks that are designed for backcountry hiking or canoeing, but with few facilities and services. You need to know what facilities and services are in place before reserving a campsite to ensure that you will not be disappointed. The cost of campsites can vary from park to park and is usually based on the amount of facilities and services, what the park has to offer, as well as the quality of the campsite. For example, you will pay more for campsites in campgrounds that offer the following:
Electrical hookups Local water supply for drinking and cooking Flush toilets Showers Laundry Trailer sanitation station Better than average privacy, quality, size, location, or view Yurts, cabins, or other roofed accommodations Other facilities and services
Private campgrounds are owned and operated by people instead of the government. Private campgrounds tend to be more commercially developed, providing more facilities and services than public campgrounds. Facilities and services include laundry, games, swimming pool, recreational facilities, transportation to attractions, electrical and water hookups, cable hookups, stores, restaurants, Internet, TV, movies, and so on, in addition to the facilities and services offered at public campgrounds. Private campgrounds tend to be well equipped with drive-through campsites that can easily accommodate large recreation vehicles (RVs). Private campgrounds are often situated near cities, towns, villages, and other desirable areas that tourists travel to.
We use private campgrounds when we want to camp near cities, towns, villages, or major attractions. Usually, you can arrive and set up camp quite easily, and everything you need is there. Kampgrounds of America (KOA) is a good example of a company that operates well-run private campgrounds, and there are about 450 KOA campgrounds across Canada and the United States. In 2009, we were visiting Quebec City for four nights. Rather than pay hundreds of dollars per night to stay at a hotel in Quebec City, we stayed at a nearby KOA campground for a fraction of the price. Jacob and Aaron loved it because there was a heated swimming pool, games room, jungle gym, and free Internet. As parents, we enjoyed it because it was located minutes from Quebec City and had everything that we needed. We made the reservation about one month in advance, over the Internet. From our experience, we have found that the fees that we pay at private campgrounds are about the same or slightly more than premium campsites in public campgrounds: around $35 per night.
Internet Search for Campgrounds
The Internet is undoubtedly the best resource for researching campgrounds. The Internet can provide you with the following:
Direct links to campgrounds and parks Up-to-date information on campgrounds, parks, facilities, services, activities, and current events Blogs that document camping experiences of other campers at various campgrounds Other places of interest in the region of your target campground
To research campgrounds and make campsite reservations on the Internet, enter a search engine in your Web browser, for example, www.google.ca. Once the search engine page appears, you can do searches for virtually any campground in any region. For Ontario Parks campgrounds, you can do a Google search on Ontario Parks, or type www.ontarioparks.com into your Web browser. The Ontario Parks Web site provides the information that you need for researching, planning, and reserving a campsite at any of Ontario's provincial parks.
The Visiting Parks-Park Locator menu (www.ontarioparks.com/ english/locator.html) is accessible from the home page. This Web page allows you to locate parks alphabetically, on a map, close to home, or by facilities, services, or season. You can also search for operating parks, which have facilities and staff on site; for example, Algonquin Provincial Park. The Web pages display all of the activities and facilities that are offered at the park and allow you to access the Reserve a Site link: reservations.ontarioparks.com/en/
After you have selected a park from the Web page (reservations.ontarioparks. com/en/), you can do more research on the campsites. All Ontario Parks car camping sites are numbered, and you can get more information by moving your cursor over specific campsites and clicking on them. Just by moving the cursor over the campsite, you can see if the site has electrical hookups or not. Click on any campsite to get detailed campsite information, check availability, and make a reservation. Here are some links that will help you to quickly locate campsites at public and private campgrounds in Ontario:
Public Campground Links-Ontario
National Parks-Research www.pc.gc.ca/ National Parks-Reservations www.pccamping.ca/ Ontario Parks-Research www.ontarioparks.com/ Ontario Parks-Reservations reservations.ontarioparks.com/en/ Ontario-Conservation Areas www.ontarioconservationareas.ca/
Private Campground Links-Ontario
Camping in Ontario www.campgrounds.org/ www.campingontario.ca/ www.campontario.ca/ Kampgrounds of America www.koa.com/
To do more extensive searches, you can refine the keywords that you enter in your Internet search engine. For example, entering a city, town, or region name plus "camping private" gives you the names of private campgrounds in that area.
Search Engine Maps
You can also locate parks and campgrounds through the Internet using a map tool, which is available through some of the search engines, e.g., Google Maps: maps.google.ca/maps?hl=en&tab=wl.
You can use this map as a starting point to scan all regions of Ontario for parks and campgrounds. The green areas on the map represent the larger national and provincial parks. Just press the map with the left button on your mouse and drag it. This will allow you to navigate all over the province. When you find an area that you wish to camp in, double-click it to zoom in on parks and towns on the map. Once park and town names are displayed, you can do other searches to learn more about the campgrounds in the area.
According to the Ontario Parks Parks Guide 2009, there are 330 parks in the Ontario Parks system. This covers 9 percent of Ontario's land and water mass. The "Park Locator" menu on the Ontario Parks Web site displays these parks as "operating" or "non-operating" parks. There are over a hundred operating parks listed, and these are the parks where most car campers go because the parks have staff and facilities on site. Scroll through the list of operating parks and you will see that Ontario's most popular provincial parks are listed there. With so many parks in the Ontario Parks system, it can be a daunting task to figure out which park will be the most suitable for your camping trip. I've camped at more than thirty of the operating parks and found that they all have something special to offer. When selecting a park to camp at, our family first decides what activities we want to partake in. From there, we select a park that meets our needs. In other words, once we list the activities that we want to do when we go camping, selecting an Ontario Parks campground becomes much easier.
CAMP TRIPPER SECRETS: SELECTING ONTARIO PARKS CAMPGROUNDS
Many of the best beaches in the Ontario Parks system are situated in provincial parks that are located along the Great Lakes. The best beaches that come to mind are in the following parks: The Pinery on Lake Huron, Killbear on Georgian Bay, Sandbanks on Lake Ontario, Long Point on Lake Erie, and Lake Superior Provincial Park on Lake Superior. Wasaga Beach has an excellent beach, but it is a day use park with no campground. You will need to camp at Craig Leith Provincial Park, which is about a half-hour drive away, and do day trips to Wasaga Beach. Sauble Beach on Lake Huron is another great beach; however, the closest provincial park is Sauble Falls, which is within walking distance. Other provincial parks along the Great Lakes that have great beaches include Inverhuron on Lake Huron, Port Burwell and Rondeau on Lake Erie, Presqu'ille on Lake Ontario, and Awenda on Georgian Bay. If you prefer camping on smaller lakes, there are great beaches in Arrowhead, Algonquin (Lake of Two Rivers) Balsam Lake, and Bon Echo Provincial Parks. There are many other great beaches in Ontario that I haven't had the privilege of swimming at yet.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at many of Ontario's provincial parks. The parks that offer the most lakes and rivers (and therefore the best canoeing and kayaking options) include Algonquin, Killarney, and French River. These parks also appeal to those who want to do overnight trips into the backcountry. Other parks that offer excellent opportunities for day trips include Grundy Lake, Arrowhead, Charleston Lake, and Silent Lake.
Ontario Parks has some campgrounds with designated bike trails. Other campgrounds don't have bike trails; however, cycling is permitted on the campground roads. Many provincial parks also offer bicycles for rent. The parks that have great bike trails include Algonquin, MacGregor Point, Killbear, Rondeau, and The Pinery. Even without official bike trails, bicycles are helpful for exploring campground roads and getting around the parks quickly. Nowadays, many campers pack their own bicycles on their camping trips.
Groceries and Shopping
Most Ontario Parks have a grocery store within a few kilometres of the campgrounds that offer a limited selection of groceries, gas, camping supplies, and other merchandise. The bigger parks such as Algonquin and The Pinery have groceries, camping supplies, and other merchandise for sale within the park.
All provincial parks that I have camped at offer hiking of some sort, whether it is on official trails, the beach, or campground roads. The largest parks tend to offer the most hiking trails and the longest hiking trails. Backcountry hikers will prefer parks such as Algonquin, Killarney, and Lake Superior. These parks also offer some of the best day hikes in the province. All of the other parks where I have camped also have great hiking trails for day trips. Arrowhead, Bon Echo, Charleston Lake, and Grundy Lake are among my favourite parks for day hikes.
Organized Activities for Children and Families
The Ontario Parks system is excellent for providing organized activities for children and families. Some activities include going on hikes, doing crafts, and attending talks and slide show presentations at the visitor centres and amphitheatres. The larger parks offer a bigger assortment of organized activities.
Picking Wild Berries
There are many provincial parks that offer opportunities for picking delicious wild raspberries and blueberries. The berries are more easily found in open areas such as meadows and along roadsides where there is lots of sunlight. Late July to mid-August is the time when the berries seem to be ripe for picking in the Canadian Shield country north of Toronto. Call the parks in advance and ask staff for more details.
Sports and Recreation
Some campgrounds have recreation fields for sports, which is appealing to those who want to toss a football, baseball, or Frisbee. Other parks offer playgrounds with jungle gyms for younger children to play on. I have found that many of the provincial parks along the Lake Erie shoreline have excellent playgrounds.
I have found that the best wildlife viewing is in the larger parks, which offer more space for the animals. I have seen more deer, moose, beaver, fox, birds, and so on in Algonquin and Killarney provincial parks than in any other parks where I have camped.
Length of Trip
Another way to decide on what parks to visit is to determine how much time you wish to spend there. Naturally, you will want to select parks that have enough to keep you occupied during your stay there.
Some parks are day use only, including Wasaga Beach, which offers a spectacular beach, and Petroglyphs, which offers the largest known collection of Aboriginal rock carvings in Canada. These parks do not offer camping and will appeal to those who just want to visit an Ontario Park for the day. There are other parks that have excellent day use facilities and camping. The French River visitor centre on Highway 69 is an excellent example. The centre has a museum and hiking trails, and it offers magnificent views of the French River. Algonquin Provincial Park offers an art gallery, visitor centre, logging exhibit, shopping, and restaurants. Bronte Creek has a small zoo, a playground, and a play barn for children.
Short Camping Trips (One to Three Nights)
If you are planning a short camping trip, consider some of the smaller campgrounds that Ontario Parks has to offer to avoid the crowds. Some of the smaller parks where I have enjoyed camping are Craig Leith, Green Water, Lake St. Peter, Port Burwell, and Rock Point.
Excerpted from The Camp Tripper by Patrick Dzieciol Copyright © 2010 by Patrick Dzieciol. Excerpted by permission.
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