With summer in full swing, more and more Ontarians are heading outdoors with tents, canoes and fishing rods in tow to spend a few nights under the stars camping in the province’s beautiful backcountry. Ontario’s Provincial Park system offers many of the best opportunities for camping in the province and, understandably, these parks can fill up fast or have long since been reserved.
For those of us who didn’t reserve a spot well in advance, the choices can look pretty slim. However, with a bit of planning and research, there are still plenty of first-come, first-served campsites to check out in Ontario. To help you have the best chances of securing a camping spot this coming weekend, we’ve done a bit of the work for you – here are our top picks for non-reservable campsites in Ontario.
Non-Reservable Provincial Campgrounds
Although Ontario’s parks do get busy, and many campsites get reserved up to five months in advance, every park keeps a minimum of 15% of their campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that even popular camping destinations like Killbear Provincial Park offer 108 non-reservable sites. However, it is important to note that these sites fill up quickly, so your best bet at snagging a spot is to arrive as early as possible. If you are looking to stay the weekend, showing up first thing on a Friday morning is highly recommended.
As you make your way north, Ontario’s Provincial Parks become less crowded and, some would say, even more beautiful. What’s more, there are a number of Provincial Parks in the north that offer 100% non-reservable camping. These campgrounds rarely fill up, and your chances of finding a spot on any given day are good.
MacLeod Provincial Park
Located on a peninsula in Kenogamisis Lake, MacLeod Provincial Park is easily accessible via Highway 11 and offers 100 vehicle-access first-come, first-served campsites. Kenogamisis Lake is famous for its walleye and pike fishing, and on a hot day is a great place to take a dip. During the day, a pair of binoculars will help you catch a glimpse of the many species of birds who call this area home, while at night be sure to keep an eye on the sky for the Aurora Borealis, AKA the Northern Lights.
Missinaibi Provincial Park
This remote northern park offers large, well-treed, first-come, first-served campsites at Barclay Bay, along with 75 paddle-in campsites along five different canoe routes. The lake itself is over 40 km long, offering endless opportunities for exploration via canoe or kayak, including over 100 First Nations pictographs at the Fairy Point site. The Park is also located in the heart of the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, which is the largest wildlife preserve in the world – you never know what wild creatures you might see!
Ojibway Provincial Park
This small, quiet park on Vermillion Lake can be easily reached via highway 72 and offers 50 vehicle-access first-come, first-served campsites. There is a sandy beach on the lake that is a fantastic swimming spot, and fishing for smallmouth bass can be very productive. Paddlers will want to come prepared with their canoe or kayak, as Vermillion Lake links to several major paddling routes.
Pakwash Provincial Park
Found along the shores of Pakwash Lake and easily accessed along Highway 105, there are over 50 vehicle-access first-come, first-served campsites at this quiet park. The shallow waters of the lake warm quickly, making for great swimming, fishing (particularly for walleye) and canoeing. A sandy beach is found close to the campground, and almost half of the sites offer electricity.
If you don’t mind putting a bit of leg (or arm) work into finding that perfect camping spot, then there are a number of hike and paddle-in campsites throughout Ontario’s park system that is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Here is one of our favourites:
French River Provincial Park
The French River has been paddled for centuries by First Nations, French explorers, fur traders and voyageurs, and was the first officially designated Canadian Heritage River. Along its 105 km (65 mi) route between Lake Nipissing and Georgian Bay are numerous marked campsites that do not require reservations. Many of the sites offer pit toilets and fire pits and offer a much-needed rest along this beautiful paddling route. If you are driving along Highway 69, be sure to stop at the French River Visitors Centre to see the Voices of the River exhibit.
Some of Ontario’s Parks offer first-come, first-served camping outside of the peak summer season. If you are planning a trip in the springtime or after labour day weekend, then this is an excellent choice. For example, Murphys Point Provincial Park offers 14 non-reservable canoe and boat access campsites outside of the peak season. This park also offers several picturesque hiking trails, where birders may be able to spot species such as Baltimore orioles, cerulean warblers, scarlet tanagers and others.
Crown Land Camping
If you are looking to really get away from the crowds, and don’t mind a lack of facilities, then you may want to camp on some of Ontario’s Crown land. Around 85% of the province is made up of Crown land, and where it is listed as a General Use Area you can camp for free for up to 21 days. For a detailed overview of where you can go Crown land camping in Ontario, check out the Ontario Crown Land Use Policy Atlas.
Did we miss your favourite first-come, first-served campsite in Ontario? Let us know in the comments below, or share your camping adventures with us on Instagram using #brmblife for a chance to be featured in our feed!
You can easily find your way to the best camping spots in Ontario with the help of our Backroad Mapbooks and GPS Maps. No other recreation map lists as many campsites or provides you with the same level of detail. We give you the scoop on access, amenities, number of sites, activities and much more!
Here at Backroad Mapbooks, we are also very excited to announce the new release of BRMBmaps.com. Loaded with tens of thousands of Adventure Points of Interest (POI’s), hundreds of thousands of kilometres of trails, paddling routes, and ATV/Snowmobile trails in addition to rec sites and fishing locations, BRMBmaps.com is your one-stop Outdoor Adventure trip planning tool!