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Back to nature: 16 of the best Ontario Provincial Parks to escape to

Canoeing in Costello Creek

From lakes the size of seas and dense pine forests, to sandy beaches and thundering waterfalls, Ontario Provincial Parks highlight some of this Canadian province’s most spectacular landscapes. There are 330 Provincial Parks in Ontario, and if you added them up they’d cover 7% of the province. Each landscape is different and each has been chosen for different reasons.

Some parks are special habitats for plants or animals, some have cultural significance and others were picked as recreation spots or wilderness escapes. But what they all have in common is that they make some of Ontario’s most beautiful areas accessible to everyone. So if you’re looking to get out and explore some of the province’s unspoilt nature, here are 16 of the best Ontario Provincial Parks, including my favourites and those of other outdoor-loving bloggers.

Read more: A two-week Calgary to Toronto road trip itinerary

Ontario Provincial Parks map

Ontario Provincial Parks map

Ontario Provincial Parks map

1. Rushing River Provincial Park

Rushing River Provincial Park is located in the Lake of the Woods region in Northwest Ontario, just outside Kenora and around 2.5 hours away from Winnipeg, Manitoba. It has a campground with various spots including some group spaces accommodating up to 20 people at once. A few trailers are available. If camping is not your cup of tea, you can sleep at one of the many Kenora hotels or cabins in the region. Day-use of the park with fire pits is also possible.

As its name indicates, Rushing River is a water-orientated park. Canoe, kayak and water bike rentals are available, the park has two boat launches and there are lots of shallow spots to swim in, which makes it a great park for families with small children. Hiking is also a popular option with four marked trails running from 500 metres to 2.7km.

My favourite hike was the Lower Rapids Fall, which brings you on an old portage trail and allows you to see some waterfalls. It’s a 1.8km loop with a few steps but on a well-marked trail. And to unwind, just go relax on one of the four sandy beaches at the park.

Recommended by Kenza from Cups of English Tea.

River flowing at Rushing River Provincial Park, Ontario

Rushing River Provincial Park – photo credit Cups of English Tea

2. Quetico Provincial Park

Canada has a lot to offer when it comes to unspoiled wilderness. But it’s a rarity to be at the heart of the unbridled primitive connection with nature that Quetico Provincial Park offers. There is no mobile phone signal, no motorised boats, no lodges, and fewer crowds than many of its counterparts.

Located on the border of the United States and Canada, it shares its beautiful solitude, stretching for miles and miles, with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota. If you love canoeing or kayaking, this is the place to be. With more than 600 lakes, you’ll never run out of destinations. There are many pretty hiking trails. You can catch fish to eat every day, listen to the howls of wolves every night, and maybe get a visit from a moose or a black bear.

There are many amenities such as an interpretive centre, store and car camping sites. Quetico Provincial Park has more than 2000 wilderness campsites scattered all around. However, drive-in, full-service camping is only available at Dawson Trail, located just off Highway 11 on French Lake. You can stay at the Log Cabin or Ojibway Cabin on French Lake as well.

Recommended by Deb from The Visa Project.

Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario

Quetico Provincial Park

3. Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

It might not be Ontario’s most famous waterfall, but 29km west of Thunder Bay is Kakabeka Falls – the ‘Niagara of the North’. It’s 40 metres tall versus Niagara’s 50 metres, but what you lose in height you also lose in crowds. The falls are the star at this Ontario Provincial Park, with a boardwalk path running on both sides and a bridge over the top, so you can see them from every angle. And when the sunlight catches the spray you’re surrounded by rainbows.

The rust-tinted waters of the Kaministiquia River thunder over the edge of the Falls. Over the years, the force of the water has cut its way down through layers of rock in the Precambrian Shield and uncovered some of the world’s oldest fossils, dating back over 1.6 million years. As well as the boardwalk there several fairly short hiking routes in the park, including the Mountain Portage Trail which follows the route used by early visitors to the Falls.

The park is open year-round, though if you visit in spring you’ll see the largest volume of water. In summer there’s a beach and swimming area upriver from the Falls, or cross-country ski and snowmobile routes in winter. Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park has three campgrounds – Whispering Hills (with electrical hookups) and Riverside and Fern’s Edge (non-electrical).

Waterfall at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, Ontario

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

4. Missinaibi Provincial Park

Missinaibi Provincial Park protects a Canadian Heritage River and is a premier destination for whitewater canoeing. The Missinaibi River was first of vital importance to Indigenous groups, specifically the Cree and Anishinabe, and then to fur traders. This is because the river offers the shortest route between Lake Superior in the south and James Bay in the north.

Present day, the Missinaibi River is a destination for canoe camping. Nearly 800km long, the entire river (including Missinaibi Lake at the start and Moose River at the end) takes four weeks to paddle. The first section of the river weaves through the Canadian Shield and offers challenging Class II and III rapids. Portages take paddlers around roaring waterfalls, with intimidating names like Thunderhouse Falls and Hell’s Gate. Original topographic maps had portages in incorrect places; between 1977 and 1994, 34 canoeists died on the Missinaibi.

The second section of the river is on the Hudson Bay Lowlands and suitable for less-experienced paddlers. Here the river is flat and straight as a needle until it flows into the Moose River. At the end of the Moose River, paddlers will find themselves in the towns of Moosonee and Moose Factory, where they can tour original Hudson Bay Company buildings or participate in a cultural workshop hosted by the Cree Cultural Interpretive Center.

The Missinaibi River is one of the most iconic canoeing rivers in Canada and worthy of a place on any canoeist’s bucket list.

Recommended by Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper.

Canoes at Missinaibi Provincial Park

Missinaibi Provincial Park – photo credit Voyageur Tripper

5. Lake Superior Provincial Park

Straddling the Canadian/US border, Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake. It reaches down to 306 metres deep and is a big as Austria – so large it has its own tidal system. And on its east coast you’ll find Lake Superior Provincial Park, running along 97km of lakeshore. The park has two RV campgrounds – Agawa Bay among the waterfront pine trees and Rabbit Blanket Lake on a small inland lake – and over 200 backcountry campsites.

The park is best known for its hiking and canoeing. There are 11 different hiking trails, ranging from short hikes of 500 metres to the 65km, multi-day coastal trail. Routes run though a mix of landscapes from rocky coastline and inland lakes to forests and wetlands. There are also eight designated canoe routes over 145km, and you can fish for trout and salmon.

But Lake Superior isn’t all about the natural landscapes, this section of the lake was also chosen as a park because of its cultural importance. Canada’s best-preserved rock paintings are found in the park – the Agawa Rock Pictographs. Real and mythological creatures were painted by the Ojibwe people to record their dreams and stories. The paintings are located on a rock face above the lake and you climb on a ledge above the water, so the site’s closed on rough days.

Beach at Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario

Lake Superior Provincial Park

6. Chutes Provincial Park

The waterfall at Chutes Provincial Park in Massey along Highway 17 between Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie is the site’s main attraction. A railed viewing platform offers easy access and a photographer’s vantage point of the Seven Sister Rapids leading to the waterfall. The rapids are the source of the constant roar muting any noise from nearby campers or swimmers. Moments spent blanketed by the water’s spray are mesmerising.

The Aux Sables River running through the park is responsible for Chutes’ history: the park is named after a log slide (or chute) taking timber safely over the falls in the early 1900s when lumber was a lucrative industry. Yes, you can swim in parts but without a lifeguard.

Today, Chutes has a campground with 130 sites (only two are pull throughs) for tents and RVs, a comfort station with five showers and two bathrooms. The Twin Bridges Trail is 6km of moderately challenging hiking paths along with a designated dog swimming spot along the river.

Everyone loves the waterfall, but my favourite thing is near the swimming area: a wooded leash-free fenced dog run with picnic tables, so you can enjoy a picnic lunch and let Rover run when you’re either camping here or day visiting. Located only one kilometre from the highway, Chutes Provincial Park makes an ideal Canadian road trip stop.

Recommended by Sherri from Dog Trotting.

Waterfall at Chutes Provincial Park, Ontario

Chutes Provincial Park – photo credit Dog Trotting

7. Killarney Provincial Park

Set on the wild Georgian Bay Coast close to the village of Killarney, Killarney Provincial Park was made famous by a group of 1920s Canadian landscape painters known as the Group of Seven. They fell in love with its colours – the vivid green lakes, pink granite rocks and white La Cloche Mountains. When three of the artists heard the area was going to be logged, they petitioned the local government and got them to turn it into an Ontario Provincial Park.

The park covers 645km² of wilderness which you can explore by canoe or on foot. There are over 50 lakes, with canoe routes lasting from a day to more than a week. You can hire kit, guides and book shuttles from Killarney Outfitters. There are also a selection of hiking trails you can choose from. Best known is the 80km La Cloche Silhouette Trail which takes 10 days and involves some tough climbs, with fantastic views over the park from ‘The Crack’.

Or for something less strenuous, the Cranberry Bog Trail covers 4km through marshland that’s buzzing with dragonflies or the 3km Chikanishing Trail runs down to the shores of Georgian Bay. There’s also good star-gazing and summer art programmes. Killarney Provincial Park has one (non-electrical) car camping site at George Lake as well as backcountry pitches.

George Lake at Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario

Killarney Provincial Park

8. Algonquin Provincial Park

Just a few hours from Toronto, Algonquin Provincial Park is the oldest and largest of the Ontario Provincial Parks, attracting a mix of day trippers and campers. Highway 60 runs though the park and connects the park’s 11 campgrounds and visitors’ centre, logging museum and art centre. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get away from everything – Algonquin has plenty of space. The park covers 7630km², making it bigger than the province of Prince Edward Island.

Algonquin is made up of a mix maple-covered hills, rocky ridges and over 1500 lakes. The park is famous for its canoeing, with 2000km of tranquil waterway routes to explore. You can head out on day trips or go further afield on a portage adventure to some of the backcountry campsites. There are also 20 interpretive hiking trails across the park. Or in winter you can head out in the snow on 110km of cross-country ski routes, or try your hand at dog-sledding.

The park is home to black bears, beavers and deer as well as being one of the best places to see moose – keep your eyes out when you’re on the road as they’re attracted to the the stretch of land along the highway by salt left after the winter. There’s also good bird-watching and trout fishing. Or you can join in weekly wolf howling sessions in August and September.

Moose in Algonquin Provincial Park

Algonquin Provincial Park

9. Bon Echo Provincial Park

Located in Eastern Ontario in traditional Algonquin territory, Bon Echo Provincial Park is a popular family park with two campgrounds, a sand beach and a stunning setting. This Ontario Provincial Park is also known for its towering Mazinaw Rock which rises 100 metres above Mazinaw Lake. The Rock has many examples of native pictographs or rock paintings.

To explore them you can go canoeing and kayaking along the base of the rock face or take a tour boat from the campground. Walk up a long set of stairs and a path to the top of Mazinaw Rock for extensive views over the entire park.

Bon Echo Provincial Park is very popular with families looking for some solitude on a weekend getaway. Aside from pictographs, Bon Echo has a huge variety of activities to enjoy, ranging from hiking and camping to fishing and boating. If you plan on soaking up as much outdoor playtime as possible, Bon Echo has exactly what you’re after. And it all comes in a package that makes family-friendly camping holidays incredibly enjoyable. If you are looking for a quieter option, consider booking a campsite at Hardwood Hill campground.

Recommended by Ivan from Mind the Travel.

Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario

Bon Echo Provincial Park – photo credit Mind the Travel

10. Awenda Provincial Park

There are many beautiful Ontario Provincial Parks to explore, but if you’re looking for one that’s not too busy, head to Awenda Provincial Park. The park is an attractive forested area that spans more than 2900 hectares along the shores of Georgian Bay.

Awenda has great multi-use trails for biking and hiking, where you can often see local wildlife and birds. The park is a perfect place to go swimming in the summer, as you can access sandy beaches on the Georgian Bay shoreline. After a day of fun in the park, be sure to watch the gorgeous sunset from the beach. Awenda is also home to Kettle Lake which is a great place to go canoeing. You can rent canoes there in July and August.

My favourite place to stay at Awenda is right inside the park in one of Ontario Parks’ campsites. If camping’s not your thing, there are also pretty cottages you can rent nearby. The park is open year-round, but camping is only available from mid-May to mid-October. Awenda is just a two-hour road trip from Toronto, making it a perfect place to escape the city for the weekend.

Recommended by Lora from Explore with Lora.

Sunset at Awenda Provincial Park

Awenda Provincial Park – photo credit Explore with Lora

11. Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

Located on the famous Niagara Escarpment, just a few minutes away from the historical red Cheltenham Badlands, is the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park. Originally opened in 1985, the park is about 70km or an hour by car north of Toronto. Due to being situated in an area which is surrounded by residents, areas of the park are most commonly used for picnics and hiking during the summer, and some parks turn into ski slopes during the winter months.

The park itself hosts a number of different trails, including the Bruce, Dominion, Kettle, Meadow and Trans Canada. Upon entering the park from the car park, you will come across a large map which explains the routes of the trails and ranks them in order of difficulty.

If it is your first time visiting, or you are looking to do a bit of fishing (which is permitted), head towards the Cataract Falls, which can be reached via the Kettle Trail which merges on to the Bruce Trail as you pass Kettle Lake. The waterfall is easily accessible as there are wooden platforms and bridges created for hikers to pass over the water.

Recommended by Manpreet from Hello Manpreet.

Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, Ontario

Forks of the Credit Provincial Park – photo credit Michael on Flickr

12. Pinery Provincial Park

Located close to Grand Bend on the shores of Lake Huron is Pinery Provincial Park. Named after the red and white pines that were planted there in the 1960s, Pinery is home to the largest area of oak savanna in Ontario. This rare forest is the largest protected forest in Southwestern Ontario. The park also has a freshwater coastal dune ecosystem and 10 km of sandy beach. And it’s been ranked as having one of the ‘Top 10 Best Sunsets’ in the world!

The park opened in 1959 and was originally designed to provide recreational activities. Today it is still used for recreational activities but is also intended to protect the natural and cultural features. Pinery boasts 10km of nature trails, 14km of biking trails and 38km of groomed ski trails in winter. In summer, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and paddleboats are available to rent.

During the summer, the park hosts extensive programs, including walks guided by a park naturalist, night walks, children’s programs and daily story time for kids.

Pinery Provincial Park is popular for day use but also has three campgrounds with 1000 campsites, including 12 yurts. Burley Campground is the furthest from the main gate but sites are non-electric and a bit more private, although it is still within walking distance to the beach. Dunes Campground is a more popular choice, as it is easy walking distance to both the beach and visitors’ centre and has a mix of electrical, trailer and tent sites.

Recommended by Erin from Three is Us.

Pinery Provincial Park dunes

Pinery Provincial Park – photo credit Three is Us

13. Komoka Provincial Park

Komoka Provincial Park is located west of London in southwestern Ontario. It’s a nice little park along the Thames River with slightly hilly terrain. The park is mostly forested with several small meadows and former farm fields.

Komoka Park was named a Provincial Park in 1989 and locals love it for its close proximity to the city. The park is not exceptionally large as it covers only around 200 hectares, but it’s the closest Provincial Park for Londoners. Many residents use it several times a week for jogging, dog walking and quick hikes with kids.

Komoka Provincial Park is used as a day-use park with no overnight camping and no picnic areas. There are no facilities except washrooms on the parking lot. But the hiking trails are great. They offer 11km of walking paths including loops and scenic river views from high bluffs. Wildlife-lovers prefer to come here during a week to observe birds, deer and coyotes.

If you want to visit this Ontario Provincial Park, park your car in the parking lots at 503 Gideon Dr. or 2290 Komoka Rd. There are no hotels close by. Your best bet is to stay at a hotel downtown and then drive west along Oxford Street right to the park.

Recommended by Slavka from On 2 Continents.

Komoka Provincial Park in Ontario

Komoka Provincial Park – photo credit On 2 Continents

14. Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Bronte Creek Provincial Park lies an hour outside of Toronto and sits within the city of Oakville. It is named after Bronte Creek, which runs through the city of Hamilton and the Halton region. Originally known to the Mississauga First Nations as Eshkwessing or ishkwessin, this watershed is noted for bordering layers of Queenston Formation – a form of red shale rock which is one of the most unique natural phenomena in the region.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park offers plenty to do. From camping in its green fields to swimming in its outdoor pool, it has a variety of outdoor activities geared towards adventure-seekers. It offers five trails and has a children’s farm for family outings. Various events are offered throughout the year, such as the Maple Syrup Festival in March and Ghost Walks in August.

If you have a Canadian spirit, I doubt you’d be able to resist the urge to toboggan down its snow-covered hills or take on a cross-country skiing adventure during the winter months. Although the park may not offer the skyline of Toronto or the diversity of things to do in Vancouver, it is perfect for those looking for a nature-orientated getaway.

There are two entrances to the Provincial Park. There is a day-use entrance from 1219 Burloak, Oakville (open year-round), and there is another camping-specific entrance at 3201 Upper Middle Rd W, Oakville (open from April to October).

Recommended by Daisy from Beyond my Border.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Ontario

Bronte Creek Provincial Park – photo credit Ontario Parks

15. Prequ’ile Provincial Park

Visiting an Ontario Provincial Park is one of the best things to do in Ontario in the summer and one of the absolute must-visit parks is Presqu’ile Provincial Park. The park is located about 1 hour and 40 minutes east of Toronto.

With eight different campgrounds, a number of group campsites, a cottage and three yurts/tents available you’ll have plenty of options should you want to stay in the park overnight.

While Presqu’ile Provincial Park is known for its stunning sunsets, there are plenty of things to do in the park. There’s 2.5km of sandy beach to explore in addition to rock beaches. You’ll also find 16km of trails that go through the forests, along the shores and throughout the park. In addition to the many trails there is a 1km boardwalk that goes through a protected marsh area. There are two viewing towers on the marsh that make for excellent photographs.

The park has the second oldest operating lighthouse in Ontario and there are informational plaques around the lighthouse to show where at least eight ships sank in the late 1880s.

The park is also known for being a main point of bird migration and is a great site for bird watching, with 338 different bird species having been spotted in the park.

Recommended by Liliane from My Toronto, My World.

Boardwalk at Prequ'ile Provincial Park

Prequ’ile Provincial Park – photo credit My Toronto, My World

16. Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park

If you are searching for a smaller park that is still worth a visit, check out Lake on the Mountain. Located in Prince Edward County, this park features exactly what the name suggests – a lake which sits high atop a mountain just a short distance from Lake Ontario below. The lake itself is very pretty and shrouded in a bit of wonder since its formation confuses limnologists to this day.

Visitors to the park can explore the wooden walking paths that overlook one side of the lake and take in the natural beauty of the area. There’s also a parking lot right across the street from the wooden paths so the park is very easy to visit.

The park is day-use only as there are no camping facilities but it makes for a great spot to take a break when you’re exploring Prince Edward County. There are picnic tables available for those wanting to have a bite to eat. You can take a (non-motorised) boat out on the water and even engage in a little fishing if you’re into that sort of thing.

While the park itself isn’t that large, it’s still worth visiting the area. The town of Glenora has a number of small eateries which have views of Lake on the Mountain or of Lake Ontario. You can stay right on the lake at Lake on the Mountain Resort and there is also a great brewery nearby of the same name!

Recommended by Eric from Ontario Away.

Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park in Ontario

Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park – photo credit Ontario Away

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Getting back to nature at Ontario Provincial Parks, Canada – 16 of the best Provincial Parks in Ontario to visit, with lakes, rivers, mountains, hikes and canoeing | Ontario Provincial Parks | Outdoors in Ontario | #canada #ontario #explorecanada16 of the best Provincial Parks to visit in Ontario, Canada – highlighting the Province's stunning scenery, from lakes the size of seas and dense pine forests, to sandy beaches and thundering waterfalls | Ontario Provincial Parks | Outdoors in Ontario | #canada #ontario #explorecanada

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Kim
    June 16, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Canada is on my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to go. It just looks absolutely stunning! Even Toronto appeals to me and I’m not usually a city person!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 17, 2020 at 5:36 pm

      It’s such an amazing country – so many stunning landscapes, I’ve still got a huge list of places I’d like to visit there.

  • Reply
    Nim Singh
    June 17, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for sharing Lucy. Hope it won’t be long before we can all get on the road again….

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 17, 2020 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks Nim, and yes fingers crossed – this time at home has given me lots of new ideas of places to visit!

  • Reply
    Holly
    June 24, 2020 at 3:11 am

    Pukaskwa Provincial Park on Lake Superior is a must do for any interior hikers. The views are like nothing else in Ontario. I highly recommend taking the Coastal Hiking Trail if you are in good physical condition.
    Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay is on our list, it is also rated as one of the best.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 2, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks for the tips – so much to see in that part of the world!

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