The Ontario provincial park system turns 125 this year, and Ontario Parks is celebrating with a series of art and music festivals, camping under the stars and plenty of guided wildlife tours—so there’s never been a better time to visit. With an impressive 340 parks to choose from, we’ve simplified your choices into four easy categories.


Go Comfort Camping

Yurts, cabins and beginner camping courses are popular at parks close to urban centres.

Rideau River, photo courtesy of Ontario Parks

Bronte Creek, Oakville

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is graced with Bronte Creek, a family-friendly recreation hot spot with hiking trails, farm animals, an outdoor pool and overnight programs that teach beginners essential camping skills.

What to do: Bronte has three yurts for rent featuring bunk beds, electric heat, barbecues and decks where you can sit back and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Six Mile Lake, Port Severn

Located south of Muskoka, just off Highway 400, Six Mile Lake is easy to reach from Toronto. Its gentle waters are ideal for watersports and canoeing and dock space can be reserved for power boats.

What to do: Six Mile Lake Provincial Park offers guided programs to teach novices how to camp and also teaches them to fish.

Rideau River, Kemptville

Rent canoes, kayaks and power boats from nearby marinas at this historic park—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—that lies along the Rideau River. Its level, well-shaded campsites with nearby amenities (water taps and vault toilets) make it a popular option with families.

What to do: With Ottawa only a 40-minute drive away, Rideau River is a convenient base for exploring the nation’s capital—especially during Canada Day celebrations.


See Birds and Butterflies

Birders and butterfly-lovers flock to Ontario’s southern parks year after year for rare spottings and magnificent migrations.

Presqu’ile, photo courtesy of Ontario Parks

Presqu’ile, Brighton

Lake Ontario’s shores come alive in spring and fall when more than 300 species of birds migrate to the region. Hang out around Presqu’ile’s marshy boardwalk and pristine 2.5-kilometre beach—with binoculars in hand—to catch a glimpse at some of the birds, or even migrating monarch butterflies.

What to do: Tens of thousands of swans, geese and ducks stop by each March for Waterfowl Weekend in Presqu’ile Bay.

Rondeau, Morpeth

As one of the system’s oldest parks, Rondeau has enjoyed many rounds of monarch butterfly migrations. This Lake Erie park is also home to 11 km of beaches and is a popular destination for windsurfing.

What to do: Rondeau hosts a Monarch Migration Festival each September with monarch tagging demos and guided butterfly hikes.

Long Point, Port Rowan 

Situated within a World Biosphere Reserve, Long Point is another lively Lake Erie spot—it’s among North America’s top destinations for birders. But it’s also known for its fishing, boating and beach-going opportunities.

What to do: The water is calm for canoeing on Long Point Bay’s sheltered marsh and bird sightings abound with numerous species migrating to the park.


Experience Winter Activities

Skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, even camping—there’s a winter full of activities in Ontario’s parks.

Frontenac, photo courtesy of Ontario Parks

Arrowhead, Huntsville

Arrowhead’s 1.3-km ice-skating trail snakes through pristine Muskoka woods, and special torch-lit skating is scheduled throughout the winter. There’s also a snowtubing hill and about 40 km of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.

What to do: Arrowhead’s log cabins are cozy and outfitted with heaters, kitchenettes and bunk beds so they can be rented year-round.

Frontenac, Sydenham

Four-season backcountry camping is Frontenac’s forté, along with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Trails meander through tall pine forest and across barren granite, a signature of the exposed Canadian Shield in this region of the province.

What to do: Frontenac’s proximity to Toronto, Kingston, Montreal and Ottawa offers accessible winter adventure to city-dwellers.

Sleeping Giant, Thunder Bay

Sleeping Giant on Lake Superior is known for a massive rock formation that resembles a giant snoozing on his back. The park—which juts into the lake—is also on the map for cross-country skiing: there are 50 km of groomed trails and it hosts the Sleeping Giant Loppet cross-country ski festival.

What to do: In Sleeping Giant’s boreal forest, expect to see wildlife including deer, foxes, wolves and lynx.


Get Inspired, Just Like the Group of Seven 

Artists, including the Group of Seven, found their inspiration in Ontario’s parks—and so can you.

Algonquin Park, photo courtesy of Ontario Parks

Algonquin, Whitney

Algonquin Provincial Park opened in 1893 and was Ontario’s first designated park. Its glassy lakes and rivers, fiery autumn leaves and howling wolves have inspired a treasure trove of iconic Canadian art over the years.

What to do: The Algonquin Art Centre pays homage to famed artists, including painter Tom Thomson, who died mysteriously on Algonquin’s Canoe Lake in 1917.


This rugged park captivated Group of Seven masters who were inspired by Killarney’s glacier-exposed pink granite and white quartzite along the shores of Georgian Bay. Hiking and sea kayaking are some of the park’s top pursuits.

What to do: Killarney’s 125th anniversary celebrations include a Group of Seven Festival (Aug. 18 to 19).

Grundy Lake, Britt

Grundy Lake Provincial Park is a favourite among photographers thanks to a patchwork of pretty lakes, sand beaches, evergreen trees and spectacular sunsets. There are also rugged campsites located within 20 minutes (by canoe) from the park’s gateway.

What to do: On July 15, Grundy plays host to children’s musician David Archibald, who is embarking on a travelling concert series to honour.


[This story appears in the June 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]