A young boy peers out of a small zippered doorway in a blue tent.

Kilbear Provincial Park | Destination Ontario

How to prepare for a camping trip in Ontario

A young boy peers out of a small zippered doorway in a blue tent.

Kilbear Provincial Park | Destination Ontario

From booking the best campsite to a checklist of camping essentials, here are some useful tips to help you plan the perfect camping experience in Ontario. 

Ontario offers a variety of different types of camping experiences. Once you’ve decided on the style of camping, you’ll need to start packing. A camping checklist will help you organize and pack for your trip. In addition, there are important things to know before you set out, such as weather conditions, potential fire bans, safety tips and camping etiquette.

In Ontario there’s something special for every level of camper to enjoy, so let’s get planning.

Choose your camping style

The first decision you need to make is choosing the type of shelter that suits you. Consider how much "roughing it" is the right amount for you and your group. Select from:

Tent camping

This is what most beginners envision when they think of a camping experience.

Tent camping sites in Ontario are available in Ontario Provincial Parks, national parks, conservation areas and various private campgrounds.

Front-country tent camping is the best option for beginners and families. If you’re camping in a provincial or national park, front-country camping sites are accessible by vehicle. This is also referred to as "car camping" or using "car campgrounds." Facilities differ between parks however most car-access campgrounds will feature comfort stations with flush toilets and showers, drinking water, picnic shelters and playgrounds. Some sites will also provide electrical hook-ups.

Backcountry sites are located deeper into the wilderness. They are accessible by hiking or paddling in and are best suited for experienced campers.

For beginners, the best time to go tent camping in Ontario is from late May to early October. You’ll enjoy mild to warm temperatures, a lower chance of rain and outdoor activities such as swimming, hiking and paddling.

Roofed accommodations

Some provincial and national parks offer roofed accommodations such as cabins, cottages and even yurts. These provide campers with the opportunity to be surrounded by the beauty of Ontario wilderness without the need to invest in tents and other camping gear.

Park cabins are typically small, rustic wooden shelters. Yurts are cozy dwellings made with a circular wood frame covered with canvas or felt. Both accommodations usually come equipped with basic furniture and amenities like a barbecue and firepit.

Recreational Vehicle (RV) camping

RV camping involves driving your RV to a campground or RV park.

Ontario Parks and private campgrounds offer sites for RV camping. This is a great way to combine a stay in the great outdoors with the additional flexibility that wheels provide.

GoRVing Canada is an excellent resource for all things RV, with information on everything from RV rentals to a listing of private RV parks and resorts in Ontario.

Glamping

Glamping, short for glamorous camping, is like tent camping but with all the comforts of a boutique hotel. Rather than sleeping in a tent pegged to the ground, glamping sites offer larger canvas tents atop a wood floor. The interiors often include a luxury bedroom set, with plush bedding and many of the amenities one might find in a hotel room.

Glamping sites in Ontario are privately owned, so you’ll need to book directly with the operator.

How to book a campsite

If you’re planning to go tent or RV camping in one of Ontario’s provincial parks, national parks or conservation areas, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance. Be sure to book as early as possible to avoid disappointment as summer campsites tend to fill up quickly.

Roofed accommodations are even more limited and often will require a minimum number of two or more nights’ stay.

Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks campsite reservations can be made online or over the phone. Use the Park Locator to find the best park experience and for you.

Note that Ontario Parks has recently reduced the maximum length of stay at select parks during peak seasons to help connect more campers with campground sites and experiences. Find more tips on making your reservation.

Parks Canada

Camping reservations for national parks in Ontario can be made online at Parks Canada.

Private campgrounds and RV parks

To book a private camping or RV site, visit Camping in Ontario, which features over 350 privately owned campgrounds to choose from. Learn more about private campgrounds and RV parks in Ontario.

What to pack for a camping trip

Figuring out your camping packing list can be daunting. What you need will vary based on your planned activities, time of year and length of trip.

Here’s a sample checklist of basic camping essentials for beginners, plus considerations of other things to bring on a camping trip.

Tent and other essentials

The first thing you’ll need is a good tent that’s large enough for everyone in your group to sleep comfortably, plus extra room for bags, shoes and gear. If your tent is new, it’s a good idea to practice putting it up and taking it down before setting out. Tent sets usually come with tent pegs. You may want to include mallet to secure the pegs with. And even a small broom and dustpan to clear out sand and dirt from your tent.

Next is a sleeping bag, pillow and sleeping pad or air mattress for each camper. Ensure sleeping bags are rated for the temperatures you expect during your trip.

Additional gear you’ll want to consider include:

  • A ground sheet for under your tent. It should be slightly smaller than the outside dimensions of your tent to avoid water pooling.
     
  • An indoor/outdoor carpet or a mat for outside your tent.
     
  • One or more durable, waterproof tarps with rope to cover your outside cooking and eating area. Some campers pack a dining tent in addition to their sleeping tent, but an extra tarp is always a good idea.
     
  • Extra rope and clothespins to dry clothes and towels.
     
  • An axe or hatchet for splitting wood.
     
  • Flashlights, head lamps, battery-powered lanterns, extra batteries, candles and matches or a lighter.
     
  • In addition to a sturdy backpack for your gear, you’ll want a small backpack for hiking excursions.
     
  • A solar powered or electric phone charger.
  • If you're planning on hiking and paddling, bring a map and compass. In remote Northern Ontario locations, cell service is often not available, so a GPS unit is a wise idea.
     
  • Folding table and chairs if your campsite does not have picnic tables.
     
  • Extension cords if your campsite has electricity.

Cooking and other outdoor kitchen basics

Cooking and dining outdoors is great fun, but only when you are prepared. Your outdoor kitchen should include:

  • A fuel-powered stove top with extra fuel.
  • Pots, frying pan, oven mitts and potholder.
  • Plastic or steel washable plates, bowls, cups, mugs and eating and cooking utensils, including a set of sharp knives.
  • Plastic containers to store your food and to keep your perishable items cool, bring a cooler with multiple ice packs.
  • Cutting board, can opener, corkscrew and a kettle (electric, if you have electricity available, or a stove top kettle)
  • A compactable plastic basin large enough to wash dishes, biodegradable dish soap, scrub pad and drying towels.
  • Paper towels, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, garbage bags, duct tape and a wipeable tablecloth if your site has a picnic table.
  • A personal water bottle for each camper.

First aid kit and personal items

Be prepared for all the little scrapes, spills and mishaps that will inevitably happen in the great outdoors. And don’t forget to bring personal necessities and entertainment for the kids. Stock up with:

  • A first aid kit designed for camping with lots of band-aids.
  • Sunscreen and sunburn lotion, burn ointment, insect repellent with DEET, bug spray and afterbite lotion.
  • Aspirin or ibuprofen, antihistamine medication, a thermometer, personal prescriptions and EpiPen.
  • A pocketknife, tweezers and sewing kit.
  • Hand sanitizer, wipes and toilet paper.
  • Eco-friendly, biodegradable soap and a portable shower or shower bag if your campsite has no shower access.
  • Hats, sunglasses and flip flops or plastic shoes for showers.
  • Games, books and camera equipment.

Know before you go

Important things to be aware of before you set out on a camping trip in Ontario include the following.

Drinking water

Not all parks provide access to clean drinking water. Check in advance to see if you need to bring your own drinking water or a water purifier kit.

Campfires and firewood

During the summer season, outdoor fire restrictions or full fire bans are issued in areas that are at risk for forest fires. Always check in advance if there are any restrictions in the locations you plan to visit.

It is not permitted to bring campfire wood into Canada from the U.S. National and provincial parks in Ontario require firewood to be purchased onsite or nearby to prevent the spread of forest pests.

Camping supplies

Many campgrounds have park stores, but their stock of everyday items is limited. If you’re camping in an Ontario park, check if there are general or grocery stores nearby just in case you run out of something important. Like marshmallows or hotdogs!

Weather

Check the weather forecast before you leave so you can be fully prepared for rain, thunderstorms, heatwaves and cold snaps. Plan ahead to see what else there is to do for family outings, especially for rainy days.

Fishing licence

A licence is required to fish in Ontario. Exemptions include designated licence free fishing days for Canadian residents four times a year, as well as anyone under 18 or older than 65 years of age.

If you’re planning on fishing during your camping trip, get your fishing licence online or in-person at a Service Ontario location or licence issuer.

Canoe and kayak rentals

If you’re planning on enjoying outdoor activities like canoeing and kayaking, find outfitters and equipment rentals in Ontario’s provincial and national parks.

Safety tips and campsite etiquette

Finally, a few safety tips and camping reminders.

  • Ontario’s wilderness is home to diverse wildlife, some of which will be attracted to the scent of human food and activity. It’s important to keep your campsite clean of anything that will attract bears or other critters. Lean how to bear-proof your campsite.
  • Outside of meals, all your food should be securely stowed away in containers and coolers. You may want to store them in your car. Backcountry campers will need to learn how to hang your supplies away from your campsite.
  • Remove trash from your camp either in the bins provided at the site, in your car or safely hung if you are backcountry.
  • Dispose of grey water responsibly if you are RVing.
  • Keep your pets on a leash at all times, except when visiting off-leash dog zones.
  • When hiking, always stay on the designated trails. And bring insect repellent, sunscreen, water, snacks and a small first aid kit. Wear closed-toe shoes, long sleeves and long pants to avoid contact with poison ivy and to limit bug bites.
  • Sound carries in the outdoors, so a respectful volume in the early morning hours and evenings will make you a great camping neighbour.
  • Always abide by the Leave No Trace principles, leaving as small a footprint on nature as possible.

When you’re properly prepared, camping in Ontario could easily become the best memories you make with your family and friends this season.

Happy camping!

Last updated: February 27, 2024

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