Winter camping destinations in Ontario
With plenty of snow and abundant wilderness, it’s no surprise Ontario is one of the best places to go winter camping.
Drive-in winter camping
Many of Ontario’s best drive-in (also called “frontcountry”) campgrounds remain open in the winter months.
This is a great way to sample winter camping and practice new skills without having to haul your gear into a backcountry location.
As a beginner, you may choose to rent a four-season tent and sleeping bags from a local outfitter. But in mild temperatures and the controlled environment of a campground, you can get by with a three-season tent and multiple layers of summer-weight sleeping bags.
Some campgrounds offer firewood sales and maintain comfort stations, as well as provide access to great snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails to keep you busy during the day.
Backcountry winter camping
Those looking for a bigger challenge and more adventure will find backcountry opportunities in many of the same locations that make Ontario an iconic destination for wilderness camping in the summer months—only with far more silence and solitude.
Winter camping in Ontario’s backcountry should only be done by experienced campers.
Cold-weather backcountry camping demands specialized equipment, such as windproof four-season shelters or canvas tents with compact woodstoves, as well as winter-rated sleeping bags, advanced outdoor skills and careful judgment and decision management to stay safe.
Backcountry locations have spotty cell service so it’s a good idea to buy or rent a satellite communication device for safety. It’s critical to be modest with your travel plans, keeping in mind the chance of inclement weather along with the shorter daylight hours of the winter months.
Special rules may apply for backcountry winter camping. In parks like Killarney and Algonquin, for example, camping on summer campsites is not permitted, to minimize environmental impacts. Summer campsites are often more exposed to the wind whereas winter camping is more comfortable in sheltered locations.
Learn more about the gear and skills you’ll need for winter camping and check out these amazing places in Ontario for an adventure of a lifetime.
Where to go winter camping in Ontario
Algonquin Provincial Park
Ontario’s most popular park is a great destination for frontcountry winter camping.
Algonquin operates Mew Lake Campground on the Highway 60 corridor year-round, with 131 electrical and non-electrical sites and nine heated yurts available, as well as a comfort station with hot showers and flush toilets. It’s advised to make a reservation in advance, though you may find a first-come, first-serve site available, especially for midweek stays.
Mew Lake provides excellent access to a number of great Algonquin trails, including the Old Railway Trail for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking and Bat Lake and Two Rivers trails for snowshoeing. An outdoor skating rink is maintained at the campground.
Algonquin also offers excellent options for backcountry winter camping.
You may choose to tackle a section of Algonquin’s Western Upland or Highland long-distance backpacking trails. You can also park at the Algonquin Art Centre, Mew Lake Campground or Minnesing Wilderness Ski Trail along the Highway 60 corridor and set off into the backcountry by ski or snowshoe. Contact the park at 705-633-5572 to inquire about the status of other access points for winter trips.
Winter campers should avoid designated summer campsites and set up camp a minimum of 30 metres from any trails, portages or lakeshore areas to minimize impacts on the environment.
Backcountry camping permits are required; make reservations online or pick up permits at Algonquin’s West Gate or East Gate entry points.
Quetico Provincial Park
Northwestern Ontario’s flagship park is open for winter camping.
Quetico’s Dawson Trail Campground, located southeast of the town of Atikokan, maintains five sites for use from January 1 to March 31. Three of the sites have electrical service, but be prepared to provide your own water for cooking and drinking and use a vault toilet as water taps and comfort stations are closed.
The campground makes a great base for a winter adventure with immediate access to 15 kilometres of cross-country ski trails groomed for classic and skate skiing, as well as plenty of options for snowshoeing on the French Portage and French Falls trails.
Bring your own gear or rent snowshoes at Wilderness Supply in Thunder Bay, or skis at Fresh Air Experience in Thunder Bay.
Quetico also offers three rustic cabins at Dawson Trail complete with bunks, a kitchenette and cozy woodstoves.
The parking areas at Dawson Trail and Nym Lake are both accessed from Highway 11 and provide winter access to Quetico’s backcountry, with self-serve backcountry permit stations to pay for and register your trip.
Travelling the Quetico interior is not for the inexperienced. The weather can be extremely cold and snowy, and ice conditions are often variable. You are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry; take your time and build contingencies into your route plan.
Large, traditional wooden snowshoes work best in Quetico’s relatively flat landscape, and toboggans work best for hauling gear. With countless frozen waterways and interconnecting portages to explore, interior camping options are only limited by your time, skill level and imagination.
Bruce Peninsula National Park
Winter imparts a unique feeling of wilderness in Bruce Peninsula National Park, with magnificent ice sculptures along the Lake Huron shore.
Frontcountry winter camping is offered in the Tamarack section of the Cypress Lake Campground, with 78 non-electrical sites available by reservation. Ten heated yurts (two-night stay minimum) are also available. You’ll have to carry or toboggan your gear and supplies a short distance from the parking area to your campsite. Camping services are limited in the winter months, so bring your own water and be prepared to use a pit privy. Firewood is available for purchase at the Visitor Centre.
Bruce Peninsula is an outstanding destination for winter hiking and snowshoeing, and your campsite gives you easy access to trails, including a five-kilometre loop around Cypress Lake and access to the Lake Huron coastline via the Horse Lake Trail.
You can also plan the challenging hike into several remote backcountry campsites. You’ll want to pack warm gear and high-energy foods, keeping them compact and lightweight so you can travel efficiently. Expedition backpacks and alpine-style snowshoes are best for Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Plan your itinerary carefully. It’s a 3- to 4-hour hike from the parking lot to the campsites at Stormhaven, and an 8- to 10-hour trek to the sites at High Dump. Reservations are available online.
Limberlost Forest is a vast natural oasis of freshwater lakes and hardwood hills in Central Ontario near Huntsville. The area features 52 frontcountry campsites that are available for winter camping, as well as cottage rentals.
Camping prices range from $20 to $40 per person, per night, and reservations can be made on the Limberlost website.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the main attractions in wintry Limberlost, with over 70 kilometres of trails through a rugged landscape that’s similar to nearby Algonquin Provincial Park.
Killarney Provincial Park
Ontario’s crown jewel provincial park is a great destination for winter adventures.
For starters, George Lake Campground is stunning under a blanket of snow. Be prepared to walk a short distance to access Killarney’s over 140 frontcountry campsites. The park provides outhouses for winter campers, sells firewood and rents snowshoes by the day or by the weekend. Running water and indoor toilets are available at the Park Office.
It’s also important to note that the road to the campground is only plowed to the Park Office, located just off Highway 637. To access your George Lake campsite in winter, you’ll have to haul your gear a short distance by backpack or toboggan.
Although the campground roads aren’t maintained for vehicles, they are groomed for cross-country skiing; three loops add up to 35 kilometres of skiing possibilities, perfect for beginners and advanced Nordic skiers alike. Campsites can be booked online or on a first-come, first-served basis from the Park Office. Six heated yurts and two cabins are also available.
George Lake is beautiful and provides good access to popular trails like The Crack, Cranberry Bog and Chikanishing, but Killarney’s backcountry is even more spectacular. You can buy backcountry camping permits online, at the Park Store at the George Lake Campground or at the Bell Lake backcountry access point, located on Highway 637.
This remote, wilderness park’s 49,000-hectare backcountry is vast and camping possibilities are nearly endless. Many are drawn to the frozen waterways of Killarney’s backcountry canoe routes, but you must be prepared for challenging portages and be aware of the risks of ice travel. Contact the park at 705-287-2900 to explore winter camping options and learn more about safety precautions.
Silent Lake Provincial Park
Located off Highway 28, south of Bancroft, Silent Lake is recognized for its excellent 34-kilometre network of groomed cross-country skiing and 17 kilometres of snowshoe trails. It’s also a perfect place to get a taste of winter camping, with a drive-in campground that operates year-round. Non-electrical campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, while electrical sites can be reserved online.
The park maintains a comfort station for winter use, provides firewood sales and offers snowshoe rentals. Besides providing you with the opportunity to learn a new skill, winter camping at Silent Lake gives you even more time to enjoy the park’s winter trails.
Frontenac Provincial Park
Located on Salmon Lake Road, off Highway 19 north of Kingston, Frontenac is unique among Ontario parks in that it offers free beginner courses in winter camping through the non-profit Friends of Frontenac Provincial Park.
You can put your new skills to use by planning an overnight trip to one of Frontenac’s 48 interior campsites available for backcountry winter camping, with access ranging from an easy 20-minute walk to longer treks of 3 hours or more. Campsites can be booked online.
Come prepared to haul your gear by backpack or toboggan. The park grooms an eight-kilometre network of cross-country ski trails and features over 100 kilometres of hiking trails ideal for snowshoeing. Check out the winter park map to see all of the opportunities for adventure.
About an hour’s drive north of North Bay on Highway 11, the quintessential Ontario canoe country of Temagami becomes a paradise for experienced backcountry winter campers when the snow falls.
The most accessible portions of the Temagami backcountry are made up of crown land, where Canadian residents can camp free of charge.
The first challenge of planning a winter trip on crown land is finding a secure and plowed place to park. There’s a good option near the five-kilometre mark on the Central Lake Temagami Access Road, a well-maintained road located just south of the village of Temagami off Highway 11. Heading west from this location you’ll discover frozen lakes and easy portages (often travelled by snowmobiles) to Iceland and Driftwood lakes, with excellent opportunities to set up camp and explore.
If you’re not quite ready to take on the challenge by yourself, book a guided winter camping trip and stay in a heated canvas tent with Temagami Outfitting.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Despite its proximity to the city of Thunder Bay, the backcountry of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is seriously remote in the winter months, separated from civilization by Lake Superior’s ever-changing weather and abundance of snow.
If you’re an experienced winter backpacker and up for the challenge, many of the park’s popular hiking trails are open for off-season adventures and backcountry camping. Winter camping permits are available through Ontario Parks’ online reservation system.
Access the park at the South Kabeyun Trailhead via Highway 587, about a 75-kilometre drive from Thunder Bay. The South Kabeyun Trail traces the Lake Superior shoreline, including spectacular views of an arched rock formation known as the Sea Lion, with camping possibilities at Tee Harbour and Lehtinen’s Bay.
Snow conditions along the trail are variable depending on the wind conditions, ranging from glare ice to deep drifts. It’s best to wear large metal snowshoes with crampon grips and carry gear in an expedition backpack.
Learn more about winter in Ontario’s Parks and the various adventures that await during this spectacular season.
Last updated: December 9, 2022