Last Updated: June 29, 2020
On Saturday, May 30th Ontario Parks announced it would open backcountry camping in specific parks starting June 1st. While is in undoubtedly exciting, there are a few important pieces of information to know. This is especially important if you are new to backcountry camping.
Note: I’m sorry if this post comes out sounding like a lecture. I just want to make sure we’re all enjoying ourselves outside while staying safe and protecting others.
1. Only specific Ontario Parks are OPEN for backcountry camping
Ontario Parks is allowing the following parks to open for backcountry camping:
|Park / Campground||Usage (day use, camping, etc.)||Opening and Closing|
|Algonquin – Backcountry||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
|Biscotasi Lake||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 12, 2020|
|Bon Echo||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 18, 2020|
|French River||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Frontenac||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
|Kawartha Highlands||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
|Killarney||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
|Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Lake Superior||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Makobe-Grays River||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Missinaibi||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to September 20, 2020|
|Obabika River||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Quetico – Backcountry||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
|Sleeping Giant||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 13, 2020|
|Solace||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Spanish River||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 12, 2020|
|Sturgeon River||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|The Massasauga||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to October 25, 2020|
|Wabakimi||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
|Woodland Caribou||Re-open Details||June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020|
2. Ontario Parks are gradually opening for front country camping
As of June 22nd, a lot of Ontario Parks are now open for front country camping (car camping). See this webpage for details about what parks are open and what facilities are available.
3. Backcountry Camping at National Parks is gradually opening for existing reservations
As of June 22nd, Parks Canada announced select national parks in Canada are open for limited day use and backcountry camping. Recall there are five national parks in Ontario:
- Georgian Bay Islands National Park
- Point Pelee National Park
- Pukaskwa National Park
- Thousand Islands National Park
- Bruce Peninsula National Park
Parks Canada has released a timeline for when new reservations will be accepted. See this page on their website for details.
4. Backcountry Camping on Crown Land is OPEN
Note: It is extremely important to follow Leave No Trace principles when camping on Crown Land. If you have never camped in the backcountry before, I recommend camping in a Provincial Park before you try camping on Crown Land.
5. Social Distancing is still a requirement
At Ontario Parks and on Crown Land, backcountry camping is limited to five people. The only exception is if a single household has more than five people.
Also, please avoid making stops in small towns on your way to and from backcountry camping. And please wear a mask whenever you might interact with someone else.
Now that you are aware of where you can practice backcountry camping in Ontario, let’s talk about how to do so safely.
6. Safe Backcountry Camping: Communication
Many backcountry camping sites, even in popular places like Algonquin Provincial Park and Killarney Provincial Park, do not have cell service throughout the park.
Please consider renting a satellite phone or SPOT device. These will allow you to communicate and get help in the case of an emergency. Many outfitters rent remote communication devices for as low as $12 per day.
7. Safe Backcountry Camping: Waste Disposal
Whatever you bring into the backcountry should be packed out with you. This includes ALL waste. Some common improperly disposed garbage I see at backcountry camping sites include:
- Cigarette buds
- Burned cans (cans do not burn – please don’t try and don’t leave them in a fire pit)
- Burned plastic bags and food wrappers (again, these often don’t burn)
- Toilet paper (please, please, please – I am so tired of seeing wet toilet paper clumps at campsites)
Please bring a garbage bag to keep your trash in during your camping trip. Throw out your trash when you are home.
8. Safe Backcountry Camping: Bathrooms
If your campsite has a thunderbox (see image below), please use it. Toilet paper can be disposed of inside the thunderbox.
If your campsite does not have a thunderbox, please follow proper backcountry bathroom guidelines.
- Dig a 6 inch deep hole 200 ft from any source of water
- Do your business
- Fill the hole
- DO NOT leave your toilet paper behind. Either burn it or pack it out with your garbage.
I have an entire post on How to Poop in the Woods for your reference.
9. Safe Backcountry Camping: Navigation
If you are venturing out into the backcountry, ensure you have proper navigation. Often this will be a topographic map and compass. Your phone GPS is usually not accurate enough to be of much help in the backcountry.
If you are new to backcountry camping, choose a destination with well-defined trails, well-marked campsites and a backcountry map (Algonquin or Killarney are excellent choices).
10. Safe Backcountry Camping: First Aid Kit
Ensure you bring a well stocked wilderness first aid kit. You can easily build your own with the supplies you’d find at Shoppers Drug Mart. At a minimum, your first aid kit should have:
- Latex gloves and hand sanitizer
- CPR pocket mask
- Anti-septic wipes, bandages, Polysporin and gauze
- Benadryl, Tylenol and Advil
Review my post How to Build Your Own Wilderness First Aid Kit for everything you should be packing.
11. Safe Backcountry Camping: Fires
Currently, there is no fire ban in Ontario, meaning you can build a camp fire for cooking and general enjoyment. A few reminders for building fires in the backcountry:
- Don’t build bon fires – keep the size manageable
- Dump water on the fire and ensure the fire is completely out before leaving – there shouldn’t be any embers and it shouldn’t be hot to touch
- Don’t pull branches off of live trees – leave the trees alone, and besides, live wood doesn’t burn well anyways
12. Safe Backcountry Camping: Be Prepared
Ensure you have all the equipment you need. For backcountry day hikes, you should be bringing the 10 Essentials. For backcountry camping, you will need more. I have a very comprehensive list of the gear you need for canoe camping here, but it is also appropriate for other types of backcountry camping.
13. Have fun!
I know reading this post felt like a lecture, and I’m sorry about that. The whole reason we go through all this effort and have so many rules / guidelines is to ensure everyone is enjoying themselves and staying safe in the outdoors. Swim in the lake, eat s’mores. Laugh under the stars – just do so responsibly!