At the beginning of 2021 we decided to set an ambitious goal for ourselves. Ontario was in a strict province-wide lockdown and travelling abroad was not looking promising. So we created the Ontario Parks Challenge where our goal was to visit as many provincial parks as we could.
There are over 330 provincial parks scattered across Ontario. Some of these parks are operational and offer camping and other facilities and activities, while others are wilderness preserves or non-operating parks with limited services. Either way, some of the best hiking trails, canoe routes, and sandy beaches in Ontario can be found within the boundaries of these provincial parks.
By the end of year we managed to visit 107 provincial parks. Below are some highlights from our challenge:
Algonquin Provincial Park – Exploring the backcountry by canoe
With hundreds of interconnecting lakes, ponds, and river systems Algonquin is easily one of the best places in the world to explore the backcountry by canoe. It’s become an annual tradition for us to head into the interior of the park by canoe for a few days every summer. In 2021, we went to Manitou Lake, which involved the most intense paddle of my life against the wind and waves, but we had an incredible campsite complete with our own private sandy beach.
Batchawana Bay Provincial Park – Dipping our toes in the water
Batchawana Bay features a beautiful sandy beach and is reputed to have the warmest water along the Lake Superior shoreline. It took a bit of convincing, but I somehow managed to convince everyone that we should dip our feet into the freezing cold water. It felt oddly refreshing after a long day of hiking.
Blue Lake Provincial Park – Feeling swamped (but in a good way)
A fen is a unique type of peat-forming wetland that supports a diverse plant and animal community. During our two week road trip around Northern Ontario we stopped at Blue Lake to hike along the Spruce Fen Trail to take a closer look at the species found in this acidic environment. The trail is short and sweet and follows along a boardwalk. There are also interpretive signs along the way that provide more information about the importance of fens and the types of plants that can be found here.
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park – Soaking in the sun
We fell in love with Northern Ontario when we visited (not once, but twice) in 2020 that we decided to return, except this time for longer. We planned a two-week road trip to return to some of our favourite parks and to explore many new ones as well. We had a bit of a rough start in terms of the weather, but things were finally starting to look up when we visited Fushimi Lake. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset on Achilles Lake. It’s amazing how all it takes is some nice weather to lift our spirits.
Inverhuron Provincial Park – Swimming in the waves
Located along the shore of Lake Huron, Inverhuron boasts of having one of the nicest sandy beaches in southern Ontario. We visited early in the summer during a road trip to Manitoulin Island on a particularly hot and humid day. Even though it was overcast and there was a threat of rain on the forecast, we enjoyed swimming in the refreshingly cold wavy water.
Killarney Provincial Park – Staying warm in a cabin
Killarney is located along the rugged shores of Georgian Bay. It is open year-round and provides a variety of camping options, including a couple of heated cabins. We visited Killarney in December after a fresh snowfall and experienced a quieter side of the park when there aren’t too many people around.
Lake Superior Provincial Park – Camping on the beach
Lake Superior is one of the oldest and largest provincial parks in Ontario. It is located along the eastern shore of Lake Superior and features some pretty awesome trails that showcase the rugged beauty of the area. Lake Superior also offers a few different options for camping, including right on the beach at Agawa Bay. This was easily one of the best places we’ve ever camped. Talk about a room (or rather campsite) with a view.
MacGregor Point Provincial Park – Trying winter camping for the first time
Ontario was under a strict province-wide lockdown at the beginning of 2021, so we decided to try winter camping at MacGregor Point. In a tent. We had no issues keeping ourselves warm during the day as there are plenty of trails throughout the park. It was a bit of a struggle in the evening though, especially since the sun sets pretty early. But we survived. Overall it wasn’t too bad, but we don’t have any plans to go winter camping again anytime soon.
Neys Provincial Park – Appreciating nature and its connection to art
Neys? More like yays! The park is located on the sandy shore of Lake Superior and offers a variety of hiking trails that weave through the different habitats in the park, including ancient sand dunes, dense forests, pebble beaches, and rocky overcrops. It’s no surprise that this scenic landscape and wild shoreline provided much inspiration to the Group of Seven painters.
Pigeon River Provincial Park – Chasing waterfalls
Pigeon River is part of the Voyageur Boundary Waters Canadian Heritage River that protects a system of lakes and rivers that run along the international border of Ontario and Minnesota. It is a day-use park that is open year-round and offers a range of hiking trails that provide countless opportunities to view the river, falls and surrounding area. The trails are all well-signed and the scenery is spectacular.
Presqu’ile Provincial Park – Getting stranded on an (almost) island
Presqu’ile in French means “almost island” as it is joined to the mainland by an extremely narrow piece of land. It is open year-round, features a long sandy beach and has a variety of trails that wind through the various habitats in the park, including forests, wetlands and sand dunes. Presqu’ile is one of my favourite parks in Ontario, so much so that I visited twice in 2021.
Quetico Provincial Park – Sitting by the campfire
Quetico is a wilderness park and is reputed to be an amazing place to canoe, camp and just enjoy the great outdoors. While we were only here for one night, we had a fabulous time exploring the trails. We also had an awesome campsite by the water, which we naturally had to take advantage of by having a campfire to enjoy the views. There’s just something so mesmerizing about watching the flames flicker and dance in the dark.
Sandbar Lake Provincial Park – Watching the (fake) wildlife
Sandbar Lake features a unique hiking trail, the Silhouette Trail, which weaves through jack pine woods, aspen forest and wetlands. Along the way there are signs that provide more information about the flora and fauna in the area, including a series of wildlife silhouettes. A few of these animal silhouettes looked a bit too realistic and took us by surprise, which then resulted in lots of laughter.
Sioux Narrows Provincial Park – Searching for mushrooms
Sioux Narrows is located in northwestern Ontario close to the border of Manitoba. While we didn’t spend much time at this park, we did hike along the Lookout Point Trail, which leads to a nice overlook of Lake of the Woods. But the real highlight of the trail was the amazing display of mushrooms that we found along the way.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park – Hiking one of the best trails in Ontario
Sleeping Giant consists of a series of mesas that when viewed from Thunder Bay, resemble a giant lying on its back. The park has just over 100 km of hiking trails that weave through the forest, past towering cliffs, and along the rocky coast. One of our favourite trails that we’ve ever hiked is the Top of the Giant Trail in Sleeping Giant. The trail leads to the top of one of the tallest cliffs in Ontario and is reputed to provide panoramic views of the surrounding area. Despite its name, Sleeping Giant is anything but sleepy. But hiking to the Top Giant can make you tired as it’s 21.8km round trip. But it’s so worth it.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here