The best places to winter camp in Ontario’s backcountry

by | Nov 14, 2023 | Winter camping

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If you live in Ontario (like we do), count yourself lucky.

The province is home to an astonishing 340 provincial parks, featuring some of the most beautiful landscapes in Canada.

If you’ve ever visited or camped any of those parks, then you know what we’re talking about.

Fortunately, enjoying all that Ontario has to offer doesn’t have to be restricted to spring, summer, or fall.

In fact, winter is arguably one of the best times to get out there and explore some of the province’s beautiful scenery.

We went on our first winter camping trip back in 2021, and since then we’ve never questioned whether we’d do it again.

Ontario Parks that let you go backcountry camping in winter

There are only a select few Ontario parks that allow you to book backcountry campsites during the off-season (a.k.a. winter).

Although parks have established backcountry campsites, they’re not for use in the winter season.

In general, you must camp at least 30 metres away from established campsites and trails during the winter months, but be sure to check with your park of choice for specific rules and regulations.

Algonquin Provincial Park

A map of Algonquin Provincial Park

Where it is: Algonquin Provincial Park is located in south-central Ontario, between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: This park is a winter paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, and backcountry camping.

Mew Lake Campground is also open year-round with hydro and waterfront campsites to provide easy access to winter activities.

Things to know: Winter backcountry camping is available in the park’s Western Upland area.

Keep an eye on the park’s winter updates and be prepared for varying snow and ice conditions.

For more information about backcountry camping in the park, visit Algonquin Park’s winter information page.

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

A map of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Where it is: Kawartha Highlands is located in southeastern Ontario, just north of Peterborough.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: The park’s stunning landscapes and serene nature attract adventurers seeking solitude during the winter months.

Its rugged beauty makes it a unique destination for winter backcountry campers.

Things to know: Backcountry campsites and some access points are open during the winter, but be prepared for reduced services and no cell phone coverage.

For detailed information on winter camping, check out Kawartha Highlands’ winter information page and its camping information page.

Killarney Provincial Park

A map of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Where it is: Killarney Provincial Park is situated on the northern shore of Georgian Bay in Ontario.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: The park offers a breathtaking winter wonderland for backcountry campers.

Its snow-covered landscapes, frozen lakes, and rugged terrain provide an unforgettable experience for those willing to brave the cold.

Things to know: Killarney allows backcountry camping year-round, but winter campers should be prepared for cold temperatures, deep snow, and limited services.

For more information, visit Killarney’s camping page.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

A map of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Where it is: Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is located on the Sibley Peninsula in northwestern Ontario, near the city of Thunder Bay.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: The park is home to some of Ontario’s most incredible landscapes, and its stunning vistas are even more breathtaking when covered in snow.

Winter adventurers can explore the park’s many trails and enjoy the solitude of backcountry camping.

Things to know: Winter backcountry camping is allowed in the park, but be prepared for potential hazards, such as extreme cold and changing weather conditions.

For more information, visit Sleeping Giant’s camping page.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Where it is: Frontenac Provincial Park is located between Kingston and Ottawa in Eastern Ontario.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: Frontenac Park is a winter enthusiast’s paradise.

Its extensive trail system offers everything from casual hikes to challenging backcountry treks through snow-laden forests.

The park’s diverse wildlife also becomes more visible against the stark white backdrop of the snow, offering excellent opportunities for photography.

Things to know: Winter camping is allowed, but remember that services are limited in the colder months.

For more information, visit Frontenac’s camping page.

Wabakimi Provincial Park

A map of Wabakimi Provincial Park

Where it is: Wabakimi Provincial Park is situated in northwestern Ontario, about 350 km north of Thunder Bay.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: As one of Ontario’s largest wilderness parks, Wabakimi offers true solitude and boundless opportunities for winter adventures.

Its untouched wilderness makes for a challenging and rewarding backcountry camping experience.

Things to know: Backcountry camping is possible during the winter months, but services are limited.

For more information, view Wabakimi’s camping page.

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

A map of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Where it is: Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is located in northwestern Ontario, near the Manitoba border.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: This remote park boasts a true wilderness experience, perfect for seasoned winter campers seeking adventure and solitude.

Its vast landscapes and pristine boreal forest provide an epic backdrop for your winter escapades.

Things to know: Winter backcountry camping is available, but visitors should be prepared for extreme conditions and minimal services.

For more details, check out Woodland Caribou’s camping page.

Quetico Provincial Park

A map of Quetico Provincial Park

Where it is: Quetico Provincial Park is located in northwestern Ontario, west of Lake Superior and near the Minnesota border.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: Quetico is renowned for its rugged beauty and pristine wilderness, and winter transforms the park into a breathtaking snowy escape.

With miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, Quetico offers endless opportunities for winter exploration.

Things to know: Winter backcountry camping is allowed within the park, but be prepared for limited services and variable conditions.

For more information, visit Quetico’s camping page.

Bruce Peninsula National Park

Bruce peninsula scenery

Where it is: Bruce Peninsula National Park is located on the Bruce Peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, near the town of Tobermory.

Why it’s great to visit in winter: This stunning park boasts breathtaking views of the Niagara Escarpment and crystal-clear waters, making it a top destination for winter hiking and snowshoeing.

The park’s diverse landscapes offer endless opportunities for outdoor adventure in a truly unique setting.

Things to know: Bruce Peninsula National Park is the first and only national park in Ontario to offer winter camping in the backcountry.

You can book backcountry campsites at Stormhaven and High Dump from October 31st to March 31st.

You can find out more by visiting Bruce Peninsula National Park’s backcountry camping page.

Crown Land winter camping in Ontario

Crown Land refers to territory legally deemed as the property of the state rather than private ownership.

In Ontario, this term primarily designates land owned by the provincial government.

Crown Land is rich in natural resources, and often used for various public and economic activities.

These lands are maintained for environmental conservation and offer diverse recreational opportunities including camping, hunting, and fishing.

It’s important to note that while the public can access Crown Land, users must respect certain rules and regulations to ensure the land’s sustainability.

Crown Land camping is free for Canadian citizens while non-residents must pay a fee of $10 per night.

You can stay at a site up to 21 days.


Maps of Temagami

This is one of our favourite places to camp in winter.

Temagami, a region located about 4 to 5 hours north of Toronto, offers extensive network of hiking and canoe routes.

This vast region offers a true wilderness experience, with old-growth forests and numerous lakes and rivers.

In the winter, Temagami is a popular destination for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.

There are several Crown Land spots to choose from, but for starters, we recommend looking at Lake Temagami.

McCrae Lake Conservation Reserve

McCrae Lake in winter

McCrae Lake Conservation Reserve is another excellent choice for Crown Land winter camping because it’s much closer to the city—about two hours or so.

Unfortunately, that does mean it gets busy (even in winter).

McCrae Lake Conservation Reserve is nestled between the towns of Coldwater and Bala.

Despite its proximity to urban centres like Toronto, the reserve offers a tranquil escape, immersed in nature’s bounty.

The scenic beauty of the reserve is further enhanced by the serene McCrae Lake and the rugged Georgian Bay coastline.

In the winter, visitors can enjoy activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing.

You can also expect to see (and hear) a lot of snowmobilers along the trails and frozen lake.

Use the Ontario government’s Crown Land Use Policy Atlas

There’s a lot of Crown Land in the province, but to find it, you’ll have to do your own research.

The government has a map you can use online for free, which lets you easily search and identify areas suitable for winter camping.

It displays policies and land use designations for all Crown Land in the province.

It also provides significant information to help you plan your trip, such as access points, waterways, and nearby services.

Other winter camping options in Ontario

Backcountry camping in the winter is pretty hardcore, so if you’re up for something a little less extreme, you may want to consider the following options.

Yurt camping in winter

Yurt winter camping provides a unique and comfortable experience in Ontario’s beautiful snowy landscapes.

Yurts are circular, insulated tents with wooden floors, allowing you to stay warm and cozy during your camping adventure.

Ontario parks like Killarney, Windy Lake, Silent Lake, and Pinery offer heated yurts equipped with beds, indoor seating, and electric heaters.

You can also find yurts available at MacGregor Point and Algonquin.

Yurt camping is perfect for those looking for a glamping experience, as it provides extra comfort in a rustic setting.

Remember to bring your snowshoes for exploring nearby trails!

Winter car camping

If you’re not up for spending the night in a yurt or rustic cabin, winter car camping is another excellent option.

Ontario Parks such as Killbear, Arrowhead, and MacGregor Point provide car camping accommodations during the winter months.

Typically, you’ll find designated sites equipped with fire pits, picnic tables, and comfort stations nearby.

Winter car camping offers the convenience of staying close to your vehicle and allows for easier packing and unpacking.

Cabin camping in winter

Ontario boasts several rustic cabins that provide a more traditional winter camping experience.

These cabins offer a slightly more rugged experience compared to yurt camping, while still maintaining some comforts.

Rustic cabins usually include a wood stove, basic furnishings, and a comfortable sleeping area.

Pack your camping essentials and warm clothes, and you’re ready for an unforgettable experience immersed in Ontario’s stunning backcountry.

We recommend checking out Ontario Parks’ roofed accommodations page to find out which parks offer backcountry and rustic cabins in the winter months.

Remember, no matter which winter camping option you choose, always check the weather conditions, park regulations, and availability before making your reservation.

Stay warm, safe, and enjoy exploring Ontario’s great outdoors this winter season!

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About Us

Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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