The Happy Camper: Ontario Provincial Parks Paddle-in Camping Sites, Perfect for Beginners

If you’re wanting to give backcountry canoe or kayak tripping a try but don’t feel your skill set or energy level are up for navigating large lakes or hauling across lengthy portages, then have a look at some of these paddle-in campsites provided by Ontario Provincial Parks.

Bon Echo Provincial Park

Bon Echo Provincial Park is one of the busiest parks in the province. At times, it seems impossible to book a site at the main campground. However, not many people know about the park’s 25 paddle-in campsites located on motorboat-free Joeperry and Pearson Lakes. Joeperry Lake is accessible through a 500-metre, well-used portage from a designated parking area. Having direct access would seem easier, I guess, but the portage does seem to keep out the crowds. Joeperry has most of the sites (21), some with weedier shorelines than others. It’s best to book the sites away from the southern inlet if you can. The beach at the top end is amazing—the kids will love it, except for the odd leech. Fishing for pike and bass is excellent as well. There are supposed to be lake trout, but I’ve never caught any there. A 100-metre portage at the south end of Joeperry takes you to Pearson Lake, which has four smaller but very charming campsites to choose from. Make sure to check with the park before booking a site there, as low water near the portage can make it impossible to reach it.

Charleston Lake Provincial Park

At first glance, Charleston Lake Provincial Park’s backcountry sites seem perfect. The lake is stunning, tent spots are relatively close to the main campground beach (closest are one kilometre away and furthest are four kilometres) and you can reach the sites by paddling or backpacking. Charleston is also an amazing place, rated as one of the best provincial parks in southern Ontario. Though, there are some downfalls you should be aware of before you give the 10 backcountry sites a try. Charleston is loved to death by motorboats and Jet Skis. It also is lined with cottages. The scenery is nice but don’t expect a wilderness experience. The site itself is nestled away from most of the business, but the drone of boats breaks the solace throughout the day. The sites are also set in clusters, similar to Frontenac Provincial Park’s backpacking and canoe tripping sites. The map shows them as separate places to book—which, in theory, they are—but your neighbour isn’t too far away. Three to four sites share one outhouse. The tent spots are on wooden platforms, which do help keep the bottom of your tent dry and guarantee a flat area to sleep, but pegging your tent corners down can baffle even the most experienced camper. There is the huge bonus of taking several exceptional day hikes. My favourite is up Blue Mountain (three hours). You’ll get some amazing views—on a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of the far-off Adirondack Mountains in New York. The main access to the trail is at Charleston Lake Provincial Park’s Huckleberry Hollow, which requires hikers to paddle over first.

Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Grundy Lake Provincial Park is a great choice for giving backcountry canoe camping a try. It’s situated just south of the French River and has a true northern feel. The park has nine sites: three on Grundy Lake, three on Gurd Lake, two on Pakeshkag Lake and one on Beaver Lake. Grundy Lake can be busy with day paddlers from the main campground, but in the evening, you’d swear you’re in the deep backcountry of Algonquin. Each lake has its own access, and the sites are set up a short distance away (a 10-to 30-minute paddle). No portaging is required unless you want to link a route together between the lakes. The best part is that Grundy Lakes are motorboat free. You can enjoy the rustic seclusion but also paddle back to the main campground to spend a day at the beach or take in one of their exceptional Discovery programs. Each site has a picnic table, fire pit and thunder box (makeshift outhouse). Some of the sites have weedy shorelines, which provide good fishing, but most have knobs of granite and provide great swimming. Take note, you’ll hear trains chugging along on the distant rail track.

Restoule Provincial Park

Restoule Provincial Park backcountry sites aren’t all that well-known. This is probably because it’s a more northern park—about a four hour plus drive from Toronto. It’s a nice park, however, and the 12 designated backcountry campsites on Stormy Lake, Clear Lake and a stretch of the Restoule River are perfect for a semi-wild getaway. Stormy and Clear are basically one lake connected by two shallow channels. Three of the Restoule River sites are accessible after portaging 270 metres around Scott’s Dam). All the sites are spread out, so getting to them can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Base camping, and then taking time to hike the notable Fire Tower Trail, makes your entire trip worthwhile. It’s labelled as the must-do trail at Restoule. The hike is a 4.1-kilometre loop that reaches the top of the 100-metre-high Stormy Lake Bluff. The view is magnificent, especially in the fall. Restoule Provincial Park also acts as a launching site for a much longer canoe route which heads down the Restoule River, up the French River and then Bass Creek, to link back to the park. It’s a less maintained route than in the past but still makes a great weeklong canoe trip once you’ve practiced up on some of the other easier paddle-in sites.

Fushimi Lake Provincial Park

Fushimi Lake Provincial Park was shut down a few years back and became a non-operating park due to low use and no profit. I can see how that could happen. It’s located in the far north, near Hearst, Ontario. That’s pretty remote for most of us. Thankfully, some dedicated campers brought the park back to life and the campground is open once again—and so are the 12 backcountry paddle-in sites along the shore of Fushimi. The campsites are set amongst lush boreal forest, and a good majority of them come with an incredible beach front. The fishing for walleye and pike is amazing, and the solitude is far beyond what you’d get in any of the other paddle-in areas previously mentioned. It’s a darn long drive if you’re coming from Toronto (over 10 hours)—but it’s definitely worth it.

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