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How To Find The Best Campsite For Your Ontario Canoe Trip




An adventure into the great white north... (or at least the start of it)

· Travel
how to find the best campsite for your ontario canoe trip

Is Camping Right For You?

Well, like any question that has so many possible answers we have to break this down by what you’re looking for. Camping is like a rugged way of vacationing, but everyone treats camping differently. Do you want a nice cozy family getaway without too much roughing it? Are you looking for a good introduction to backwoods camping but don’t feel confident enough yet to tackle a 2 week trip? Are you ready for the big 2 week trip and need a good suggestion for where to go? Well look no further because I am here to tell you how to find the best campsite for your Ontario canoe trip! I have listed them according to how demanding I felt they were. If you're looking for a breezy trip go with George Lake. If you are feeling adventurous, keep scrolling... there's something for everyone!

woman leans against a car with a canoe strapped to the top as she looks out onto Temagami lake

Ok so before we get to the fun of planning your next canoe trip into the beautiful wilderness of Ontario, let’s blow some minds first. The canoe trip is iconic in Ontario because there is a nearly endless supply of lakes and rivers to paddle. Ontario has roughly 250,000 lakes! So many we can’t even get an exact count! This province also boasts an impressive 100,000 km of rivers too! Ontario actually contains about one-fifth of the world's fresh water. So in a nutshell you could have a lifetime of adventures in the Ontario wilderness and still only see a fraction of it!

woman sits in a hammock and reads beside her dog at the edge of Killarney Lake

The Great White North Starts Here!

The staggering abundance of water and wilderness in Ontario is such blessing for those looking to plan their next, or first, camping trip. Whether you’re looking for a drive-up campsite, backwoods canoe trip, or long portages to remote lakes, you’ve come to the right page.

A quick backstory before I dive canoe first into the waters of Ontario camping. After 30 years of growing up in Ontario, camping, fishing, and canoeing, and going to camp I decided the summer of 2018 would be the year I really experience as much as I could! I wanted to jam pack as much beauty and adventure into this summer as I could. I set out on my trips with my trusty assistants, my wife and my 5 year old beagle mix. Our mission; experience a wide range of camping opportunities in different spots around Ontario. So without further adieu here’s how the Funstans (my last name is Forage, my wife’s is Dunstan, and viola you have the Funstans!) suggest you spend your next camping trip.

For The Drive-up Campsite - George Lake Campground, Killarney Provincial Park

The pros include an easy to find location, clean and relaxing sites, and one of the best public beaches you could imagine in a freshwater lake. The water is crystal clear blue and you have pink granite and white quartz mountains as your backdrop. The other nice part is George Lake is a great lake to rent a canoe on From Killarney outfitters. They leave their canoes locked up at the campsite so when you go to their store down the road to rent one you don’t have to lug it with you. Just grab your key and unlock at the campground. Their canoes also weigh as little as 39 lbs so no struggle included.

man portages a canoe from along a path in Killarney Provincial Park how to find the best Ontario campsite
woman paddling a canoe filled with camping gear and a dog in Killarney Provincial Park
man and his dog look out from the top of the la cloche mountain range The Crack Hike Killarney Provincial Park
man loading a yellow canoe with camping gear at the edge of Killarney Lake Killarney Provincial Park
man and his dog canoeing past a cliff in Killarney Provincial Park
a view of Killarney Lake from the inside of a tent Killarney Provincial Park
man sitting at a picnic table on a dock eating fish and chips at Herbert fish and chips in Killarney
man swimming at George Lake campsite in Killarney Provincial Park

Beaches, Torquoise Water, Staggering White Cliffs… Killarney Has It All

George Lake is an incredibly beautiful lake to paddle with staggering cliffs and rugged shorelines. The waters of Killarney are so clear your canoe can sometimes feel like it’s floating. Killarney Provincial Park was also a very popular destination for the Group of Seven painters back in the early 1900’s, so you know the beauty must be worth the trek. It was with the recommendation from A.Y. Jackson, who fell in love with the area, that the government protect it from destructive logging companies nearby. While you’re in the park it’s also worth checking out the hike to the Crack! It is one of the most scenic spots in all of Ontario, and a fun hike for any age. On your way out after your camping trip, check out the town of Killarney nearby. There is a great fish and chips joint called Herbert on the dock. Their key to success is fresh fish! You literally see the fish being brought in! Some much needed gorging at the end of a canoe trip is always nice.

For The More Adventurous...

Launch your canoe on George Lake, paddle and portage to Freeland Lake, then again portage into Killarney Lake. This lake contains some of the most beautiful campsites in the park. There are two island campsites at the northernmost point of the lake that are just breathtaking, and definitely worth stringing up a hammock for a couple nights at least.

For Those Seeking A Great Backwoods Trip Without The Portaging - Opeongo Lake

So you want the fun and the relaxation of having a remote site away from the crowds, but you want to avoid those arduous portages? Well, there is a very popular place to start your camping adventures: Opeongo Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. Similar to Killarney, Algonquin is stunning, deeply rooted in history, and very popular. Opeongo is an easy lake to start with because it also has an outfitters right on the lake. Right beside Algonquin Outfitters is the permit office for the park. This makes for one quick and easy load up and launch. The best part of Opeongo Lake is the campsites. They are just about the most beautiful sites around, and are well maintained by the park.

canoe full of camping gear on a beach at Opeongo Lake, Algonquin Provicial Park
man laying against a log on a beach drinking a beer surrounded by trees and Opeongo Lake, Algonquin Park
Sunset on Opeongo Lake, Algonquin Park
paddling a canoe full of camping gear along Proulx Lake, Algonquin Park
man laying down with a beer and a book beside Opeongo Lake, Algonquin Park
Man looking at a map in a canoe on Opeongo Lake, Algonquin Park

The Drawbacks

Because Opeongo is so accessible you get crowds and motorized boats on it. The lake can be busy on summer weekends so book your desired campsites well in advance. There are too many beautiful sites there to point out, so happy exploring! Opeongo is also a great gateway to short portages to more remote lakes such as Proulx and Redrock if you think you might be ready for the jump. The best tips for Opeongo are as follows:

  1. Check the weather report before going since high winds make big lakes tricky to navigate by canoe.

  2. The Northernmost point of Opeongo Lake has fantastic beach campsites, especially the one right next to the Proulx Lake portage spot.

  3. Algonquin Outfitters also offers a reasonably priced water taxi that can drop you off at sites and pick you up at an arranged time and place at the end of your trip. This is a great way to avoid tough days on Opeongo if the wind really picks up. I lucked out on my trip and had a nice tailwind the whole trip and made good time covering the whole lake, but man was I glad I had a water taxi to pick me up at the end or else I would have been fighting that same wind the whole way back!

For Those Seeking True Canadian Wilderness - Whitewater Lake, Temagami

In all my years of camping, Temagami is the place I always return to. It has everything I want. Beautiful cliff lined lakes, remote wilderness, no crowds, and a certain charm only explainable when you’re in the Temagami woods. The old white pines of Temagami majestically rise from the shorelines, making the campsites a thing of beauty. Temagami is a longer drive north from Toronto than Algonquin or Killarney. But like most places worth seeing, the longer it takes to get there the less crowds you’re bound to see.

campfire on a Temagami lake
canoe resting on the shore of Whitewater Lake, Temagami
beagle sitting at the shore and looking out on Whitewater Lake, Temagami

Peace and Quiet is a Stone's Throw Away

The thing that makes Whitewater Lake so nice is that there is only one campsite on the lake. Once you complete the short 400m portage from Anima-Nipissing Lake into Whitewater Lake you get a full sense of wonderment, as it’s just you and the wilderness (something our Beagle mix, Melvin seems to love as much as us!) You can rent a canoe from Smoothwater Outfitters about 30 mins south of the Anima-Nipissing launch point. The other perk here is that you get to deal with the owners, Francis and Johanna, at Smoothwater who are the nicest and most helpful people you will ever meet. They help plan your trip with you, give you great recommendations, and really run a friendly operation altogether. They also have a beautiful lodge on James Lake, which is a great option for your first nights stay before heading out into the woods of Temagami. Their greeters, two collies named Juno and Griffin, welcome you with wagging tails. They also offer trip packages, so you can ride in style with the locals if you want an intro to the area! Their website is also very helpful for any and all of your planning needs for the Temagami region!

The Curveball...Not All Great Campsites in Ontario Have To Be Accessed By Canoe

The highlight of the summer for the Funstan gang may have been our trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park. This Ontario hotspot is popular for good reason. You are likely to say to yourself what all others have said before you when laying eyes on the waters around the Bruce Peninsula National Park, “are we really still in Ontario!!!” The surprising answer is yes! The waters are crystal clear blue and tropical looking. The temperature when you jump in will remind you very quickly that it’s Ontario, and indeed not the tropics! We chose to book a campsite at Storm Haven, a few kilometres from the famous Grotto. It was only a 3.5 km hike from the parking lot at Halfway Log Dump Road, but with all your camping gear it’s takes a few hours.

hiker looking out over Georgian Bay from the top of the Bruce Peninsula National Park
woman and her dog sitting beside the blue waters of Georgian Bay cooking dinner over a camping stove

Hike or Kayak?

You can access the area by kayak, but the Bruce Trail from Halfway Log Dump to Storm Haven is perhaps the best hike i’ve done in my whole life. You climb up and down the towering lakeside cliffs and look out over the most impressive views of the tropical looking waters around. The sites at Storm Haven were great because they were clean, private, and had bear hang poles installed for you to easily send your packs up. If you book early enough to have your choice of sites at Storm Haven target the ones closest to the waters edge, they are without a doubt the most stunning and you get the view of the water from your tent. Also be ready for the most beautiful swim of your life because the water at Storm Haven in incredible! From Storm Haven we hiked a few more kilometres the next day to the Grotto for some fun cliff jumping and cave swimming which was definitely worth it even if it draws in big crowds. From there we hitched a ride back to the Halfway Log Dump parking lot.

Remember To Book a Campsite ASAP if you're looking to go to Algonquin, Killarney, or Bruce Peninsula as they fill up fast. Temagami is usually not as busy as the other three.

How Long Are The Drives

Toronto to Bruce Peninsula National Park - 4 hours

Toronto to Temagami - 5 hours

Toronto to Algonquin - 3.5 hours

Toronto to Killarney - 5 hours

How Long Are The Trips and How Many Portages?

*all portages can be doubled if you plan to return the same path you left on.

George Lake - 0 portages | 1 night minimum

George Lake to Killarney Lake - 2 portages | 3 night minimum (first an 80m and then a 380m portage)

Opeongo Lake - 0 portages | 2 night minimum

Opeongo Lake to Proulx Lake - 1 portage | 3 night minimum (175m portage to a pond between Opeongo and Proulx then you can choose to paddle the pond or portage around it. If you choose to paddle the pond you portage 485m vs 965m if you were to portage the whole trail. The pond is far easier, so save your back and paddle the pond.)

Temagami - 1 portage | 2 night minimum (a short and easy 190m portage separates Whitewater Lake from Anima Nippising Lake)

Storm Haven - This trip can be made with 1 night of camping and 2 days of hiking. You can add more nights camping at Storm Haven if you like, but it will mean you need to pack more food to carry out. There is also camping at other spots along the peninsula such High Dump. Here is a link to check out where you can camp along the bay if you're feeling extra adventurous.

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