Long week? Time to check out. And there’s no time like the present: This Friday, July 19, day-use of all Ontario Provincial Parks is free. Yes, that’s right — free. That means you have access to some of Canada’s greatest sights and natural wonders, and you won’t have to pay a cent to see them (well, besides gas to get there and the requisite Tim Hortons pit stop, that is). But with more than 200 parks to choose from, which one should you hit up? We’re here to help with that.
We’ve scoured Ontario’s parks to find the greatest ones for every kind of outdoorsy activity. So whether you’re a “glamper” or a back-country camper, we’ve got you covered.
Guess what: Ontario provincial parks are all free today
Get Lost in NatureNot literally, of course. But if you want to immerse yourself in nature through seemingly never-ending trails, hands-down Algonquin Park is your best bet. The place is huge, for one. There are trails that last for a half hour, and there are trails that last for days. There are trails that aren't even marked on any maps. Whether you're hiking or portaging, this is the park for you.Getty
Angler's ParadiseWhen you drive into White Lake Provincial Park, there's a giant fish on the sign welcoming you in. This is definitely among the best parks to reel in a fat one, especially if walleye and northern pike are what you're after. Algonquin also boasts more than 50 recorded species of fish in its waters, while Quetico and Wabakimi are home to plentiful lake trout and smallmouth bass, respectively. Getty
For the Bear TrackerLooking for an adrenaline rush? There's nothing quite like staring into the eyes of a fully-grown bear. There are 2,000 of them roaming Algonquin Park, or one for every three kilometres, giving you a pretty good chance at spotting one. You may also have some luck in Killbear Provincial Park (trust us, that name isn't a gimmick), which sits in the heart of Georgian Bay. Just remember to consult our guide on what to do if you spot a bear before heading out.Getty
When You Have to Bring the KidsNothing shuts a kid's mouth faster than the prospect of spotting wildlife (if they talk, the animals run). In Pinery, however, you don't have to worry about running into any dangerous animals, because most of the wildlife there is of the friendlier variety (think flying squirrels, bats and white-tailed deer). It's also a smaller park, so the little explorers can't venture out too far. Children's programs are even available from late June to Labour Day weekend. Alternatively, you could check out Turkey Point for its shallow waters, ziplines and golf course. Getty
Glamping, anyone?You want to go camping, but hate nature, dirt, bugs, animals and the outdoors? No worries! If this is your idea of what a tent should look like, check out Bonnechere. There, you can skip the tent altogether and just rent a rustic cabin instead. Or you could try out Sandbanks and Wasaga Beach for their close proximity to nearby beaches and civilization. If you can't handle the campsites there, you can escape to the nearby (and relatively cheap) cabins.Getty
For the sightseersIf you want to leave the concrete jungle behind and be captivated by untamed works of nature, Ontario is home to parks that have inspired famous painters! Killarney has been graced by the likes of Franklin Carmichael and The Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson for its coasts of pink granite and the many pristine lakes. Six Mile Lake has also seen painters flock to its beautiful forests. Take your pick!The Canadian Press
Rough ridingWant to ride the rugged trails of our province's forests? Check out Rondeau Provincial Park. A variety of lengthy trails suitable for almost all riders await you, and they'll take you through some of the best features the park has to offer, including Rondeau Bay, marshland and wetland bird areas.The Canadian Press
Paddle to your heart's contentThere's nothing more quintessentially Canadian than canoeing through the great outdoors. And if that's what you're looking for this summer, you're in luck. You'll find great boating in Lake Superior Provincial Park, where you will literally be paddling on a Great Lake. Eight mainland canoe routes are available at this "world class paddling destination." You can also relive history at French River, where you can traverse the route of French explorers and fur traders. Six Mile Lake, which also offers boat rentals, is also a great pick. The Canadian Press
Bush Party!If you want to take in the sights of nature through the veil of a drunken haze, Wasaga is among your best bets. Home to the longest freshwater beach in the world, Wasaga's provincial park leaves you only steps away from party central. Plus it's loaded with young people, energy and, of course, eye candy. Sand Banks is also a good bet, for pretty much all of the same reasons. Just keep in mind, these parks have strict rules over where you can and cannot consume alcohol, and littering cans and bottles all over the place isn't cool! Don't be this dude.Getty
For the rugged explorersIf you have what it takes to venture into the outdoors without a path or trail, backcountry camping might be for you. Some of the best places to do it in the province include The Massasauga, where you can pitch a tent on the beautiful vistas of Georgian Bay (just watch out for the park's rattlesnake inhabitants). Killarney and Algonquin, meanwhile, have backcountry areas that seem to stretch on forever. Not for the faint of heart.Getty