By Jim Fox, Special to QMI Agency
The first summer-like long weekend is fast approaching, meaning it’s time to open up that seasonal retreat or head out for some wilderness camping.
The Victoria Day holiday weekend is when Ontario parks and campgrounds come alive.
Here are some tips on how to deal with the “campground full” sign at the most popular parks.
Don’t be shut out of the woods
If you go out in the woods tonight, you're sure of a big surprise – that is, if you haven’t booked in advance.
More than half of the reservations are made in the first two months of the year for the five most popular Ontario Parks.
So, it’s best to even book now for the August Civic Holiday or Labour Day weekend or take your chances as not all sites are spoken for in advance.
Ontario Parks received almost 10 million visits last year, an increase of 50,000 over the previous year.
The choice is immense, with more than 330 provincial parks with some 110 operational and offering a wide choice of locations, facilities, services and activities.
Many parks offer TackleShare where visitors can borrow fishing tackle as well as lifejackets free of charge.
Roofed accommodation ranges from historic ranger cabins to cottages, yurts (cabin-like structures) and lodge rentals.
Alternatives to the Big Five
Since the busiest parks fill up quickly, here are some alternatives.
The Big Five are Algonquin, Killbear, Pinery, Sandbanks and Bon Echo, said Lori Waldbrook of Ontario Parks, who suggests the following:
- Try Arrowhead or Samuel de Champlain parks instead of Algonquin.
Arrowhead is north of Huntsville and has new electrical sites and a trail network for cycling and hiking.
Water-based activities can be enjoyed on Little and Big East Rivers, the two park lakes are ideal for paddling and fishing, and three sandy beaches offer good swimming.
Enjoy amphitheatre and children’s programs and there are canoe, kayak and mountain bike rentals.
Samuel de Champlain park is near Mattawa on one of Canada’s most important routes of the fur trade era.
New exhibits at the Voyageur Museum showcase the area’s history and there are Voyageur canoe rides.
- Instead of the busy Killbear Provincial Park, head for Grundy Lake park, 80 kilometres north of Parry Sound.
It has comfortable, family camping at lakefront sites and summertime Natural Heritage Education programs for children.
Canoeing is plentiful and park lakes provide access to Voyageur routes along French and Pickerel rivers.
- Inverhuron Provincial Park, near Tiverton south of Owen Sound, is a good alternative to the Pinery.
Prized for its sandy beach, dunes and sunsets, Inverhuron has outstanding swimming and well-treed campsites along with a full-range of facilities, including a laundromat and store.
The park’s camping permit allows for day visits to MacGregor Point, Point Farms, Sauble Falls and Pinery parks.
- Try Presqu’ile Provincial Park near Brighton instead of Sandbanks.
It has a 2.5-kilometre sand beach and a variety of campsites from shoreline to forest.
There are 16 kilometres of trails and summer interpretive programs in this birding hotspot that has recorded 334 species during spring and fall migrations.
The park has a nature centre and the second-oldest working lighthouse on Lake Ontario.
- Try Murphys Point Provincial Park, 18 kilometres south of Perth, instead of Bon Echo or Charleston Lake parks.
Murphys Point is part of the Frontenac Arch, a geological phenomenon and recognized biosphere, offering excellent facilities, services and activities including a visitor centre and children’s programs.
There are guided tours of the restored Silver Queen mica mine, two pioneer homesteads and ruins of an early sawmill, canoe and barbecue rentals and boat-in sites as well as drive-to and backcountry sites.
Learning to camp
Ontario Parks is “reaching out to new campers” through a Learn to Camp program that expands to six parks and additional community-based programs.
Coordinator Jeff Brown said more than 800 people learned all about camping at overnight sessions last year.
There are sessions in Toronto and district, London, Windsor, Orillia and Bolton through July 16. Visit www.ontarioparks.com/learntocamp
How to reserve a site
Ontario Parks’ reservations can be made online at www.ontarioparks.com or by calling 1-888-668-7275. For trip planning advice, canoe route maps and general inquiries, call (613) 332-3940, ext. 261.
This story was posted on Sat, May 12, 2012
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