Lonely Planet and the New York Times have both named Canada a top travel destination for families. To make the most of your visit to Canada, you must enjoy Canada’s stunning National Parks in Ontario. All 5 of Canada’s National Parks in Ontario offer an amazing opportunity to commune with nature. As a bonus, 4 of the 5 National Parks in Ontario are an easy drive from Toronto.
Last but not least, all Ontario National Parks are excellent for family travel. And in 2018, in addition to waving admission on Canada Day (July 1) each of the National Parks in Canada also have free admission on a specific day. Read below to choose your favorite 5 National Parks in Ontario for free! There’s no better way to get your photo taken in the Canadian National Parks iconic red Muskoka chairs.
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Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada
The closest Ontario National Park to Toronto is Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Don’t be mistaken, even though it is an easy 1.5 – 2 hr from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, it is a world away in terms of nature. Georgian Bay Islands National Park is a series of 59 islands that spread through southern Georgian Bay on the eastern side of Lake Huron.
Some of the notable features of Georgian Bay Islands National Park are the pinkish hue of the bare rocks. These bright colors stand in picturesque contrast to the glistening blue waters surrounding them. Georgian Bay Islands NP is only accessible by boat, kayak, or canoe.
Although Georgian Bay Islands National Park holds the distinction of being the smallest national park in Ontario at 13.5 km², it packs a lot of punch in terms of scenery. You can read more about what to do in Georgian Bay Islands National Park here.
Pro-Tip: The largest island in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Beausoleil Island, offers cabins and tent camping. But accommodations book up fast!
Where To Stay Near Georgian Bay Islands National Park
Because of the Georgian Bay Islands position in the lake, camping or cabins are the most popular accommodation in Georgian Bay Islands National Park. But if you are looking for something a little more upscale, your best bet is doing day trips to the park from nearby Honey Harbour. You can check out some of the best accommodations in Honey Harbour here.
Thousand Islands National Park of Canada
One of the most popular of the 5 Ontario National Parks is Thousand Islands, National Park. Thousand Islands NP is a 24.4 km² area within the Thousand Islands region between Brockville and Kingston. The park sits on the US border and sees a lot of visitors from both the United States and Canada.
Thousand Islands Park is composed of Mallorytown Landing inland and over 20 islands within the St. Lawrence River. The granite covered islands are said to be remnants of a prehistoric mountain range. Thousand Islands National Park is also part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. A designation ascribed to the area due to its biodiversity.
Pro-Tip: oTENTiks are a great alternative for families that do not have the camping equipment on hand but want to overnight in a park.
From our oTENTik (a type of accommodation provided within the National Park that is a cross between a tent and a rustic cabin) we were able to witness a beautiful sunrise with a view of the castles in the Thousand Islands. Both tent camping and oTENTiks are available on the mainland and on select islands.
Thousand Islands National Park is best explored by boat. Boats can be rented in Mallorytown, or visitors can embark on one of the Thousand Island cruises. We visited Thousand Islands National Park with kids and enjoyed our time day-tripping around the Islands by boat.
Where To Stay Near Thousand Islands National Park
While I love the Thousand Islands NP oTENTiks, there are some amazing places to stay in the nearby towns for those who want to do day trips into the park. Gananoque is the closest and most popular town to Thousand Islands National Park. You can check out some of the best places to stay in Gananoque here.
Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park
Lined with dramatic cliffs that rise majestically from Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park is one of the most popular summer destinations in Ontario. A 3.5-hour drive from Toronto, this place is one of our favorite parks to visit during the summer and is definitely a bucket list destination in Canada. Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario is a great place for families. There are several easy hikes that are perfect for families. Our favorite is the trek to the Grotto, a surreal swimming hole inside a cave.
For those that are not satisfied with a day trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park, why not spend the night? Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario also has the distinction of being part of a dark sky nature preserve. For camping options in this Canadian National Park, book a site at Cyprus Lake Campground using Canada’s park reservation system.
Fathom Five National Marine Park
Across the waters of Georgian Bay from Bruce Peninsula National Park is Fathom Five National Marine Park, home of the much-photographed Flower Pot Island. Flower Pot Island has incredible, natural stone towers that stand out against the blue waters of Lake Huron. Additionally, the Marine Park is a diver’s paradise with many shipwrecks in the area waiting to be explored. You can read more about our experiences at Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five National Park here.
Pro-Tip: For those that prefer to enjoy the park by day but stay in the city of the night, there are several accommodation options in the town of Tobermory, the closest city to the park.
Where To Stay Near Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park
Your best bet for accommodations on the Bruce Peninsula is in the small, but pretty town of Tobermory, Ontario. There are some great bed and breakfasts and some nice small hotels that will offer that perfect cottage feel that just feels so right in northern Ontario. You can check out some of the best places to stay in Tobermory here.
Point Pelee National Park of Canada
Located just a 3-hour drive south from Toronto is Point Pelee National Park. Point Pelee marks the southern tip of Canada’s mainland and makes for a great long weekend getaway. The park’s 15 km² has forested areas, marshland, and even a sandy beach!
Visitors to Point Pelee National Park can explore the Point Pelee marshland along the sturdy boardwalk. This is a popular way to spot one (or several) of the 360 species of migratory birds that stop at the park annually. Because of this, UNESCO designated the area a Wetland of International Significance. For the adventurous, it is also possible to canoe or kayak around the Point Pelee marshland.
Another spectacular event occurs during the fall season when thousands of monarch butterflies flock to Point Pelee National Park for the annual monarch butterfly fall migration. An amazing spectacle perfect for families visiting Point Pelee National Park with kids.
To reach the southernmost point of Canada’s mainland in Point Pelee Park, visitors must walk onto the sandy beach that juts into Lake Erie. Watch your hats! When we were there, it was very windy.
Pro-Tip: There are no accommodations at Point Pelee National Park. Visitors can find a range of accommodation types in Leamington or at Point Pelee Island.
Best Places To Stay Near Point Pelee National Park
The area around Point Pelee is full of gorgeous flowing farm fields and small towns with great restaurants selling locally caught perch. There are loads of cottage rentals in the area. The closest town to Point Pelee is the quaint town of Leamington. You can find some of the best places to stay in Leamington here.
Pukaskwa National Park of Canada
The least visited of the 5 Ontario National Parks is Pukaskwa National Park. This is likely due to it being an 1100 km drive from Toronto. We made the epic 11-hour drive during our summer road trip to Northern Ontario last year. At 1878 km² it is the largest of the 5 National Parks in Ontario. However, there are only 4 km of roadway in the entire park (1 km in the winter season) making the park a haven for hikers.
Pro-Tip: Pukaskwa National Park offers guided hikes on most summer nights. Check-in at the visitor’s center for more details.
To get acquainted with Pukaskwa (pronounced Puck-a-saw), the park has several hiking trails. The kid-friendly trails are in the front country with trailheads near the park’s only campground, Hattie Cove. For families with older children that are avid hikers, Pukaskwa National Park has hiking trails for you as well! The Coastal Hiking Trail is 60 km long and is a great way to experience the rugged isolation for which the park is famous.
You can read more about what to do in Puksaskwa National Park here.
Where To Stay Near Pukaskwa National Parks
If you’ve made it up to Pukaskwa National Park, congratulations! Not many people have traveled to the furthest north of the Ontario National Parks. And you’ll notice when you get here that Pukaskwa is pretty remote. The closest towns to Pukaskwa are Marathon and White River. Neither have many options for accommodations. Your best bet for places to stay near Pukaskwa National Park is the town of Wawa. It’s about a 2-hour drive. You can find the best places to stay in Wawa here.
National Parks in Ontario Have a Free Day!
Ontario is geologically diverse and is the only province in Canada that borders on the magnificent Great Lakes. Also, the province is home to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa and largest metropolis, Toronto. And don’t forget that all Canadian National Parks are FREE on Canada Day (July 1).
The majority of the National Parks in Ontario may not be as large as those that are in other provinces. But all 5 National Parks in Ontario provides a way to commune with some of the most stunning Ontario nature and the most outstanding landscapes. So, definitely consider visiting the National Parks of Ontario and enjoy the rest of the province as well on your next visit to Canada.
Tips For Visiting the 5 National Parks in Ontario
Visiting the National Parks in Ontario is an amazing way to learn about Canada and Canadians. Canadians take huge pride in their natural wonders, and this is evident whenever you step foot in one of these amazing places. But many of the Ontario National Parks are remote and include deep wilderness. So there are few things that are good to remember before you go.
Travel In the Shoulder Season
Canadian National Parks can get very busy. By traveling in the shoulder season (May-June or September-October) You can take advantage of far smaller crowds and a much more intimate atmosphere. Plus, by experiencing National Parks in the fall, you can take advantage of some of the great fall activities in Ontario.
Winter travel in the Ontario National Parks can be an adventure as well. Winter hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing are often available. These can add a cool twist to your Ontario travels.
Booking camping spots at parks in Ontario is often referred to as a “war”. And until you’ve gone through the process, you’ll never fully appreciate it. Reserve early, 6-months ahead is advised if you are looking at camping during the weekends in the summer months.
If you miss booking though, don’t give up hope. Cancellations do occur, so if you watch the camping boards carefully, you might get a prime camping spot.
Many Canadian National Parks are also designated dark sky preserves. Break out your binoculars, telescope or camera gear to capture some of the best night skies in Canada.
Keep Your Campsite Clean
Camping in Ontario often means dealing with bears and raccoons. Keeping your campsite clean and keeping your food in locked bins or hanging camp cooler away from tents is a good way of helping to keep those animals out of campsites and in the woods where they belong.
Tips for Experiencing Wildlife in Ontario National Parks
Many of the Ontario National Parks are a prime habitat for wildlife. In many parks, you can experience rare birds, black bears, deer, moose, and much more. Here are our tips on viewing wildlife in the National Parks of Ontario.
Explore at Twilight
Often, wildlife in Ontario is at it’s most active at dusk and dawn. Animals such as beavers, bears, and moose tend to avoid the midday sun and heat.
Respect the Wildlife
Remember, wild animals are unpredictable. Please be respectful and give all the wildlife a comfortable space. This is even more important for animals such as bears, moose, wolves, and coyotes, which can all be dangerous if they feel threatened.
Many animals avoid the midday sun and can be seen traveling at dusk. There is a greater chance of seeing beavers, bears, and moose at these times. Please remember to give all wildlife plenty of room to travel freely; Canada’s national parks are their homes.
Never feed wildlife. Not only does this cause animals to behave in unpredictable ways, but it also causes animals to expect food from humans. This often leads to late-night campsite raids from hooded bandits (raccoons).
Keep Dogs Leashed
Keeping your dog on a leash not only keeps the local wildlife safe from Fido, but it also keeps your dog safer from local wildlife. When some animals feel threatened, they can become agitated or aggressive.
But the biggest tip that we have for visiting Ontario National Parks is to just get out and do it! They’re big, beautiful, and full of amazing things to explore. Canada is amazing, and the National Parks system is one of the best ways to experience it.
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