With eight Ontario Parks within its borders, it’s safe to say that Ontario’s Highlands has some bragging rights when it comes to all-season outdoor fun. Whether you wander by foot or canoe, prefer to sleep under the stars or in the comfort of a tiny cozy cabin, soak up the sun or call yourself a snow junkie, there’s a park in the region that’s guaranteed to take you off the beaten path and allow you to explore the wilderness around you – in your own way.
And there’s no better time to do it than this year, Canada’s 150th birthday. Ontario Parks are celebrating this special milestone with an extensive list of events that will have you making memories no matter the season. Unlike Parks Canada, which offers free day-use admission to national parks, you’ll need to pay a small fee at Ontario Parks (if you’re not sure whether the park you want to visit is national or provincial, there’s more information on that here – but we think these nine parks are totally worth the price of admission, and here’s why.
1. Bon Echo Provincial Park
Visit Bon Echo Provincial Park to see the famous Mazinaw Rock, a steep, 1.5 kilometer wall of rock that shoots straight out of Mazinaw Lake for 100 meters towards the far reaches of the sky. Paddlers can canoe or kayak around the rock and hikers can climb to its summit for a wonderful view out over the lake, the second deepest lake in Ontario.
Located 30 minutes north of Kaladar, Bon Echo is also home to the largest visible collection of native pictographs in Canada. You can view and photograph the 260 rock paintings spread across Mazinaw Rock.
2. Silent Lake Provincial Park
Not only does Silent Lake Provincial Park offer 19 kilometres of hiking and mountain biking trails and a breathtaking lookout point over Silent Lake, but, this year, the park also introduced character-filled rental cabins for any wanderers who prefer a roofed accommodation while camping. With names like “The Prospector” (mining theme) and “Black Bear’s Den”, each cabin has a unique vibe that’s perfect for disconnecting and recharging. And did we mention the two sandy beaches?
3. Murphys Point Provincial Park
Located less than half an hour south from Perth, Murphys Point Provincial Park can also be reached by boat if you travel down the Rideau Waterway from Smiths Falls. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot fox, deer, mink, beaver, coyote, porcupine, and otter within the park boundaries. Murphys Point is rich in minerals and you can take a tour of the restored Silver Queen Mica Mine to learn about the region’s mining history. Hikers and cyclists can enjoy five nature trails that are open in winter months as well for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
4. Bonnechere Provincial Park
Paddlers know Bonnechere Provincial Park for the Little Bonnechere River that flows into Round Lake and makes an excellent canoe trip as you wind through the oxbow bends and view the park’s wildlife.
The park features a wide stretch of sandy beach and a boardwalk along the shoreline. Campers can choose from 128 campsites and cabins to base their stay. In the park, there are many hiking trails and abandoned settlement homesteads to explore. Hike to the top of Egg Rock for a sweeping view of the park, then venture to High Falls and watch the cool waters splash and tumble over the fall’s rocks.
5. Sharbot Lake Provincial Park
Sharbot Lake Provincial Park provides a rustic outdoor getaway for those looking to explore a naturally magnificent part of the Canadian Shield. The park is home to both Sharbot Lake and Black Lake, the latter of which offers two sandy beaches for swimmers. Running along highway 7, Sharbot Lake makes a quick hour and a half drive from Ottawa and is only three hours from Toronto.
6. Silver Lake Provincial Park
Known for its long, sandy beach and pristine water that shines like silver when the sunlight hits it just right, Silver Lake Provincial Park is located near Perth along Highway 7. Love a good story? The lake was carved out by glaciers and is a great fishing spot for northern pike, smallmouth bass, lake trout, yellow perch, and sunfish. At the eastern end of the lake you’ll find a marsh and boardwalk. Stroll along and spot the local species, including painted turtles, bullfrogs, and a variety of birds such as mallards and red-winged black birds.
7. Driftwood Provincial Park
It’s no surprise Explore Magazine listed Driftwood Provincial Park as one of the Top 25 Campsites in Canada! With waterfront campsites on the Ottawa River, the panoramic views will leave a lasting impression and the breathtaking sunsets and rises will actually make you want to get up early in the mornings! If you love venturing out on the water, this is the perfect park for trying sea-kayaking!
8. Algonquin Park
As one of Ontario’s largest provincial parks, the impressive Algonquin Provincial Park and its outstanding wilderness, lakes, and scenery offers year-round outdoor adventure. Located approximately 300 kilometers north of Toronto and 300 kilometers west of Ottawa, the park spans 7,630 square kilometers and holds 1,500 lakes. When the seasons change, so does the repertoire of activities for visitors. Drop by the onsite Visitor Centre, Logging Museum, and Art Centre for exhibits, interactive displays, and videos about the park. Better yet, explore the many lakes, trails, and campsites and experience Algonquin for yourself.