If you’re having a hard time booking a campsite for the 2021 camping season, you’re not alone. Just last week Ontario Parks reported a nearly 100% increase in reservations compared to this time last year!
With COVID restrictions likely to remain in place throughout the summer, camping - especially RV camping - is one of the few ways we can safely travel.
We love Ontario Parks, but If the perfect campsite is eluding you, here are some provincial park alternatives to consider.
Ontario Conservation Areas
Some of our favourite campgrounds are found within Ontario Conservation Areas. And there are plenty to choose from within a short drive of the Greater Toronto Area.
When looking for a campsite, Ontario Conservation Areas offer great provincial park alternatives. The parks feature plenty of natural areas for hiking, boating, swimming, fishing or just enjoying the outdoors. Some even offer amenities like children’s programming, swimming pools, concession stands and mini golf, although some of these may not be in operation this year, depending on COVID protocols.
Many Conservation Areas offer a mix of seasonal and overnight campsites, but our experience has been that the overnight typically outnumbers the seasonal. The sites themselves are usually a good size, comparable to a provincial park, and are often nicely treed and can be quite private.
Our favourite GTA Conservation Areas for camping
Hamilton Conservation Authority -- Reservations now available for arrivals within the next 11 months
HCA has two parks with camping. Valens Lake is one of our favourite spots. Fifty Point also offers camping; however, it’s worth noting they do not allow campfires on their sites.
Grand River Conservation Authority - Reservations open Tuesday, April 6, 2021
GRCA has eight parks that offer camping and we’ve been to all but one (Conestogo). Again, there are some great parks here. We really like Rockwood, although we were sad to learn that local hot-spot Saunders Bakery closed its doors last year. We recently visited Guelph Lake for the first time and will definitely be back. Pinehurst, Laurel Creek, Elora Gorge and Brant are all great as well.
The only GRCA park we don’t recommend is Byng Island. We visited Byng a few years ago during a particularly wet spring and many of the sites were closed due to flooding. In fact, we asked to move from the site we were given as our trailer started to sink as soon as we set up!
Long Point Region Conservation Authority -- Reservations now open
LPRCA has more than 600 campsites across five conservation areas. We haven’t checked this one out yet, but we’re booked at Norfolk Conservation Area this summer and look forward to checking it out.
When looking for provincial park alternatives, you might also want to consider private campgrounds. Most private campgrounds cater to seasonal clients, but they usually have a few overnight spaces available for travellers.
Based on our experience, private campgrounds sites are typically quite small. You’ll often get a gravel or paved pad with a grassy area just big enough for a picnic table and a campfire ring. You’re pretty close to your neighbours and don’t often have trees that provide shade or privacy.
On the plus side, private campgrounds often have full-service hook-ups -- and who doesn’t love avoiding a dump station line-up on a Sunday afternoon?!
Private campgrounds often have great amenities and entertainment, too. Things like swimming pools, horseshoe pits, bingo, corn roasts, fireworks...the list goes on. Of course, many of these things may not be running this summer, due to COVID. If you want these kinds of services, we recommend checking with the park before booking.
We noticed the Camping in Ontario site has been improved recently, making it really easy to search for private campgrounds based on your specific needs.
Private campgrounds we’ve enjoyed
Craigleith RV Resort just outside of Collingwood (not to be confused with Craigleith Provincial Park -- but not far away!)
Gateway Camping in Wasaga Beach -- they don’t have a website, so you’ll need to call. Don't let its proximity to the tacky beach strip put you off -- this is a great little campground and the owners are lovely!
Green Acre Park in Waterloo. This one is nice and close to St. Jacobs, which is one of our favourite places to explore.
Highland Pines Campground in Belwood (near Elora) -- be sure to grab butter tarts from the convenience store in Belwood! You won't regret it!
Jordan Valley Campground in Jordan Station -- a great place to camp when exploring the Niagara region. This one books up really fast!
If you’ve already got your campsites booked for the 2021 season -- go you! Sit back, enjoy a beer and wait for the snow to melt. But, if you’re still in the planning stages, hopefully we’ve given you a few ideas to explore. And if you've got a campsite, but no trailer, we've still got some availability for both the Tin Can Cottage and the Tin Can Bunkie this season.