Family Friendly Backcountry Destinations

When my family goes on a canoeing trip I usually bring a lot more stuff than I would otherwise, and when I bring little kids I expect them to carry a lot less than me. That’s why I want to go canoeing to a lake that is a short paddle away, with at most one or two portages. As an added bonus, I look for a lake that doesn’t allow motorboats so it’s more quiet and the water doesn’t taste like motor oil. My ideal campsite should have a jumping rock or beach nearby, which happens very often with lakes on the Canadian Shield in Central and Northern Ontario.


My favorite lakes with all of the above are located in Killarney, Massasauga, Kawartha Highlands, Frontenac and Algonquin Park, but I’m always exploring new regions and finding new places that I love.

Here is a list of some of the lakes that meet this criteria:


  • Access #1: George Lake, Killarney Lake (P80, P380)
  • Access #2: Kakakise Lake (P940) or Norway Lake (P940, P1470), and possible loop with Killarney Lake
  • Access #3: Clearsilver Lake (P830)
  • Access #4: Balsam Lake (P30), David Lake (P745, P200), Grey Lake (P595), Little Bell (P30, P135), Loop Balsam and David.
  • Access #5, 6: Avoiding this area due to boat traffic on Panache and surrounding lakes
  • Access #7: Murray Lake (P210), Nellie Lake (P210, P1470), Grace Lake (P1745) (As a loop do counter clockwise as portages are uphill when done clockwise)
  • Access #G1: You can park at G1, and go out of the park to Philip Edward Island. After crossing the Western Entrance, there are several camping spots along the South West part of the Island. The waters of Georgian Bay can get rough so try to go on a calm day. Once you cross the Western Entrance, the water is less rough if you stay close to the island.


  • Oastler Access Point: The closer sites on Spider Lake (P370), or the ones on Canoe Lake (P370, P540) are great, whereas Vicary Lake (P370, P500, P90) is too far to do in one day for us.
  • Pete’s Place Access Point: Conger Lake (P405), Blackstone Harbour at campsite 508, 509 are sheltered from boat traffic, or Little Blackstone Lake (P930). Note that the water at Blackstone Harbor can be quite rough and dangerous to leave from in a canoe if the winds are up, which happens often near Georgian Bay.

Frontenac 1

  • Big Salmon Lake Access: Little Salmon Lake (P974), Little Clear Lake (P923) (Loop with Big Salmon Lake) Big Salmon Lake allows electric motors.
  • South Otter Lake (Park Office) Access: Doe Lake (P341)

Kawartha Highlands2

Motor boats are allowed on most lakes in Kawartha Highlands 2, and some lakes have a lot of cottages on them. However, these two lakes don’t allow motorboats and are one portage away:

  • Cold Lake Access (6): Cloudy Lake (P1559)
  • Bottle Lake Access (7): Sucker Lake (P80)

Queen Elizabeth Two Wildlands 3

  • Devils Lake (D1, G1, L1) Access: Sheldon Lake (P1400), Lutterworth Creek (P125, P20)
  • Head Lake (H1, H2, H3) Access: Fishog Lake (P100), Head River, Smudge Creek, Crooked Lake (P100, P40, P180, P35)
  • Moore’s Falls (M1, G2, G3) Access: Scrabble Lake (P500, P1800), Sheldon Lake (P1200)

Algonquin Park

  • Access #1: North Tea Lake (P65, P135) allows motor boats. Outfitter provides a field for camping upon late arrival. Kmog L and North Tea L. can get very windy and difficult to paddle.
  • Access #1b: Craig Lake (P200, P345) 1.5 hr approach to a quiet lake
  • Access #2: Tim Lake, Rosebary Lake (P120)
  • Access #3: Hambone Lake (P135), Daisy Lake (P135, P420), Ralph Bice Lake (P135, P295) can do a loop with an extra P1455. Also Magetawan Lake, and Little Eagle Lake (P340)
  • Access #4: Sawyer Lake (P310), Islet Lake (P700, P455), McCraney Lake (P1880)
  • Access #6: Ragged Lake and Parkside Bay via Ragged Bay (P240), Little Island Lake via Kootchie Bay (P895, P255)
  • Access #8: Hillard Lake (P760), Head Lake (P1640), Kenneth Lake (P1640, P290)
  • Access A41: Provoking Lake (P960) three backpacking campsites can be reserved by canoeists.
  • Access A43: Sunday Lake, Sproule Lake (P480)
  • Access #34: Cannisbay – Great for a first backcountry trip, Polly’s Lake (P2600!), Linda’s Lake (P2600, P930)
  • Access #9: Penn Lake (P375), Clydegale Lake (P375, P275), Lake Louisa (P3000!) Alas lake Louisa is beautiful.
  • Access #10: (Currently Closed, Use Access #12) Norway Lake, Fork Lake
  • Access #11: Lake Opeongo, Annie Bay, Opeongo North Arm, Opeongo East Arm
  • Access #12: Pinetree L (P2010!)
  • Access #13: Prottler’s Lake (P1630!)
  • Access #14: Kimball’s Lake (P230, P320)
  • Access #14a: Rockaway (P320, P2745 – Portage is called Golden Staircase!)
  • Access #14b 4×4 required?: Dividing Lake (P80, P230, P105), Rockaway Lake (P80, P230, P965)
  • Access #15: Byer’s Lake (P1300, P650)
  • Access #16: Hay Lake (Has crown Land), Little Hay (P775), Cauliflower (P985), Lower Hay Crown Land
  • Access #17: Crotch Lake, Farm Lake, Shirley Lake (P1050), Booth Lake (P645), Oram Lake (P495)
  • Access Ap3, Ma2, B4: Bark Lake (Crown Land and Bell Bay Provincial Park, Chapleau Bay)
  • Access #19: Basin Lake
  • Access #20: Sec Lake
  • Access #21: MacManus Lake, Smith River (P150)
  • Access #22 Archay: Clemow Lake (P905), Lower Spectacle Lake (P20, P90), Upper Spectacle Lake (P20, P90, P155), Stratton Lake, St Andrews Lake (P45), Berm Lake (P255)
  • Access #23: Travers, Petawawa River
  • Access #24: Big Bissett Lake, Little Lake (Crown Land)
  • Access #25: Wendigo L (Crown Land), Allan Lake (P180), North Depot Lake (P180, P250)
  • Access #26: North River Lake, Meganser Lake (P120)
  • Access #27:  Aura Lee Lake, Laurel Lake (P345), Petawawa River, Nipissing River
  • Access #27a (Brent Crater):  Tecumseh Lake (P1095)
  • Access #28: Brian Lake
  • Access #29 (Kiosk): Mink Lake (P635, P410), Lauder Lake (P1075)

Dollar Store Camping Gear

Dollar stores are great places to buy camping gear. They’re cheap and disposable. No one will get upset if the stuff breaks or gets forgotten at the last campsite you visited. In the spring these stores unload all their gardening and water sports merchandise on us. I visited two big box dollar stores: Dollarama and Dollar Tree. I found that Dollar Tree had less merchandise but was cheaper because their prices only went to $1.25CAD. Whereas Dollarama now sells more merchandise because their top price is $3, but the same item seems to cost more at Dollarama. Here is a list of stuff I found either store that I think would be great to have while camping.

  1. Water bottles and snack containers Plastic water bottles and stack containers are always useful. Make sure they’re BPA free (Recycling code #5 is best), and that they close properly so they won’t leak inside your backpack. Water bottles and snack boxes

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Camping on the Grand River

When people think of the Grand River, they probably think of the Elora Gorge. A very popular destination for hiking. The Grand River is a Canadian Heritage River, and runs from Highway 89 south through Guelph, Waterloo, and ends in Lake Erie.

A great way to visit the Grand River is to camp at one of the eight conservation areas, at the Rock Point Provincial Park, or at one of the many private campgrounds located along the river. It’s also possible to paddle portions of the Grand, but that’s beyond what you’d want to do when camping with your family.

The Grand River Conservation Authority has eight Conservation Areas that offer overnight camping. Most offer excellent recreation opportunities during the summer.

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50 Camping Activities for Kids

Here are some great ideas that you can do with your kids while you are camping. Please be responsible and watch your kids at all times, especially when they are near the water.

Swimming at Cannisbay Beach

  1. Go swimming at the beach
  2. Sleep in a tent
  3. Bring a friend camping
  4. Build a sand castle
  5. Paddle a canoe or kayak20140801-iphone-5087
  6. Go fishing
  7. Jump off a rock into the water
  8. Explore a cave
  9. Skip rocks into the water
  10. Go on a treasure hunt
  11. Watch a sunrise or sunset
  12. Find a geocache
  13. Build a fort or shelter
  14. Find and follow animal tracksFollow animal tracks
  15. Go star gazing
  16. Go on a night hike or candlelight walk
  17. Climb a rock
  18. Climb a tree
  19. Roll down a hill
  20. Walk around taking pictures
  21. Catch bugs for a bug jar
  22. Fly a kite
  23. Build a campfire
  24. Make s’mores on the campfire
  25. Start a campfire without matches
  26. Touch a snake, frog, or caterpillarFind a frog
  27. Look under a dead log
  28. Start a rock collection
  29. Make a walking stick
  30. Paint a rock
  31. Make a nature collage
  32. Sketch or paint the landscape
  33. Write poetry about nature
  34. Find leaves and identify the trees
  35. Do leaf rubbings
  36. Keep a bird sighting logbookFinding a feather at Killarney
  37. Make wood slice magnets
  38. Make a dandelion mud pie
  39. Eat wild mint, ginger or berries
  40. Make tea out of edible plants
  41. Look through a magnifying glass or binoculars
  42. Use a map and compass
  43. Learn to identify clouds
  44. Play cards or board games
  45. Sing songs
  46. Make pottery out of clay you find on the beach
  47. Attend a Pow-wow
  48. Sleep under the stars or in a hammock
  49. Help clean up a trail or portage
  50. Sit down, close your eyes and listen

Family Camping in Western New York

There are campgrounds located in upstate New York which are close enough to the highly populated GTA region that they are worth considering as a family camping destination. Compared to the Ontario Parks, they are less expensive and don’t fill up as quickly and reservations open nine months in advance. They are more built up and geared towards recreation and won’t have that natural outdoorsy feel. The times listed next to each campground are given are from the GTA.

Allegany State Park (3hrs)

Situated in the most South Western park of New York state, and on the border with Pennsylvania. The park’s 65,000 acres are known for their breathtaking natural scenery. There are two developed areas, the Red House and Quaker,
Allegany State Park – Quaker Area
Known for its two lakes and wonderful camping experiences. Allegany’s Quaker area offers swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, as well as hiking. The Quaker area has a total of 189 campsites and 230 cabins, 30 of them winterized and one group camp for rental.

Allegany State Park – Red House Area

The Red House Area offers 5 miles of paved bike paths, boat and bike rentals, a sandy beach for swimming, fishing and snowmobiling. It has a total of 130 campsites, 144 cabins, 128 of them winterized and three group camps for rent.

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Family Camping Safety Tips

The first time I went on a backcountry canoe trip with a toddler, the father was very concerned with her safety and rented a satellite phone because there was no cellular coverage where we were going. She was a trooper on the trip considering we did a strenuous five day loop in Algonquin Park and it rained four out of the five days. By the end we were all complaining of being soaking wet, while she was happy to spend time in the tent.

How much should you worry when camping with kids? Can you over-prepare? Here are some things you should consider before leaving, and some things to do and keep in mind when you’re out camping:

1) Kids getting lost

  • If your kids get lost in the woods teach them to stay put.
  • Teach your child to find an open spot or a well marked trail and to wait there until help arrives.
  • Tell your child that it’s okay to make lots of noise to attract the attention of the adults when they are lost.

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Camping with a Baby

We went camping twice before my daughter was one year old. Having done a lot of back country camping before we had a baby, we were excited to go car camping for a change. Both trips were the highlight of our summer.

Lighthouse Point Killbear Provincial Park

Lighthouse Point, Killbear Provincial Park

Camping with a six month old baby was fairly easy. We brought two tents so naps were in one tent while we slept in the other. We also brought a playpen and a net that went over it to keep the bugs out. We used the playpen at the campsite and we took it to the beach. We brought our umbrella stroller but we found it too hard to push on the gravel roads around the campground.

Algonuin Park

Hiking the Spruce Boardwalk Trail

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Best Parks in Ontario for Family Camping


The best Ontario Campgrounds for families are ones that have a great beach, some hiking or interpretive trails, a good number of outdoor activities like bicycling, canoeing or fishing, and a great kids program. It’s a nice place to relax, and explore the wilderness around Ontario. I have listed what I believe are the best campgrounds for families who want to get away from the city and enjoy the outdoors. You could go camping in a tent, an RV or a Yurt. It’s up to your family and your comfort requirements.

The 5 busiest Ontario Parks are Algonquin, Killbear, The Pinery, Sandbanks and Bon Echo. To book a campsite at any of these or the other parks, you should book 5 months in advance, especially on a long weekend.  I’m going to explain why these campsites are so busy, and provide you with quieter alternate campgrounds that are nearby and offer something similar.

Awenda Provincial Park

Awenda Provincial Park

Awenda Provincial Park

The Good

Awenda is an awesome provincial park for families looking to camp with children in Ontario. Awenda offers camping in six campgrounds, has 30 km of hiking trails with of them along boardwalks, and picnicking and day use areas. Sites are shaded beneath Sugar Maples and Red Oaks and are spaced further apart than many other provincial parks. Located on the Georgian Bay, the beaches are picturesque year-round. The more calmer waters of Kettle’s Lake offer canoeing with canoes rentals available at the park.  During the summer months Park Naturalists provide a variety of events to help young and old better understand the park with its rich cultural and natural history.
The Bad
The campsites at Awenda are located far from the beach so a car or bicycle is required to get around.
If you’re looking to party this is not the park for you during the summer months. The place is crawling with kids, lots of kids, and quiet time is early. The sites are shady, and can get cold early and late in the season.
If Awenda is full, you may want to check out the lesser known Craigleith Provincial Park located at the base of Blue Mountain.

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