Winter Yurt camping at Pinery

We did it. We went winter camping to Pinery Provincial Park. We stayed in a Yurt, and even though it was the last day of winter it was as close as we’re going to get with a five year old. There were two other families with small kids staying at the park, a few families with older kids, and the rest were teen and college kids. The college kids played music in their car for everyone to hear throughout the day. I think at one point I heard Rage Against the Machine.

Winter camping at Riverside Pinery PP

Pinery Provincial Park is located on the shores of Lake Huron north of Sarnia. It’s one of the most popular Ontario Parks. With 600 campsites, it can be rather busy during the summer. When we arrived at the end of March Break, the snow was melting and all the winter activities were finished. More than half the park was closed, and there wasn’t much to do except for go on hikes and visit the Visitor Center. After being indoors all winter, it was very nice to spend time outdoors, sit around the campfire and relax.

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Parks Canada Campgrounds in Ontario

Parks Canada has five campgrounds in Ontario. Two of them are only accessible by boat or water taxi. Another two offer new oTENTik accommodations on Canadian owned waterways. Then there is the amazing Cyprus Lake campground on the Bruce Peninsula. I’m going to describe these Parks Canada Parks. Parks Canada in OntarioNote that reservations for all Parks Canada sites in Ontario begin on Friday April 10, 2015 at 8:00 a.m. EDT. Rather than the Ontario Parks reservation system that has a rolling reservation date of five months in advance, you can reserve all Parks Canada campsites in Ontario on April 10. Other areas of Canada have different registration dates with Parks Canada.

Bruce Peninsula National Park – Cyprus Lake

Cyprus Lake

Cyprus Lake, Bruce Peninsula

Cyprus Lake, on the Bruce Peninsula, is a popular family camping destination. There are three campgrounds situation next to Cyprus Lake, and there is a path that goes around the lake. Cyprus Lake is a warm shallow lake with swimming canoeing and hiking.There are two beaches on Cyrpus Lake but they are very narrow, and you can rent canoes and paddle on the lake. There are also two nearby lakes you can also paddle on.

Indian Head Cove

Indian Head Cove

The real attraction near Cyprus Lake is the Grotto and Indian Head Cove on the Bruce Trail located next to the aqua-blue waters of Georgian Bay. The Grotto is a system of caves that you can swim in. Indian Head Cove is a popular rocky beach with cliffs all around it, and the water is usually very cold. Despite the cold water, the beach is a very popular for families during the summer. It’s about a five minute walk along the Bruce Trail between the two, but the trail there is very rugged with lots of boulders and rocks to walk around. Continue reading

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 in a Yurt

Yurts are soft shelters with bunk beds in them found in some provincial parks, conservation areas and other campgrounds. They are a fantastic way to spend outdoor time with your family. They are usually heated if they are available in the winter, so it’s a great way to go winter camping without needing all that gear and experience. You’ll find it much easier to manage being outdoors with little kids if you’re staying in a yurt.

Yurts at Pinery Provincial Park in the Winter

Yurts at Pinery Provincial Park in the winter

You’ll probably have to book months in advance to get your yurt, so as the weather gets colder, you can look forward to your trip, and start planning for it. If you’re more of a last minute kind of person, you can look online every week for a spot to open up in a week or two.

What to Bring
Before you leave find out what’s included in the yurt. Here is a handy list of items you may want to bring:

  • Bring your own bed sheets, sleeping bags, and pillows. You don’t need to buy the best sleeping bags. You will want to cover the mattress with your own sheets.
  • Bring mini-lanterns and a flashlight or headlamp.
  • Bring cutlery, plates and bowls, pots.
  • Dish soap and a dish cloth, and an oven mitt that can get dirty.
  • Bring an electric kettle if your yurt has electricity.
  • Bring your cooler; leave it in the car at night.
  • Bring a red checkered picnic tablecloth.
  • If there is a BBQ, you may have to bring your own BBQ propane tank.
  • Bring matches and fire starter for your campfire.
  • Bring fold up camping chairs to sit around the campfire in comfort.
  • In the summer, bring bug spray, in the winter bring layers of extra clothing.
  • Try to avoid wearing cotton clothing. When cotton gets wet it gets cold.
  • Wool is great, but if you find it too itchy, acrylic and polar fleece are great alternatives.
  • Stay away from navy and black as the bugs love that colour.
  • Bring indoor shoes, sandals, water shoes in the summer, slippers at night.

You don’t need fancy gear. If you don’t have something, visit a thrift store to see what they have. You can find pants and acrylic sweaters, sleeping bags and blankets. You can take an old pot and remove the handle, put some soap on the outside and you have a pot for the campfire.

Winter in a Yurt
Rather than renting all your winter camping gear like a winter sleeping bag and a tent, you can stay in a heated yurt in the winter and enjoy all the activities the park has to offer. You can even BBQ outside your yurt if there is one provided.

Before leaving on your trip, contact the campground to find out about the conditions, and what kind of winter activities they offer. If there is skating there, bring your own skates. There may be a toboggan hill nearby and cross country skiing and snoeshoeing. You may be able to tow your children in a sled or toboggan as you enjoy the trails.

You’ll want to drink lots of warm liquids to stay warm. Bring either an electric kettle and an electric element and a pot to boil water. You can buy packets of hot chocolate, tea and apple cider to drink, and bring a thermos to take it with you on your day trips.

Bring extra clothing, and layer your clothing so you can take off layers if you get too warm, and put on more layers as you cool down. Make sure you and your kids have good waterproof boots, and try to find ski socks or wool socks for them as well. You will want to bring snow pants to stay dry and warm. For long johns, you can bring stockings or pajamas to put on underneath.

Charleston Lake PP

Canoeing at Charleston Lake.

Yurts in the Summer

Last year we introduced our friends who have a one year old and a three year old to camping by reserving a campsite and a yurt that were relatively close to each other, and close to the beach. Even though we set up our bug shelter and tent on our campsite, we ended up spending all our time at the yurt. It had a patio with a BBQ and picnic table, was closer to the beach and the kids loved playing inside on the bunk beds, especially with their little mini-lanterns.

Our friends rented a canoe and we paddled across the lake to a jumping rock. We like to put a thin sleeping mat on the bottom of the canoe so that the kids don’t have to sit on the bottom of the canoe. It was a great trip, and most likely they wouldn’t have gone camping if not for the yurt.

Note that most yurts do not allow pets inside so if you have a dog you may have to leave him at home with someone to look after him, or you’ll have to stick to your tent or RV.

Pictures courtesy of Pinery Provincial Park’s Twitter feed.

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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