Backcountry Camping With Kids In Killarney

When my daughter was three we went on a four day interior canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park. This was our first backcountry trip, so I booked three nights at George Lake campsite and four nights in the interior. We chose the George and Balsam Lake loop staying two nights on each lake. The trip was very successful, and we had great weather to help us. We went in late August so the bugs weren’t bad either.

Killarney David LakeThe next year, I tried the same thing. We booked two nights at George Lake campground, and then two nights at OSA. After our two nights at George Lake campground we chose to go home instead of paddling into the interior lake called OSA. There were a few factors that led to this decision. The weather forecast was calling for high winds on the day of our departure to OSA. The main reason, however, was that OSA was three lakes away from the George Lake campground and we weren’t feeling up to the challenge. It’s very difficult to book the other two lakes before OSA, and even OSA was only available from Monday to Wednesday instead of the weekend. We had a wonderful time staying at George Lake campground, but in the end we cut our trip short and went home instead of paddling into OSA.

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New: Book Algonquin and Killarney Interior Sites Online


Killarney Interior Reservations now Online

Killarney Interior Reservations Online

For a long time, if you wanted to camp in the Ontario Parks backcountry, you had to call the Ontario Parks Reservation line and talk to an agent. Well, not anymore! Now you can book Algonquin and Killarney Interior campsites online.

Initially only selected parks had online reservations for backcountry, including the two newer ones, Massasauga and Kawartha Highlands, and the smaller ones like Bon Echo, Charleston Lake and Frontenac. All of these parks offered reservations by numbered site. You had to choose a particular site to be able to stay there. They added pictures to a lot of these sites so you could see what you were booking.

As of March 2015, the backcountry lakes in Killarney and Algonquin are also available through the online reservation system. The earliest you can book your trip through the system is Friday April 24, 2015. In Algonquin and Killarney, the reservation system is booked by lakes not specific sites, and each site is called a tent pad. You can book both canoe sites, and backpacking trail sites (though not the Killarney La Cloche Silhouette Trail). Quetico is also available but it wasn’t working for me when I tried.

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Backcountry Camping with Kids in Algonquin

Algonquin offers an almost unlimited number of canoeing trips in the interior, so I’m only going to mention some which are suitable for the whole family. Most of the time you’ll to want to do a short paddle, and at most one portage before you get to your campsite. It’s common on these trips to do a loop or circuit, to visit a different lake each night. However, this can be very time consuming and your trip would look like this: setup camp, make dinner, put kids to sleep, go to sleep, wake up, have breakfast, take down camp, and paddle to your next destination. Instead, I prefer to choose a centrally located lake and explore the nearby bays and creeks looking for beaver dams, turtles and moose. When I do plan a simple loop visiting two or three lakes during my trip, I still prefer to put a rest day in there to visit the area. We never tire of taking an afternoon to paddle around a lake, visiting the portages on the lake, and finding a good jumping rock to swim from.

Canisbay Canoe-in sites

Canisbay Lake is located next to the Canisbay campground on Highway 60 and has canoe-in sites on a motor-free lake.

You can rent canoes from the park, and canoe to your campsite. The sites are not numbered, so you have to canoe around looking for an empty site.

There is a beach at the Canisbay 20100801-Algonquin-IMG_1236-0301Campground that has shower facilities nearby. Since there are no portages you can bring all those car-camping stuff you usually bring like camping chairs and bug shelters. Don’t bring your cooler though because you can’t put it up in a tree or hide it from bears and raccoons at night.

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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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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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