If you’re not quite ready for backcountry camping but growing a little tired of having massive RVs—with generators humming through the night—parked beside you, some Ontario Provincial Parks have “walk-in” alternatives to pitch your tent. They’re a little more secluded, making them great for practicing before trying out a remote wilderness trip.
Silent Lake Provincial Park
Silent Lake has two loops of walk-in sites in the Pincer Bay Campground (Sites 66-73 and 74-88) as well as one loop of walk-ins in Granite Ridge Campground (Sites 156-167). For all walk-in sites, campers park their vehicles in the designated parking lots and walk their gear a short distance into the campsite (no more than 500 metres). I’m more familiar to the Pincer Bay sites. There are two loops to choose from the central parking area. Sites 66-73 are close to the beach, which can be extremely handy if you have kids in tow, but you can also get some rowdy campers disturbing your solitude at times. The second loop of sites (74-88) are totally separate from the main campground. I’ve used these quite a few times when taking youth camping for the first time. It works perfectly, especially with the direct access to the long day hike trail around the lake.
Bon Echo Provincial Park
Bon Echo has two walk-in options. The Hardwood Hill Campground has a walk-in loop with nine campsites. Parking is approximately 100 to 300 metres from your campsite. The main campground—Sawmill Bay—has five walk-in campsites located right on Mazinaw Lake. The second options are exceptional. They are all on the shore of Mazinaw Lake and overlook the infamous granite cliffs across the lake. When the sun sets, the cliffs light up and the view is incredible. Another bonus is being able to park your canoe or kayak at your site so you can paddle over to the cliffs and check out the largest collection of Indigenous pictographs in North America.
Sharbot Lake Provincial Park
Sharbot Lake’s walk-ins can be a bit of a hit or miss experience. The sites are sporadically set throughout the four cluster campgrounds—Beach Front, Maple Grove, The Point and Ridgeview. It’s somewhat disorganized; it’s as if the park staff just designated walk-in sites in areas where it’s impossible to park your car. It’s a tight squeeze driving the road system throughout the park—a place where tents and small trailers rule and large RVs are the outcasts, which is why I like this park so much. There is a total of 25 walk-in sites, but Ridgewood has the most (16). Some are nestled on top of a steep hill, giving nice vistas and privacy, while some are a mere 10 to 30-metre stroll from the road and your car.
Balsam Lake Provincial Park
Balsam Lake is darn close to the city of Toronto, so it can be a busy place at times. But it does have half-a-dozen “eco-sites” that are set 100 to 300 metres from the parking area. They are similar to other walk-in sites, where only tents are allowed and there’s no electricity. Just a fire pit and picnic table. You’re a good distance from all the business of the main campground, but you’re still close enough to all the perks (beach, washroom facilities and showers). There is one difference from all the others, however—the sites are radio-free and pet-free. No listening to Gordon Lightfoot tunes with your dog. Sorry.