- Frontcountry Camping (or Car Camping) allows you to enjoy a camping getaway with ease of access by allowing you to drive up to your campsite
- Backcountry Camping is a more rustic experience that involves hiking or paddling into your site
- Roofed Accommodations provide outdoor lovers with the opportunity to get outdoors with a fraction of the set-up and gear required
- There is no ‘right’ way to camp, just the right way for you and your pets
If you’re considering bringing your furry friends along for your adventures for the first time, the planning stage can feel overwhelming. When preparing for and booking your trip, there is much to consider, including which parks you should visit, the campsite types, necessary gear, and meal planning. To make the situation even more confusing, the advice from seasoned campers can also vary considerably.
How do you know which recommendations to listen to and what decisions to make?
Unfortunately, we can’t give you a clear black-and-white checklist of what choices you should make. The truth is that there are many different types of camping, each with its pros and cons. The best camping style for you and your personal preferences may differ considerably from the style we enjoy most.
Instead, we’ll take this moment to break down your options in a little more detail to help you make a knowledgeable decision – starting with the different campsite types and camping styles available in Ontario.
12 Different Types of Camping in Ontario
You may be surprised to learn that so many distinct types of camping are available so close to home. We’re lucky here in Ontario, aren’t we?
While most of these camping types can be found in Ontario Parks campgrounds, this list also includes camping types from Parks Canada National Parks and the many private parks throughout the province.
The kinds of camping that we love most may not be a good fit for you, and that’s okay! There is no “best way to camp.” Instead, there is the best way(s) for you and your pets.
Car Camping or Frontcountry Camping
This is the type of camping that we enjoy most as a pack at this stage in everyone’s lives. Frontcountry or car camping refers to campsites that allow vehicle access.
There are several different styles of frontcountry camping accommodations. Here are the 4 most common options that we see in our travels.
For tent camping, you can drive either onto or close to the site with a minimal walk to the tent pad or campsite space. It allows you to bring larger or heavier gear that you wouldn’t include on your packing list for a backpacking trip.
This is a great choice for those who enjoy sleeping in a tent but may not be up for the physical demands of hiking their gear into a backcountry site.
It’s also a good choice for anyone who enjoys the amenities available at the campground, including beach spaces, playgrounds, comfort stations, park stores, visitor centers, laundry facilities, and more.
Tip: You can view which accommodations are available at each Ontario Parks campground by checking the Ontario Parks website. Simply select the park you are considering from the “Parks” dropdown list.
We currently prefer tent camping in this capacity as it allows us to quickly seek medical attention for the pets if needed with the vehicle close by. It’s an essential consideration for us at this point in our lives, with 4 of our 5 pets currently in their senior years.
Like frontcountry tent camping, hammock camping on these campsites will allow you to enjoy a more rustic experience with the convenience of driving your gear to the campsite.
It should be noted that not all sites are well-suited for hammock camping.
Before making a reservation, you will need to consider the availability of trees on the site and whether there is a spot for you to hang your hammock. Ways to check out your potential campsite options include:
- Campsite pictures in the Ontario Parks Reservation system
- Asking for recent photos from other pet-friendly campers on our Facebook groups ‘Camping & Hiking with Dogs Ontario‘ and ‘Camping & Hiking with Cats Ontario‘
- The dedicated Facebook group Ontario Provincial Park Campsite Photos
- Websites like CampsitePictures.com
- Touring the campsites yourself to check out the sites first-hand when possible
In recent years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of people purchasing trailers and RVs to enjoy camping with a little more of the “creature comforts” that they are used to at home.
This is a great camping style for those who want to connect with nature but are not interested in completely roughing it.
Trailer and RV camping is also ideal for those that may struggle to camp in a tent, making the outdoor travel experience more accessible. This includes families with very young children, seniors, or those with injuries or physical disabilities that prevent them from sleeping in a tent.
Many incredible trailers and RV options are coming out on the market in recent years. This includes sleeping on a “real” bed with a mattress, use of indoor plumbing, and shelter during inclement weather conditions.
Most trailer and RV campers also embrace the benefits of having an electrical connection at the campsite or providing an alternative power source like solar.
This is a great way to include pets nervous about the camping experience in your travel plans while providing them with the security of a “home base” that they know and recognize.
Another easy option for sleeping accommodations is to set up your actual vehicle, like a van or SUV, with a bed. There are even air mattresses designed to be used in the backseat of a car.
This is a popular option among those that enjoy spending all their time enjoying activities off their campsite, like hiking, fishing, boating, or paddling.
It minimizes the gear needed as you are driving your vehicle onto the site.
But it also limits the space that you have available. This is often a bigger concern for those with large or giant breed dogs or pet lovers camping with multiple pets.
If you are searching for a more rustic or secluded style of camping, you may be interested in backcountry camping.
Different backcountry camping options are available, but they all involve parking your vehicle and transporting your gear to your campsite through hiking or paddling.
Not only does this require a certain level of physical fitness, but it also directly impacts your gear. It may also involve equipment you wouldn’t usually need while camping, like water filters to make the available water safe for you and your pets to drink.
You will carry all your gear using a hiking pack when backpacking or staying on a hike-in site.
If you have a larger dog, they may be able to assist with some lighter gear using a dog backpack. But be careful how much you are expecting your dog to carry.
The general rule is that dogs should never carry more than 25% of their body weight. Even then, you will want to ensure that you work up to whatever your dog will be carrying to prevent injuries.
These campsites are much more private than most frontcountry camping sites, allowing outdoor lovers to really escape and connect with nature.
Keep in mind that you will not have access to the same amenities available to frontcountry campers. There are no electrical hookups, comfort stations, or park stores to purchase anything you may have forgotten.
Although many backcountry sites through Ontario Parks provide bear boxes to store food safely.
You may also have access to a “thunder box,” an open-air wooden box over a hole in the ground that will function as your toilet during your stay.
This style of backcountry camping is almost identical to backpacking, except for how you access your campsite. Rather than hiking to the site, you would need to paddle in with all your gear.
Backcountry paddling is an excellent option for those who enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and spending time on the water.
In addition to your usual gear, backcountry paddlers usually invest in drybags for their gear to keep everything safely contained should they run into trouble. You should also equip your pet(s) with a lifejacket when on the water.
The biggest benefit of this camping style is that every site has a beautiful waterfront view!
As we work on our little man Lucifer’s comfort on the water, this is a camping style we plan to introduce more frequently into our plans.
This actually isn’t a separate style of camping. It’s a substyle for those interested in experimenting with different skills while backpacking.
Ultralite camping challenges campers to travel with the lightest or least amount of gear necessary.
The goal is to keep the base weight of your pack under 10 pounds before including food and water. To do this, campers would need to cut back significantly on the gear they bring. Most “conveniences” are eliminated to leave space to pack the necessary survival equipment.
Some great gear options have been designed specifically with this camping style in mind.
Are you interested in the challenge of hiking or paddling into your site, but you aren’t comfortable sleeping on the ground? If so, Algonquin may have the solution.
The park has a select number of backcountry cabins available.
These are roofed accommodations located in more remote areas of the park that are not accessible by vehicle. For example, the Birchcliffe Cabin is only accessible by canoe or kayak, while the Lost Coin Lake Cabin requires visitors to hike 7 km from the access point.
These cabins are all equipped with the following:
- Fire extinguisher
- Wash basin
- Metal pail
- Broom and dustpan
- Bunks (no mattresses
- Table and chairs
- An outside closed-in toilet
All additional gear required, including sleeping bags, air mattresses, a cooking stove, a flashlight, and utensils, will need to be packed in with you. You also need to bring your drinking water.
Unfortunately, at this time, none of these cabins are pet-friendly. We hope that the move towards offering pet-friendly roofed accommodations will eventually result in a change to these rules.
Outdoor lovers interested in more of a “glamping” experience may prefer to stay in a fixed accommodation like a cabin.
This is an extremely popular choice for those who enjoy camping activities (like hiking and paddling) but aren’t up to sleeping outdoors. It’s also a great option for campers camping in the winter or even the cooler shoulder seasons (spring and fall).
While most roofed accommodations do not allow pets, Ontario Parks has recently made a few roofed accommodations dog friendly. They are still off-limits for cats.
A yurt is a circular shelter with a sturdy frame like a house but walls made from a durable tent-like material. They provide campers with the ability to be outdoors while enjoying some of the benefits of a roofed building.
If you are considering a yurt at one of the Ontario Parks campgrounds, they generally include beds with mattresses, heat, lighting, and an electrical outlet.
You may also be interested in staying at a Parks Canada National Park like Bruce Peninsula National Park where the yurts are even more extravagant. However, at this time, the yurts at National Parks are pet-free.
For those that enjoy winter hiking, snowshoeing, or ice skating, this is a great option for a warm base to return to at the end of the day.
These tents feature the more traditional metal poles with a fabric roof and walls.
However, at the Ontario Parks, they have been set up as a more permanent structure on an elevated wooden base with an additional wood-framed roof to protect them from the elements.
There are not many exploration tents at the Ontario Parks, but they can still be found at Bon Echo and Presqu’ile. Unfortunately, pets are still not permitted at either of these locations.
Parks Canada oTENTiks
Often described as a cross between a tent and a cabin, oTENTiks are framed in an A-frame structure similar to a cabin, then covered in a tent-like fabric.
These structures provide many benefits for those who enjoy a “glamping” experience, including lighting, indoor furniture, heating, and even a cook shelter in some units (this varies from park to park).
While oTENTiks are available at several Parks Canada locations, the only pet-friendly options are units 3B or 3E at Thousand Islands National Park.
Of course, there is always the option of getting out and enjoying the outdoors with the full luxury of a cabin to return to at the end of the day.
Some die-hard campers may argue that this isn’t camping, but we believe otherwise. Here at The Kas Pack, we support all camping styles that allow people to enjoy outdoor travel.
Like the yurts, cabins at the Ontario Parks are restricted to pets, except for a select few dog-friendly cabins. Cats are still not permitted.
Parks Canada offers pet-friendly historic cottages at Rideau Canal National Historic Site.
Crown Land Camping in Ontario
If you are really comfortable with roughing it without the modern luxuries of an organized campground, you may be interested in crown land camping.
Crown land refers to property the Ontario Government manages under the Public Lands Act or the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. This makes up 87% of the province, with 95% of crown land located in Northern Ontario.
Canadian residents can camp for free in select crown land areas for up to 21 days on any one site each calendar year. However, camping is not permitted in all crown land locations.
You can use the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas to find locations and the permitted activities on each.
There are no amenities in these locations, so you must be prepared to provide for your essential needs, including drinking water and bathrooms.
Understanding Campsite Types at Ontario Parks
When booking a campsite at the Ontario Parks, you may notice many different site types and symbols on the booking site.
Understanding the different campsite types will help you choose the best site for your next adventure.
Electric vs Non-Electric
One of the most significant differences to note when booking a campsite at any of the Ontario Parks is electrical vs. non-electrical.
If you want the perks of having electrical access, an electrical site will provide you with a hookup right on your campsite. But this isn’t the only option for those that want to enjoy this luxury.
Electrical sites can be harder to come by. This has encouraged many trailer and RV campers to explore alternative power sources.
We don’t recommend using generators as an ongoing power source. They can be used occasionally during the daytime to top-up batteries, especially those designed to make minimal to no noise.
Noisy generators can ruin the camping experience for others camping nearby.
Solar power is growing in popularity (and for good reason). It’s a quiet and environmentally-friendly way of meeting your power needs.
These are the campsites that are in high demand. There is nothing on the Ontario Parks booking site that will indicate a site is a “premium” site, but you will see it reflected in the cost.
This often refers to sites with a waterfront view or water access.
An option solely for tent campers, walk-in sites are campsites where you park in one spot and walk a short distance to access your campsite.
Unlike backcountry sites, these distances are much smaller. This makes it feasible to take multiple loads from your vehicle to the campsite if that’s what’s needed to move all your gear.
You may also see a site marked as a “walk-in” site if there is a step or two from where you park to the campsite area. But these sites are not feasible for those with a trailer or RV.
This may be the perfect solution for those that are done with the constant battle to book campsites. Seasonal campsites are those that are booked for the entire camping season.
This means booking a site from October 1st to March 31st, allowing you to have a guaranteed site for the summer season. There is also a winter seasonal site available for those interested from April 1 to September 30.
The Winter Seasonal Campsite Program is only available at MacGregor Point. Summer seasonal campsites are available at the following parks:
If you are planning to travel with your extended family or a large group of friends, the group campsites may be your ideal solution.
These sites are designed for camping in larger groups with restrictions for the number of campers ranging from 15 to 100 people. Check the park you are considering for more specific rules and regulations.
This is a great option for those considering camping with a larger group of family or friends.
Final Thoughts on Types of Camping in Ontario
There are many different camping options depending on your needs and personal preferences. No option is better than the others, but it is something that you will need to consider.
What style of camping do you enjoy best? Are you more of a private camper looking for a quiet site? Or do you seek a campground with better amenities?
For the best outdoor adventure, don’t get caught up in which campgrounds are popular or recommended most often. Instead, consider what will make or break your outdoor experience, and search for a campsite that offers everything you need!
What style of camping do you enjoy most? Are you a backcountry camper, or do you enjoy getting outdoors in your trailer? We’d love to know!