Tips and Tricks for Booking Ontario Parks
The new year is officially upon us, and outdoor lovers everywhere are excitedly making plans for their upcoming adventures. For those of us in the province of Ontario, this often means navigating booking our camping stays at any one of our beautiful provincial parks. But many compare the process of booking Ontario Parks to playing the lottery.
Interest in camping has been on the rise, and many people were introduced to outdoor travel during the pandemic lockdowns.
While we love seeing so many people embracing their love of the outdoors, it can be frustrating to book a campsite, especially if you have your heart set on visiting one of the more popular parks. We’ve spent many mornings at 7 AM in front of the computer, hoping to snag that perfect campsite.
If you’re currently in the planning phase for your 2023 adventures, we’re here to help. We put together this guide with everything you need to know to book a fantastic Ontario Parks vacation with your pets.
How Far in Advance Can You Book an Ontario Parks Campsite?
Reservations at the Ontario Parks open 5 months before your planned arrival day, at 7 AM. This means if you plan on camping for the Canada Day weekend, arriving on June 30th, you can make your reservation on the morning of January 30th.
If the days in each month don’t line up, the system uses the first of the following month to get back on track. For example, July arrivals are booked in February, but February has a limited number of days. For reservations starting on July 29, 30, and 31, the reservations will open on March 1st.
Ontario Parks Day Use Reservations
Several different types of reservations can be made at our provincial parks. This includes car camping, back-country camping, roofed accommodations (trailers, yurts and cabins), and even day use.
Ontario Parks day use reservations are only available at the busier parks in the province. These locations often fill up, forcing the parks to close their gates to new visitors. By booking a daily vehicle permit up to 5 days in advance, you can guarantee a spot will be available for you.
Ontario Parks Cancellation Policy
We never book a camping trip with the intention of cancelling. Unfortunately, there are times when the unexpected happens and plans change. Ontario Parks allows you to either change or cancel a reservation, but there are fees associated with these changes.
Changes that can be made to your reservation include changing to a different campsite within the same park or changing your reservation dates.
Another change that has inspired the creation of a whole Facebook group (Ontario Parks Cancellations) is the ability to change the permit holder. Suppose you can’t make your planned camping trip. In that case, Ontario Parks allows you to transfer the reservation to another person as long as the money exchanged is only enough to cover the cost to you, with no additional profit.
The fees for making a change to your reservation are as follows:
- Making a change online: $7.52 + HST
- Making a change by phone: $9.29 + HST
If you need to cancel or shorten your trip (cancelling part of the reservation), there is a cancellation fee equal 10-50% of the total cost. The amount of the cancellation fee is dependent on how long you have held the reservation. The longer your campsite or roofed accommodation is reserved, the higher the cancellation fee.
Your cancellation fee will include the above change of reservation fees plus the following:
|Time Your Reservation Has Been Held||Cancellation Fee|
|1 month or less||10% of total fees paid|
|Greater than 1 month to 2 months||20% of total fees paid|
|Greater than 2 months to 3 months||30% of total fees paid|
|Greater than 3 months to 4 months||40% of total fees paid|
|Greater than 4 months||50% of total fees paid|
For Ontario Parks backcountry reservations, the cancellation fees are slightly different. The cancellation fee for these reservations would be as follows:
|Time Your Reservation Has Been Held||Cancellation Fee|
|1 month or less||Change of reservation fee – $7.52 + HST online or $9.29 + HST by phone|
|Greater than 1 month to 2 months||$10 + HST|
|Greater than 2 months to 3 months||$15 + HST|
|Greater than 3 months to 4 months||$20 + HST|
|Greater than 4 months||$25 + HST|
2023 Changes to Ontario Parks Reservations
In response to the growing demand for campsites in the province and the challenge of making a reservation, Ontario Parks has made some changes to reservations moving into the 2023 season. These changes are designed to help “share the wealth” by allowing more people to take advantage of sites in the most popular parks.
Starting with the 2023 season, the maximum length of time you can stay at select parks has been reduced from 23 nights to either 7 or 14 nights during peak camping season. This new rule will apply to stays between July 1 and the Saturday of the Labour Day long weekend.
Dogs at Ontario Parks
If you are reading about booking Ontario Parks on our blog, it’s fair to assume that you plan on camping with a furry friend by your side. There are rules that you will need to adhere to if you plan on hiking or camping at the Ontario Parks with your pup.
Rules for Camping at Ontario Provincial Parks with Dogs
Dogs are welcome at nearly all Ontario Parks campsites, backcountry sites, and hiking trails. But there are some restrictions. Dogs are not allowed in the following campgrounds:
- Algonquin: Archay Campground sites 20 to 39
- Algonquin: Canisbay Lake Campground sites 53 to 101
- Algonquin: Mew Lake Campground sites 95 to 131
- Algonquin: Pog Lake Campground sites 201 to 231
- Awenda: Snake Campground
- Balsam Lake: Walk-in sites
- Grundy Lake: Red Maple Campground
- Pinery: sites 248 to 299
- Sandbanks: West Lake Campground
- Voyageur: 1 loop in Iroquois B Campground
The Ontario Parks have very few rules relating to dogs compared to many other vacation locations. Breaking any of these rules can result in fines starting at $95 or removal from the park.
- Dogs are not permitted in beaches and swimming areas (except designated dog beaches), comfort stations, roofed accommodations (except those deemed dog-friendly), and all other areas where domestic animal restrictions are posted
- Always keep dogs on a leash no longer than 6 feet in length unless in a designated off-leash area or dog-friendly roofed accommodation
- Do not allow dogs to damage or disturb park vegetation and wildlife
- Do not leave dogs unattended
- Dogs are not permitted to make excessive noise
- Dog owners are required to pick up after their dog’s waste
Additionally, if backcountry camping, the following rules apply:
- Dogs are not permitted in water adjacent to interior sites where campers obtain drinking water
- When in areas where other people may be present (portages, access points, or when wardens enter campsites), dogs must be leashed or under control
Dogs in Roofed Accommodations
Most roofed accommodations do not allow dogs. However, starting April 1, 2020, Ontario Parks changed their rules to allow dogs to stay in select roofed accommodations. You can now camp with your dog in the following locations, BUT it is limited to 2 dogs per accommodation (regardless of size), and you will be charged an additional $20/night fee.
|Park||Dog-Friendly Roofed Accommodations|
|Algonquin – Mew Lake||Yurt 62|
|Bon Echo||Yurt 153, Cabin 612|
|Charleston Lake||Yurt 315C|
|Fushimi Lake||Cabin 43|
|MacGregor Point||Yurt 90|
|Pancake Bay||Yurt 365|
|Rene Brunelle||Cabin 100|
|Rushing River||Trailers 403 & 405|
|Silent Lake||Yurt 5, Cabin 201|
|Sleeping Giant||Cabin 4|
|Windy Lake||Cabin 201|
Dog Beaches and Exercise Areas
Some Ontario Parks offer dog-friendly beaches or off-leash exercise areas. These spaces are deemed dog-friendly, allowing your furry friend to make the most of their camping vacation.
Dogs are required to be on leash at dog beaches unless otherwise stated.
If you have a dog that loves swimming, you may wish to choose your next vacation spot with the dog beach locations in mind. While this doesn’t make or break our decision to visit a park, knowing that there is a dog beach is often a deciding factor specifically for our summer travel plans.
Here is a summary of the dog beaches and exercise areas to help you as you’re booking Ontario Parks for your next getaway.
|Park||Pet Exercise Area||Dog Beach|
|Six Mile Lake||Yes||Yes|
What About Adventure Cats?
Unlike dogs, cats are specifically mentioned in the Ontario Parks guidelines. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome to join you and your family on your next camping trip. Our cats love camping!
Most rules listed for dogs can also be applied to adventure cats. This includes keeping them either on a leash or contained while in the park and cleaning up after your cats. With cats, you also need to be cautious about their desire to hunt local wildlife like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds.
Designated pet-free areas in the park are also restricted for your cat. This includes comfort stations, discovery centers and most beaches (except for dog beaches). Cats are not permitted in dog-friendly roofed accommodations.
Tips and Tricks for Booking Ontario Parks
Now that you have chosen which park(s) you want to visit with your furry travel companions, it’s time to look at making a reservation.
Reservations can be made by calling the Ontario Parks reservation line (1-888-ONT-PARK). However, this process takes longer than making a reservation online, meaning that you will likely miss out on high-demand campsites.
Most outdoor travel lovers make their Ontario Parks reservations online.
Unfortunately, booking a campsite online can be quite a challenge. Campers log onto their computer each morning in preparation for the 7 AM lottery. When the clock hits 7, everyone hits the “reserve” button, hoping they are the first to get through in the system.
If you have felt this frustration, here are a few tips to help increase your chances of success.
Make Plans But Be Flexible
Take some time to research and figure out which parks you hope to visit. Within each of these parks, make a list of sites that will meet your needs.
Some factors you may want to consider include location, the popularity of the park, the type of campsites, privacy, beaches, hiking trails, canoeing/kayaking potential, and other amenities. If this all feels overwhelming, consider sorting these elements based on their priority. For example, maybe you would be open to a less private campsite if there is a good dog beach.
You also want to determine the dates that you plan on booking. This is important as it will determine what day you need to be up and ready to book your stay.
The day that you are trying to make your Ontario Parks camping reservations, be prepared to be flexible. If you are trying to book a more popular location, hundreds of other campers may be online, ready to try their luck at getting the same site. If you don’t get your first choice, the ability to pivot quickly could mean landing the second or third site on your list.
Ensure You Have a Reliable Connection
Booking a campsite is a race, and the first computer to snag the site wins. You can increase your chances by setting yourself up with a reliable connection to the Ontario Parks reservation site. This includes both your internet connection and the device that you’re using.
Before booking, restart your computer and clear your browser cache. Avoid running programs besides the browser that could slow your computer down.
If you don’t have a reliable internet connection at home, you may want to ask a friend or family member to use theirs. Avoid public connections like those at your local café or library. These are shared among many people, which often makes them slower and less reliable.
Consider Trying a Less Popular Park
If the only sites you are set on reserving are those in the most popular parks, your chances of booking a campsite are considerably lower. The competition for parks like Algonquin, Killbear, Pinery, Sandbanks, and Bon Echo is much higher.
There are so many incredible Ontario Parks to explore. If you want to make booking your next vacation easier, branch out and consider some of the less popular parks.
Parks in and around Toronto are often booked solid for the summer. There are STUNNING views in the province’s Northern Parks for those with the freedom to travel further. Due to the distance, many campsites at these parks will sit unused even during the peak season, making it much easier to book your ideal site.
Try Non-Electric Camping
The demand for electrical sites is much higher than it is for non-electrical. This is a trend that is continuing to grow and not going to change anytime soon.
Here at The Kas Pack, we are tent campers. We prefer more private or rustic sites, often opting for walk-ins or backcountry camping, and don’t need electricity for our setup. As a result, we find it much easier booking sites than many of those that are vying for the electrical sites at the same parks.
If you are currently struggling to book electrical sites, you can increase your chances by setting yourself up to camp without power. Some options to provide for your power needs include additional batteries in your power bank or setting up a solar system.
Camp During the Week
Weekends are the busiest times at any provincial park. If you have the flexibility in your schedule to book your trip midweek, there is far less competition. Not only are there more sites available during the week, but it also increases your chances of booking a premium site like those with a waterfront view.
The same can be said for camping during the shoulder season instead of the middle of summer. The weather is still beautiful for outdoor travel in the late spring and early fall, but the traffic at even the most popular parks will often decline. You can take advantage of this by choosing travel dates outside of the peak summer season.
Snap Up a Last-Minute Cancellation
If you’re unsuccessful in booking Ontario Parks when the reservation window opens for your travel dates, consider waiting a while and circling back. First, wait 15 to 20 minutes before checking back again. It’s possible that someone snagged multiple sites on different devices, only booking one while the others time out and are released back into the reservation system again.
Several campsites will open up closer to the travel date. These last-minute cancellations will give you another chance to book your favourite campsites.
Ontario Parks does offer availability notifications, allowing you to sign up to receive an email notification if the site(s) you are interested in becomes available during your selected dates. But be prepared to act fast when these notifications come in as there may be several other campers receiving the same notification.
There are many campers who have luck booking great sites each year by waiting and logging on just before their planned vacation dates.
Have you had any luck booking Ontario Parks for the 2023 season? We are excited to hear about all your outdoor travel plans!