Crownland Campsites exist in Ontario. But how do you locate them? Few are mapped, and most are known by locals or shared by word-of-mouth. I’ll share with you how you can find a campsite on Crownland in Ontario. It’s not a foolproof method, but having camped on Crown land for years, these steps will help you find a site and new terrain to explore. With a whopping 87% of Ontario defined as Crown land, there is so much geography to experience.
First Things First
Most larger tracts of Crown land are found north of Kingston, Ontario. But before you pack your tent, spend some time online. First stop is the Ontario Crown land Atlas. The Atlas is an online mapping tool with a wealth of information on land in mid-to-northern Ontario. And it’s good to start here to understand Crown and private land because trespassing on private property will only get you into trouble.
With a few clicks of the mouse, it’s easy to identify a parcel of land. Green indicates parks or protected spaces, blue for creeks and water bodies, bright green highlights conservation reserves, and grey representing private land. Off white/yellow identifies general use Crown land.
Zoom into an area and then click on the tab along the top of the map that reads “Find information”. Click on the “Find land use information” button on the computer screen’s far left, then on the desired map location. Information appears explaining the land type.
Try it! For fun, let’s check out Otter Lake in North Frontenac County. This lake is surrounded by Crown land and near Mair Lake. Or try Wabun Lake near Calabogie or Lobster Lake south of Algonquin Park. All three can be found on sizeable tracts of Crown land.
Ok, so now what?
Well, before we figure out if trails and roads exist near the lake, a few important notes about camping:
- Many lakes on Crown land have at least one campsite. I’ve seen up to five on larger lakes.
- Ontario Parks Website – check under the non-operating parks tab – many of these parks have numerous Crown land campsites (see below for more information).
- Many lakes on Crown land are accessible by ATV paths or logging roads. These are rarely signed. Some logging require a four-wheel-drive with significant clearance.
With that in mind, you’ve found a lake, so it’s time to discover how to get there. What’s your preferred way? Human-powered (hiking/walking, bikepacking) or motorized (ATV, SXS, dirt biking, jeeping)? You can walk an ATV trail, but you can’t Jeep on an ATV trail. A bit of research is needed. Let’s start with Google maps.
Google maps can help you locate the lake you found using the Atlas and identify the nearby roads. Zoom in and see if the road narrows or not. When the road narrows on google maps, it means it probably isn’t paved… and the more it narrows compared to other roads in the area, there is a good chance it may be an ATV trail or an old logging road. Check the satellite imagery function on google maps – it’s easy to view nearby trails. If you notice a route that passes near a lake on Crown land, there is a high probability that a few Crown land campsites are located off the road.
Next, check Ontario topographic maps. These maps detail roads, contour lines and other important information. Contour lines tell you how hilly or flat the terrain is. Spend a bit of time checking out the surrounding area so that you can understand how much slogging up hills is involved.
Another reliable resource is local trails. Check the www.quadon.ca website. It’s a great app that you can take with you on your phone that identifies trail status – open or closed, trail conditions, nearby gas stations etc. Another option is to reach out to someone from a local ATV club, and they may share with you the best trail to access a particular lake. Local clubs promote their area and will share some of the best places to find food, gas and other gear you may need, depending on your trip. But they probably won’t tell you where to catch fish – pickerel and trout fishermen (and women) are FBI-secretive about their fishing holes.
Prefer non-motorized? Check out www.alltrails.com which identifies trails, their distances and shares reviews from previous visitors. Google the Ontario Trails Council which has descriptions of every type of path from ATV to horseback, including locations of trailheads, surface condition, length and maps.
Once you have established the lake, nearby trails and access in, use Google to research the lake, the nearest town and any trail names you have identified in the previous steps. There is a good chance someone has written a story or blogged about it. You may find photographs or a story from an ATV, fishing or bikepacking trip. Every little bit of research helps. Post a request on an ATV or hiking blog and see who answers.
Important Stuff to Know
Well, that covers the basics. You’re almost ready to pack your tent. But there are a few other essentials to know:
- Have a flexible attitude… if you arrive and someone has already claimed the site – have a backup plan. Campsites are first-come, first-serve, so understand that arriving Friday evening might mean you find yourself without a place (unless it’s bug season).
- Little infrastructure exists – sometimes there is a thunderbox, usually a fire pit.
- Hiking, cycling, boating, canoeing, swimming and birdwatching are permitted almost everywhere. Hunting and fishing are allowed as well, but you do need a valid license. You can horseback ride and use your ATV or off-road vehicle as long as the land is not restricted (signs would be posted). The ATV (and SXS) riders must follow the Off-Road Vehicles Act.
- Safety matters. Campsites can be remote. Be prepared with a satellite phone. Cell coverage is non-existent in most places. Have a backup plan in case your neighbours play music until 3:00 am.
- Seven different types of Crown land exist. There are rules for each type, such as ATVs are not allowed in Provincial Parks. They are permitted on most other types of Crown land. Check out the Ontario website to be sure of what is or is not allowed.
- Behave respectfully! Pack out litter, extinguish campfires, avoid sensitive areas such as wetlands and wildlife habitat, stay on existing trails, and don’t harm or kill trees or wildlife. Please follow these rules.
- If you see harmful or illegal things happening, call the MNRF tip line, 1-877-TIPS-MNR (1-877-847-7667). Crime Stoppers has an anonymous tip line 1-800-222-TIPS or contact the Ontario Provincial Police (911). The police will come, though it will take a while.
- Non-operating provincial parks generally have a trailhead for parking at the Park boundary (usually a rough gravel road). For example, the non-operating Lower Madawaska Provincial Park is mainly used by white-water canoeists. There are numerous Crown land sites along its shores and near the portages. Vehicle parking is available outside the boundaries if you prefer to walk into a site or canoe from a different location (though parking is seldom marked on a map and is not easy to find).
- Explore the trails in the area, there may be more campsites.
Most importantly, respect the land, the wildlife and other people out enjoying the bush.
Start packing! I hope this helps you discover more of Ontario’s hidden lakes and trails and enjoy a Crown land camping experience.