Canada turns 150 this year and to celebrate, all National Parks in Canada have free admission for 2017. Due to this, Lonely Planet and the New York Times both named Canada a must visit destination in 2017. To make the most of your visit to Canada, you must enjoy Canada’s stunning National Parks in Ontario. All 5 of Canada’s National Parks in Ontario offer an amazing opportunity to commune with nature. As a bonus, 4 of the 5 National Parks in Ontario are an easy drive from Toronto. Last but not least, all Ontario National Parks are excellent for family travel.
Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada
The closest Ontario National Park to Toronto is Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Don’t be mistaken, even though it is an easy 1.5 – 2 hr from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, it is a world away in terms of nature. We stopped at this National Park on our way back to Toronto after spending some time in Killarney, Provincial Park.
The 59 small islands that comprise Georgian Bay Islands National Park are found in Lake Huron. The pinkish hue of the bare rocks stands in picturesque contrast to the glistening blue waters surrounding them. The islands are only accessible by boat, kayak, or canoe. Although Georgian Bay Islands National Park holds the distinction of being the smallest national park in Ontario at 13.5 km², it packs a lot of punch in terms of scenery.
Tip: The largest island in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Beausoleil Island, offers cabins and tent camping. But accommodations book up fast!
Thousand Islands National Park of Canada
Thousand Islands National Park is a 24.4 km² area within the Thousand Islands region between Brockville and Kingston. The park is composed of Mallorytown Landing inland and over 20 islands. The granite covered islands are said to be remnants of prehistoric mountains. Thousand Islands National Park is also part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. A designation ascribed to the area due to its biodiversity.
Thousand Islands National Park is best explored by watercraft. We visited Thousand Islands National Park with kids and enjoyed our time day tripping around the Islands by boat. From our oTENTik (a type of accommodation provided within the National Park that is a cross between a tent and a rustic cabin) we were able to witness a beautiful sunrise with a view of the castles in the Thousand Islands. Both tent camping and oTENTiks are available on the mainland and on select islands.
Tip: oTENTiks are a great alternative for families that do not have the camping equipment on hand but want to overnight in a park.
Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park has dramatic cliffs that rise majestically from Georgian Bay. A 3.5-hour drive from Toronto, this place is one of our favorite parks to visit during the summer and is definitely a bucket list destination in Canada. The Park is a great place for families with several easy hikes. Our favorite is the trek to the Grotto, a surreal swimming hole inside a cave.
For those that are not satisfied with a day trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park, why not spend the night? Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario also has the distinction of being part of a dark sky nature preserve. For camping options in this Canadian National Park, book a site at Cyprus Lake Campground using Canada’s park reservation system.
Across the waters of Georgian Bay from Bruce Peninsula National Park is Fathom Five National Marine Park, home of the much-photographed Flower Pot Island. Additionally, the Marine Park is a diver’s paradise with many shipwrecks in the area waiting to be explored.
Tip: For those that prefer to enjoy the park by day but stay in the city of the night, there are several accommodation options in the town of Tobermory, the closest city to the park.
Point Pelee National Park of Canada
Point Pelee National Park is a 3-hour drive from Toronto and makes for a great long weekend getaway. The park’s 15 km² has forested areas, marshland, and even a sandy beach! A sturdy boardwalk is used to explore the marshland. This is a popular way to spot one (or several) of the 360 species of migratory birds that stop at the park annually. Because of this, UNESCO designated the area a Wetland of International Significance. For the adventurous, it is also possible to kayak around the marshland.
Another spectacular event occurs during the fall season when thousands of monarch butterflies flock to Point Pelee National Park for the annual monarch butterfly fall migration. An amazing spectacle perfect for families visiting Point Pelee National Park with kids. Additionally, the Park has the distinction of being the most southern point in Canada. To get to the point, visitors must walk onto the sandy beach that juts into Lake Erie. Watch your hats! When we were there, it was very windy.
Tip: There are no accommodations at Point Pelee National Park. Visitors can find a range of accommodation types in Leamington or at Point Pelee Island.
Pukaskwa National Park of Canada
The only one of the National Parks in Ontario we have not had the pleasure of visiting! Pukaskwa National Park is 1100 km from Toronto. The epic 11-hour drive is in our 2017 bucket list. At 1878 km² it is the largest of the National Parks in Ontario. However, there are only 4 km of roadway in the entire park (1 km in the winter season) making the park a haven for hikers.
To get acquainted with the preserve the park has several hiking trails. The kid-friendly trails are in the frontcountry with trail heads near the park’s only campground, Hattie Cove. For families with older children that are avid hikers, Pukaskwa National Park has hiking trails for you as well! The Coastal Hiking Trail is 60 km long and is a great way to experience the rugged isolation for which the park is famous.
Tip: Pukaskwa National Park offers guided hikes on most summer nights. Check in at the visitor’s center for more details.
National Parks in Ontario are free in 2017!
Ontario is geologically diverse and is the only province in Canada that borders on the magnificent Great Lakes. Also, the province is home to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa and largest metropolis, Toronto. The majority of the National Parks in Ontario may not be as large as those that are in other provinces. But all provide a way to commune with some of nature’s most outstanding landscapes. So, definitely consider visiting the National Parks of Ontario and enjoy the rest of the province as well on your next visit to Canada.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.