If you close your eyes and imagine a vision of Canada, what do you see? If the first thing that comes to mind is ‘nature’, you’re not alone. Canada is filled with cosmopolitan cities and charming towns but its real claim to fame is the pristine, unspoiled wilderness. Happily, you don’t have to go on a massive expedition to the wilderness to get a taste of the true Canadian spirit. Here are 4 breathtaking provincial parks located just a few hours from Toronto, all offering a taste of the true north.
Algonquin Provincial Park
The piercing laugh and cry of the loon reverberate across the polished glass of Grand Lake. It’s a sound I’ve heard a hundred times before in recordings, but never in the flesh, and I’m taken aback by how haunting it is. When the loon finally settles into a stealthy, silent swim, the entire campground is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Achray Campground in Algonquin Provincial Park has an eerie beauty all its own, a look that’s now synonymous with one word: Canada. It was here that the country’s greatest artist, Tom Thompson, painted his finest works. Today, it’s the perfect spot for anyone who truly wants to get away from it all. Expect no camp store, no cell signal, no showers – but plenty of pristine nature.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
At times, Sandbanks threatens to be the opposite of Achray. In July, the Saturday beach crowd is 20 deep as families pack in to enjoy the white sand beaches of Lake Ontario. The campground is surrounded by shops and amenities and there’s even a campground café. But all this popularity is well deserved. The beaches really are spectacular, the campground is clean and modern, and it’s the perfect distance between Ottawa and Toronto. Be sure to take a day trip into the nearby town of Picton to visit specialty food shops, craft stores, and the nearby wineries.
Killbear Provincial Park
It’s not every day you drive over a road with snake bridges but Killbear Provincial Park is serious about protecting its unique residents. The endangered Massissauga rattle snake is afforded every consideration, as are the local bears. Happily, despite hours of hiking, I encountered neither but that didn’t stop me from being extra careful (and being scrupulously clean around camp). A little less menacing but equally intriguing are the dragon flies and damsel flies that call Killbear home. The park rangers offer guided nature walks so you can learn more about these dainty creatures and while the program was designed for children, adults will love it too.
Long Point Provincial Park
Don’t be deceived by your map. Ontario is a massive province and Long Point is at the very southern end of it, making this a long drive from anywhere beyond Toronto. But it’s worth it. Set on the coast of Lake Erie, the area offers fantastic fishing and also scuba diving among its many ship wrecks. It’s also the perfect place to try out a local form of kayaking and there are plenty of nature activities nearby. Make sure to take the time to visit the town of Simcoe, home to one of the hottest restaurants in the county. The Combine is passionate about supporting the local farmers and virtually everything is sourced from nearby Norfolk County. But folksy it’s not- the food here is better than anything you’d find in Toronto and the homemade bacon marshmallow s’mores are the stuff of dreams.
Bio: Vanessa Chiasson is an ocean loving Maritimer now settled as a travel writer and social media strategist in Ottawa. She has presented at TBEX Dublin, WITS Chicago, and BConnected Ottawa and is a founding organizer of Travel Massive Ottawa. Her site, TurnipseedTravel.com is passionate about great value -getting the absolute most for your hard earned dollars and days off. Vanessa was awarded Travel Writer of the Year by Norfolk County, Canada in 2013.