The first time I went camping I was 6 months old and I pretty much haven't stopped since. I have tried all different styles of camping at a large number of campgrounds and what can really make or break your experience is your campsite. Pick wrong and you could end up beside the outhouse, surrounded by poison ivy or with no privacy at all. It can be stressful, because who wants to be the one everyone points to when someone asks "who the hell picked this site?". Luckily, I am pretty much a pro at picking the right site and you can be too if you follow these tips.
Decide On A Type of Camping
There are a lot of different camping options out there that vary from back country to a yurt. Decide what appeals to you will help to narrow down the list of parks that will meet your needs. Back country camping involves hiking or canoeing into a campsite. They can be a short distance away from where you park or they can be a significant distance. When deciding if you want to go back country camping think about your comfort level with being completely disconnected and if you have access to the right gear to take with you on the journey. Car camping involves booking a site where your car remains at the site with you. Privacy will vary but your car and everything you bring with you will be easily accessible. You can book electric and non-electric sites. Yurts are pretty cool and a great option if you don't want to lug all the equipment with you, are making a quick overnight stop on a road trip or if you are looking to enjoy a park in the winter.
Once you decide on the type of camping you are interested in you can quickly narrow the list of parks down to those that offer the type of camping you have picked.
How far are you willing to travel? If you only have a few days then you are not likely to want to spend 10 hours driving just to get to a park. Look at a map and be realistic with how much driving you want to do and how the day/time you would be leaving would affect the time it takes to get to the park. We tend to not book sites that require us to drive through Toronto on a Friday because we know that this will easily double our time on the road.
Don't have a car? That doesn't matter! Look for services that will take you directly to a park on a bus or train.
The answer to these first 2 exercises will create a geographical zone for you to work within. I have always found that this significantly narrows down the list of park options.
How Will You Fill Your Days
Consider the type of activities that you want to enjoy while you are camping - canoeing, hiking, fishing, swimming, kids programs, time away from the park. If you are going for a week or longer, having some attractions that you can travel to for day trips can help to fill time, especially if it rains.
Yes, a park may look great on paper but the reality is that it still may not be what you want even though it has met all your criteria so far. Take your smaller list of parks and look them up to see what they look like. Look at the overall park map to see the distances that the sites are from the amenities like the lake. One time we went camping at a really great park but I didn't realize just how far the beach was from the site. It required us to drive to and from it, which meant we couldn't easily go back and forth between the two.
Narrow your list of parks down by removing those that don't have the activities that you want and don't look like they will meet your requirements.
Pick Your Top 3 Parks
Look at the campsites in the parks left on your list to see if they look like somewhere you would want to stay. I have been surprised when I thought a park looked good and then I look at pictures of the sites and see that they are all grass with no trees for privacy, which for me doesn't feel like camping. Once you have your top 3 choices take a quick look at reviews to see if there is anything being brought up by multiple people that is a deal breaker for you. When we were booking our trip this year I had narrowed our list down to a handful of parks and when I started to read the reviews I saw how prevalent bears were at our top choice. Bears aren't a deal breaker for us but I knew that I didn't want to spend a week doing all the extra things this park required to keep our site bear free. Had I not read the reviews I wouldn't have known just how frequent the bear visits were.
Pick A Site
Once you have picked the park that you want to camp at you have to decide which site you want. Look through the different campgrounds within the park and select those that are near the amenities that you would like. Consider distance from the main road, proximity to the beach and boat launch, access to hiking trails.
Go through site pictures and their reviews. The pictures may not be taken at the same time of year that you will be visiting so the amount of privacy may vary from what you are seeing online. Ask your friends and family if they have been to the park and what their site preference was.
- Keep in mind the time of year and proximity to party towns.
- Parks can book up several months in advance, plan ahead to get the site you want.
- When you get to the park, take the map they give you and use it throughout your trip to mark down the sites you like. Also scratch off the sites you would never book.
- My Campsite Review
- Campsite Pictures in Ontario
- Trip Advisor
- Ontario Parks
- National Parks of Canada
- US National Parks Service
Do you camp? What is your favourite park?
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