Photo: Killarney Provincial Park by XtianFer/ Shutterstock
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Ontario, let’s face it, is pretty big. Stretching an incredible 1,568 km left to right and 1,691 km up and down (that’s non-tech talk for east to west, north to south), it’ll probably come as no surprise to learn that this vast expanse of land is home to an impressive 340 provincial parks. Yes, you heard right: 340!
Add to this another 295 conservation reserves, and a whopping 22 million acres of Ontario wilderness is open and ready for you to explore. (For a little perspective, that’s close to the entirety of England.)
The crown jewel of Ontario’s parks is undoubtedly Algonquin Provincial Park, a vast expanse of wilderness known for canoeing and its resident moose population. If dramatic landscapes inspire you, then Killarney Provincial Park with its bright blue lakes juxtaposed against white quartzite ridges should top your list. Prefer a good beach? Then take a drive to Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County, famous for its impressive sand dunes.
Of course, with so many parks to choose from it can be a little daunting knowing where to start your outdoor adventures. To help you we’ve put together our personal favourites. Read our list of the best Ontario provincial parks to discover to find out more.
Discover the Best Ontario Provincial Parks
Algonquin Provincial Park
Spanning over 7,653 sq km, Algonquin Provincial Park isn’t just Ontario’s oldest provincial park, it’s also one of the largest. Located a 2.5-hour drive north of Toronto and just a short distance from the town of Huntsville, Algonquin is home to no end of wildlife.
Native species you’re likely to encounter on your visit include everything from moose, often spotted by canoeists as these large creatures wade in its shallow pond, to wolves, bears, and numerous bird species. And as fall approaches, Algonquin transforms into a canvas of brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, making it one of the best places to witness Ontario’s iconic autumn foliage.
Canoes are undeniably the best mode of transport in Algonquin Park. With over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 km of streams and rivers to explore, paddlers have an endless network of waterways to navigate. The park also offers numerous hiking trails to explore, from short walks to challenging treks.
Algonquin is also home to a number of fun indoor attractions, too. The Algonquin Logging Museum and the Visitor Centre top the list and give visitors a glimpse into the park’s history, from its indigenous roots to its logging past, as well as its wildlife.
For those wanting to experience Algonquin in style, consider a stay at an Algonquin Park resort. To find out more, read our story on the best resorts in Algonquin Park for ideas and inspiration. Huntsville’s another great option; check out LuxuryHuntsville.com’s Where to Stay section for suggestions.
Visit Ontario Parks’ official Algonquin page at www.ontarioparks.com/park/algonquin.
Killarney Provincial Park
Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park covers an area of 645 sq km and was established in 1964. It’s certainly a pretty place, distinguishable by its dramatic white quartzite cliffs that formed over a billion years ago. It’s so spectacular that its unique landscapes have inspired artists and nature lovers for decades, notably the Group of Seven who immortalized its beauty on canvas.
For adventurers, the La Cloche Silhouette Trail offers a challenging, multi-day hike that rewards with panoramic hilltop views and glimpses into ancient glacial valleys. Enjoy canoeing? Then you’ll enjoy exploring the park’s many waterways, including George Lake, which serves as a gateway to more secluded paddling routes that lead to more remote areas of the park.
Winter in Killarney’s a blast, too, as it transforms into a snowy wonderland with fun activities including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Visit Ontario Parks’ official Killarney page at www.ontarioparks.com/park/killarney.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks Provincial Park is definitely not your typical provincial park. This beach lover’s dream is located on the shores of Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County and boasts some of the most spectacular stretches of sand in Canada. This unique ecological marvel’s signature attraction is its towering sand dunes, some rising nearly 25m high, creating a mesmerizing, desert-like landscape juxtaposed against the blue expanse of the lake. These dunes are anything but static; shaped by the winds, they’re ever evolving, making each visit a new experience.
For water enthusiasts, the clear waters of Lake Ontario are perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking, and even windsurfing on breezy days. Travelling with kids? Families flock to the park’s three sandiest beaches: Outlet Beach, Sandbanks Beach, and Dunes Beach, each offering its own distinct charm.
Sandbanks is also home to diverse habitats, from wetlands to woodlands, which shelter a variety of bird species, making it a delight for birdwatchers. Come autumn, the park is adorned in a cascade of fall colours, a sight to behold against the backdrop of the shimmering lake.
Visit Ontario Parks’ official Sandbanks page at www.ontarioparks.com/park/sandbanks.
Bon Echo Provincial Park
Situated about halfway between the city of Kingston and Algonquin, Bon Echo Provincial Park while relatively small (it covers just 66 sq km) is certainly attractive. The centrepiece here is undoubtedly the Mazinaw Rock, a colossal 100-meter-high cliff face that rises dramatically from the depths of Mazinaw Lake.
But it’s not just the sheer size of the rock that captivates. Its surface is adorned with over 260 indigenous pictographs, making it one of the largest visible collections of native rock art in Canada. These pictographs, believed to be as old as a thousand years, offer silent testimony to the land’s ancient custodians and their spiritual connection to nature.
For modern-day adventurers, the park is a haven of activities. Kayaking and canoeing are popular on Mazinaw Lake, providing paddlers a chance to glide beside the awe-inspiring Mazinaw Rock. Hikers, too, will enjoy trails like the Cliff Top Trail, which rewards with panoramic vistas of the lake and its surroundings.
Come winter, the landscape transforms into a snow-covered wonderland featuring activities such as snowshoeing and ice fishing.
Visit Ontario Parks’ official Bon Echo page at www.ontarioparks.com/park/bonecho.