12 Quietest Parks in Ontario

These destinations have it all—except the crowds.

From family campers and backcountry enthusiasts to day-trippers and organized bus tours, Ontario Parks draw more than 11 million visitors each year. Algonquin Provincial Park alone hosts over a million sightseers.

With more and more people seeking out the benefits of outdoor and nature-based experiences, high-season crowds are common at many Ontario Parks. Car campgrounds at popular parks—among them Killarney, Killbear, Sandbanks and Bon Echo—are booked solid months in advance for the busy summer season. Competition for backcountry campsites, canoe rentals and even day use permits can be fierce. Waking up at dawn to book your campsites five months to the second before your hoped-for dates is an unfortunate reality—and one that all-too-often ends in disappointment.

Travelling a few hours further to a hidden gem instills a wonderful sense of discovery that’s missing from the more congested parks. If you can’t get a reservation at your preferred park—or throngs at the trailhead and line-ups at the showers aren’t your idea of relaxing in nature—try these equally spectacular, off-the-radar parks instead.

Northwestern Ontario

Sunset in Quetico
Find peace and quiet in Quetico. Photo: Ron Breault // @swiftypaddler

Quetico Provincial Park

Canoe trippers who make the drive to this iconic wilderness park west of Thunder Bay will discover a landscape every bit as rich and compelling as Algonquin Park—minus the portage traffic jams and well-trodden campsites. Quetico Provincial Park is renowned for its rugged beauty, towering rock cliffs, majestic waterfalls, virgin pine and spruce forests, picturesque rivers and over 2,000 interconnected lakes offering weeks of backcountry canoeing solitude. The park sees only a tiny fraction (about 3.5 percent) of the visitors Algonquin does, and you’ll often find yourself all alone with the loons and the setting sun.

Waterfall in Pigeon River Provincial Park
You won't have to wade through crowds to get a view of the waterfall in Pigeon River Provincial Park. Photo: Jennifer Wyman // @jennwymanphotography

Pigeon River Provincial Park

Kakabeka Falls—also known as Ontario’s “Niagara of the North”—is deservedly popular, but there’s no shortage of breathtaking waterfalls in the Thunder Bay region. Travel 45 minutes south from the city to Pigeon River Provincial Park and you’ll likely be the only visitor to this lovely day use park, where a misting falls plunges nearly 30 m into a dramatic gorge. The park also offers great hiking trails along the Lake Superior shoreline with panoramic views of the world’s largest lake. The best part? The park is open year-round and gets just 300 or so visitors each year!

Sioux Narrows Provincial Park

Located on the shores of Lake of the Woods, this park offers plenty of recreation opportunities for the lake lover, including boating, swimming, sailing, canoeing and internationally renowned walleye fishing. The park’s waterfront campsites boast swimming right from your site and the campground is often less than half full, even in July and August, making Sioux Narrows Provincial Park an ideal basecamp for a longer summer escape.

  • Rent a canoe at the park office, or try kayaking or standup paddleboarding with Kenora-based Green Adventures. Rentals and guided excursions available.
  • Lake of the Woods has over 14,000 islands and 105,000 km of shoreline; rent a motor boat to explore these vast waters.

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Vast and remote, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is almost half a million hectares in size, yet it sees an average of just 1,200 campers per year. You’re as likely to cross paths with the park’s cloven-hoofed namesake as you are to meet other canoe trippers on a sojourn here. Bordering Manitoba, the park features a warm and dry prairie boreal climate that supports a unique hodgepodge of uncommon plants and animals. Experienced canoeists can plan a long-distance route linking lake chains through the park, or head west towards Lake Winnipeg on the scenic Bloodvein River.

  • The community of Red Lake serves as the gateway to Woodland Caribou. If you’re not camping in the park, the comfortable cabins at Sunset Lodge on Red Lake make a great home base.
  • Goldseekers Canoe Outfitting is your go-to for complete outfitting services as well as guided wilderness expeditions into Woodland Caribou.
  • Experienced air service outfitters can turn your fly-in canoe trip dreams into reality.

Wabakimi Provincial Park

Ontario’s second-largest protected area, Wabakimi Provincial Park comprises equal parts lakes and wild rivers—the perfect boreal landscape for countless canoeing adventures from 5 days to several weeks. Access to this remote park typically requires train travel or chartering a floatplane, so expect intense solitude as you traverse Wabakimi’s ancient portage routes, float its spectacular whitewater rivers, and settle into some of the park’s 500 world-class backcountry campsites.

Northeastern Ontario

Esker Lakes Provincial Park

Midway between Temiskaming Shores and Timmins, Esker Lakes Provincial Park is well off the beaten track yet still readily accessible from southern Ontario. Dozens of small, picturesque glacially-formed lakes—separated by short, fairly level portages and closed to motorboats—makes this charming park ideal for novice canoeists.

  • Launch from Panagapka Lake to explore 15 km of canoe routes. On-site canoe, kayak and standup paddleboard rentals available.
  • Esker Lakes’ peaceful lakeside campground offers a full range of camping facilities as well as a swimming beach and easy access to four scenic hiking trails. This is a great option if you haven’t made advance reservations—vacant sites are common even in peak season.
Fall colours in Mississagi Provincial Park
Fall can be one of the busiest times at provincial parks—but not at Mississagi. Photo: Tom Brzozowski // @tommy_ticks

Mississagi Provincial Park

Two hours west of Sudbury is one of northern Ontario’s best kept secrets: a beautiful provincial park that’s a perfect alternative to the bustle of Killarney. Outstanding hiking and backpacking trails? Check. Beautiful clear lakes, spectacular fall colours and rugged rocky hills? Check, check and check. Mississagi Provincial Park is also an ideal destination for a first-time overnight canoe trip. Three backcountry canoe sites are situated on the sparkling waters of Semiwite and Helenbar lakes—just a brief paddle and portage from the park dock—or set out on a longer trip of two to five days.

  • Rent canoes at the park, or in Elliot Lake at Adventure North.
  • Pamper yourself post-trip with a cozy cottage or room at Laurentian Lodge on Flack Lake, across the road from the park.

Kettle Lakes Provincial Park

Perfect for families and anglers, Kettle Lakes’ 22 deep, spring-fed lakes are the focal point of this pretty park just 45 minutes east of Timmins. Formed by receding glaciers some 10,000 years ago, today the lakes are stocked with rainbow and brook trout for excellent fishing. Four short hiking trails are easy for younger children. Kids especially enjoy the park’s 14 km of biking trails, winding through forest to hidden swimming beaches.

  • If you don’t have your own gear, Kettle Lakes Provincial Park rents bicycles, canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards. The park also has a Tackleshare program, which lends out fishing rods and tackle to park visitors, free of charge.
  • The park’s two car campgrounds offer spacious sites, hot showers and laundry facilities. Best yet, they’re typically just two-thirds filled in July and August.
  • While you’re in the Timmins area, paddle a scenic river with Timmins Adventure Tours, then sample the mouthwatering menu and delicious, freshly baked treats at Radical Gardens.
Canoe camper takes a rest Day on Florence Lake
Rest Day on Florence Lake. Photo: Branden Cosman // @brandencosman

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park

Just a couple hours further up the highway, the Temagami region offers canoeists a wilder, yet still accessible, alternative to the well-worn routes of Algonquin Park. The area is made up of a mosaic of interconnected provincial parks, waterways and crown land, ranging from recreational gateways to pristine wilderness. At the heart of this 4,000-km network of ancient canoe routes, Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park is a spectacular wilderness oftowering pine forests, rapid-choked rivers and breathtaking waterfalls. Sound enticing? Check out this weeklong, bucket list route.

Spanish River Provincial Park

Many aspiring whitewater paddlers put the popular French River at the top of their multi-day wish list, but there’s an equally fine, wildly underrated option just an hour west of Sudbury. Its under-the-radar status means the Spanish River sees only 10 percent of the backcountry use of the French, with none of the lodge and cottage traffic. Most of the rapids are of the novice variety, and all are easily portaged around, making the Spanish an ideal first moving water multi-day. Even better, there are lots of campsites and few paddlers.

Manitoulin Island

Woman sits on rock in shallow, clear water at Misery Bay Provincial Park
Bay views all to yourself. Photo: Kresson Taylor // @explorewithkress

Misery Bay Provincial Park

Flung out on the sleepy western end of Manitoulin Island, this oft-overlooked park protects globally significant alvar ecosystems on the shoreline of sparkling Lake Huron. Misery Bay Provincial Park’s rock barrens and wetlands are home to rare plants and excellent bird-watching opportunities. You’ll also find over 15 km of hiking trails to explore, making this hidden gem a peaceful alternative to the crowded coasts of the Bruce Peninsula. Swim in clear, azure waters and bask on the sun-kissed white dolostone—all without another reveller in sight.

Kawarthas Northumberland

Beautiful Ferris Provincial Park
Little-known Ferris Provincial Park has lots to offer. Photo: Carolyn Stearns // @brandencosman

Ferris Provincial Park

Looking for an easy, last-minute park getaway with great hiking and mountain biking trails, lookouts, fall colours and camping? Check the availability at Ferris Provincial Park—this beautiful park just outside Campbellford, between Highway 7 and the 401, often has campsites available when surrounding parks are jam-packed. The highlight for many visitors is the pedestrian suspension bridge over the Trent River, with stunning views of Ranney Gorge and Falls.

  • Choose from wooded or open campsites in the park’s two campground loops. Valleyview is set atop a forested drumlin, while Bedrock is just a short walk to the playground and picnic areas.
  • Can’t get a campsite at Sandbanks or Presqu’ile provincial parks? Ferris makes a great alternative, as it’s just a 40-minute to one-hour drive away from these popular Lake Ontario parks.
  • Take a stroll or cycle along the Trent River into historic Campbellford for casual patio dining and live music at Capers Tap House.

Plan Your Trip Now

Savour the solitude of a lonesome backcountry lake or grab friends and family for a last-minute camping getaway. When your favourite Ontario Parks are feeling too crowded, get off the beaten path at these quiet sanctuaries.

About Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a freelance outdoor adventure writer, photographer and editor with roots in Muskoka and Lake Superior. Read her work in Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Rapid, Paddling Magazine and Backroad Mapbooks.

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