Sunday, 17 July 2011

High Costs of Camping in Ontario Provincial Parks

Camping used to be a low cost vacation option.   However, it is a bit of a sore point with me that it certainly isn’t anywhere near being cheap any more in Ontario, and it’s getting more expensive every year even inflation adjusted.   I will mention park fees were frozen from 2010-2011, but there was a rather hefty increase in 2010, and Ontario still stands head and shoulders above all other province/states in it's comparatively soaring user fees for camping.  As well, with the introduction of the HST instantly added 8% more to everyone's camping user fee bill.

Recently, for 8 days of a mix of backcountry camping and car camping in Algonquin Park,  it cost an exorbitant total of $660 dollars for camping user fees for two people, after reservation fees and HST were tacked on.  Extend that to a month’s length and you get an absurd cost of $2400 a month.  In any city (well, maybe not Toronto) for that amount you can rent a large house or very well appointed multi room luxury condo for a month…  and all I get for camping is the privilege to use a patch of dirt to pitch my tent,  sometimes water supplies and garbage disposal for a few items, possibly a shower.  I don’t know what others seem to think about this, but I think it’s somewhat of a travesty.    Ontario has one of, if not the highest user fees for camping in North America.

The Ministry of Natural Resources claims 80% is paid by the user and 20% is funded by the government.  I dunno, maybe there’s some serious management issues, since I seriously still don’t know why it costs so much to run these parks – maybe it’s time to look at the ledger books and trim some fat, or get the logging companies that exploit the parks to pay more.   I don’t see the need to build and fund mega-interpretive centers such as the new ones in Algonquin Park and the French River for the drive through tourists, or maybe the bus tourists who go to these centers should pay user fees to visit them.   I also would prefer to lower the base camping fee and charge people per use for the showers as is done at many parks outside the province.  Many times I am just using a park for a stopover for continuing driving all day or launching point for backcountry trip and I am only there overnight, 12 hours max., using no amenities except for the toilet.

Furthermore, it is the "'Friends of {insert park name here}" groups that produce the value-added  amenities that you pay for while purchasing documents: producing maps and interpretive guides for trails, not the Parks themselves.

After some research, I found that 80% of user fee recovery is much more than other provinces (some 20% or less).  Or perhaps Dalton McGuinty can spend some of the mega profits (a.k.a. taxes)  the province reaps from the LCBO for some park funding, huh?

I don’t mind paying fair camping fees for the upkeep and staff, but in my humble opinion they are beyond fair right now.  I think people should pay no fees for backcountry as in Manitoba, not $10-$20(plus HST) each person per night, for something that requires essentially no upkeep.  I would gladly volunteer to construct a backcountry camp site, including building a thunderbox out of my own pocket in exchange for a lifetime free backcountry pass.

The reservation fees for Ontario Parks are out of hand, and they use these to unfairly pump up their revenue as well.  Even if you reserve sites for multiple places at the same time, they will charge a reservation fee for each time you move location, which is common in places such as Algonquin Park which have multiple locations.  We went from Achray-backcountry-Achray-Kearney Lake-backcountry-Mew Lake last trip in 8 days.  For the reservation, they thought it was fair to charge 5 x $8.50=42.50 (+HST) alone in reservation fees for this (they did us the favor of  waiving one out of 6 of the fees after complaining about multiple fees).

Another way to get gouged while camping is to get charged for parking fees when car camping or using put-ins for backcountry sites..  $13.50 per night for parking is charged at Chickanishing creek in Killarney to use the crown land backcountry sites on Georgian Bay (which they can’t charge site fees for, so they make up with elevated parking fees).  A second vehicle at any car camping campsite is good for an $8.00-$11.00/day gouging fee by the park.  Other places such as in French River, at the privately run Hartley Bay, the marina which is the only option in the area, takes advantage by charging $10.00/day vehicle parking fees plus another $10.00  ‘launch fee’ for each boat to use their dock to walk your canoe or kayak out and put it in the water.  I don't see how anyone can justify with dignity charging $8-$13.50/day so I can park my car on a 6 x 10 foot patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere.

In addition to this, the Ontario Parks charge $7.50 for a bag of firewood nowadays, most of the time substandard wood at that.  The majority of the time I buy wood at a Park now, it’s wet, if not totally soaked and doesn’t even light without some accelerant in one form or another.

The list is quite long for the user fees you get charged while camping in Ontario Parks, but each 8 or 12 dollar fee adds up quickly.  The fees charged are spread out like that so it's not such a sticker shock until you see the final bill.  Bottom line is we got charged $660 for 8 days of camping for two people with a tent, and that's even before the money I spent on ice and firewood at the park stores, and the canoe rental fees I spent in addition.   I guess camping is for the rich now.

These high fees leave me with a sour taste in mine and many other campers mouths and are pushing people away from camping and enjoying the outdoors and I find it unfortunate.  For me, it won’t stop me from my journeys as there is little alternative, other than using crown land for backcountry trips, but it is a thorn in my side to be felt like I am being taken advantage of each time I go camping. I am sure less and less people will chose to go camping for a vacation if the fees are raised any more than they already are, in this already depressed and fragile economy.

The unsettling thing is, despite the already high fees, Ontario Parks has been sending out surveys to people who have gone camping recently.  The survey starts out asking how you liked the service, but then starts asking your thoughts on potentially paying more for camping, trying to get a feel for what the response would be if they hiked fees even more than they currently are.  I'm sure most people will answer with a resounding NO.
Here's the survey:

Here’s a quick comparative cost table I threw together:

Note:  Some areas there is a range of costs from park to park, and wherever possible a typical cost is used.  And please add HST to your Ontario bill.

Also Some Related Links:

If you have issues with the high costs of Ontario Provincial Park Fees as I do, I would encourage you to let these people know:  Minister of Natural Resource Linda Jeffrey,,  Premier Dalton McGuinty,, or your local MPP.

Updated Links to User Change Increases:




  1. I came across this while reacting in disbelief to the charging of $11.75 per night per camper to camp in the backcountry in Algonquin. And that's before car fees, canoe fees, etc.. And for all that we don't even get land that's kept free from logging? Even if it's already been wrecked I'd at least like to think my great great great grandchildren might get to see an old growth forest someday. I live in New York and have long looked forward to finding the time for a trip up to Algonquin, but these disappointments have me looking for alternatives.

    1. Many people such as yourself that don't reside in Ontario certainly notice the high cost.
      It doesn't stop me from visiting parks because it unfortunately is a monopoly and it's not like I can get camping 'services' anywhere else around since I live in Ontario, although it does annoy me that people are being taken advantage of, especially for the backcountry where little to no upkeep is required, yet we still get charged for camping fees and parking, etc. to the point where it can cost hundreds of dollars for each person for a week stay in the backcountry.
      There are many people increasingly camping on crown land (free for the camping for Canadian citizens)instead of provincial parks for backcountry, although you still get hosed for parking and dock access fees, and the areas typically aren't quite so scenic.
      I hope this does not dissuade you from visiting Algonquin however, it is such a beautiful place and you probably won't notice the logging. There are only some small patches of old growth left in Algonquin and they are protected. At least the majority of the obvious clearcut logging has been done so long ago it's not very noticeable.

  2. I was flaberghasted when I saw how much it cost to camp at sites around Ottawa! As a Winnipeger I spent many a weekend camping in the whiteshell for almost nothing.

    Time for more people to start doing crown land camping.


  3. Hi John.. yes, there's certainly a few things wrong with the camping fees/system in Ontario. If you camp by yourself at a car campground it will cost you $50 per night, even if you are just sleeping there and continuing on your way the next day. The thing that bugs me the most is the cost of backcountry camping, charging people $12 + per person per day for essentially nothing. No services or upkeep.
    There used to be more crown land in southern Ontario, but much of that was turned into provincial parks so they could make money off of it instead of letting people use it for free. I don't even know how far north you have to go to find some decent recreational crown land nowadays, and when you do, you usually can't find any place to park and have to park on someone's private property who will charge you to do so. There should be more primitive style campsites which need very little upkeep for cheap to allow people better access to camping for low cost.

  4. It really discourages people from camping here.
    I see that the fees in BC are on average 30-50% cheaper than Ontario? So imagine camping in the rocky mountains with unbelievable views and paying only a fraction of the cost that they pay here. Something is wrong in Ontario.

    Seeing how a hotel can cost about $70 a night for a cheap one, camping should be a fraction of the price, considering all they need to do is keep it tidy and clean the communal washrooms - whats up with that?

  5. Great article, I've been talking with people about this at length for the past year. I recently went on a road trip across the states for 3 months and was paying $0-20 a night to camp. It's ridiculous that places like Ontario parks will charge $40 a night + extra costs of reserving and parking yet I can go to a place such as Yosemite National Park for a week and only spend $12 a night (that's after tax). Even came across a number of campgrounds in state and national parks for as low as $5 or even just plain free...Having lived my whole life in Ontario I was shocked at how high our prices are in comparison.

  6. I agree heartily with all of the above comments and have been thinking along the above lines for a few years, now. I love camping, but rarely do so. Although I work full time, wages are low and camping is just too darned expensive for what you get. Should I spend $200 for a week-end in a park that involves so much packing that I'm essentially taking my kitchen, groceries & bedroom with me and which involve a lot of loading & unloading as well as cleaing once I'm home, or should I take that $200, expand it to a max of 300 and spend a week-end in Montreal @ bed & bedfast - culture, shopping, no clean up, mimimal luggage( a small carry on, only). Very little unpacking @ the end of the trip and no clean up. I love nature.... give me back my crown land. I can't afford camping in Ontario. Too bad, so sad.

  7. We are from Illinois and originally Wisconsin, and have camped in Ontario and the rest of Canada our whole lives. We love camping in the Prov parks in Ontario, but now feel that they are priced beyond our capabilities. It is now either $43 or $50 a night for electrical sites which is twice the amount at most campgrounds in the states.... this is a sad sad day....

  8. This is so true! Thank you so much for this article, I agree and the price gouging makes me so angry. In New Zealand and Australia, very comparable countries in terms of prices for everything else, you can camp at a national park backcountry site for $6/night. Why are ours at least twice as expensive?? Canadian government is screwing us. We need to do something about it

  9. I know nothing about petitions (whether they are effective or not) or how to bring the government's attention to... [insert need here]. So my two cents as a BC girl who has relocated to Ontario for work and moderately affordable housing: how can Ontario charge $50+ extra fees per night...even in the dead of winter!?!? The camping fees and park fees (day passes) are so outrageous in Ontario. The ministry is price gouging on what SHOULD BE an affordable family pastime. This really puts a damper on getting our kids exposed to some outdoor living and experiencing the quintessential campout memories.


    -angry mamabear

  10. I was going to purchase a camper next year but after reviewing how much to camp at the different sites, I've changed my mind.

  11. I use to do a fair amount of camping in Ontario but the government , as usual, has to be greedy and start grabbing more and more of our money, so I don't go anymore!!! Everything we do now, is just a gigantic money-grab on behalf of politicians and government.
    On the edge of London , Ontario, there was some lovely walking trails (no camping)through the woods along the river(Kilworth),and the provincial government stepped in and decided to start charging fees to walk the trails.....unbelievable!!!!!! So I don't go there anymore. I guess the government needs more tax revenue to waste!!!! What's next...... charge a fee to go for a walk around your neighbourhood with your kids???

    We need politicians who are interested in doing what is best for the people of Canada instead of only thinking about themselves and being greedy !!!!

  12. I worked in parks for many years. When we became Ontario Parks it is of my opinion that there was a shift from protection, education, recreation for all to a corporate mentality of greed .. how much can we make? I worked in some of the parks that were closed down because they claim the government was losing money .. no, I know as a fact that they were not losing money, they were breaking even. They were closing because they weren't putting enough money on the table for the corporate mentality pigs. My mentality was if Park A makes an excess of money and a Park B has a bit of a shortfall .. in the end doesn't it all even out. If as a whole the park system is paying for itself, isn't that enough? It wasn't. If Ontario Parks were truly concerned about keeping these special places for future generations .... what is wrong with that scenario? Nope ..if a park is not profitable .. they want to close it and they have many.

    A big problem is you have people in Toronto deciding what is best for all parks, they don't ask the local managers. Did we really need to have washers and dryers when there was a laundromat down the road? Now you have one more thing to maintain with your small staff and when the staff can't fix it .. you spend hundreds paying someone to come in because you are out in the styx. A lot of money wasted for what? But yes, gotta increase the park fees to cover this stupidity.

    Lets just say, I hated the change in priority. It went totally against what I believed to be the purpose of a park system. What is so wrong about managing a park system that breaks even? What is so wrong with managing a park system that ALL can afford and enjoy? Nothing ... but that is no longer Ontario Parks priority.