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Crown Land Camping: An Ontario Primer

Crown Land Camping: An Ontario Primer | Wild Rock Outfitters

Got camping plans this summer? If so, lucky you – in 2021, reservable campsites were snapped up faster than ever before. Many outdoorspeople found themselves scuppered by a lack of availability, putting annual traditions on pause or leaving families without a summer vacation. If you weren’t fast enough on the draw this year don’t despair, because crown land camping offers a second chance to get out and enjoy the season. For campers more used to the provincial parks system, we’ve put together a quick primer on how to get started with crown land camping.

What Is Crown Land?

Crown land simply means public land – i.e., areas managed by the provincial government. Canadian citizens are permitted to camp on crown land for up to 21 one days, at which point they must move camp by at least 100 metres (non-residents may require a permit

While preferred crown land sites often emerge through regular use, there is no formal organization or maintenance. You can enjoy crown land the way you would any outdoor space – hiking, paddling, fishing (in season with a license), etc. – but be aware infrastructure like trails may not be as established, if it exists at all.

Exceptions to the above rules exist – at the time of this writing, crown land camping was still temporarily prohibited due to Ontario’s stay at home order. So don’t just take our word for it – be sure your destination allows crown land camping at the time you intend to go. More on that below.

Where Do I Find Sites?

Ontario maintains theCrown Land Use Policy Atlas, which contains a map and searchable index of crown land. The interface could stand to be more user-friendly, but try this link to help you parse the Atlas and find something suitable. Heads up this is a desktop-oriented experience – mobile users will likely struggle.

Organized lists of crown land sites don’t tend to exist online, so if you know an outdoorsy local in the region you’re considering, they might just be your best source of info.

First Come, First Served

A woman sits inside a tent adjusting her sleeping bag

The lack of a reservation system for crown land camping is a double-edged sword. Show up early on a weekday, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to scout the territory and pick any site that suits your fancy. Try a popular spot on a long weekend, and the prime sites might well be occupied already. Be prepared to press on a little further than you intended and don’t get wedded to your first choice of site. While you can technically pitch your tent anywhere that looks likely, remember to be mindful of the impact on your surroundings. See our Trail Ethics post for more on how to choose a tent site that won’t damage sensitive ground cover like mosses and grasses.

No Room Service

Even backcountry camping in provincial parks offers a few amenities. With crown land camping, there are no services. Don’t expect food lockers, privies, or even organized trail signage. If this is your first crown land expedition, check your prep list and identify any gaps where you might’ve relied on campsite amenities – a few simple additions like an extra roll of toilet paper and a bag to pack out waste might be in order (Wild Rock’s has written more on the subject here).

On that note, parking options can be a little ad hoc compared to their organized alternatives. Have a plan where to leave your vehicle, be aware of any relevant bylaws and always avoid blocking roads or access points.

Leave No Trace

This one goes hand in hand with the above – pack out 100% of what you pack in. Since no one officially maintains popular crown land campsites, there’s a possibility you’ll stumble upon evidence of disappointingly sloppy fellow campers. No one wants to lug home someone else’s beer cans, so do your best to leave the site a little better than you found it.

When it comes to disposing of human waste, dig a hole 200’ from water, trails, and camp 6-8” deep and 4-6” wide and bury it. Read the fulleco-conscious guidelines in greater detail at

Don’t Drink the Water

This probably goes without saying for anyone who’s been camping before, but remember to treat or filter your drinking water. Unless you enjoy lugging gallon jugs through the bush or don’t mind the hassle of boiling, a water filter makes life much easier. You can find Wild Rock-recommended filtration systems here.

Keep the Fire Low

A man sitting in front of a camp stove pours water into a mug

Once again, it’s on you to protect and steward a crown land campsite, both for the benefit of the local ecosystem and future campers. There’s nothing like a campfire, but do consider cooking over a small camping stove instead. Especially when deadfall firewood has been picked over by previous visitors, conditions are very dry, or there’s no pre-existing firepit, it’s hands down the lower-impact option.

If you do intend to have a campfire, check local fire warnings and restrictions first. Fires may be banned outright due to seasonal conditions.

That covers the basics you need to know before cracking the Land Use Access or picking your camper friend’s brain for trip ideas. Most of us at Wild Rock find it hard to imagine a summer without camping, so we wish our fellow campers best of luck finding a site that’s safe and satisfying this year!

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