Be Prepared! This holds true for any outdoor adventure, however, spring weather can be unpredictable, even for weather forecasters.
Sun, cloud cover, wind, rain, snow, high temps to freezing temps… anything goes!
Check the local weather report for your home AND your destination. We have waited out rain and even snow to pack up our trailer before getting started on our trip.
Bring a variety of clothing, layers, and extra blankets. The day might be sunny, but a strong breeze can add tremendous wind chill. (Sunscreen, folks!!) Whether you’re in a tent or a trailer, you need to prepare for temps approaching freezing at night. If rain is in the forecast, or unexpectedly happens, you’ll want changes of clothes to stay dry. Don’t forget extra socks and shoes.
Don’t rely on dining tents, tarps strung from trees, or overhead tree cover. Most foliage will not have filled in to provide privacy, sun shade, or wind break. Spring winds can bust a tarp or awning in seconds.
Be prepared with easy to heat meals in case the weather turns sour. Don’t rely on campfires – have an alternate cooking source. Make sure you have a supply of water that won’t freeze.
After a rainstorm, some sites might become water-logged. The roads could be muddy. Four wheel drive might be necessary to access some sites.
Some parks will advance or delay their opening dates based on weather conditions and preparedness. Check first!
Reservations & Check-In
Finding a spot in an Ontario Park in the spring won’t be difficult. Families have kids in school and students may still be in college into early May. Obviously, spots in popular parks will still be in demand on weekends, and especially approaching the long weekend in May. (Alcohol bans are in force well in advance of the long weekend). Book ahead if you want a premium spot, but rest assured that you’ll find open spots well into June.
You may have to check in at the main gate rather than the campground gate in some parks. You may not find anybody at all and the office closed. Some parks will post a list of sites already reserved, but don’t count on it.
If you have pre-booked a spot, be sure to bring a copy of your reservation to place on your post. Consider leaving another copy at the check-in office’s outside box and maybe even include a cell phone number.
If you are arriving without a reservation, you will use self check-in by filling out a form and placing it with your cash fee (exact change) in an envelope at the gate. DON’T expect there to be things like forms, envelopes, or even pens. Stash a pen, paper, and a few envelopes in your glove compartment.
If you don’t have a reservation, and no list of reserved sites is posted, be prepared to move sites if a camper with a pre-booked reservation shows up. It probably doesn’t happen often, but potentially could.
Wood & Other Supplies
Along those same lines, don’t expect access to campfire wood in the park. Some parks will leave a few bags out on the honour system for payment. Again, see the previous note about bringing envelopes and exact change. You may find campfire wood available near the park. DO NOT bring wood from a banned area, such as one with known Emerald Ash Borer. DO NOT cut down wood in the park or use fallen wood. This destroys the habitat for the creatures that are kind enough to share their home with us. Also, fallen wood burns horribly.
Similarly, ice will probably not be available, or any other supplies. Park camp stores will not have opened for the season yet. If you are near a town, you will be able to find supplies, but if you’re a distance from a town, you’ll need to come fully outfitted.
Staffing in the shoulder seasons is minimal. Many parks rely on students for staff and they will be busy in school. Camp superintendents, wardens, and maintenance workers are busy getting the park reopened after the winter, and may be working part-time schedules.
Park hosts often don’t come on board until after spring.
Do not assume that all of the facilities available in the summer will be accessible in the shoulder seasons, especially spring. Comfort stations and vault toilets may or may not be open. If they are, water, showers, and toilet paper may not be supplied. Some water taps, dump stations, and water fills may still be undergoing flushing and municipal testing. Do not expect them to be available and prepare accordingly. (Bring toilet paper & hand sanitizer!!)
Many parks have multiple campgrounds and not all of them may be open.
Attractions & Programs
Expect no access to park-specific attractions and programming, such as nature walks and tours. For example, the Nature Centre at Presqu’ile will not be open, the Lighthouse Centre is only open on weekends, and tours of the Mica Mine at Murphy’s Point won’t begin until July.
Camp stores, if open, will only be so on weekends.
Peace and quiet is the benefit of camping in Ontario Parks in the spring season. Fall season tends to stay busier, although far less than the high summer season.
We have found ourselves as the ONLY campers in an entire campground on more than one occasion. Hydro sites are more sought after in popular parks so you’d be more likely to have campground mates.
If you’re uncomfortable being alone, spring might not be for you. You should be prepare for self-sufficiency. Keep in mind that you may be on your own if you become injured or need assistance. Take note of the local emergency and camp office numbers in case you need help. Know your campground and site number if you have to phone 911.
Enjoy the solitude! The campers you encounter will be friendly and enjoying the peace as well.