The wife and I found ourselves in southern Ontario with time to kill and wanted to see the sights, but were dismayed by the high price of camping in Canadian government-run parks.
National and provincial parks (analogous to state parks in the States) charge $35-40 a night for camping, which is more than our limited retirement budget can handle on an ongoing basis. $40 a night is $1200 a month- for that kind of money you can get a real house. These prices are OK for a week or two of vacation, which is what the overwhelming majority of park users are, but fulltimers have a different perspective on campsite cost.
What we found, though, is that in early summer (May and June) these lakefront parks are essentially empty, since swimming season is 4th of July to Labor Day up here in the colder waters of the north, so we would go for the day and overnight in a boondocking spot near the park. MUCH more affordable – Selkirk Provincial Park's day fee was $10.75 Canadian, Turkey Point's beach wasn't even officially open yet and they weren't collecting money, and Point Farm Provincial Park over on Lake Huron was $14.
So what do you get for your money? A beach to yourself. Here we are at Selkirk, amid the apple blossoms and dandelions:
The beach at Selkirk was a flat rock surface with glacial scouring marks and Devonian fossils (coral, crinoids, brachiopods) – not a typical beach you would expect, but very fascinating to anyone interested in the geology of the area.
Turkey Point, also on Lake Erie with Selkirk but further west, has a beach area detached from the rest of the park with beautiful sand beaches:
This photo will give you an idea of how uncrowded the beach was. When they start charging admission later in the summer, it's still reasonable – $10.75. Of course, this beach is right on the main drag of the town of Turkey Point, which is abuzz with jet skis and bars with plastic palm trees and Corona beer signs, so arrive early for the serene version of summer.
Our third park over on Lake Huron near Goderich is Point Farm Provincial Park, and here we are, alone again, naturally:
We could get used to this. The day areas are much better locations than the park's campgrounds- what you get for your $40 is a campsite back in the woods with the mosquitoes. We spend some of the $20 to $30 a day we save on park fees to pay for fuel to drive back and forth, but for us it's a better experience to day stay at the parks and boondock at night. At the parks we swing by the campground on our way out at dusk to get fresh water and dump our waste tanks, an opportunity boondockers appreciate.
So where do we boondock? Canada's a friendly place, and most Wal-Marts in the area, with the exception of Tilsonville where the store is leased, welcome overnighters for one night. Always ask permission at the courtesy desk and ask them where they want you to park. Deploy no equipment (stay in drive-away mode – you should always be able to crank up your engine and drive off – no awnings, lawn chairs, etc.) and leave early. Canadian Tire stores are usually welcoming. We stayed in the Wal-Mart at Simcoe. The Canadian Tire there had remodeling going on and couldn't accommodate us, but the manager helpfully directed us across the street to a closed Zeller's where we stayed several nights, not bothering anyone. In Goderich, the Wal-Mart is also a good place to stay.
The key for us is the solar panels, large battery bank, and satellite dishes for internet and TV. With these we're comfortable and independent of the commercial and provincial parks' camping setups. We also get much more privacy, day and night. We are slowly recouping our investment in these upgrades, and having a quality camping experience doing it.
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