The Great Canadian Outdoors
Travelling on highways and off-road in Canada? Tips, ideas and stories that kept us moving
Canada is made for the outdoor enthusiast. Our base is in Ontario, we know it, we love it. As we travel through Canada, we include our stories from other Provinces and Territories. It is not a complete guide at all, just some of our impressions and experiences.
Our adventures are often the result of the Jeep Wrangler off-road capabilities and the small camping trailer we call home. Our Offroad Trips started in 2015, our camping adventures in the last century. With digital photography and GPS devices, it is now simpler to capture the moments.
We met many travellers from around the Globe. This document is for you, it is a chronicle of our journey. We hope you find it helpful when you plan your trip.
The highway that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic. This is not a single road. In most of Canada, there are two or more routes designated as the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH).
We refer to Hwy 17 as the 'Trans-Canada' and Hwy 11 as the 'Eleven'. The map on the right highlights the highways we travelled, some routes are part of the TCH. You can read and plan your Trans-Canada trip in more detail on the TCH Road Trip & Vacation Planner site.
First time to Ontario? It is big, just over 1 million square kilometres big and covers about 10% of Canada. Ontario shares the border with the USA. The Great Lakes make up most of the border. The majority of people live along the south-eastern border to the USA.
Travelling west from Toronto to the Manitoba border is a two day journey, about 2,000 kilometres. The first 400 kilometres are northwards through populated areas. You pass cities and towns with lots of road crossings that have signs pointing to other cities and towns. When you reached Sudbury or North Bay, the towns are fewer and from here on you have less options for alternate routes.
There are two highways connecting southern Ontario with western Canada. The Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 17) follows Lake Huron and Lake Superior. An alternate route, the Hwy 11 is east of the Trans-Canada and joins at the end of Lake Superior from the North. The Hwy 11 separates again and follows the US border south of the Trans-Canada. Both highways are in good condition and mostly one lane in either direction.
The southern part of Lake Superior at Chippewa Falls is also the halfway point of the 8030 km long Trans-Canada Highway (Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean).
Travelling east from Toronto is mostly through populated areas. You follow the Trans-Canada and after less than 500km you are entering Quebec. An alternate Route is further north via the Algonquin Provincial Park on Hwy 60. This brings you to Ottawa and into Quebec. This alternate Route may have a lot of traffic, it is also the way to the Cottage Country. Stay clear of these roads at the start of a (long) weekend and at the end of it. This is mainly true for Hwy 400 from Toronto going north (or south). You may spend your vacation on the highway at walking speeds.
Crown Land in Ontario covers over 80% of the whole Province. For vacation purpose, anybody can visit, camp, hike, swim and fish as long as one follows the rules. The Rules are available form the Services Ontario website in the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas page.
Not all Provinces and Territories have the same definition. Visit the Province and Territories website for more information.
When you travel with an off-road vehicle, don't leave the road or path. There are plenty of forest service roads in good condition, or not so good conditions should you fancy these roads. These roads were built by Hydro (electricity producer) to maintain the power grid. By the railway company to maintain the tracks. By logging companies to harvest the trees. By mining companies to get the gold out of the ground. Some of these roads may be closed to the public because of active logging or mining. Always respect the signs.
Example of a Guideline from the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas:
|LAND USE INTENT:
The extraction and use of natural resources are the primary uses and will be encouraged in this area. Management priorities include forest management, fur management, mineral and aggregate programs. Water storage for hydro electric power generation is also a significant priority. It is also intended that the policies described for this area continue to provide an environment where other resource uses such as public recreation (hunting, fishing, camping, etc.), commercial tourism and cottaging can take place with a minimum of conflict.
Roads will be managed primarily for resource extraction but in addition will maintain acceptable levels of angling, hunting, etc., and to minimize conflicts between various resource users, most notably between the commercial outpost camp operators and the forest industry.
Resource management plans in the area will contain guidelines for the protection of significant recreational and tourism values, historical sites and fish and wildlife habitat. Modified forest management will be encouraged in shoreline areas. All activities will undertake protective measures for significant natural and cultural values. The following is meant to provide a summary of the categories and locations of various known features: Significant Wildlife Habitat: moose concentration areas, aquatic feeding areas, calving areas; caribou concentration areas. Significant Fish Habitat: numerous walleye spawning areas; cold water lakes and rivers.
Further-on, the Guidelines show the activities in a table by Commercial Activities, Land and Resource Management Activities and Recreation Activities and Facilities. The Recreation is the one of our primary interest and covers Hunting, Camping, Road Use, Fishing and more.
We often reference the Policy ID in the web documents. It is not a complete list and YOUR responsibility to know the regulations.
Example from the Esker Lake reference:
|Esker Lakes (or Great Cley Belt) is mostly Crown Land (Policy ID: G1854 and G1855, ) and belongs to the Kirkland Lake District. Consult the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas from the Ministry of Natural Resources for current information. Provincial Parks are regulated by a different Policy ID. Be aware, there is usually no cell phone connection.
When travelling in Canada, you will often find signs that you are entering First Nation Territory. Regulations from First Nations, local districts, municipalities and privately owned property or farm land are not in the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas. Respect the regulations and contact the owner before entering the land. When you see a Red Dot, this is the NO TRESPASSING and NO HUNTING sign.
Travel and Recreation
Too many activities to list them all. Our favourites are camping, hiking, snowshoeing, biking, canoeing, fishing and of course exploring service roads.
The Ontario website for Everything Recreation, Provincial Parks, Festivals, Events and more. Ontario Travel and Recreation has links to Fishing and Hunting permits and regulations.
Is canoeing or boating your passion? You need to visit the Trent-Severn Waterway, a 386km long canal route with 45 Locks. The locks and canals are a Parks Canada - National Historic Site. The Trent-Severn canal is on our Must-Do list.
Things go wrong, be prepared
We use the SPOT X when Plan B fails and for the worst case scenario.
You can find many documents what you should do. We think it is more important what not to do. We have a few rules, one of them is 'Do Not Go Through Mud'. The trails we travel are not in extreme terrain, just off the beaten path. There were trails where we didn't meet anybody all day.
Once we had to deal with Plan B where the SPOT X device allowed us to communicate our status. We could recover "almost" without 3rd party help and made it back eventually. "Almost" refers to a missing tool that was not in our tool box. A Metal File to grind down the spurs. Now it is part of the tool set.
Which brings us to the Tools you should bring on your trip. Hand Cleaner and Gloves, did we say Hand Cleaner? Bring all the tools that you are familiar with plus tape, wire, grease, engine oil, a flashlight, blanket(s) and more. Never forget rags, you are fixing something in the dirt, it will be dusty or muddy or wet. And you need a place to layout your parts and tools. Bring insect repellent. If you ever had to work outside on the Jeep, you know why. This safety topic is covered in great detail on the Internet. Make sure that you are reading the safety relevant to your location and time of year.
Always carry lots of water. Two gallons of water in the Jeep is a must. If you get stuck on a nice hot sunny day, you'll need it. Carry blankets, not just for your pic-nic, it can keep you warm as well. If you get stuck overnight, you'll need water and blankets. Food is nice to have, but remember the rule of three: 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food = you are dead.
Plan your trip and tell somebody where you are going and when you will be back. Once you are back, let them know. Our SPOT X device has the tracking feature, so our friends can track our location in almost real-time.
A CB Radio is not a backup plan for offroad trips, but it is a great way to communicate with the members in your team. We use the CB Radio when we're stuck on a highway. The truckers use CB to communicate the problem spots and possible detours. You can always go to the next truck and ask the driver.
Where is the Exit is the last thing you want to worry about. It is real danger and that's when you find out that GPS and Maps don't play well together. Once you run out of power, your GPS units are just dead weight. We bring paper maps and a compass to get us in the right direction. Read our Introduction on the GPS and Maps topic.
One of these days we may document our tool boxes and checklists. It is extensive. And one of the checklist is for the quarterly maintenance like, charge the battery charger and SPOT X. Nothing more annoying than having a battery charger and it is discharged.
How to "Outdoor"
When you spend your day(s) away from civilization, you also have no access to any of the conveniences. Eventually you have to go to the washroom. Two words, Paper and Shovel. Outdoor Ethics will explain the where and how. Remember to "Leave No Trace". Anything you bring on your trip must be carried out. This includes food waste and leftovers.
We always have garbage bags with us. They also work great as an emergency rain (or wind) jacket. And don't be shy to fill the garbage bag with other peoples garbage. We always find cans and plastic bottles.
Travelling with a vehicle, motorised or not, on land or water, the same rules apply, Tread Lightly. Read up on the Tread Lightly on Land and Water and be a responsible traveller.
Bears, Mosquitoes and Ticks
The Bear is not the most deadly out there!
Ticks - a real problem. The Problem is growing fast and moving North and West. Read the Ontario Parkblog on how to protect yourself from ticks. You need protection while you camp and hike in the Risk Areas. Get a potent Tick repellent with Deed or Icaridin from any Drugstore or Outfitter.
Mosquitos love you - End of story. You need protection. You don't have to use it if you don't mind getting stung, bitten and sucked dry, but you have to have the repellent available when needed. When flying to Ontario, don't bring your deterrent from home, it may not produce the expected results.
Bears will find your food and destroy backpacks, containers, tents and anything between the food and the bear. Learn about the correct storage and disposal of food from the Park websites. And absolutely no food in the tent, not even a candy. The Black Bears in Ontario are not after people, but they will find the candy in your tent.
Enjoy the outdoors and hope you are lucky enough to see a bear. There are about 10 bears in a 100km² area. And consider the sad truth that well over 600 individuals lost their lives in 2014 due to accidents where alcohol was involved. (source: MADD Canada). Don't Drink And Drive.
TICKS (Lyme Disease diagnosed)
2018: 624 Ontario
2017: 987 Ontario (> 1,400 Canada)
2016: 388 Ontario (> 990 Canada)
Mosquito, West Nile Virus deaths
2019 + 2020: 0
2018: 8 Canada
2017: 26 Canada
BEAR attack deaths
2020: 4 Ont, Sask + Alaska
2019: 1 Ontario
2017: 2 (Alaska)
2015: 1 (British Columbia)
2014: 2 (Alberta, New Jersey)
2013: 1 (Alaska)
There are Ticks, Mosquitos, Blackflies, Horseflies and Mayflies. No-see-um that bite, they are so small you breath them in. When you canoe, you have dragonflies. They are your friends, they eat mosquitoes and if you are lucky, they land on your hand. Their colours are beautiful. You may have a leech on you when you swim in a lake. No reason for panic, use salt and they let go almost immediately.
And this brings us to the list of repellents.
Use a spraypump with Icardin (Picardin) or Deet to keep the insects off your skin.
Use an After Bite or Insect Bite Gel to treat the itch after the bite.
Bring 70% Alcohol or pads to clean open wounds and Polysporin to help the healing process.
Bring salt, regular cooking salt for the fish you catch and to get the leeches off you.
Get a Tick remover like the Lifesystems Tick Remover Card or use a fine-tipped tweezers to remove the tick.
Did you forget something or do you need to fix or replace your equipment? There are a few great retailers that will be able to help you.
Mountain Equipment Coop, or MEC, has everything for hiking, running, climbing, biking, skiing, camping and more. They have the expertise and the top quality products to safe your day. MEC is our preferred store for all equipment except fishing and hunting. They don't carry these items. MEC has several stores across Canada.
SAIL has a similar selection and comes close to what MEC offers. Plus everything for fishing and hunting. They always carry a good choice of clothing and end of season products at rock bottom prices. SAIL has several stores across Canada.
Canadian Tire has simply everything for the day-to-day use. They are in almost every town across Canada. You find camping and fishing equipment, everything for the car, boat, canoe, kitchen, Xmas and around the house. If you have an odd need or something's broken, you may find it there.
Hiker's Heaven is a store in Oakville. They carry an excellent selection for your hiking, camping, canoeing and snowshoeing needs, plus more. They are a Canada Goose® reseller. You won't find this brand in larger stores.
Some of the National or Provincial Parks have a great network of lakes and rivers that are connected with portages. Bring maps of the lake(s) and a compass. The phone battery may be dead by the time you need the map feature (or it is on the bottom of the lake). Many Outfitters have rental canoes. Bring the fishing rod and the fishing license, but don't count on dinner.
Marked campsites offer minimal comfort such as a fire pit and an outdoor privy.
Read up on the Beginners guide to back-country camping to get you interested.
Mountain Bike / Sport Equipment Rental
Mountain Bike rental for about $180/week @ Sport Rentals. They are located near Hwy 400 when heading north. You may want to consider to bring your own bike. The cost for the bike with Air Canada is $100 per flight.
When you travel to places like Whistler in BC where mountain biking and skiing is the biggest attraction, you get better deals on location. Coastal Culture is one of these stores.
(The calculation is based on 2019 prices)
The rental for a small RV for 2 adults plus 1 or 2 kids starts at $300 per day (about 2,000km included). Many of the rental RVs we met were from CanaDream and the travellers had good things to say.
Gas consumption is about 18 to 20 liter per 100km and the current gas price is $ 1.15 and can be as as $1.50. This translates to $ 600 for the 2000km above.
For budgeting purpose and a 10 day trip with the 2000 km we come up with the following cost:
200 km per day over a 10 day trip and you get 10 x $60 (gas) = $600
10 days RV Rental @ $300 with 2000 km max is 10 x $300 = $3000
When you travel for 10 days, you will camp in an Ontario Provincial Park for about $525
The total cost for an RV plus Gas plus Camping permit is $4,125 and up. Make adjustments for additional kilometres.
Another RV Rental was Wicked Camper, and if you don't mind the wicket paint job, these campers are for anybody on a small budget. The travellers we met were very happy with the vehicles. Keep in mind that these are NOT big comfortable campers, but usually the van size type.
If you need a car for your Ontario adventures, you may want to consider a Jeep Wrangler. Read the rental agreement about the places you are allowed to go. Forest Service Roads may be off-limits for rental cars. Should you get stranded in the middle of nowhere, it will be a very expensive recovery. With a rental car you are likely covered when the vehicle breaks down, but that does not include some remote dirt road.
Another issue with car rental is the rental location. When you pickup/drop-off at the airport, the rates are at least 10% higher. If you plan to spend a day or two in Toronto, you won't need a car. Pick it up on your way to the outdoors in the suburbs. The rental company may offer pickup service from the train or bus station. The Jeep in the picture is ours, not a rental car.
Budget Canada has Jeep Wrangler and they advertised them as follows:
"Adventure awaits with a Jeep rental. If you haven't tried it, now's your chance. A Jeep Wrangler rental from Budget gets you set for adventure with legendary Jeep 4x4 stability and soft or hard top"
IMPORTANT: When you make a reservation, it says "Jeep Wrangler SUV or similar". Make sure you clearly state that ONLY a Jeep Wrangler will be accepted. Jeep Wranglers have lots of space inside and seats two with a high level of comfort. The rear seats are ok, but not really designed for adults and long trips.
When you are camping in one of the National Parks, Provincial Parks or a private Campsite, you may not have to worry about the Park Permit. You still need permits for Day Use in the National or Provincial Parks. You can purchase them online ahead of time. Park information and licenses are available from Ontario Parks and Parks Canada.
When you camp in a Provincial Park, all access is included for all Provincial Parks for that day(s). That does not include National Parks and vice versa.
Some of the parks are not serviced and the campsites are not accessible by vehicle. You can hike or canoe to the campsite. If you are new to this type of camping, make sure you come well prepared. See the Beginners Guide in the Canoe section.
If you decide not to stay in a Park, you can camp on Crown Land. You have to be 18 years or older and you need a permit. The non-resident camping permit is about $ 10 per person per day. You can camp up to 21 days on any one site in a calendar year and then move to another place. Permits can be bought on-line.
Same rules apply as explained in the Camping paragraph above, you need a permit.
There are not many Parks open for camping. The one we know with drive-in camp sites is the Mew Lake Campsite in the Algonquin Provincial Park. There are a few more where you have to carry in your equipment. In Ontario we know of Windy Lake Provincial Park and backpacking sites in the Algonquin Provincial Park. If you don't have the equipment, some of the parks have Yurts. All you have to bring is your sleeping bag and food. This article in Explore Magazin covers 10 Awesome Places to go Winter Camping.
If you are planning to fish in Ontario, you will need a license and a good understanding of the rules. The Provinces that border the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic Ocean have different fishing rules and licenses for tidal waters (ocean) and fresh water (lakes and rivers).
Ontario has two fishing licenses, the Sport Fishing License and the Conservation Fishing License. The Conservation has a reduced catch limit.
Be aware that there are two different limits, the catch limit and the possession limit.
And there are the date/time rules, the species size and number limits, the type of tackle and the location. There are 20 Fisheries Management Zones.
All the Rules and limits are in the Ontario Fishing Regulations Summary. Permits can be bought on-line. If you plan to fish more than just one day, the Sport Fishing license is about $85 (non-resident) for the whole year. A one-day license is about $14.
If you happen to visit in the Winter, it is spectacular. There are many operators that provide sleeping quarters, a fully equipped hut and professional guidance on the art of ice fishing.
Lake Simcoe is about one hour north of Toronto and the ice fishing season typically runs from mid-January to mid-March. You will find many more ice fishing providers further north. Be prepared for temperatures well below -10 Celsius even on a sunny day. Spending time on a frozen lake can be dangerous. Be prepared and follow the rules.
Contact one of the many licensed operators or tourist outfitters.