RVing in Ontario

RVing in the USA vs Canada
Our RV trips in 2015 have been about learning how to RV in the USA. The US is very RV friendly: they recognize that there are full-timers out there: the construct is widely understood and business exist to serve them. Even here in the northeastern states, I notice differences from Canada.  For example: plentiful National Forests offering free, dispersed camping  suitable for RVers (not just hike-in sites); Ranger Stations providing information or where to find them; a free dump station at the outlet mall in Conway (wow!); visitor centers in Adirondack Park and here in the White Mountains offering FREE WIFI (not just for customers) and even a lovely sitting area to access it.

Some things are similar in Ontario: some Walmarts, rest stops and casinos will allow overnight parking; Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts have locations in Ontario. But in other ways, Ontario is a much harder place to RV: there is crown land camping but the government website is cumbersome and there is no one to call and point us in the right direction.

Provincial Parks vs State Parks
Ontario provincial parks charge more on average than the state parks in the US (even after the exchange rate) plus they want an extra vehicle charge of $12 per night for the second vehicle and there is no pass for this.  This is in stark contrast to campgrounds in the US where almost every campground includes parking for 2 vehicles. The only work around we have found is using our seasonal day pass to get the motorcycle into the provincial park and then hiding it behind the trailer overnight.  Still, an overzealous ranger could come by after hours and give us a ticket for not having an actual overnight pass on the motorcycle. Why the day pass isn’t also valid as a secondary vehicle overnight pass is beyond me.

The provincial parks seasonal day pass, not cheap at $120 for the 2016 season (it goes up every year), gets us daytime access to any Ontario provincial park and we buy one every year.  With day use, we can go in and enjoy the parks typically until 10pm and can access beaches, trails, showers and dump stations. Interestingly, the provincial parks do not charge a dump station fee because there are basically no full-timers in Ontario traveling around needing to dump, so dump station use by non-campers is a non-issue.

Using our Ontario Provincial Parks Seasonal Day Pass in 2010 with our first trailer Grace at the dog beach at Wasaga Provincial Park.
Using our Ontario Provincial Parks Seasonal Day Pass in 2010 with our first trailer Grace at the dog beach at Wasaga Provincial Park. We parked overnight at the nearby Walmart so we could roll in first thing in the morning.

However, dumping at provincial parks doesn’t help us when we are in the Greater Toronto Area as there are no nearby provincial parks. The closest are Earl Rowe in Alliston and Sibbald Point in Sutton – both about 40 mins from Newmarket at the northern edge of the GTA. Along Lake Ontario, there is Bronte Creek in Oakville in the west while Darlington is even farther east. Near Orillia is Bass Lake on the west side, while Mara and McRae Point are near Casino Rama east of Lake Couchiching. Of course there are lots more provincial parks in the east and north and all along Lake Erie. This network of parks will help us move from friend’s properties to HH to BDW sites and still have dumping options.

Giving up our Seasonal Site at New Lowell Conservation Area
One thing weighs heavily on my mind as my return to Ontario looms: we must decide if we want to pay the deposit to retain our site at New Lowell next year. I wasn’t sure we should have even retained it this year: we knew we would be traveling a lot though we didn’t know I would have a major renovation take over my life in July. Yet James and I were both not ready to let it go: as a result we have effectively paid $2200 for trailer storage plus a few camping weekends here and there. Not financially efficient but we allowed ourselves some financial inefficiency in this, our test-out-this-lifestyle year.

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My lovely but shady site at New Lowell. After 4 seasons, I am missing the sunshine!

Next year we will actually sell the house, organize, purge and store our things, and transition to living in Nellie full-time. But when exactly will this happen? Even if we end up with a June 30 closing, I would want to spend the summer way up north exploring some of Ontario’s crown land, assuming we don’t have any rental turnover’s to deal with in the height of summer. My preference is for a mid- July or mid-August closing: a longer closing would give me the time to fully organize everything after we have a firm deal in hand to put a real fire under my butt.

Regardless of our closing date, I don’t see us spending much time at the trailer in New Lowell in 2016. Frankly, after spending 3 summers there, then traveling this year, I am ready for more new adventures. Our site is too shady and the effort involved in packing to go back and forth does not appeal to me just to be there. But without a seasonal site lined up, where do we go after our house is gone?

Other Ontario Options
Tottenham Conservation area offers seasonal and monthly rates and are open until Thanksgiving. Rouge Valley has camping in the east end of Toronto. Valens is another option near Cambridge and they only close for December so we can stay there until we are ready to cross the border. Or, we could try moving around: head north for some crown land camping to enjoy the fall colours, overnight at the casinos in Innisfil and Orillia, see if a BDW will take us in for a bit, try some of the HHs in the Niagara area.

If we need to be near Newmarket for a turnover, I bet the Lowes would let us park and even unhitch for a few days or a week. We would almost certainly be buying a few things at that time and with my corporate account, I am a verified customer! There is also a giant movie theatre there – maybe if we go see a couple movies they will allow us to park for a few days and even unhitch. If our big rental is temporarily vacant, we could actually park our rig in the driveway while working on an apartment – town by-laws even allow it. There is a new carpool lot at 404 and Queensville Sideroad with lots of room and a new onroute just opened on the 400 near Innisfil: both they will allow overnight parking though not unhitching.

All this to say, RVing in Ontario and particularly near the GTA will not be easy. Getting a seasonal site in Tottenham in 2017 is easy and affordable but is not necessarily the camping experience we want. For 2016, I think we need to save our money and just see what happens. We really need to just get out there and do it to learn what will work. We are smart, resourceful people and we will figure it out! As RVers like to say, if you plan every detail in advance, there is no opportunity for serendipity to work things out!

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