Written by Sandra Foster
Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
Sitting around a campfire, sleeping under the stars and communing with nature sounds like the best family vacation.
My family and I recently planned a few two-week summer camping trips in provincial and national parks in Ontario and Quebec. One thing we hadn't considered? The cost of camping.
The Cost of Getting Equipped
The only useable gear we had: sleeping bags, a two-burner camp stove and a cooler. That left a lot of supplies to buy (new or used), borrow, or rent. We used this camping checklist to help figure out what we needed.
Tent: We wanted a 3-season tent and found a reliable 6-person tent for well under $200. Don't be fooled. A 6-person tent isn't big enough for 6 people—only 4. Since we would be travelling by car, we didn't need the lightest tent on the market, but we wanted one that was relatively easy to set up and was watertight.
Mattress: In the past, I might have been able to sleep on a thin foam pad, but now I need a good air mattress, which we got on sale for under $70.
Kitchenware: Having been bitten by the de-cluttering bug, I visited the secondhand and discount stores to pick up kitchen equipment for 2 for $35. One thing I splurged on: $40 for an LED campsite light, also on sale.
The Cost of a Camping Site
If you want to be sure a site is available when you arrive, you can make an online reservation through the park's system where available, although many sites sell out quickly.
There are lots of site options for tenters across Canada, from free to more than $50 a night at the most popular campgrounds that are fully serviced and may even have educational programs. Your nightly cost will depend on where you camp and any services you require onsite. Many provincial parks across the country offer tent sites with access to potable water, toilet facilities and showers, but be sure to review the services that are available, if any, to ensure you find what you're looking for.
In Alberta, fees for provincial campsites range from free for an unserviced site to $48 (2019) for a fully serviced site at some parks. Provincial backcountry camping sites require a modest fee and a permit.
Fees at parks operated by Ontario Provincial Parks depend on the services at the park and any additional educational programs offered. Ontario provincial parks are rated as premium, middle, and low. A premium site with electricity costs $52.55 nightly with tax included, whereas a campsite at a park rated low in popularity with no showers or electricity is $35.60 with tax included. There are special rates for seniors aged 65+ and Ontario individuals with certain disabilities. Click here for more information.
There are also campsites in some of Canada's National Parks. We discovered a number of semi-serviced campgrounds within 100 kilometres of Montreal that cost less than $30 a night.
Canadian residents can also camp free on some Canadian Crown Land. Be sure to check the rules in the province you want to visit.
Wood for the Fire
What would camping be without a campfire? To help control the spread of invasive species, some campgrounds don't allow you to bring wood from home. These campgrounds require you to buy local firewood from the campground or a local supplier.
A Caution Before You Camp
Some people don't like camping. I've come across listings selling slightly used camping gear with the comment “only used once." Perhaps you can borrow what you need or even try comfort camping in a cabin or a yurt (available at certain campgrounds across Canada for around $100+ a night) to give it a try before you commit further.
You might discover you love the great outdoors, but prefer to stay in a cabin or a cottage, or even decide to look into RVing, which can be pricey.
Conclusion: Is Camping a Low-Cost Family Vacation?
It can be expensive depending on how far you drive and your style of camping. It could be expensive if you buy a $600 tent, get all-new equipment at specialty stores, and then only use it for one season. If you camp regularly, it can be inexpensive compared to other types of vacations if you spend prudently, stick to the basic equipment and locate low-cost (or even free) nightly campsites.
List of Camping Resource in Canada to Get You Started