Crown Land Camping - Part 1

November, 2011
45° 5'23.5"N, 79° 55'35.0"W

My good friend Matthias and I wanted to get away from the city for a weekend and do some camping on the cheap. I called the Ontario Parks number and was told the only campground open in November was Algonquin. Now, there is nothing wrong with Algonquin; we just wanted to try something new. The nice gentleman on the phone recommended we call the Ministry of Natural Resources because camping on Crown Land is available year-round. And the big bonus: it's free for Canadian citizens!

I ended up not needing my 3-Day pack since everything fit into my Large ALICE.

After speaking with the MNR, I went online to Ontario's Crown Land Use Policy Atlas, which has an interactive map that allows you to see all the different land designations. Surprisingly, almost everything north of Orillia is Crown Land, much of which is designated "general use" and is fair game for camping. There were only a few rules: you could stay in the same spot for a maximum of 21 days, after which you had to move more than 100 meters; take everything out that you bring in; don't chop down any trees; bury your poop. They recommended that we call the local municipality to ensure there weren't any fire advisories. As well, as the MNR has many different local offices, I was advised to call the office closest to the area I wanted to stay in, just to make sure everything was all right with our plans. Lesson: if you plan on going on your own trip, make sure you call ahead.

We decided on G539 near Moon river, and drove up after work on Friday. It was very easy to get to, not too far off of highway 69. By the time we got close to the area we were headed for, it was near 23:00, and very dark. What we could see in front of the headlights was a dense forest with very healthy undergrowth. We parked the car out of the way, by the side of the road, and grabbed our headlamps to do a recce. We were lucky to find an area that looked like it had been cleared many years ago.

A view of the crown land interactive map.

Tree stumps and Canadian Shield poking out everywhere made it a little discouraging to find a spot for a tent, but after moving some twigs and small boulders, we found a spot that was just about big enough. Then...I noticed a weird irritating sensation in my hands as we were heading back to the car...kind of prickly, and a little bit itchy. So I washed my hands and put on my gloves. I was hoping I was just cold, but knew it had to have been something I touched. Terrified it might have been poison oak, I ignored it. I just really wanted to set up the tent and organize the campsite.

Luckily the moon was up, and there were no clouds in the sky. We turned off our headlamps and worked under the moonlight. As our night vision started to kick in, we started clearing an area for a fire pit, and gathered some rocks to surround it. It was our first time camping in November, and we were both anxious to see how we would fare in the colder weather (which was currently -5°C). I was layered with a MEC base layer, polar fleece, and a Four Square snowboarding jacket. By the time we got the fire going, I was ready to add my Burton snowpants.

The view our parked car had for the weekend.

All and all, we were pretty comfortable. We stayed up until 4 or 5am, just chatting and enjoying the quiet (with a few brews, of course). We both commented that we had never seen so many stars in our lives. It's definitely an experience that I'll remember for a long time.

When the fire died down, I walked to the tent and climbed into my sleeping bags. Yup, bags. I was using a MEC Drake bag, which is rated to 0°C, and figured that wasn't going to cut I brought a second summer bag, just in case. I'm glad I did. I spent the night in a pair of sweat pants, stripped down to my base layer, with my Drake cinched so tight there was an opening only big enough for my face.

Click here for part Part 2!

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