Camping and Accessing Crown Lands

During the pandemic, more than ever before, and with Ontario Parks and Private campgrounds overbooked, campers and newbies are turning to Crown Lands for recreational opportunities. I have been camping and canoeing to Crown Lands for more than 40 years, and in our training courses, eg GPS and Map & Compass Skills, we cover how to access Crown Lands. 

Here is a crash course, covering some of the basics.

Benefits of Crown Land Camping and Recreation:

As a Canadian citizen, and when leading groups, I can camp for free on Crown Lands. Importantly, we can access more remote backcountry away from other humans, if we venture far enough in. I can also park my rv on Crown Lands during a road trip, and hop from one Crown site to another. 

Drawbacks, Costs?

Some costs of utilizing Crown Lands for recreation include the following:

  • unmaintained trail, portages, and campsites
  • poor oŕ no signage on trails
  • competing uses and commercial operations
  • lack of outhouses and sanitation facilities
  • easy to get to campsites are generally overun, overused, trashed, garbage and feces waste everywhere, firewood scarce and denuded, excessive noise and parties, gas generators running
  • costs of finding actual campsites, scouting and scoping

How to Find Crown Lands

Paper Maps are available from Backroads Maps Company, in their Mapbooks and Land-Use Maps.

TracMaps Software is a new tool for locating Crown Lands. I use this software with Garmin Handheld GPS Units, eg Garmin 66 and 64 Models, and can walk through an area ro figure out where Crown Lands are. This is excellent for property owners who are abutting Crown.

OMNRF Crown Lands Website,  and the Crown Lands Atlas are free to use, and the Atlas shows great detail in specific designation of Crown Lands, eg recreational uses. It’s best accessed with a laptop or desktop computer.

Rules and Regulations

Crown Lands are technically owned by the Crown and Her Majesty, however, they are managed Provincially, by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Riparian and water is also technically Crown, and the general public has a right to use both Crown land and water, in most cases. 

Canadian citizens can camp on Crown Lands, free of charge, except for Municipal Crown Land shoreline road allowances (66 ft from the waters edge). There’s a 21 day rule for camping in one location, after which you have to move 100 feet or to a new location.

Non residents must pay a land-use fee of $11/day. Commercial Users must apply for permits, depending on the uses, eg forestry, mining, hunt camp leases etc. Snowmobile clubs can apply for approval of new trails through Crown Lands.

Many of the same rules that apply to any Lands, eg Provincial Parks, Conservation Areas, Public Beaches, Private Property, also applies to usage of Crown Lands, eg excessive noise bylaws, illegal dumping and polluting, violent behavior, illicit drug use and drunkenness etc.

Permits needed?

Many activities on Crown Land require specific permits and licenses, including Hunting,

Fishing, Trapping, Commercial, Snowmobiling (OFSC Trails) etc.  Activities like hiking, backpacking, canoeing and kayaking, overnight camping, riding, don’t require any special permits.

Many Municipalities now own Crownland Shoreline Road 66 ft Allowances, and have administered paid campsites that you have to book and pay for, eg Frontenac.

Tip: from my understanding, you can still camp for free on Crown Lands, if you are not on the 66 ft shoreline allowance. I’ve had some lively debates with some Township Officials concerning this!

Competing Uses of Crown Lands

Unlike Provincial or National Parks, and Conservation Areas, Crown Lands have many competing uses, including Trappers, Hunting and Fishing Outfitters, Mining Operations, Forestry, Military Practices, and Indigenous Peoples have various rights to these lands.

You should respect the rights of other users of Crown Lands, eg Hunting Outfitters don’t take kindly to folks camping near their tree stands or near Hunt Camp Lease Areas, and have been known to slash car tires and worse. It’s no fun seeking solitude neat a logging operation, or military shelling operation. None of the maps or atlas tools show this activity. 

Tip: you can contact the District OMNRF Office to find out if any operations are in effect. Also, Crown Lands can change, so updates can be found at the district offices.

Safety Concerns?

Like all Wilderness and backcountry areas, typical dangers can be found on Crown Lands,

Eg dangerous waterfowl, dangerous topography, extreme weather, insects and wildlife, other unsavory humans,  and in particular, ease of becoming lost. It’s highly recommended to have GPS and Map & Compass equipment and knowledge, carry a Survival & Safety kit, and preferably, take some training. Very important, carry some communication equipment eg Satelite Tracker, Cell Phone Booster, and have the “What 3 Words” app downloaded on your cell phone.

And, during Hunting seasons, where some bright orange clothing or ribbons, and on your pets. Not just in the fall Hunt, but now there’s a new spring bear hunt.

If Buying/Owning Property next to Crown Lands, keep in mind the Municipal 66ft Crown Land Shoreline Road Allowance. Also, you can purchase this slice of shoreline, if your property backs onto it. Otherwise, the township owns the Shoreline.

Hunt Camp Leases and Trapper Cabins  can be applied for at the OMNRF.

Tips: when in doubt, contact the OMNRF and the Township Office. 

Do not camp somewhere overnight, unless you are 100% sure it’s Crown Land. You can be charged with trespassing in private property, native reservation lands, hunting camp leased lands, parks and conservation Lands, etc etc.

Respect the rights of others, follow regulations, and clean up your mess. Leave the land better than the way you found it.

Report anyone who is abusing Crown Lands to the OMNRF, Ministry of the Environment, and if needed, the O.P.P.