Ontario’s parks and protected areas

Learn about Ontario’s parks and protected areas and how they are created.

Protected areas

Protected areas are defined to protect natural and cultural features, maintain biodiversity and provide opportunities for compatible recreation.

These areas may contain:

  • old-growth forest
  • lakes, rivers and wetlands
  • archaeological sites or other cultural values
  • habitat for rare or endangered plants and animals

Types of protected areas

Provincial parks

Protect significant natural and cultural features in the province while supporting Ontario’s economy. Regulated under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, they are important for outdoor recreation, scientific research and environmental monitoring, and education.

Find a provincial park

Conservation reserves

Protect significant natural and cultural features while providing opportunities for a variety of compatible traditional activities (e.g. fishing, hunting, trapping). Regulated under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, they are also important for scientific research and environmental monitoring.

Find a conservation reserve

Wilderness areas

Established to preserve areas in their natural state to protect flora and fauna, these areas are regulated under the Wilderness Areas Act. Research and educational activities may be carried out to help improve local knowledge about historical, aesthetic, scientific or recreational values.

Wilderness Areas Act, 1990

Dedicated protected areas in the Far North

Through community-based land use planning in the Far North, First Nations and Ontario are working together to identify dedicated protected areas. These areas will help protect the unique ecology and boreal environment of the region. They will also ensure the region's resources contribute to a more prosperous, healthy and sustainable future for its communities.

Under the Far North Act, dedicated protected areas can be either:

  • unregulated designations in community-based land use plans
  • regulated under the Far North Act or the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA)

Far North Act, 2010

Ontario's protected areas summary statistics

Provincial Protected Area Number Hectares % of Province
Regulated Provincial Parks 334 7,905,305 7.4%
Regulated Conservation Reserves 295 1,514,147 1.4%
Dedicated Protected Areas - Regulated under PPCRA 5 349,481 0.3%
Dedicated Protected Areas - Non-regulated 4 876,535 0.8%
Wilderness Areas 11 838 <0.1%
Total Provincial Protected Areas 649 10,646,306 10%
National Parks 5 208,160 0.2%
Total National and Provincial Protected Areas 654 10,854,466 10.2%

How protected areas are chosen

Protected areas are selected and designed based on their ecological, geological and cultural heritage features.

Provincial parks and conservation reserves are selected using specific criteria. Areas with the best examples of a feature are rated provincially significant. Areas with next best examples may be considered regionally or locally significant. A similar framework for representing Ontario’s aquatic ecosystems has yet to be developed.

Specific targets have been set to represent:

  • land-based ecosystems
  • geological features
  • Ontario’s cultural heritage

Site selection is guided in part by policy commitments based on park class.

You can find more information on building a protected area system and the criteria used to select and design protected areas in the State of Ontario’s Protected Areas Report.

State of Ontario’s Protected Areas Report

Ecological land classification system

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry uses an ecological land classification system to define natural regions by their ecological features. Ecological units are created on the basis of bedrock, climate, physical geography and corresponding vegetation.

This landscape classification enables planners and ecologists to organize ecological information into logical integrated units to support landscape planning and monitoring. It applies to many areas of provincial business, including:

  • protected area identification
  • wildlife habitat definition
  • forest management planning
  • relevant to municipal land use planning

Learn about the ecological land classification system

Learn about ecozones and ecoregions

Areas of natural and scientific interest

Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs) are areas of land and water containing unique natural landscapes or features. These features have been scientifically identified as having life or earth science values related to protection, scientific study or education.

There are more than 1,000 ANSIs totaling over 460,000 hectares in Ontario. Most are located on private land.

ANSIs complement provincial parks and conservation reserves by conserving significant features through means other than regulation.

Types of Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest

There are 2 kinds of ANSIs:

Earth science ANSIs

Are geological in nature and contain significant examples of bedrock, fossils, landforms or ongoing geological processes.

Life science ANSIs

Represent biodiversity and natural landscapes. They include specific types of forests, valleys, prairies, wetlands, native plants, native animals and their supportive environments. Life science ANSIs contain relatively undisturbed vegetation and landforms and their associated species and communities.

Updated: February 3, 2015