Recreational activities on Crown land
What you need to know about camping and other recreational activities on Ontario’s Crown land (also known as public land). This excludes provincial parks and conservation reserves.
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Camping on Crown land
Camping is allowed for free on most Crown lands in Ontario, including Crown lands covered by water.
Anyone camping for private, non-commercial purposes can stay in a camping unit for up to 21 days on any one site in a calendar year. After 21 days, campers are required to move at least 100 metres from their previous location.
There are some areas of Crown land where signage is posted restricting camping or restricting the number of days permitted. Always follow the rules and restrictions posted on signs. Learn more about finding locations to camp.
Some non-residents of Canada need a permit to camp in areas north of the French and Mattawa Rivers. Read the non-residents section for more information.
The types of camping units that you can use to camp on Crown land include:
- recreational vehicle
- camper back
- watercraft equipped for overnight accommodation
Floating accommodations are not a type of camping unit that can be used to camp on Crown land.
The regulation clarifies that a watercraft equipped for overnight accommodation is a watercraft that is all of the following:
- primarily designed for navigation
- capable of being used for navigation
- steered independently
- equipped for overnight accommodation
Examples of a watercraft equipped for overnight accommodation include a powerboat or sailboat that is equipped for overnight accommodation.
Under Ontario Regulation 343 of the Environmental Protection Act, pleasure boats subject to the regulation with bathroom facilities are required to have equipment for sewage waste that is not portable.
You cannot camp on Crown land using floating accommodations.
A floating accommodation is a floating building, structure or thing, or a combination of them, that is equipped for overnight accommodation, not primarily designed for navigation and may have one or more of the following features:
- is primarily designed for or able to be used for residential purposes
- is a raft, barge or floating platform that has on top of it a building, structure, vehicle or thing that may be used for camping purposes or as an outdoor accommodation
- would reasonably be expected to require towing to be placed on public lands or is placed on public lands by means of towing or any other type of assistance
- is equipped with jack-up technology or a similar mechanism to anchor or rise above the surface of the water, with or without spud cans
- has a floating foundation or floatation platform which may include floats constructed of polystyrene, plastic, concrete or logs and stringers
Non-resident camping permits
Most non-residents of Canada need a Crown land camping permit to camp on Crown land north of the French and Mattawa Rivers. This is set out in Ontario Regulation 326/94.
Non-residents camping on Crown land in areas north of the French and Mattawa Rivers do not need a permit if they:
- are under 18 years of age
- rent a camping unit (such as a tent or trailer) from a person who conducts business in Ontario
- own land in Ontario, or their spouse owns land in Ontario
- are camping while carrying out duties as part of employment in Canada
- are part of a charitable or non-profit group and have received advance permission from the local district manager
- to get permission, call us at 1-855-613-4256 well in advance of your trip
Non-residents are not permitted to camp in designated green zones.
Before arriving, non-residents should use the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas to check if camping is allowed on the Crown land where they are planning to camp.
There are also some areas of Crown land where signage is posted restricting camping or restricting the number of days permitted. Follow the rules and restrictions posted on signs.
How to buy a non-resident camping permit
Non-residents who need a permit can buy one online. You can also buy a permit in person through participating ServiceOntario centres and authorized licence issuers.
The cost is $9.35 plus the federal Harmonized Sales Tax ($10.57) per person, per night.
Buy a permit online
Changes to how you access the Natural Resources Registry
Beginning November 19, 2023, all new and existing users must have a My Ontario Account to access the Natural Resources Registry. You will no longer be able to use ONe-Key authentication to sign into the registry.
Read the Natural Resources Registration Guide to learn how to create:
- a My Ontario account
- a Natural Resources Registry profile
Once you create a Natural Resources Registry profile, start a new submission and choose Non-Resident Camping Permit(s)/Crown land Camping Permits for camping on Crown land, non-operating provincial parks and conservation reserves.
You will receive in 3 separate emails:
- a confirmation of application
- a confirmation of payment
- your permit
Print your permit and carry it with you while camping.
You must be able to show your permit to an officer if requested.
Find camping locations
You can use the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas to:
- help you determine where you can camp on Ontario’s Crown lands
- view Crown land locations to find out what uses and activities are permitted
- create maps for a variety of purposes, including recreational
Where camping is not permitted
You cannot camp on Crown lands if the policy report in the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas indicates that recreational activities are not permitted.
There may be some areas where recreational activities are shown on the atlas as permitted, but have additional restrictions that limit or ban camping. Follow any posted signage and have a back-up plan in case your chosen location is not accessible or is closed to camping.
Camping is not permitted on:
- parking lots
- boat launches
- certain road allowances
- where another person is authorized to use the lands such as a land use permit or mining lease
- areas posted under the Trespass to Property Act
Across the province, you can collect downed wood or standing dead trees from Crown land for a campfire if you are legally camping on those lands. Follow the rules for using wood from Crown land for personal use.
Before starting a campfire, check if fire warnings or restrictions are in place by the ministry or the local municipality. In some cases, campfires may be prohibited altogether due to seasonal conditions.
Fishing on Crown land
You must follow certain rules while fishing in Ontario.
In general, if you are between 18 and 64 years old, you need a valid fishing licence before you can fish. You must also follow regulations for when you can fish and how many fish you can catch and keep.
Additional rules apply to holders of non-Canadian resident fishing licences who are camping on Crown land in Zones 2, 4, 6 and the portion of Zone 5 that lies outside of the Border Waters Area.
Other recreational activities on Crown land
Many recreational activities are allowed on Crown land for free (this excludes provincial parks and conservation reserves). Some restrictions may apply (for example, seasonal access restrictions). Some activities, like fishing and hunting, require valid licences.
You can usually use Crown land to:
- cross-country ski
- water ski
- bird watch
- horse-back ride
- hunt and fish
- recreational boat cache (in accordance with Ontario Regulation 161/17, recreational boat caches are not permitted in the Boat Cache Program Area (PDF))
You can snowmobile on Crown land if:
- the activity is not restricted (for example through planning or placement of a sign)
- you follow any applicable legislation (for example the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act)
- you have a valid permit from the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (if one is required to use their trails)
Get a permit to ride on Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs trails
Using all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and off-road vehicles
You can use your ATV or off-road vehicle on Crown land (excluding provincial parks and conservation reserves) if:
- the land is not restricted (such as through planning or placement of a sign)
- you follow any applicable municipal bylaws and legislation (such as the Off Road Vehicles Act and Motorized Snow Vehicles Act)
As a best practice, to preserve the integrity of trails, some off-road vehicle organizations recommend not using trails until after May 1 to avoid damage to trails and the environment. During the spring, when trail surfaces are water logged, they can be more susceptible to erosion.
Restrictions on recreational use
Access to Crown land may be controlled, restricted or limited for various reasons (for example, to protect public safety or resources). Do not drive on closed roads or block access for other users.
In some areas, you cannot use motorized vehicles to access Crown land but you can use non-motorized means to hike, canoe, fish or hunt in these areas.
Contact a ministry district office to find out if local restrictions apply to your activity.
Activities that require approval
You will need to contact the ministry for approval under the Public Lands Act if you want to:
- create a new trail
- build a water crossing
- hold an organized event
Contact your ministry work centre
Plants and wildlife
Do not harm, kill, take or collect plants, trees, habitat or other wildlife that is protected under provincial law.
If you plan to harvest wild rice, you may need a licence. Contact a ministry work centre for more information.
Protecting the natural environment
Crown land is generally unmaintained, remote and should be used at your own risk.
When using Crown land, we ask you to act responsibly to help protect the natural environment and understand the risks associated with your activity:
- pick up and pack out litter, respect Ontario’s Crown land
- never leave a campfire unattended and make sure campfires are completely extinguished
- avoid sensitive features such as wetlands, streams and wildlife habitat
- respect other users of Crown land
- stay on existing trails
- do not harm, kill, take or collect plants, trees, habitat or other wildlife protected under provincial law
Do the following to help prevent invasive species.
- Use local firewood. Firewood may carry an invasive pest or disease that could harm our forests. Avoid transporting firewood long distances. Buy and burn local firewood instead.
- Clean your gear and pets. Before and after accessing Crown land, be sure to clean all your gear and give your pet’s coat a good brushing to remove any seeds or plant parts it might have picked up. Make sure your watercraft, trailers, bicycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and boot bottoms are free of plant material and seeds, including mud that may contain seeds.
- Stay on paths designated for hiking in natural areas to avoid picking up invasive seeds on your shoes and spreading them.