I thought for this year’s summer camping trip that I’d take you along with us and give you a little tour of our favorite place to go camping as a family. Here’s what we did for our 4 days in Pinery Provincial Park!
We go camping as a family at least once every summer, and usually at some point in the winter as well. I’ve often shared with you what kind of gear we like to bring and some of my other philosophies on learning to be a “happy camper”, but I realized that I’ve never really told you much about the park that we usually go to, which is a pretty amazing place. I thought this year would be a good opportunity to tour you around and tell you a little about our favorite things to do and spots to visit around the park. If you’re anywhere near Southern/Southwestern Ontario, or the Midwest in the US, Pinery Provincial Park is an amazing place to visit.
For more about our favorite family activities for summer in the park read: Summer at Pinery Park: Top Ten Things to Do
A Little About the Park Itself
Pinery is a huge park right on the shores of Lake Huron with a great mix of forested areas for hiking and camping, as well as miles of beautiful sandy beaches separated from the rest of the park by sand dunes. It’s really a unique place and you get to experience so much in such a short period of time while you’re there. This park is popular with campers of all ages and backgrounds, but we love how family friendly it is. There are so many different little trails to explore, lots of winding paved roads for bike riding, a camp store, a little restaurant, an ice cream stand, canoe rentals, a beautiful visitor’s centre, and lots of educational programs going on throughout the summer where you can learn about different species and ecosystems within the park. It’s just really hard to run out of things to do in Pinery, especially in the summer.
The camping part of the park is broken up into three campgrounds: Burley is all non-electrical sites and where we usually stay, Dunes has some electrical and some non-electrical, and Riverside is all electrical sites and is where you’ll find the yurts and cabins, as well as the easiest drive-in sites for trailer camping.
Where we Stayed
We stayed in the Burley campground, which is probably our favorite. It has the best, fastest access to the least-crowded beaches, the most private well-treed sites, and we don’t mind the extra few minutes of bike riding to get to all the trails and the ice cream store. 🙂
Our site looked pretty one morning in this direction, so I took this quick photo, but we actually had two tents. We’ve had this MEC tent for quite a few years and this was where the kids slept, but we also got this new tent this year and I absolutely fell in love with it. It was a little ridiculous for just Chris and I, but all that extra space to move around was such a luxury. I swear we could have held a dinner party in that tent if the mood had struck.
Favorite Things to Do in Pinery Provincial Park
We actually had a lot of our neighbours join us for part of our trip this year, which was really fun. We got to tour them around a little bit and show them a few highlights of the park like the visitor’s centre, one of our favorite smaller trails with a great lookout over the river, and of course the yurts where we like to stay if we go during the winter or spring. We also managed to gather everyone up to make it down to the beach for sunset one night and it was so worth it. We get some great sunsets at home over the fields, but the sunsets at Pinery are always something else. The beach was just packed with people. It’s really a must-see for anyone visiting the park.
We always make sure to fit in plenty of beach time when we’re at Pinery because it really is one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever been to. White sand, lots of dunes to run up and down for the kids to burn off energy, and for some reason the water there is almost always very calm. It helps that it stretches for miles and miles, so you’re never fighting to find a good spot. We also always make sure to fit in lots of hiking, at least one trip to the ice cream store, as well as the camp store for treats.
We try to drive as little as possible and get around the park on our bikes whenever we can. There’s one “big hill” that separates the Dunes and Burley campgrounds from the store area and riding over it is always the challenge of the summer for kids. That first year when they actually manage to stay on their bikes for the whole hill without having to get off and walk up is always such a triumph. 🙂
Getting on as many trails as possible is always a priority for me. This year we did a trail on the very far end of the park called “Wilderness” that we hadn’t done in quite a few years. We actually drove to this trail because it was so far and we didn’t know if the kids would make it by bike, but it was worth the trek out there. It’s an easy trail through the woods that drops you off on a boardwalk that leads you down to the quietest beach at the edge of the park.
One of us is not a fan of hats or sunglasses and had the sun in her eyes, but I made us all stand for a family photo anyway because it was such a pretty spot.
We actually saw a deer come out of the forest and wander down to the water for a drink at one point! That’s how quiet this part of the park is.
Pinery offers regular “Ask a Naturalist” sessions during busier times in the park, like the summer months, and we always try to catch at least one. They’re usually set up just outside the park store or sometimes in the visitor’s centre and they’re just a fun opportunity to learn a little about some aspect of the park environment that you may not have thought of before. We’ve learned about wildfires and controlled burns in the park, turtles, butterflies, and this time the session we stopped in to was all about turkeys. It’s fun for kids to have a chance to play some games and ask all their questions, but I not-so-secretly love these sessions too. 🙂
Tips and What to Bring
- Make sure to catch at least one sunset while you’re there. If you can make your way to the top of a dune somewhere, that’s the best viewing spot. I also highly recommend a little stroll on the beach before heading back to your site for your campfire.
- The park restaurant is a great resource for your last night of camping if you just want an easy no-cooking night. It can get busy and wait times can be a bit long on rare occasions, so you probably don’t want to do it every night of your camping trip, but it’s great to have it there if you need it.
- Getting to the beach can be a bit intense if you’re following one of the paths that take you over the dune, but it will be so worth it. Definitely try to pack as light at possible and try to limit trips back and forth to your campsite if it’s a really hot day or if you aren’t in top dune-climbing shape. We love our ultralight camp chairs for this because they fold up to almost nothing, weigh only about a pound, and can easily be tossed into a backpack. These towels have also been amazing compared to traditional beach towels. They’re so soft, but weigh basically nothing and take up no space. We’ve had other similar towels and these have actually been the best ones we’ve tried so far even though they’re so inexpensive.
- Ice management becomes a real issue for any trip over 2 days, so we like to plan to have one of our daily hikes or bike rides pass by the camp store to make it easy to keep on top of the ice situation and not have to actually drive to the store. When we got this cooler a few years ago, our life became quite a bit easier and we can go about 1.5 days between ice refreshes without ever have all of our ice completely melted, even with us opening the cooler constantly. Yay food safety!
- Canoes and kayaks can be rented as well as bikes if you don’t have your own to explore the park. The boat rental is situated on the river/canal and it’s a really calm, easy paddle, even for kids. We have brought our kayaks in the past, but it’s honestly easier just to rent them if we decide we want to go out on the water. I love how you get a totally different view of the forest from the water and all the water lilies that you get to see up close at this time of year.
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.