Northern Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park is known for its beautiful wilderness. We stayed at the campground, here's our review!
I’ve been learning more and more about my family history in the past few years, and have done a lot of reading about my great great grandmother’s history, living in the boundary waters canoe area wilderness.
She was kicked off her reservation - the Anishinabe community of Lac La Croix - after marrying a white guy, and the two of them ended up living off the land, raising their kids in the general area of Quetico.
I ended up meeting a distant cousin of mine in a group for Aurora Borealis chasers, and it’s been interesting to learn about her life in Lac La Croix.
She invited me to come visit for their traditional pow wow earlier this year, but we’re putting that off until things calm down. Definitely looking forward to meeting her!
It was also very cool to share the same *local* conditions when it came to the weather, and the aurora, given how we met.
The timing was amazing, as the northern lights ERUPTED on our first night in the park.
Despite all of our attempts in chasing them - in previous years, and along this whole trip - it ended up being my first time seeing them.
Maybe I’m being weirdly sentimental, but it felt special for that to be my first sighting - like they’d waited until I was in my family’s ancestral home.
So... About Quetico
Anyway, we had an amazing time at Quetico, which is a HUGE provincial park in Northwestern Ontario.
This is definitely the biggest, most remote park we’ve been to. It’s roughly 4,760 square km - 1,180,000 acres - more than 95 km across, and about 65 km from top to bottom.
... and the vast majority of the park is only accessible by canoe!
It’s a MASSIVE network of lakes - over 2000 of them - which is why the park is very much known for its canoeing opportunities.
The RV campground itself is just a tiny portion of the park, right on the edge of it all.
The thing is, there’s enough going on in this smallish area of the park, that you don’t feel like you’re necessarily missing out on anything, if you’re NOT into the canoeing, backcountry, etc.
Lots to talk about, so let’s get to it!
Campground Name: Quetico Provincial Park
Address: 108 Saturn Ave. Box 2430 Atikokan, ON P0T 1C0
Price Ontario Provincial Parks uses a pricing matrix across all their parks. See 2023 Camping Fees for more details.
Reservations: Ontario Parks Reservations
As always, booking our campsites went quickly and easily through the Ontario Parks website reservation portal.
We booked fairly late in the season, so the pickings were kinda slim - that was on us, though.
Gotta even further plan ahead next time - I bet this is one of the parks where the best sites are snapped up the moment they’re available!
Signing in was also quick and easy, in the main office / Heritage Pavilion / visitor center; the staff were fast and friendly during both check ins.
The building was kind of elegant and felt like a museum, which was nice. Comforting.
The campground map is decent, and they had a separate trail map available. In general, there was a LOT of information available for whatever you want to do.
Cell reception was a bit spotty, but definitely enough to get by with the basics.
There was no wifi at the park.
Because we’re both Canadian citizens and were traveling by land - through Canada - we didn’t have to worry about dealing with the Canada Border Services Agency, getting a remote area border crossing permit, application forms, or anything else that U.S. citizens coming from across the southern border have to deal with.
For those crossing the international border into the park, you’re expected to work that all of that out prior to arrival, as applicable.
There’s a seasonal customs outpost 47 km from the Lac La Croix ranger station, but other ranger stations don’t provide customs services, and require pre-clearance to Canada.
Quetico is home to multiple archeological sites and areas of historical interest. Removal or damage of any artifact, natural object, relic, or site of archeological/historical interest is forbidden.
This includes - but is not limited to - the Anishinabe pictographs, arrowheads, bones, etc.
With regards to the pictographs, they’re sacred to the Anishinabe people, so you’re expected to approach them respectfully and quietly.
Don’t touch them in any way, as contact with oils, sweat, etc can cause the natural pigments to degrade even faster than time alone.
Finally, the possession and use of firearms is banned in the park. The definition of “firearm” is incredibly broad here: air guns, bow / cross bows, hand guns, paintball guns, pellet guns, rifles, shotguns, and even slingshots are prohibited.
Hunting - or even harassing - wildlife is also prohibited in Quetico Provincial park.
Campground Amenities & Info
Overall, this park is really well appointed, and obviously applied a considerate eye to the people who would stay there, and the activities they would be doing.
Each campground loop had a comfort station, with flush toilets, laundry facilities, and showers. We liked that the laundry was the closet type, rather than the room type.
There are also flush toilets located at the day trail parking lot, day use area, and in the Heritage Pavilion, as well as vault toilets throughout the park.
The campground also makes using the facilities easy for those visiting by canoe - there are canoe racks EVERYWHERE!
As with most Ontario Provincial Parks, the camp sites are a mix of electric and non-electric sites, and none of them have sewer or water hookups.
There is a “Poop Loop” - the trailer dumping station - towards the front of the camp ground.
As far as potable water goes, there is a fill platform next to the dump station, as well as water taps throughout the campground loops.
There was also a decent sized garbage / recycling center available.
The Heritage Pavilion
The Dawson Trail Heritage Pavilion is the relatively large building you encounter soon after entering the park by road, and is where you register for your camp site.
It also serves as the visitor center, with exhibits and displays on the history of Quetico - which has been a provincial park for over 100 years.
To aid in that education, the library has a good collection of resources - articles, books, maps, photographs, and even oral history recordings.
The camp store was located in the front office / heritage building with registration.
It was well appointed, selling all of the usual provincial parks fare - t shirts, souvenirs, firewood, etc.
There are also small camp stores located at each entry station, and at the Park Office in Atikokan.
Day Use Area
The campground has a fairly large day-use area on the edge of French Lake, with a beach, playground, and picnic facilities - including grills.
It was quiet during our stay, peaceful!
Quetico is a shockingly accessible campground, given how far out it is, and how much of the park is focused on very “able” activities.
The boardwalk from the office is 0.8 km each way, and is ACTUALLY accessible. Not only is it boardwalk the whole way, it’s flat and even, with a kind of wire overlay for traction.
There’s also an accessible beach, with a boardwalk across to the beach, and the metal fabric overlay thing on the sand.
There’s even an all-terrain wheelchair available to borrow! (Ask for it at the Heritage Pavilion).
Pets must be leashed at all times in the park, aside from at the off-leash pet beach. This secluded beach is a little further away from the parking lot, than the main day use beach.
There’s also a pet friendly trail, leading up to that dog beach - the Pickerel Point Trail (see the hiking section, below, for more details!).
All of the camp sites we saw *definitely* seemed to be big enough to accommodate an extra vehicle or two, beyond your camping equipment.
Aside from that, there’s plenty of parking at the Heritage Pavilion, day use area, canoe parking lot, etc. The parking is kind of limited near both of the comfort stations.
The Dawson Trail Campground has over 100 camp sites, divided into two loops - Chippewa and Ojibwa.
These camp sites have a mix of electrical and non-electrical hookups / lack thereof.
All the sites seemed pretty big, and we saw a range of trailers, motorhomes, and pop up campers. Some sites are pull through - especially in Ojibwa - most of the ones in Chippewa look to be back-in.
A lot of the outer edge sites in Chippewa have a bordered platform to park on, ours was impressively level.
We stayed in 2 different sites during our stay, on account of availability at the time of booking.
The first night was in the Ojibwa loop, a pretty basic - but spacious - pull through site.
Our second night was #9 in Chippewa - had a great water view, mostly north facing, but it was too steep to really get DOWN to the water. Really nice anyway, though.
Quetico has 3 cabins for rent - 2 in the Chippewa Loop, and 1 on the beach in the Ojibwa Loop.
None of them have running water or washrooms, so you’ll have to use nearby outhouses. Also to note: The comfort stations - with showers - are apparently open in the summer camping months only.
Most of them have interesting logistics beyond that.
In the winter, the Ojibwa cabin can only be accessed by skiing or snowshoeing in.
We couldn’t even see the Art Studio Winter Retreat, it seemed pretty well hidden by trees and brush. According to their site, it’s walk-in access only.
Back Country Camping
While it’s totally not our thing, Quetico does offer some back country camping in the park.
Check out their website for more details and restrictions for booking and using the backcountry campsites.
Entertainment and Activity
As one of the largest provincial parks, it should be no surprise that there is a LOT to do at Quetico. Here are some of the main attractions:
Dark Sky Viewing
Quetico is an international dark sky park - and it gets VERY dark there, obviously. The stars are clearly visible, even right above the campground areas.
We were lucky enough to have the Aurora Borealis make a STUNNING appearance on our first night at Quetico. First time I ever saw northern lights!
It was also visible right above our camp site, though it was much brighter - and with a better viewing area - when we went to the beach.
The lights danced across the whole sky, we did not have a wide enough angle lens to capture it all. There was a single flashing light across the lake, but it didn’t really ruin anything.
Aside from that light, no light pollution at all. The aurora was so bright that it lit the beach as bright as a full moon would have!
We were far enough north that the aurora was both in front of us to the north, and directly overhead at times.
It was amazing, I have never seen anything like it. The loons calling out in the distance added some ambiance - it was surreal.
Anyway, Quetico would also be a great place for sky watching in general - asteroids, meteor showers, planets, etc.
All of that possibility just got pretty overshadowed for us, by the show that the aurora put on!
Just north of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area, it’s no surprise that the picturesque rivers of Quetico are a prime destination for those who enjoy a long canoe trip.
The vast majority of the park - everything except Dawson Trail - is ONLY accessible by water - no roads at all!
The hundreds of interconnected lakes and rivers - with over 500 designated, maintained portages - provide virtually unlimited canoe route options for those with paddling arms and a waterproof map on hand.
For that matter, you can follow established routes, or create your own route!
The campground rents out both kayaks and stand up paddleboards, and also loans out personal flotation devices and fishing gear.
The park website has a bunch of information on suggested canoe routes from each ranger station.
There are 35 km of hiking trails accessible to the campground, with a wide range of trail lengths and difficulty ratings.
They’re some of your best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the campground - keep an eye out for moose, white-tailed deer, or even the occasional black bear.
Just be sure to bring some insect repellent - the area is known for black flies, in certain seasons.
In order of distance, here are the trails in the park:
Pines Hiking Trail - Moderate
A 10 km return trail, this one is an extension of the Whiskey Jack Trail, and should take 3.5 hours to complete. It includes moderate to steep climbs and takes you to the sandy beaches of Pickerel Lake.
French Portage Trail - Strenuous
This 5 km hike traces an old portage route that was originally used by the First Nations people BEFORE the European explorers and fur traders arrived. It should take you about 2 hours to complete.
Camp 111 Trail - Moderate
This 4.4 km trail is what’s left of an old logging road. Running adjacent to French River, it takes you through various types of forests.
The Teaching Trail - Strenuous
This is a 3.2 km trail that connects the Day Use Area, Chippewa, and Ojibwa campgrounds, weaving through a variety of different terrains, forest types, a meadow, and along the shore of French Lake. It should take 2 hours to complete.
Whiskey Jack Trail - Moderate
A 2.5 km trail, this one starts out on a boardwalk, and winds through forest lowlands that are lush with local flora, like black spruce, bunchberry, horsetail, Labrador Tea, pyrola, tamarack, twinflower, and a variety of mosses. It should take 1 hour to complete.
French Falls Trail - Strenuous
This trail is 2.4 km long, and involves steep climbs. Known as one of the most Instagrammable trails in the park, it takes you to the cascades of French River. Suggested completion time is 1 hour.
Pickerel Point Trail - Moderate
This trail is 1.6 km return, and is the only trail designated as a pet exercise area. At times difficult - it has some steep sections - the trail follows the Pickerel River.
Baptism Creek Trail - Moderate
This trail is 1.1 km long, taking you through a stand of pine trees before ending on the bank of Baptism Creek. Should take 30 minutes to complete.
Pickerel River Trail - Easy
This trail is very short - just 0.8 km - and barrier free! It’s a boardwalk the whole way - flat, level, and with traction!
It starts out at the Visitor Center / front office, and takes you along a river’s edge, through some forested areas, and opens out onto the French Lake day use area.
Should take 30 minutes to complete.
The superb network of beautiful lakes in Quetico park are known to play host to some of the best fishing in Northern Ontario, with Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye being the focus.
There are some restrictions to keep in mind, though.
First off - obviously - you need a valid Ontario fishing license.
Beyond that, you can only use artificial bait, as both live bait and dead bait can bring unwanted and invasive species to park waters. These bait types include - but are not limited to - leeches, minnows, worms, etc.
You’re also only allowed to use barbless hooks, and need to keep fish handling to a minimum - and abide by proper fish handling techniques.
You can’t use motorized boats in Quetico, and you’re not permitted to store your watercraft - or equipment - anywhere in the park, without permission.
For those who need it, there is a fish cleaning station in the Ojibwa campground, near the beach.
As with the other Ontario Provincial Parks we’ve visited, Quetico offers a Discovery Program during July and August.
One of the times, we’re going to have to go camping during the summer months, to see what these kinds of programs actually entail!
Birding & Wildlife
Quetico is home to over 100 species of birds that nest there, and is known as a major breeding ground for bald eagles, osprey, and some other birds of prey.
Beyond those nesting there, over 100 other bird species have been spotted in the park.
Signs warn you about not trying to pet baby moose or other wildlife - unfortunately, we were never presented with the opportunity to in the first place!
We didn’t know what to expect from beaches this far north, but they were gorgeous!
The sand of the beach by the canoe parking was kind of orange, and looked really cool - this was “sandy” sand, rather than very gravelly.
I bet it’s an amazing place to swim in the summer months!
Quetico offers a variety of activities for those willing to brave Northern Ontario winters.
Camping is available year round for backcountry campers, and limited campground camping is available from January 1 - March 31 in the Dawson Trail campgrounds.
Cross-Country skiing, snowshoeing, and Skijoring (A sport that combines cross country skiing with dogsledding) are available on the frozen lakes and waterways, as well as on the 15 km of groomed ski trails - both classic and skate - that are maintained in the Dawson Trail campground.
There are also several annual skiing events held in Quetico, such as the Sawmill Lake Classic Ski Tour, hosted by the Beaten Path Nordic Trails Ski Club.
Ice fishing for trout is available on the French Lake when it’s frozen over, though motorized augers and anything other than artificial lures with barbless hooks are not permitted.
While there aren’t any actual bike paths or mountain biking trails in the park, visitors are invited to bike on the Dawson Trail Campground roads if they like.
There are actually a fair number of stops throughout the park - a stop and a gym in Ojibwa, a couple stops in Chippewa, a few random stops along the main road, and a gym and a couple stops near the front gate.
Cell coverage can be iffy, though, which definitely impacts play.
I had very little trouble playing (would take a few attempts to log in, then be fine), my husband was absolutely unable to open his game, though.
This campground really felt like every “Northern Ontario” thing I’ve ever seen, all rolled into one.
The air was clean and clear, it was very quiet - except for the loons calling out over the lake - and it really felt like a great way to get AWAY from everything.
Obviously this one will have be special place for us on account of the northern lights, but also my personal family connection to the area.
The fact that my very first time seeing the northern lights happened at this particular park felt magical for more than one reason.
This campground is definitely on our list to come back to - even though we’re not into canoeing - next time we’re going to bring a telescope!
More Campground Reviews
Want to read some more of what we have to say about the campgrounds we've stayed at? Here are some more reviews!
Chutes Provincial Park
Conestogo Lake Conservation Area
Elora Gorge Conservation Area
Fifty Point Conservation Area
Killbear Provincial Park
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Long Point Provincial Park
MacLeod Provincial Park
Meaford Memorial Park
Neys Provincial Park
Port Burwell Provincial Park
Selkirk Provincial Park
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Turkey Point Provincial Park
Valens Lake Conservation Area
Share the Love!
Also, be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter, so you never miss out on any of our nonsense. Well, the published nonsense, anyway!
Finally, if you love this post, please consider sharing the link on social media!