It has been more than a decade since I last slept under the stars. The reason I remember my last camping experience so vividly was because it was the middle of June in Northern Manitoba and I had to brush snow off my coffee pot almost every morning. Shortly after that, I got pregnant with our first child, which meant my two-person tent wasn’t useful anymore, so I gave the tent and all of my other camping gear away.

long sault parkway sunsets The Great Waterway
Sunsets along the Long Sault Parkway are a beautiful highlight of any camping trip to the Parks of the St. Lawrence. (Jennifer Pinarski)

But a lot has changed since then, most notably, the accommodation options available to campers who want an authentic outdoor experience, but don’t want to sleep in a tent. Cabin camping is the perfect alternative.

Throughout the Parks of the St. Lawrence, 17 camper cabins, 2 mini cabins, a dive shack and a family lodge welcome campers to enjoy the pristine waterfronts and soft sandy beaches that the South Eastern Ontario region is famous for. Recently my husband, my two young children and I stayed in the Wales camper cabin in McLaren Campground along the Long Sault Parkway, enjoying a wide variety of family-friendly activities during our one night stay.

Named in honour of the Lost Villages, the five camper cabins at McLaren Campground are perfectly situated along the shoreline, affording stunning sunset views of the St. Lawrence River. Furnished with a queen bed, a bunk bed, a futon, a table and benches, the cabins comfortably sleep six. For your cooking convenience, the cabins are equipped with a full-sized fridge, microwave oven and propane BBQ – plus cupboards to stash all your food. All you need to bring are your own linens and cooking utensils! Each cabin has a fire pit, perfect for roasting marshmallows (which, along with firewood, you can purchase at the campground store). Plus, you’ll never to too hot or too cold in a camper cabin, with the ceiling fan and baseboard heaters to keep you comfortable.

My husband and I were content to stroll the quiet roads throughout the campground and our children thoroughly enjoyed the playground equipment and swings. During the summer, McLaren Campground staff organize activities at the Kid Zone, which includes crafts, games, or kid-friendly movies. Believe me, you’ll never hear “I’m bored!” from your kids while camping in the Parks of the St. Lawrence.

Beyond McLaren Campground, the Parks of the St. Lawrence and local museums offer many more activities. These were our family’s favourites:

paddleboat rentals at Mille Roches Beach along the Long Sault Parkway
Families can rent paddle boats at Mille Roches Beach to explore the waterfront. (Jennifer Pinarski)
  • At Mille Roches Beach, kids will love the expansive sandy beach and huge playground, plus you can rent a paddleboat, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard to explore the lake.
Hiking along the trails at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Hiking along the trails at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
  • The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary offers a serene network of trails to hike, plus the Interpretative Centre’s cool Touch Table gives kids a chance to see and feel nature in a whole new way. Don’t forget to buy a small cup of birdseed when you stop in at the Interpretive Centre to feed the bold chickadees you’re sure to encounter during your hike, and pick up an Activity Booklet for the car trip home.
Lost Villages Museum school house display
Learn about the history of the Lost Villages in Ault Park. (Jennifer Pinarski)
  • The Lost Villages Museum is a haunting tribute to the 10 villages and hamlets that were flooded during the expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway project in 1958. Ten heritage buildings were carefully relocated and restored to their current location in Ault Park. A barbershop, train station, reading room, schoolhouse and church are among the buildings found here, each telling a fascinating story about life in the region before and after the flood.

Don’t let the end of summer – or your reluctance to camp – stop you from enjoying a weekend getaway to South Eastern Ontario. Many of the Parks of the St. Lawrence operate until October 12, with the exception of the Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary Campground, which is open until October 25. Learn more about the Parks and book your campsite or camper cabin at parks.on.ca