Looking for the perfect combo of spectacular camping and family-friendly activities and amenities? Whether you love mountains, ocean beaches or remote lakes—you don’t need to tackle backcountry logistics; many front-country stays have much to offer. Spending even a few days in these park campgrounds will help transform your family vacation into an endless summer. remember, to avoid disappointment and score the finest campsites, reserve well in advance.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park offers accessible hiking, canoeing and leafy campsites amid the lush Carolinian forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Pitch your tents at Matthew’s Arm Campground and hike 6.5 miles roundtrip to 93-foot Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Alternatively, Big Meadows Campground is located close to many popular trails and three more waterfalls. Visit the Big Meadows amphithe- atre for a Birds of Prey presentation or join a ranger for a rare plants interpretive hike. Escape the summer heat by renting a canoe from a local outfitter and floating down the famous Shenandoah River.
Prince Edward Island National Park, Prince Edward Island
Travel to the north shore of Prince Edward Island for a relaxed vacation exploring sprawling beaches and distinctive red cliffs. Prince Edward Island National Park’s Cavendish Campground offers numerous sites within easy walking distance of the soft white sand and warm water of supervised Cavendish Beach. Build a sandcastle, explore one of a dozen short trails or pedal the eight-kilometre Homestead Trail. Rent a kayak to discover Rustico Harbour’s lighthouse and sheltered tidal flats, or join an interpretive hike through the dunes at Greenwich.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Towering above the azure water of Georgian Bay, the gleaming limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment were once the shore of an ancient sea and are now a designated UNESCO Biosphere Preserve. From Cyprus Lake Campground, a moderate hike will bring you to spectacular lookouts on the Bruce Trail and to the Grotto, a large sea cave that can be explored by swimming or climbing. Admire the 1,000-year-old cedars, check out the numerous fossils, or take the plunge with the ranks of other kids perched along Indian Cove’s deep-water cliffs. For more adventures, check out park interpretive programs such as Snakes on the Sands and Trekking by Twilight.
Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory
For dramatic northern beauty and an unforgettable family vacation, it’s worth the drive to the vast wilderness of Kluane National Park. Camping at the rustic Lake Kathleen Campground combines a sense of wilderness with easy access to hiking and paddling. Join the park staff for a campfire presentation or a weekly interpretive hike through boreal forest on the easy Dezadeash Trail. Drive north of Haines Junction to the Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre and watch flocks of Dall’s sheep from the viewing decks. For an once-in-a-lifetime treat, splurge on a glacier flight over the rugged interior of Kluane Park.
Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Introduce your family to the true spirit of wilderness camping with a visit to Minnesota’s Land of 10,000 Lakes. With over one million acres of lakes, rivers and forest, this area offers incomparable wilderness canoeing and a network of 23 front-country campgrounds. While the Boundary Waters are most famous for extended canoe tripping, more developed campgrounds such as South Kawishiwi River give a taste of the wild combined with amenities like running water and group shelters. Located just 10 miles from the town of Ely, South Kawishiwi offers canoe rentals and easy access to short or long paddling excursions.
Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia
Watch the powerful waves roll shoreward in Pacific Rim National Park. Of the park’s three distinct areas, the Long Beach section is most accessible and child friendly. From Green’s Point Campground, you can easily walk to the ocean or cycle along the smooth sand with the snowy peaks of interior Vancouver Island as a backdrop. Rent sea kayaks or hire a water taxi in nearby Tofino to visit Meares Island and hike through groves of giant cedars. Organized park activities include exploring the diversity of Long Beach’s tidal flats, daily rainforest walks and cultural programs about the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations.
Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario
Huge sand dunes and miles of golden beaches make Sandbanks Provincial Park a popular summer destination. The campsites near the inlet have near-tropical water in summer while the more exposed Lake Ontario side of the park has good waves for boogie boarding and body surfing. Ride your bikes (rentals available) along gently rolling country roads past old Loyalist farmsteads, smugglers’ coves, pick-your-own orchards and tempting ice cream parlors. Try your hand at sand sculptures at the annual Sand Fest or visit the park amphitheatre for evening interactive presentations about Sandbanks’ natural and cultural history.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Canoeroots Magazine.