Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
A Glossary of Ontario Parks

Are you new to the parks or perhaps a parks veteran looking to brush up on your knowledge?

We’ve put together a handy guide with all the terms you’ll need to know and understand before visiting the park…


Mobile home: Also known as frontline camping or camping. This style of camping involves driving directly to your campsite and parking your vehicle to set up your tent or trailer. Car camping is always at a campsite and will be within walking distance of amenities such as water taps or bathrooms.

campingA car campsite

Camping in the countryside: Backcountry camping, also known as backcountry camping, is a style of camping that leaves the car at the trailhead or access point. You carry everything you need on your trip with you in your backpack. This means you don’t drive to the campsite. Instead, you can canoe, boat, portage, or walk to your site. In many cases, these are isolated areas in wild-type environments where park users are on their own without assistance from park staff.

A campsite in the countrysideA campsite in the countryside

Seasonal camping: Seasonal campsites refer to campsites that are booked for longer stays, usually for an entire season. These are popular in our northern parks. For more information about seasonal camps, visit our website.

Group camping: Group campsites are large and designed to accommodate groups of 20 to 50 people. Choosing a group site is a great way to camp with a large group (for example, a youth group or family reunion) and not be separated at different sites.

Roofed accommodations: We use this term to refer to all of our structural accommodation available for booking, such as yurts, cabins and cabins. For a complete list of covered accommodations, visit our website.


Electrical site: It is also sometimes called a hydroelectric site. A campsite with access to a 15/30 amp electrical pedestal. Often the pedestals are shared between two campsites. You should plan to carry a long extension cord to reach the pedestal.

day visit

Daily use: Visit a park for a day trip, usually between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm (however, hours vary by park, so check the individual park page before you leave). Many day visitors spend time at the beach, hiking or paddling. Daily vehicle permits are available for purchase upon arrival.

Some provincial parks offer advance reservations for day use. We highly recommend obtaining your daily vehicle permit in advance for all of our participating parks. Below we explain how to reserve.

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Seasonal or annual pass: Frequent visitors may prefer to purchase an annual or seasonal pass, rather than purchasing a daily vehicle permit with each visit.

Reminder: If you visit one of the participating parks that offers advance daily vehicle permits, we strongly recommend that you use your seasonal permit to secure your spot in advance.

Park facilities

Comfort station: An indoor bathroom found at many Ontario park campgrounds. Comfort stations have running water, flushing toilets, and most have showers.

A comfort stationA comfort station

Private vault: A flush toilet found in many locations in Ontario parks. Also known as a vault toilet or latrine.

A vault bathroomA vault bathroom

Sanitary station: Also known as a trailer unloading and filling station or trailer unloading and filling station. This is where RVers can dispose of their black and gray water after a stay at the campsite. RVs can also fill their water tanks at the sanitation station. Follow the instructions on the station signs. If you have questions, please ask a staff member.

A recreational vehicle that uses the sanitary station.A recreational vehicle that uses the sanitary station.

Thunder box: A bathroom found in the field. A thunder box is an outdoor wooden box placed over a hole in the ground. The name “thunderbox” comes from the loud sound the lid makes when it closes, which typically resonates in a quiet campsite in the countryside.

Drinking water: Water suitable for drinking, tested periodically and monitored by the local health unit. Unless there is a sign indicating otherwise, all water taps in the campground provide drinking water.

a water fauceta water faucet

Non-operational parks versus operational parks: Non-operating provincial parks offer limited recreational experiences, fewer facilities, and generally do not have dedicated staff or fees. They are generally located in undeveloped wilderness areas.

Operating parks offer a variety of services and facilities, such as campgrounds, covered accommodations, restrooms, and Discovery programs, and charge fees.

Visitors Center: An interior space or park building dedicated to providing visitors with information about the park. They can also be called museums or interpretation centers.

Inside the Pinery Provincial Park Visitor CenterInside the Pinery Provincial Park Visitor Center

park rules

Total fire ban: When a lack of rain and hot weather conditions combine, our province is at greater risk of wildfires. As a result, parks can implement fire bans to protect the natural environment and ensure the safety of our park visitors. During a total fire ban, campfires are not permitted inside the park at any time. For more information on what equipment is allowed during a fire ban, see this blog.

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couple sitting on the fire

Partial fire ban: Fires may be allowed in the park at certain times of the day or night with a number of restrictions. Details will appear on our Alerts page.

Beach Post: Beaches are considered unsafe for swimming due to high bacteria counts. Beach posts will be removed when test results show acceptable bacterial levels. Active beach posts are listed here.

Safe Bear/Wise Bear: A “bear-safe” campground means no animal attractants are left outside. This includes all foods, as well as scented products like sunscreen or insect repellent. Make sure they are always locked in your car when you are sleeping or not in your spot!

bear at the campsite

Science and education

Discovery Program: Nature education programs to discover and connect with the best of Ontario’s natural and cultural history. Programs are led by experienced and knowledgeable Discovery Rangers and offer exciting experiences in over 70 parks across Ontario. Contact your local park for more information!

staff with child

Ecological integrity: The governing legislation for Ontario parks, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act of 2006 (PPRCA), defines ecological integrity as “a condition in which the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities are characteristic of their natural regions and the rates of change and processes ecosystems are not hindered. 2006, c. 12, art. 5 (2).” The heart of ecological integrity is the “naturalness” of an area.

Healthy ecosystems support healthy people and a healthy economy. Our work to maintain and improve the ecological integrity of our parks supports Ontario’s biodiversity, clean air, productive soils, nutritious foods and fresh water.

Community science/citizen science: Citizen science and community science are terms intended to recognize the important work that volunteers contribute to scientific research and understanding. Ontario Parks uses data from programs such as iNaturalist, Christmas Bird Counts, EDD Maps and many other programs. Community scientists are helping us protect our wonderfully large and complicated park system.

staff taking photos of the branch

Natural reserves: Many of our parks contain areas that have been chosen for special protection. They can provide important habitat for breeding birds, rare plants, or a special ecosystem. Many of the trails in our parks or beach access points pass through nature reserve areas, so it is very important to follow the trail whenever you are in a park.