Family Road Trip Guide: Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario

Close to home but a whole country away, Pinery Provincial Park is perfect for outdoorsy families looking for a new place to camp, hike, bike and nature bathe.

Some of my kids’ earliest memories of camping are at Pinery Provincial Park, a destination that, for those who love spending time in nature, is just about as close to perfect as you can get. Miles of sandy beach on beautiful Lake Huron, several easy trails to hike — a few of them fully accessible — kayaking, canoeing and some of the most beautiful, unique and well-maintained campsites will lure you back again and again.

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Wildlife abounds at Pinery Provincial Park. Photo credit: Claire Charlton

Pinery Provincial Park is located in Port Franks, Ontario, which is close to Grand Bend.

Metro Detroiters are lucky to have several Michigan state parks within easy driving distance, and Pinery is an international destination to add to the list of favorite spots to visit. Honestly, you’ll dream about returning to this family favorite camping location — made all the easier if you hitch a camper to the back of your Ford SUV or truck.

Getting to Pinery Provincial Park

One of the best features of Pinery is its close proximity to Detroit. Eastsiders are especially close. From Detroit, Pinery is a very simple 105 miles (168 km), right up the coast of Lake Huron. If you’re lucky enough to get across the Canadian border with little delay, you can be setting up your campsite within a couple of hours of leaving home.

A week or so before you set off, download the ArriveCAN app onto your smartphone. You can enter your passport or enhanced driver license information and your vaccination status directly into the app. Within 72 hours of crossing the border, return to the app to complete additional questions related to any COVID-19 exposures or to update PCR test results, if required. Using ArriveCAN does not mean you can leave your passport, enhanced driver’s license or vaccination records at home! Make sure you travel with everything you need for each member of your family.

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Pinery is a nature-filled retreat for your family. Photo credit: Claire Charlton

Take I-94 east to Port Huron and follow signs to Canada. Cross the Blue Water Bridge (have your credit or debit card handy because there’s a $3 U.S. fare to cross the bridge and they no longer accept cash). Once you cross the bridge, you’ll proceed immediately through Canadian immigration.

Once through immigration, stop off at the currency exchange and get some colorful Canadian dollars and use the restroom, if you’d like. This is also a great time to switch your Ford SUV’s distance units from miles to kilometers. It’s easy to do and makes driving so much easier if you don’t have to calculate your speed in your head!

Continue on 402 east to ON-21 north directly to Pinery Provincial Park. The park entrance is on your left.

What families love about Pinery

While there are literally hundreds of campsites at Pinery and the park itself stretches miles (kilometers!), we love to take the “park once challenge.” Once we park at our campsite, we use bicycles to get around because it’s so easy. Older kids and teens, especially, love the freedom of riding to the camp store to get cold drinks or ice cream.

Pinery is a beach lover’s paradise and there are beaches within walking distance from some campsites and biking distance from all. There are also day-use beaches and some specifically for dogs.

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Pinery is located on Lake Huron, near Grand Bend, Ontario. Photo credit: Claire Charlton

Hiking is a great way to get up close to nature at Pinery and there are tons of trails to try. We always like to start with the 1km Riverside Trail, but the Cedar Trail is super-convenient to access from the Pinery Visitors Centre, itself well worth a visit. There are knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions about any interesting turtles, birds or beavers you may have spotted, and there’s a store for souvenirs that’s operated by Friends of Pinery Provincial Park.

If you visit during peak summer season, you may have your choice of guided hikes and other special programs that are fun and educational. Be sure to make time to kayak, canoe or SUP on the Old Ausable Channel (rentals available and reasonable) and reward yourself with ice cream afterward or a cold beverage from the well-stocked Pinery Park Store. There’s also a 14km bike trail with bike rentals available, if you didn’t bring your own. Be aware that in Ontario, kids are required by law to wear bicycle helmets.

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View from the Riverside Trail, just 1 km and fully accessible. Photo credit: Claire Charlton

Where to stay at Pinery

Pinery is a campground, and there are four separate areas where you can camp, whether you’re using tents, a camper or an RV. Some sites have no electricity, so bear this in mind when making your reservations, which are strongly recommended and can be made up to five months in advance. Each site has a large picnic table and a fire pit ready for use.

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Pinery has hundreds of campsites for tent camping, RVs and campers. Photo credit Claire Charlton

Not into camping? Riverside 1 has roofed accommodations, including 12 yurts and a four camp cabins. This area is open all year and is just steps from the camp store, making it a perfect place to camp during the winter months (Pinery is great for cross-country skiing).

Riverside 2 is leafy and has several sites just perfect for tent camping as well was electric sites for RVs. Riverside 3 is designated radio-free. Riverside 4 has several sites that are right on the banks of the Old Ausable Channel.

Dunes campground is closest to the beach and best if you want to walk to the beach to watch the sunset. Some sites are quite sandy and others are multi-leveled — each is beautiful and it’s hard to make the wrong choice.

Burley campground is also within walking distance to the beach and beloved by tent campers!

The most important thing to remember is that each campground at Pinery has modern restroom facilities with private warm showers that are cleaned and maintained regularly. Even the vault toilets flush (No pit toilets! No smelly outhouses!) and have sinks with soap and running water. There’s potable water taps available at several locations within each campground, too.

Places to shop and eat at Pinery

Because there are everchanging rules about what fresh produce you can and can’t take over the border, it makes sense to carry with you whatever packaged food you might eat, then stop at a grocery store once you’re in Canada for the fresh stuff. Our favorite is Foodland, a full-service small grocery store located in Forest, Ontario, and right on your way to Pinery. Stock up on ice for your cooler, too! There’s also a Farmers Market in Grand Bend. Check ahead to see what day it’s open during the week.

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Families can bike, hike, fish, swim, paddle and enjoy nature. Photo credit: Claire Charlton

Be sure to save some space in your vehicle for firewood. Pinery does sell firewood, but you can also buy it at The General Store, which is located just beyond Pinery on RR2 in Grand Bend and is a good place to stop, especially if there is a backup at Pinery registration and you know you won’t want to leave the park once you have arrived. In addition to firewood and kindling, this friendly store has lighters, fire starters, flip flops and everything else you forgot at home.

Finally, if you experience a rainy day or everyone just wants to eat dinner away from the campground, Grog’s Pub & Grill is a favorite pizza place that’s a quick five minutes by vehicle in nearby Thedford (you’ll even pass it as you get close to Pinery!). Grog’s has a full menu and friendly service.

Content sponsored by Southeast Michigan Ford Dealers.

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