TORONTO -- The Ontario government says it will gradually reintroduce camping in provincial parks and on Crown land starting next week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement was made in a news release issued Saturday that stated “backcountry camping,” including access points, paddle and portage routes and hiking trails will reopen on Monday. The province also said it will expand day-use activities to include picnicking and off-leash pet areas.

"We are all eager to get outside this time of year, and backcountry camping will give people a low-risk way to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors while following physical distancing rules," Jeff Yurek, the minister of the environment, conservation and parks, said.

"We're counting on people to be responsible when enjoying our parks and continue to follow all of the public health measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19."

Backcountry camping activities involve hiking or paddling through park lands and setting up camp in remote areas. The province said these campers are “typically in small groups, fully equipped with supplies, and do not normally require the use of any facilities, such as washrooms, showers or other amenities.”

The province said only a maximum of five people will be allowed to “occupy a backcountry campsite” during their stay, unless they are from the same household.

All other overnight camping and some day-use activities at provincial parks and conservation reserves will continue to be closed until June 14. The closures will continue to be reassessed, the province said.

“All buildings and facilities, including campgrounds, roofed accommodations, visitor centers, park stores, playgrounds, and beaches remain closed. Some washroom facilities may be available,” the province stated.

“In addition, Ontario is reopening recreational camping on Crown land while reminding visitors to continue to adhere to public health advice as the best defense against COVID-19 ... Camping on Crown land does not include the use of shared facilities and is a low-risk way for people to enjoy the outdoors.”

The government said that Ontario Parks, which manages 340 provincial parks and 295 conservation reserves, will begin collecting fees for “day-use and backcountry camping access” starting Monday. 

"Even as we begin to reopen camping so that Ontarians can enjoy our beautiful outdoors, people's health and well-being remain our top priority," John Yakabuski, the minister of natural resources and forestry, said.

"We have to work together to ensure we open our province in a responsible, cautious manner. We are starting to contain the virus, but we cannot risk undoing all of the progress that we have made by reopening the province too quickly."