Discovering my backyard: Ontario

Ontario Adventures
map of provincial parks

***COVID-19 has affected the use of the parks – so check online before venturing out regarding any restrictions. Some parks are closed, and some of the facilities including washrooms are closed as well***



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Explored and written by Monica Ng

My review of Ontario parks, conservation areas, forests, trails, falls and places that I have visited. More to come…

Canada is such a beautiful country with so much to offer in terms of the great outdoors. However, since I live in Ontario, I will explore my backyard in this post. I plan to expand this post as I check out new places, so check back frequently for more adventures.

I spend a lot of time deciding where to go by searching online for photos, comments and reviews posted by others – so now is my time to give back. I thought it would be helpful to indicate the location with the name of each place so you can quickly zone in on an area that you want to visit based on the location. The reality is that our lives are busy and some days we only have time for a local trip. I definitely spent a lot of time digging up my photos and putting together this post, but sharing my love of the outdoors and my adventures was my goal. It is also a great chance for me to scrapbook my adventures. I hope you will find time to check out some of these places. Keep me posted on your adventures!

For those of you with kids, I put “KID” next to the places that I believe are more kid-friendly. And my favourites are noted in bold on the list (and I added an “M” in the heading as well).

My current TOP 5!

Clockwise from left: Devil’s Punchbowl, Killarney Provincial Park, Point Pelee National Park, Killbear Provincial Park and Bruce Peninsula National Park

Southwestern

Awenda Provincial Park (Simcoe County) – KID
Bruce Peninsula National Park
Earl Rowe Provincial Park (Alliston)
Flowerpot Island (Tobermory)
Forks of the Credit Provincial Park (Caledon)
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park (Mono)
Point Pelee National Park (Essex County) –KID

York Region

Beaver Creek trail (Richmond Hill)
Bond Lake (Richmond Hill)
Boyd Conservation Park (Vaughan)
Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve (Newmarket)
Four Winds Parkette (Richmond Hill) –KID
Holland Landing Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve (E.Gwillimbury)
Jefferson Forest (Richmond Hill)
Joker’s Hill (King City/Newmarket)
Milne Dam Conservation Park (Markham)
Moraine Park (Richmond Hill)
Nokaiida Trail (East Gwillimbury)
Oak Ridges Corridor (Richmond Hill)
Phyllis Rawlinson park (Richmond Hill)
Pomona Mills Park (Markham)
Porritt Tract (York Regional Forest) (Stouffville)
Richmond Green Sports Centre and Park (Richmond Hill) –KID
Rouge National Urban Park (Markham)
Scout Tract -York Regional Forest (Stouffville)
Saigeon Trail (Richmond Hill)
Sheppard’s Bush Conservation Area (Aurora)
Sugarbush Heritage Trail (Vaughan)
Thornton Bales Conservation Area (King City)
Tom Taylor Trail (Newmarket)
Toogood Pond (Markham)
Wilcox (Lake)(Richmond Hill) – KID

Simcoe Region

J. B. Tudhope Memorial Park (Orillia) – KID

Grey County

Blue Mountain

Lake Simcoe

Scanlon Creek Conservation Area (Bradford)

King City

Happy Valley Tract
Mary Lake
King City Trail

Elora

Elora Gorge (Grand River Conservation Authority)

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My rating system: 1 – 5 stars. 5 being the best!

*Killarney Provincial Park (Killarney)* (M) – bonus fall colours slide.

Killarney has a permanent spot in my heart. I’ve been there three times this year. I have already reviewed Killarney in this post. Click here to read it.

  • Killarney in the fall
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*Thickson’s Point (Whitby)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes, I’ve been there 3 times since I discovered it.
There’s no specific website for this area, but a one minute walk from the waterfront trail, is Thickson’s Woods.
http://www.thicksonswoods.com/

  • Thickson's Point Whitby
  • Thickson's Point Whitby
  • Thickson's Point
  • Thickson's Point Whitby
  • Thickson's Point Whitby

Location: Located in Whitby. Approximately 30 minutes from Toronto.
Highlights: Lake Ontario, beach and cliffs.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: The trail along the cliff can be dangerous as it’s eroding, but there’s a wide paved walkway that runs close to the lake as well – which is great for walking and biking. From what I can tell, it looks like an extensive trail. I love water. What I love even more than water is sunrise and sunset by the water. This trail is particularly beautiful when it is covered with snow. Part of the beach is covered in rocks, so be prepared to test your balance! There’s a section that even has a mini waterfall with water flowing into Lake Ontario. Walking along the beach is always relaxing. You’ll find geese, seagulls and swans chilling in the lake.

Just a minute walk from the Waterfront Trail is Thickson’s Woods, a privately owned land. The land owners graciously allow everyone to enjoy a beautiful piece of nature within an industrial zone. They ask that people do not post photos or location. The woods are famous for their owls. I was not lucky enough to see one, but I did see chickadees and cardinals. If you are interested in helping to protect the land – you can make a donation or buy a gift certificate for someone, checkout their website www.thicksonswoods.com.

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*Beamer Memorial Conservation Area* (M)

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes. I’ll be back!
https://npca.ca/parks/beamer-memorial

  • Beamer's Falls

Location: Located in Grimsby. Approximately 1 hour 15 minutes from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, Niagara Escarpment, view of the town from above, Forty-Mile Creek, Beamer Falls and moss-covered rocks.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Moderate. Lots of exposed roots and slopes along the trail.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I truly enjoyed this hike. When I went, due to the muddy conditions with extensive roots lining the trail, it was harder to navigate. Having a good pair of hiking boots is important. The trek along the Bruce Trail next to Forty-Mile Creek is unbelievable. It reminded me of my visit to Oxtongue-Ragged Falls Provincial Park – but on a smaller scale. I was so excited to stand on the rocks in the center of the creek and have the water gushing around me. Access to Beamer Falls is from the side trail. You have to walk up onto Ridge Street (I believe it’s called that) and cross the small bridge, then take the short trail that leads down to the falls. I stood right on the rock next to the falls – which is always an exhilarating feeling.

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*Ball’s Falls Conservation Area* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://npca.ca/parks/balls-falls

  • Ball's Falls Conservation Area
  • Ball's Falls Conservation Area

Location: Located in Lincoln. Approximately 1 hour 45 minutes from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, Twenty Mile Creek, Upper and Lower Ball’s Falls, and moss-covered rocks.
Parking: Yes at the Conservation Area entrance parking lot. You can also access the trail on one of the streets in the area (can’t remember the name) – there is parking there but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy to moderate. Lots of exposed roots along the trail.
Plumbing: Not along the trail, but saw online that they have washrooms at the Conservation Area.

My comments: I originally thought that I had to access the trail at the gated Conservation Area, but they were closed at the time I got there. I refused to leave, so I scoped out the area and found a small parking lot right at one of the trailheads. As usual, I recommend getting an early start to secure parking and have more peace without the crowds. I typically aim to arrive at my destinations by 8/8:30am. There was nothing too special about the trail, but the creek and falls are extraordinary – making the trip worthwhile.

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*Altberg Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Reserve*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
https://ontarionature.org/programs/nature-reserves/altberg-wildlife-sanctuary/

Location: Located in Kawartha Lakes.
Highlights: Forest, creek and wetlands.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: A relaxing wintery hike through a normally covered forest – open now because there are no leaves left on the trees. I spent a couple of hours exploring this forest. My favourite part was watching and listening to the rushing waters of Corben Creek. I met not a soul during this hike – which meant quiet time for me. Recently, I find that I crave aloneness and being at one with nature.

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*King City Trail*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably.
https://www.ontariotrails.on.ca/index.php?url=trails/view/king-city-trail

Location: Located in King City.
Highlights: Forest, marshes and Humber River.
Parking: Street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: Although the trails are short, the area is nice. Trees along the edge of the path and the Humber River runs along part of the trail. Would be a nice trail for snowshoeing – as it’s pretty flat.

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*McCrae Lake Conservation Reserve (Muskoka)* (M)

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes, definitely.
http://www.ontarioparks.com/cr/mccraelakeconservationreserve
https://twitter.com/McCraeLake

  • McCrae Lake Conservation Reserve
  • McCrae Lake

Location: Located in Muskoka (Georgian Bay area).
Highlights: McCrae Lake, Crow’s Cliff and Eagle’s Nest.
Parking: Yes, but limited. Entrance to parking lot is hard to find (exit Crooked Bay Road, then take exit toward 400 south, but take first left on a small street which curves down before exiting the highway). Drive slowly or you’ll miss it, as I did once before.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Moderate to challenging. Trail: Dirt and Georgian Bay rock.
Plumbing: I saw a couple of composting toilets near the base of Eagle’s Nest. Otherwise, tree or bush.

My comments: What an invigorating experience! Body, mind and soul – but a slightly different feeling than hiking The Crack at Killarney Provincial Park. I started the trail right near the lake by the parking lot. I roughed it along the lake because there were no obvious trails there, then stumbled upon a marked trail. If you’re looking to hike on a trail, take the trailhead closer to the entrance to the parking lot. There were many small bodies of water along the trail to admire. I didn’t do much research in advance, but had heard of Eagle’s Nest – so when I saw the sign (1.9 km from the sign to Eagle’s Nest) I was excited and headed as fast as could along muddy trails, over massive rocks and across tree trunk bridges. What an absolutely spectacular view from Eagle’s Nest! Of course, I had to climb down some rocks to check out the base of the cliff. Met a few nice people along the trail and a few campers who lucked out with the mild November weather. The IG administrator @mccraelake recommends getting the map from their Twitter account (-click here) before heading out, as they rescue many lost hikers. Phew, I made it safely out of the forest. Not bad for someone with a bad sense of direction and no idea what day it is! Until the next time…

Second visit comments: I saw two beavers! One of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. I was born in Canada and never saw a beaver before until now.

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*Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve (Newmarket)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
https://ontarionature.org/programs/nature-reserves/cawthra-mulock/

Location: Located in Newmarket.
Highlights: Pond and stream.
Parking: Yes, but limited. Entrance to parking lot is hard to find. Drive slowly or you’ll miss it.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy. Trail: Dirt.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: The trails are not marked at the trailhead. Only when you get to the area near the pond is a trail map. Not so useful! Of course, I picked the wrong path to take – it was a super short loop with nothing to see but forest. The lined part (pictured left) of the trail is nice. From the Bathurst parking lot, take the trail to the right to get to the pond. It’s interesting to learn that a dam was built back in the 1960s to make a recreational pond. Since then, the dam has been removed and the water can flow downstream again. What’s neat about the pond is that they built a small dam (pictured right) so the pond is higher than the stream. The trail (which is not a loop) extends past the pond all the way to Dufferin Street. The map is below if you plan to go:

map of Cawthra Mulock nature reserve
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*Sheffield Conservation Area (Kaladar)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.ontarioconservationareas.ca/component/mtree/conservation-authorities-of-ontario/quinte/sheffield-conservation-area

  • Sheffield Conservation Area
  • Sheffield Conservation Area
  • Sheffield Conservation Area

Location: Located in Kaladar (basically east of Belleville and north of Napanee).
Highlights: Canadian Shield and Little Mellon Lake.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Purchase parking online on the spot ($5 for day-use). Need your credit card and data to do so.
Challenging trails? Easy to moderate. Trail: Dirt with lots of small rocks and Canadian Shield.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: This area is a gem. Right at the parking area, you will get a spectacular view of Little Mellon Lake (especially if you go in the morning and the water is calm). It’s always exciting to hike (about a 4 km loop) on the Canadian Shield because of the sheer magnitude of the rocks. There is an abundant growth of beautiful tundra vegetation on the rocks. Though the “crunchiness” of the vegetation underneath your feet may make it tempting to stomp more – try to resist. I remember that there’s one fork along the loop that is not marked (go left). While most of the loop trail is well-marked, it’s easy to get lost on the rocks because of the vastness. Like most other trails – wear proper footwear. The terrain is uneven and can even be muddy. Worth the 5-hour return drive from Toronto.

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*Arrowhead Provincial Park (Huntsville)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/arrowhead

  • Arrowhead Provincial Park
  • Arrowhead Provincial Park

Location: Located in Huntsville.
Highlights: Big Bend, Stubb’s Falls, Little East River, Big East River, marsh and several beaches.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Gated entry.
Challenging trails? Easy to moderate. Trail: Dirt with lots of roots and rocks.
Plumbing: Yes, at the Visitor Centre and near campgrounds.

My comments: The areas and trails were not very well-marked in my opinion and parking is limited near the trailheads. Getting lost was easy for me! But this park has a lot to offer. They have 375 campsites (and 10 cabins), a spectacular view of the Big Bend and the majestic Stubb’s Falls. I enjoyed sitting on the rocks at the falls and watching and listening to the sheer force of the water making its way downstream. No justice is given to the Big Bend in photos. You have to be standing there in person to really appreciate it. Even more exciting for those who enjoy winter sports – a 1.3 km loop for ice-skating. Thinking of going in the winter? Apparently the park has over 60,000 visitors during the wintertime – so you might be turned away if they have reached capacity. Check their IG account for updates.

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*Mary Lake (King City)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.

Location: Located in King City.
Highlights: Mary Lake and forest.
Parking: Yes, but only along Keele Street.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy. Trail: Dirt.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: There is no obvious trail to get to Mary Lake. I couldn’t find it the first time I went. The trail starts on the west side of Keele across from the Oak Ridges Trail. You basically go under a metal pipe (looks like a limbo stick) that shows private property and walk on the open field grass until you get to the shrine. To the left of the old heritage building with broken windows, there is a very small path going up a slope – take that and keep walking. The lake is located on private property owned by The Augustinians, but they have generously allowed the public to use the trail for hiking. Mary Lake is a Kettle Lake, basically formed after the glaciers melted. The trail doesn’t appear to be a loop, although I didn’t have a chance to keep walking. It’s a nice forest trail. Worth checking out if you are in the area.

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*Seaton Trail (Pickering)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
http://www.seatontrail.org/

Location: Located in Pickering.
Highlights: Bluffs, West Duffins Creek, forest and fall colours.
Parking: Yes, but not many spots – start early.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy in some parts, but some elevation gain in the forest. My heart was pumping in some areas. Trail: mostly dirt.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I enjoyed the trail because it was long and forested. The trail runs mainly along the creek. In certain areas, you will find yourself a meadow. One of the locals told me that it was about 7 km from Whitevale where I began the trail. It took me about 1 h 45 mins from the parking lot at Whitevale to the bluffs and 1 h 15 mins back (including some time for photos). The best part of the trail is the section overlooking the bluffs (1st and 2nd photos from the left). What a view! A nice way to spend 3 hours.

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*Happy Valley Tract (King City)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
https://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/happy-valley-north/

Location: Located in King City.
Highlights: Valley, forest and wetlands.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy in some parts, but some elevation gain in the forest. My heart was pumping as I was walking quickly. Trail: mainly cut grass and dirt.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: The tract is part of the York Regional Forest. I was prepared to be disappointed walking along the open grass path in the valley, but was pleasantly surprised by the elevation gain in the forest. The forest is beautiful with the fall colours. The loop took me about an hour and fifteen minutes including photo-taking time. The creek is nice. At least there was some water running through it. I enjoyed the sunshine and a nice chill in the air. A satisfying enough hike overall.

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*Oak Ridges Corridor (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably in the wintertime.
https://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/richmond-hill-oak-ridges-corridor-old-colony-rd/

Location: Located in Richmond Hill, a few minutes away from Lake Wilcox.
Highlights: Meadow, wildflowers and forest.
Parking: Yes, but a very small parking lot. Street parking has restrictions.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy. Trail: paved sections and dirt.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: A relaxing open trail. Parts of the trail are paved, so great for biking. When you step off the main paved trail, there are parts where you walk on a narrow one-person trail between 4 – 5 feet tall wildflowers/weeds. Can’t say I really enjoyed that! I watched the sunrise through the trees. According to the sign at the trailhead, there are a few trails varying from 3.8 – 10.2 kilometres in distance. Looking at the sign, the trail can be used for cross-country skiing /snowshoeing as well. I will definitely go snowshoeing there.

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*Crawford Lake Conservation Area (Milton)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Kid-friendly
https://conservationhalton.ca/park-details?park=crawford-lake

Location: Located in Milton. About an hour from Toronto.
Highlights: Crawford Lake, boardwalk, Iroquoian village (longhouse pictured bottom right), wooden carvings, forest and fall colours.
Parking: Yes. Gated entry.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Reservations are required.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: Yes. Near the parking lots.

My comments: This is a nice place for discovery. You can walk around a 15th century Iroquoian village which was reconstructed by the park and walk a short trail (1 km mostly on a boardwalk) around Crawford Lake – which I learned is a meromictic lake (a lake that is deeper than the surface area). Because I never heard the term meromictic before, so I had to read up on it. Basically, the different layers in the water do not mix and the bottom layer is poorly oxygenated – making the lake an unsuitable environment for many organisms. The lake view was incredible at 9 am in the morning with the mist floating above the calm water. I took the Woodland Trail (1.5 km) and Crawford Lake Trail (1 km). The trail to Nassagaweya Canyon Trail was closed due to COVID, as there’s not enough time to hike it during the two-hour reservation time.

Caution: the boardwalk around the lake is quite slippery when damp, making it a falling hazard.

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*Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls* (Haliburton)(M)

Rating: 5.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes – how soon?
https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/oxtongueriverraggedfalls

Location: Located near Algonquin. About 3 hours from Toronto.
Highlights: Oxtongue Lake, Oxtongue River, Gravel Falls, Ragged Falls, rocks and heavenly fall colours.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes at the Provincial Park, but no cost for parking at Algonquin Outfitters where I rented my canoe.
Challenging trails? Some parts of the trail are uneven (rocks and roots). Even trickier when muddy.
Plumbing: I’m not sure if there are toilets at the park entrance, but there were portable toilets with pumping sink water at Algonquin Outfitters.

My comments: I totally lucked out with perfect weather for a September 26th in Canada- blue skies and 25-degree weather. I was wearing short sleeves! The scenery was incredible as well with the changing of the season. Intense red, orange and yellow fall colours still dance in my mind. I had an absolutely amazing time. I cannot wait to go back again.

I didn’t get to the falls through the provincial park entrance but instead rented a canoe at Algonquin Outfitters at Oxtongue Lake location. I decided to canoe to the falls because I read online that the trail (if you enter through the provincial park entrance) is only 1 km. That’s too short for me. I knew I would be disappointed hiking such a short hike. I paid about $40 for a canoe day rental. When I called Algonquin Outfitters ahead of time, I was told that day-use equipment is only available for rent on a first-come-first-serve basis – so no online bookings. Though supply may be high, I suggest that you get there early to avoid disappointment.

I canoed about one hour each way across Oxtongue Lake and got off at Ragged Falls. From there I hiked the trail to Gravel Falls – which is apparently fed by glacial melt. The sheer force of the falls is unbelievable. You can see, hear and feel (the spray) the power of the rushing water. There are some parts of the trail (such as the section near the Ragged Falls) that are difficult to climb (unless you’re a monkey) – but you can challenge yourself physically. The views of Gravel Falls from there is well worth the climb. This whole area is absolutely magnificent. My dreaming continues…

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*Bruce Peninsula National Park* (M)

Rating: 100.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes!

I already posted about Bruce Peninsula (read my review by clicking here), so this is just a supplement because I went again last Sunday – after being away for over three years. You’ll see that I updated my rating from 5 stars to 100 stars. This place is just unbelievable and dreamy! Below is a photo slide show. Just look at the water and rock! Things are slightly different now with COVID – you have to make reservations for The Grotto (the cave) online. You get a four hour window to explore. In some ways it’s good to make reservations because you are guaranteed a parking spot. Normally, if you just show up, you may be disappointed because if the parking lot is full, they will turn you away. For the past few years, I wasn’t able to book for an overnight yurt, so I was worried that the parking would be full. And after driving for four hours you do not want to get turned away. I took advantage of the reservations and went for it. So glad I did.

  • Bruce Peninsula National Park

*Kelso Conservation Area* (Milton)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://conservationhalton.ca/park-details?park=kelso

Location: Located in Milton. About an hour from Toronto.
Highlights: Cliffs, escarpment, lookout points, forest, Kelso Lake, and beach. Skiing available in the winter.
Parking: Yes. Reservations are required at this time.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Gated entry.
Challenging trails? Some parts are calf-burning and uneven (rocks and roots).
Plumbing: Yes, a washroom with toilets and running water near the Visitor Centre.

My comments: Your online reservation includes a 2-hour time block, so you have to time yourself. I booked for the “Kelso Main Entrance” and not the “Kelso Summit” – as two hours is not enough time to explore the summit. The Halton Conservation Area website suggests that if you are just hiking (not biking) that you hike in one of their other parks. The reason being – Kelso’s trails are famous for mountain biking. The trails are mostly shared and two-way traffic, so you have to be ready to jump off the trail when bikes are coming at you at full speed. The first part of the trail to the lookout point is rather boring – it’s paved with gravel and passes through the gondola areas. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the lookout area. The park boasts over 29 kilometres of scenic and well-marked trails. The beach area is small and I saw a lot of goose poop, but I’m sure they clean it up more in the summertime. I enjoyed my two hours at the park with blue skies, water, trees and rock!

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*Elora Gorge* (Elora)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.grandriver.ca/en/outdoor-recreation/Elora-Gorge.aspx

Location: Located in Elora. About 1 hour 45 minutes from Toronto.
Highlights: Gorge, Grand River, “Hole in the Rock” and white cedar trees.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes.
Challenging trails? No. But tubing in the river is an adventure!
Plumbing: Yes, but closed due to COVID. Washrooms/change rooms at the tubing area were open.
Camping: Yes.

My comments: Initially I was disappointed by the short trail overlooking the Grand River and the Hole in the Rock section. I was yawning and about ready to leave and check out another park, but then discovered a trail (where the tubing launch area is) which leads to the base of the 22-metre cliffs. You can walk along the rocks and watch the raging river. You need to be careful because the rocks at the river edge can be slippery.

Based on my research last year, I saw that people could tube along the 2 km long river. Apparently there is zip-lining somewhere in the area but I didn’t see anything there. I learned that tube rentals need to be purchased online ahead of time. However, I was lucky that they still had rentals available that day and my cell phone data worked so I ordered the tube and equipment (basically a helmet and life jacket) online. I paid $55 for the rental plus a $75 refundable deposit for the equipment. As usual, I highly recommend bringing your own life jacket (due to sliminess of the rental ones). Lucky I packed my kayak and life jacket “just in case” – never know what activities you might be doing!

Tubing was definitely the highlight of the adventure, though I wasn’t certain how my motion sickness would factor in (I was fine). Certain parts of the river were rough and did actually hit a small rock and get stuck on another one. I was most worried about falling off the tube, but the park staff said if I was to fall off I should hold onto the tube, relax and let the current take me to the end. I was floating in the tube in some areas and had to kick and use my arms to paddle closer to “moving” water to be able to continue along the river. The view of the cliffs was incredible from my tube. I felt that the “ride” was too long (almost an hour). I’m not used to doing nothing for so long so I felt a bit stressed. Plus you have to factor in additional time to walk to the launching area and back to the rental area. It took about two hours in total. Met a lady who sadly dropped her car key into the river. Yikes!

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*Silver Creek Conservation Area* (Halton Hills)

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? No.
https://cvc.ca/enjoy-the-outdoors/conservation-areas/silver-creek-conservation-area/

Location: Located in Halton Hills. About 1 hour from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, Niagara Escarpment, pond and creek.
Parking: Yes. Along the street.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? Some parts. Some elevation gain.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I am too spoiled! I took the Roberts Side Trail which meets the main trail and loops back around to the parking. That trail is not exciting at all – just forest with little variety of trees. The trail to the left of where Roberts Side Trail meets the “T” (end of trail) is a dead end. I backtracked and hiked the loop to the main trail – which was more interesting with the rock on the forest floor (pictured above 2nd and 4th photos). On the Roberts Side Trail you can see a pond and part of the creek, but other than that, you can’t really see the creek. Maybe I missed something. The rocky section on the main trail made up for the initial disappointment.

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*Charleston Lake Provincial Park* (Leeds and the Thousand Islands) (M)

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/charlestonlake

Location: Located in Leeds and the Thousand Islands. About 3 hours from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, lakes, marsh and Canadian Shield.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Gated entry.
Challenging trail? There are a number of different trails depending on what you are looking for.
Plumbing: Yes.

My comments: I was impressed by this park. There is a variety of different landscape (Canadian Shield, lakes, marsh, forest, etc.). I took the Tallow Rock Bay Trail which is a 10 km loop and considered difficult with the elevation gain and uneven forest floor. The trail is interesting – some sections you will walk across beautiful lichen covered large rocks (Canadian Shield) or come across a rocky Georgian Bay-like area (pictured bottom left) or a swamp covered with neon green algae (at least I am guessing it’s algae) (pictured top centre) or find yourself between huge rock walls or walk across multiple boardwalks. The park has a couple of 10 km trails and several shorter trails. I thoroughly enjoyed my 6 hours exploring this park. I didn’t get a chance to kayak, but I am sure it would be amazing. There is camping and portaging available at this park.

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*Algonquin Provincial Park* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/algonquin

Location: Located along Highway 60. About 3.5 hours from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, lakes, fungi, portaging and loons.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Gated entry.
Challenging trail? No. Trails at Burnt Island Lake were not challenging, but portaging from lake to lake is.
Plumbing: There are washrooms at the Canoe Lake access point. At my campsite on Burnt Island Lake, there was a composting toilet (a toilet made of wood surrounded by forest).

My comments: If you love forest, lakes and portaging – this is a great place to go. Algonquin didn’t get a 5 rating from me, because it’s mainly forest and water – and I love rock! However, I really enjoyed my adventure. My journey began at Canoe Lake at 8:30 am. Paddled from Canoe Lake, portaged to Joe Lake, rowed to Lost Joe Lake, and finally portaged to Burnt Island Lake where I camped a couple of nights. Honestly, rowing and portaging the rain sucks – especially if you wear glasses like me. I don’t recommend that you bring too much stuff with you, because you have to carry it for the portages.

Algonquin PP is very popular, so everything is very organized. At my campsite, there was a fire pit set up with rocks, a couple of wooden benches and a composting toilet. As with any camping trip, it is important to have proper equipment/items like portaging shoes, a rain jacket, waterproof bags for your clothes, wallet, phone, etc. You never know what Mother Nature will throw at you.

Disappointed because of cloudy skies – didn’t see any stars. Couldn’t sleep on the second night because of the wolf howls in the distance, thought of bears, scurrying sounds around my tent and the pitter-patter of rain hitting my tent.

Apparently, there used to be an inn at Burnt Island Lake. There were a number of stone chimneys at my site. My favourite parts of the trip: navigating the small flowing rivers along the route, and being in my canoe on Burnt Island Lake at 6 am to wait for sunrise.

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*Boyd Conservation Park (Vaughan)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
https://trca.ca/parks/boyd-conservation-area/

Location: Located in Vaughan.
Highlights: Forest, East Humber River and butterflies.
Parking: Yes. Gated entry.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Admission gate.
Challenging trail? No.
Plumbing: Didn’t see any, but probably because there are many picnic areas.

My comments: These days, I’m afraid to be disappointed by new local trails. I’ve hiked and wandered to so many places – expectations (thought I don’t want them to be) may be a bit high. But on the flip side, I might really enjoy the new place. All this being said, I was pleasantly surprised by this local treasure. I have been to sections along the Humber River and its not so impressive, but the forest surrounding the river is nice. As usual it doesn’t hurt to have the sun shining through the forest. What I loved most were the butterflies. The same special flower had three butterflies land on it. While I didn’t picnic, there were lots of large group gatherings (looks like parties) all over the park. No masks worn…Anyone can say COVID Wave 3?

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*Devil’s Punchbowl (Hamilton)* – M

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://tourismhamilton.com/devils-punchbowl

Location: Located in Hamilton. About an hour from Toronto.
Highlights: Devil’s Punchbowl, rock formations, steep trail to the base of the punchbowl, view of Hamilton, train track and tunnel.
Parking: Yes, but go early because it is limited.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Parking machine. $5 fixed daily rate.
Challenging trail? Yes, if you want to get to the base of the punchbowl.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: Devil’s Punchbowl has been on my “to-go-to” list for quite some time. Because I heard the punchbowl is a very busy place, I never found the time to go during an off-peak time. I originally planned to go the Felker’s Falls. However, when I entered a location search, I saw that these two places are just a ten-minute drive apart. I looked at the time (7:30 am) and figured I could probably beat the rush and get to Devil’s Punchbowl by 8:30 a.m.

When I went, there were only a few trickles of water falling from the top of the cliff – but it’s supposed to be a 37 metre ribbon waterfall. I guess there hasn’t been much rain lately! I must say that I loved the challenge of hiking down the steep trail to get to the base. It took about 30 minutes to get to the base with time for photos. The rock formations were a bonus. This place is really cool -lots of different things to see including a tunnel with beautiful graffiti and a train track. Extra bonus, got to check out Felker’s Falls too!

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*Felker’s Falls (Hamilton)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://tourismhamilton.com/felkers-falls

Location: Located in Hamilton. About an hour from Toronto. Just ten minutes away from Devil’s Punchbowl.
Highlights: Ribbon waterfalls.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: No. Located in a residential area and has its own parking lot.
Challenging trail? No. Just part of the trail if you want to reach the section on top of the drop.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: Couldn’t get a good view of the falls because 1) you can’t get to the base safely (basically it looks like a ninety-degree drop) and 2) the tree foliage is obstructing the view of them from the top. Maybe you will have a better view in the winter. The trail is fenced off but you can climb over the fence in a couple of sections. From there, the trail(s) will lead you to the top of the “drop” where the water flows to the falls (see photo on the right). Pretty cool hidden falls. Love the dark rock contour in contrast to the delicate waterfall. You would never know there are falls right behind a playground in a residential neighbourhood.

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*Mount Nemo Conservation Authority (Burlington)* – M

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://conservationhalton.ca/park-details?park=mount-nemo

Location: Located in Burlington. About an hour from Toronto.
Highlights: Escarpment and view below, caves, and Turkey Vultures.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Gated entry.
Challenging trail? There are a few trails. I took trail #2 which is the park considers moderate – so some slopes, but mostly flat. Lots of tree roots and rocks on the forest floor, so you do have to be careful not to trip.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: currently you need to make reservations online for some of the Halton Conservation parks (Mount Nemo, Crawford Lake, Rattlesnake Point, Kelso, Hilton Falls and Mountsberg). You are only allocated a two-hour window for your hike, so I suggest that you show up about ten minutes before your scheduled time to maximize your hiking time. I took the north loop. It took me about 1 hour 40 minutes including time to take lots of photos. I booked the first time slot: 9 am to 11 am – which was good because the parking lot was almost empty. The forest was not particularly spectacular, but the way the sun hit the forest made it beautiful. The escarpment, cool caves and areas you can walk between cliff walls (see the second photo from left) are definitely the highlights of this hike. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t have to make elevation gain to get to the lookout area – basically just followed a flat trail from the parking area and there it was. But walking along the escarpment made up for that. In terms of the view, I would say it’s similar to Rattlesnake Point.

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*Saigeon Trail (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Dog friendly (off-leash area).
https://www.richmondhill.ca/Modules/Facilities/Detail.aspx?CategoryIds=&FacilityTypeIds=&Keywords=&Page=18&CloseMap=false&Scroll=true&id=ad3c0088-5ec9-45cd-b5ba-ecb36a652c4f

Location: Located in Richmond Hill.
Highlights: Pond, forest, meadow, boardwalks, and unique wildflowers.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: No. Residential street parking.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: paved. Great for biking.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this forest trail. I researched the trail before and wanted to go but shows online that the trail closes in the early evening (saw a sign there – it actually closes at 11:30 pm) so never made it. I took Winter pup to the huge open off-leash area right near the trail. The trail is tucked behind big-name stores in a residential area. The trail is quite long and the variety of colourful wildflowers is amazing. I will definitely walk this trail again – especially since it’s close to home.

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*Moraine Park (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 2.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Kid-friendly.
https://www.richmondhill.ca/Modules/Facilities/Index.aspx?CategoryIds=&FacilityTypeIds=&Keywords=moraine&ScrollMap=true&CloseMap=false

Location: Located in Richmond Hill near Lake Wilcox.
Highlights: Forest. Small playground next to the forest.
Parking: Street parking only. Watch for no parking signs on the main street though.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: wood chips.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: While I love sunset in the forest, sometimes I find the darker parts eerie – especially when I am alone in a new forest. This trail is nestled in a residential area. When I initially walked into the forest and followed the straight trail, I was disappointed because in less than five minutes I was on another residential street. But then I backtracked and took a side trail along a small creek. I was pleasantly surprised that the forest was bigger than I thought. The trail is covered with wood chips which looks pretty. This is a great local trail for a quickie hike. Sunsets are always a bonus. I love how the light bounces off trees and gives a magical glow to leaves.

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*Four Winds Parkette (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 2.5 stars
Would I go again? No.
Kid-friendly.
https://www.richmondhill.ca/Modules/Facilities/Detail.aspx?CategoryIds=&FacilityTypeIds=2&Keywords=&Page=4&CloseMap=false&Scroll=true&id=c3e22c18-d172-422f-9bf1-3dc2b539e52d

Location: Located in Richmond Hill near Lake Wilcox.
Highlights: Small pond. Playground.
Parking: Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: While I was at Moraine Park I decided to drive around the area, because there are some waterways around there. Stumbled upon Four Winds Parkette. I was excited to see a small pond next to the playground. Again sunset is one of my favourite times for taking photos. Even an ordinary pond is transformed into a spectacular wonder.

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*Porritt Tract – York Regional Forest (Stouffville)*

Rating: 2.5 stars
Would I go again? Probably not.
http://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/whit-stouffville-yrf-porritt-tract-pangman-springs-kennedy-rd/

Location: Located in Stouffville. About a 35-minute drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: dirt.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: The trail has some open areas, but mostly covered. There is a small creek running across the land, but basically dried out when I went. I was not very impressed, but a nice wooded trail if you live in the area. One of the locals warned about poison ivy along the trail.

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*Bluffer’s Park/Beach (Scarborough Bluffs)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.toronto.ca/explore-enjoy/parks-gardens-beaches/scarborough-bluffs/

Location: Located in Scarborough. About a 30-minute drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Bluffs, Lake Ontario, beach, rocks, sunrise and the marina.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Parking meter. On weekends, it is free between 6 am-9 am. Gate to beach section opens at 6 am according to someone I spoke to, but the marina area is open earlier.
Plumbing: Yes, near the beach.

My comments: I have lived in Toronto for almost twenty years and never went to the Bluffs. I heard of them, but sadly that’s all. Made a spontaneous decision to go there to experience the sunrise. Got there by 5:45 am. Sky was getting bright already. Sunrise time on this day: 6:15 am. Watching the sunrise from the horizon was absolutely incredible. The sun was a huge dark bright pink half-circle emerging, becoming a full-circle then floating into the purple-kissed sky like a hot air balloon. The crappy part – there were two ladies who kept on talking, creating stress for me. For me, being in nature is a quiet reflective experience. The whole area was pretty noisy because of the people. Near the bluffs, there was a large group of people camping out playing psychedelic music at full blast and smoking weed. People are not allowed to climb the bluffs because they are unstable. Upon close inspection of the bluffs, it looks like the edge of the cliffs are composed of dried up mud and not rock at all. No wonder the bluffs are collapsing…

The beach area was cleaned up nicely by a tractor filtering the sand. The water looks clean. To add to the noise, a group of people were getting kayaking lessons from a loud instructor.

People continue to disrespect nature by dumping their garbage all over the place. Honestly, those people do not deserve to enjoy nature because they ruin it for everyone else. Other than noise pollution and garbage, the park is beautiful. The highlight was the sunrise for sure! Follow-up note, I went back to the Bluffs the following day to experience kayaking in Lake Ontario. The currents were rough, but where the land meets the sky – is heaven on earth!

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*Toogood Pond (Markham)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
https://www.markham.ca/wps/portal/home/recreation/parks-trails/parks/unionville-parks

Location: Located in Markham (Unionville). About a 30-minute drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Pond, marsh, creeks, birds and bridges.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: dirt/rock/paved. Good for biking.
Plumbing: Didn’t see any facilities near the pond, but there are local businesses on Main Street where you can use the washroom.

My comments: I can definitely see the reason for the high demand for real estate around Main Street, Unionville. Main Street is a beautiful and whimsical place lined with unique shops and forest trails. I walked the trail around Toogood Pond (basically at Carlton and Main Street) and along Bruce’s Creek (across the street from the pond). There were a few people fishing around the pond. The pond was picture-perfect with blue skies (with some clouds) reflected in the water. A great area for locals to get some fresh air and exercise, then pop by the gorgeous Starbucks location for a drink!

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*Scanlon Creek Conservation Area (Bradford)*

Rating: 2.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/pages/scanlon-creek.aspx

Location: Located in Bradford West Gwillimbury. About an hour drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, marsh, birds, creek.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? No.
Plumbing: Yes.

My comments: Unfortunately didn’t get a chance to explore the whole area, but it is an expansive forest with some steep sections (those I like!). Nice place for a leisurely hike. The trails are well-maintained and beautiful. Apparently the park is great for bird-lovers. During my short visit, I saw one bird species that I never saw before. Looks like a good place for a picnic and there is an area with children’s activities. Saw a sign that there are lynx in the forest. There is a short marsh boardwalk. I didn’t get a chance to check out the creek. I think this is a great place to go if you live in the area.

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*Killarney Provincial Park (Killarney)* – M

Rating: 5 stars
Would I go again? 150% yes!
http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/killarney

Above photos are of “The Crack”. Photos below were taken at the Chikanishing Trail (Georgian Bay section of Killarney)

Location: Located in Killarney. About 4 hour 15 minute drive from Toronto.
Highlights: “The Crack”, rock formations and the Georgian Bay.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: Yes, check with park. Pay at the parking machine.
Challenging trail? Some parts of the trails are challenging. You should definitely wear hiking boots.
Plumbing: Yes. Certain areas.

My comments: I question myself – what took me so long to go there?!

Honestly, Killarney is the PERFECT place for the body, mind and soul. As I have mentioned before, I have a weakness for mountains/cliffs, water and rocks. This place has it all. I especially love walking on and climbing rocks (not to be confused with rock climbing since I am scared of heights!). There’s something amazing about physically exhausting yourself while surrounded by such incredible beauty. My body wanted to sleep after I returned home, but my brain was wanting more. Even as I write this I am still standing at the top of The Crack.

The Crack is a 6km trail. Ontario Park’s website notes that the trail is difficult and takes about 4 hours (return). I took 1 hour and 15 minutes one way with some photos along with way. I spent about 1.5 hours on the top enjoying the gorgeous view (bring your sunscreen). The first kilometre of this trail is just shaded forest. I recommend that you walk quickly through this part because the rest is way more exciting! After the forest, the trail starts to get really interesting with white quartzite rock and more elevation. Then you get to the base of The Crack. You have to climb boulders to be able to walk between the crack and further climb up to the top of The Crack. Although I saw a few children and dogs, I wouldn’t recommend that you bring them. You need to use your hands to safely climb up the rocks up to The Crack. I saw people carrying their 30lb dogs up – yikes! It is quite a climb, so I can understand why Ontario Parks recommends that you do not try to reach the top unless you are in good shape and start early.

If you plan to go, wake up early. I got there by 9am. At that time there were just three cars in the parking lot. By about noon there were tons of people at the top. In my opinion, the outdoors is not as enjoyable with so many people around. A cute little red squirrel came right up to me at the top. I guess he/she smelled my cashew nuts topped with coconut. I don’t recommend feeding wildlife.

There are several trails at the park, but I didn’t have time to check them all out. I did take the Chikanishing Trail for unbelievable views of the Georgian Bay. It’s an incredible 3 kilometre trail along massive red rock formations. It took me about 45 minutes to walk most of it. I would imagine that the rock might be slippery if wet. You definitely need some physical agility for some parts of the trail. From the overlooking rock, you can see the current sweeping the edges of the Georgian Bay. Blue water, red rocks and leaning trees growing out rock – breathtaking. I fell in love with the Georgian Bay after visiting Killbear Provincial Park. The Georgian Bay at Killarney is even more expansive. I can totally see what inspired the art of the Group of Seven. Maybe it’s time to start sketching again…

The next question: how soon can I go back?

p.s. thanks J!

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*Milne Dam Conservation Park (Markham)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Probably because it’s close to home.
https://www.markham.ca/wps/portal/home/recreation/parks-trails/Milne-Dam-Conservation-Park/06-milne-park

Location: Located in Markham. About 30 minutes drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Rouge River, bridges, geese, Great Blue Herons, pretty moths flying around (mid-July).
Parking: Yes. Gated entry.
Admission/parking cost: Yes, check with park.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: paved. Good for biking.
Plumbing: Yes.

My comments: A great place to walk around, bike and have a picnic. I love bridges so I enjoyed the 600 metre trail to the dam with a few bridges. You can tell the city spent a lot of money constructing the beautiful bridges across the Rouge River. The park is home to many different bird species. I saw a Great Blue Heron, ducks, geese and I believe a Killdeer – in less than 20 minutes at the park.

Here’s a great site I found showing photos of the birds that have been seen at the park: https://www.waxwingeco.com/birding-hotspot.php?id=L1760089

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*Thornton Bales Conservation Area (King City)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Probably because it’s a 20 minute drive for me.
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/thornton-bales

Location: Located in King City. About 50 minutes drive from Toronto.
Highlights: “99 steps”, forest and lots of pretty moths flying around (mid-July).
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? Mostly no, but some elevation in certain areas.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I always thought this forest was part of Joker’s Hill. The first time I got “disoriented” at Joker’s Hill, I found the stairs. This time around I began my hike at the stairs. Forest is covered and nice. I just love inhaling the fresh forest air. Some elevated parts – which make for great calf-burning exercise. There are a few very sloped areas so you have to be careful – especially people wearing regular footwear. I think I was huffing and puffing the very first time I climbed the 99 steps, but since I’ve been hiking a lot – it’s not a problem anymore. It’s amazing the benefits of regular exercise. Get out there and move!

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*J. B. Tudhope Memorial Park (Orillia)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Maybe if I happen to be in the area.
Kid-friendly.
https://www.orillia.ca/modules/facilities/Detail.aspx?CategoryIds=&FacilityTypeIds=&Keywords=&Page=4&CloseMap=false&Scroll=true&id=33733888-55d5-4396-b36e-7388a26f0e0a#

Location: Located in Orillia. About a 1.5 hour drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Lake Couchiching and beach.
Parking: Yes.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Equipment: No.
Plumbing: Yes.

My comments: I tried to go to McCrae Provincial Park but they were full to capacity for day-use. Then tried Mara Provincial Park just minutes away from McCrae PP, no luck either. Staff at McCrae suggested the public beaches in the area – so tried J.B. Tudhope Memorial Park. There is a lot to do at the park – they have a splash pad area, a beach, open space for BBQs and of course Lake Couchiching for swimming and kayaking, etc. Beach has coarse sand and is pretty clean. For non-vegans, there is a hot dog and an ice cream trailer on-site for buying snacks.

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*Ferris Provincial Park (Campbellford)* – M

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/ferris

Location: Located in Campbellford. About a 2 hour drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Suspension bridge, falls, Trent River.
Parking: Yes. Gated entry.
Admission/parking cost: Yes, check with park.
Equipment: I saw some kayaks but not sure if they are rentals or belong to campers. I highly recommend an inflatable kayak (see my note above under tips section).
Plumbing: I didn’t notice any.
Camping: Yes.
Challenging trail? Only hiked one part (which was easy) – so not sure. The Drumlin Trail is apparently more challenging.

My comments: I really enjoyed myself. Spent about four hours at the park. At the falls section, you could walk out onto the massive sheets of rock (but not sure if you are really supposed to). On top of the rock you can see a very thin flow of water at certain parts (see two bottom left photos). When standing on the rock, I didn’t realize that it was part of the falls until seeing the actual falls from a distance from a trail. The suspension bridge was cool. But I have so say that the best part of this trip was kayaking on the river underneath the bridge and right next to the falls. The falls were way more incredible experiencing them by kayak. There is a boat launching area where you can launch your kayak. Couldn’t have been so close to the falls without my kayak. Don’t leave home without one 🙂

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*Rattray Marsh Conversation Area -combined with Waterfront Trail along Lake Ontario (Port Credit)* – M

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Kid-friendly.
https://cvc.ca/enjoy-the-outdoors/conservation-areas/rattray-marsh-conservation-area/

Rattray Marsh Conservation Area photos pictured above. And pictured below – photos from the Waterfront Trail leading to the marsh conservation area.

Location: Located in Port Credit. About a 30-minute drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Beach, Lake Ontario, rock formations along the shore, marsh boardwalk.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: Yes.
Challenging trail? Easy. The Waterfront Trail is paved and there is an extensive wooden marsh boardwalk.

My comments: I haven’t been to a nice beach lately, nor one that has gorgeous rock formations along the shore, so this was a treat! It was like a two-in-one adventure – a lake and marsh in one trip. You can bring your own equipment (kayak, etc.) – problem is that you have to carry it from wherever you parked. There are several small beach sections along the Waterfront Trail. Sand is not too coarse and beach areas are pretty clean (except for a used tampon I found – yuck!). From the shore, you get a great view of the CN Tower across Lake Ontario (pictured above – the second photo from the left). Just watch out for bikes on the trail as the Waterfront Trail is a shared path. Luckily no bikes are allowed in the Conservation Area – I assume because it has a narrow boardwalk. The whole area around the Waterfront Trail is for hanging out and chilling (picnics, playgrounds, etc.). You just follow the signs along the waterfront trail which leads to the Rattray Marsh Conservation Area. You have to walk about fifteen minutes from the parking area to get to it. It’s quite interesting to see Lake Ontario then the marsh area right near the lake. Also, there is an off-leash dog park right near the entrance of the park. My only recommendation is to go early. There is not a lot of parking for the number of people who go there. I was lucky to get the second to last spot when arriving at 10:30 in the morning. Felt good to soak in some sun by the water.

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*Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve (Muskoka)* – M

Rating: 5.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
https://www.discovermuskoka.ca/things-to-do/hiking-trails/torrance-barrens/

torrance barrrens dark sky preserve

Location: Located in Muskoka. About a two-hour drive from Toronto.
Highlights: Bedrock formations, wetland, beautiful sunset, fireflies and starry sky.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Easy, but trails are not well marked.
Camping: Apparently there is no designated camping, but you can set up a tent.

My comments: I definitely understand why there were flocks of people. The night sky is breathtaking and incredible. I dreamed of a star-filled sky since I went to Point Pelee in 2017 (and saw the star-filled sky) and planned to visit this preserve since then. Lucky I finally got around to it. I went to the preserve around 6pm so was able to secure a good parking spot – otherwise you just have to park along the street. I was told by the hotel staff (where I stayed) that the city doesn’t not ticket people who park along the street, but I did see some OPP monitoring the crowds. The trails are nice – part of the Canadian Shield. Lots of dried up vegetation on the rocks. What’s not nice are the deer flies (at least I was told by a local that they are deer flies). Man! They were driving me nuts buzzing around my ears. I had to wrap my sweater around my head like a bonnet to protect my head. Buzzzzzz….

Deet does not repel these deer flies and apparently they bite. It’s funny (and of course good) because around 7pm they suddenly disappeared. Maybe they start to focus on wildlife at that hour lol. Then bonus – mosquitos start to swarm after the deer flies are gone. The sunset was stunning. What is the MOST amazing thing that I have ever seen – a real life firefly. When it got dark, I saw these little specks of red/orange light that lit up then disappeared – like a light show. I felt as though I was in a fantasy dream. On the day I went, the sky got really dark around 11pm and you could see the whole sky full of stars around 11:30pm. Even if you don’t spend the night there, I highly recommend bringing and setting up a tent. It’s a great place just to chill and staying clear of pesky mosquitos while you wait for pure darkness. It would be even better to set up your tent away from the main area (probably on the other side of the wetland) to reduce light pollution from the other visitors. The only issue with setting up farther is that you have to walk farther to get out of the area – in complete darkness. There are lots of people with their lights on, so that part sucked. That’s called light pollution. And like I read in many reviews on Google, people play loud music and talk really loud – so true relaxation is not possible in the main area. I was told that the area is bear country, so be warned. Other than snacks and food, what I suggest that you bring with you: flashlight, tent, sleeping bag to sit on inside tent and if you have a portable chair – bring it.

Food for thought: Ontario should designate one day a year where every single light goes off and we can all enjoy the galaxy of stars from home without driving anywhere. Earth Day is not enough.

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*Wilson’s Falls (Bracebridge)* – M

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Definitely yes.
https://www.discovermuskoka.ca/things-to-do/hiking-trails/wilsons-falls/