Best hiking/walking trails in York Region

Ontario Adventures


Explored and written by Monica Ng

COVID-19 has really changed how we live and enjoy the outdoors. I have a blog titled “Discovering my backyard: Ontario” with reviews of all of my Ontario hikes (including these ones), but because there is currently a Stay at Home order in effect, I am forced to stay local for now. As such I decided to create a separate blog focusing on my local York Region gems. You don’t always have to go far away from home to explore. Beautiful local trails are everywhere – you just have to know where to find them. As you probably know, the landscape in York Region is pretty flat. However, there are a few places (such as the Jefferson Forest) where there is some elevation (think calf-burning). Below are some of my favourite trails so far. I’m always exploring, so check back often for more.

You’ll notice that there are a lot of snowy landscapes shown here. That’s because I have recently explored some of them (either the first time or re-visiting a place from the past).

I love taking photos of nature. I think of this post more like my personal photo gallery.

General note: I try to get an early start on the trails, because they can get very busy. Parking and crowds can be a problem.

Other notes:

  1. C.A. = Conservation Area
    2. There are many trails along the Rouge River, so where you see Rouge River Trail, I have indicated the main trailhead location.

Rouge River Trail

Section of Rouge River located in Richmond Hill at Coco Avenue and Shirley Drive.

Highlights: Rouge River, bridge, storm water reserve, ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 30 minutes.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: I visit this trail very often. I’ve enjoyed watching the changes in the landscape as the seasons change. It’s not a long trail, but walking off the main trail (very short walk) toward the river is rewarding. The ducks like to hang out in the water near the massive tree. That area is also where you’ll find rushing water over a small man-made dam. The view from the storm water reserve is absolutely stunning most of the year, especially at sunrise. I highly recommend that you go catch the sunrise there.

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Rouge River Trail

Section of Rouge River located in Richmond Hill at Yorkland Street and Loyal Blue Crescent.

Highlights: Rouge River, forest, bridges, Newberry Wetlands Park and ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking (I normally park on Loyal Blue Crescent and walk over to the trailhead which is just north of it).
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 45 minutes.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: I only recently discovered this part of the Rouge River. It’s another of the many gems in Richmond Hill. The forest is beautiful along the trail. As you walk along the main trail, you’ll reach the wetlands (basically a few ponds). Ducks like to hang out there as well.

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Jefferson Forest

Located in Richmond Hill
www.oakridgestrail.org

Highlights: Majestic covered forest, trilliums, special trails and ramps for mountain biking, and unique happy faces carved onto the ends of fallen tree trunks to be found throughout the forest.
Parking: Yes, but very limited. As of December 2020 – parking is no longer allowed along Bridgewater Drive off Stouffville Road. Not sure if there is more parking in the area. May need to start the trail from Bayview Avenue north of Stouffville Road.
Admission/parking cost: No, but you may get a $30-$40 ticket if you park in the wrong spot. Beware – there is NO parking allowed on the parking pads directly in front of the two trailheads, despite not having any “no parking” signs.
Average time spent there: 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Challenging trail? Easy to moderate. Some calf-burning and breath-shortage sections.

My comments: I call this forest my second home, as I am there a lot. I cannot get enough of the smell of the deep forest and the areas with more challenging terrain. I love the calf-burning sensation of ripping through the numerous trails. This forest is dense and covered. While the biking trails are more narrow, it’s not always easy to tell a foot trail from a bike trail. The non-bike paths are basically shared so watch out for bikers – they come fast and don’t ring their bells.

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Pomona Mills Park

Located in Markham
www.markham.ca

Highlights: East Don River, a couple of bridges, a tunnel (overpass) and meditation invitations posted along the trail (for example, a sign suggesting that you close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature).
Parking: Yes. A parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 30-45 minutes.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trails? No. Very flat.

My comments: There is just something about walking next to the river and listening to the sounds of nature. The trail is designed with forest therapy in mind and if you follow the invitation at each sign, you’ll find that your heartbeat will slow down and you’ll notice the forest sounds more. I visit this trail often because it is just a 15 minute drive from my house. A great place for a quickie hike.

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Saigeon Trail

Located in Richmond Hill
www.richmondhill.ca

Highlights: Pond, forest, meadow, boardwalks, and unique wildflowers.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 45 mins – 1 hour.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: paved. Great for biking.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this uncovered 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 have been to this trail several times.

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Mary Lake

Located in King City

Highlights: Mary Lake and forest.
Parking: Yes, but only along Keele Street.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: approx. 1 hour.
Challenging trails? Easy. Trail: Dirt.
Plumbing: No.

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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Joker’s Hill

  • jokers hill

Located in King City
https://ksr.utoronto.ca/hiking-trails/

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy to moderate.

My comments: This forest is owned by the University of Toronto for scientific research. It used to be my go-to (before I discovered Jefferson Forest) because I like the covered forest. One parking area is off of Bathurst Street- you have to watch carefully for a tiny sign across from the entrance. Blink and you will miss the parking lot. If you keep following the trail, there is another entrance to the forest – which is essentially the Thornton Bales Conservation Area (see below).

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Thornton Bales C.A.

Located in King City
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/thornton-bales

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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Eldred King Woodlands

Full name: Eldred King Woodlands Tract
https://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/elder-king/

Located in Stouffville

Highlights: Forest, streams and pond.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy unless you want to climb up the hills on the side of the trails.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: What struck me most was the impressive scale of this forest and the variety of trees (including maple, red oak, red pine and beech trees). I didn’t have a chance to explore the entire tract or see any water, but this is by far the biggest local forest I’ve been to. The trails are wide and I believe they call the forest a “tract” because it’s multi-use (cross-country skiing, hiking, etc.). I know that the Scout Tract (York Regional Forest) allows for horses too (but that one has lots of horse dung). Overall a very nice walk in the forest.

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Rogers Reservoir C.A.

Located in East Gwillimbury
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/rogers-reservoir

Highlights: Holland River, forest and swing bridge.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I once joined a Richmond Hill hiking club organized through the community centre. We went to this trail, but I wasn’t too impressed – as it’s very open (not a covered forest) and there are a lot of electrical cables that run above parts of the trail. Recently I decided to re-visit this conservation area because I drove past it on the way to the Dave Kerwin Trail. This time, I walked the trail on snowshoes. The winter landscape was definitely the highlight. If you follow the loop, you’ll get to a section where the trail meets up with the Nokaiidaa Trail boardwalk.

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Dave Kerwin Trail

Located in Newmarket
www.york.ca

Highlights: Holland River and forest.
Parking: Yes. Residential street, but no parking directly in front of the trailhead. Watch for the no parking signs.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: A hidden gem in a residential area. If you cut through the forest rather than take the main path, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a dense forest. The birch trees and red cedars are absolutely stunning. The river was frozen and covered with snow when I went, but I’m sure it would bring the forest alive when it’s flowing.

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Zephyr Tract

Located in East Gwillimbury

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes. Big parking lot, fits about 40 cars.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: First time at this tract. The winter landscape is especially gorgeous. A magical place worth checking out. The straight path took about 45 minutes one way on snowshoes including the time to take photos. The trail is not a loop. I didn’t get a chance to explore the second trail. I like the density of the forest along the trail.

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