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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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***



Click here to read my tips/recommendations

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from my adventures!

Explored and written by Monica Ng

What to know before you go.

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)
Bendor and Graves Tract (East Gwillimbury)
Bond Lake (Richmond Hill)
Boyd Conservation Park (Vaughan)
Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve (Newmarket)
Dave Kerwin Trail (Newmarket)
Eldred King Woodlands Tract (Stouffville)
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
Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area (East Gwillimbury)
Rouge National Urban Park (Markham)
Rouge River Trail at Coco/Shirley (Richmond Hill)
Rouge River Trail at Yorkland/Loyal Blue (Richmond Hill)
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
Zephyr Tract (East Gwillimbury)

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)

-93-

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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*Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail (Muskoka)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 2 hours
https://www.discovermuskoka.ca/things-to-do/hiking-trails/huckleberry-rock-lookout-trail/

  • Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail
  • Huckleberry Rock lookout trail

Highlights: Set foot on the oldest rocks in the world. Leaning white pines. View of Muskoka Lakes.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No.

My comments: A beautiful place with a spectacular view of the Muskoka Lakes. Walking on the massive sheets of rock is amazing. For the amount of elevation of the lookout, the trail leading to it is surprisingly not steep. There are A LOT of benches.

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*Bendor and Graves Tract (East Gwillimbury)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably not.
Time I spent there: about 2 hours
http://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/bendor-and-graves-tract-kennedy-road/

  • Bendor and Graves Tract

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes. Dead-end parking area.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Compact dirt trails, some wood chips.

My comments: I like the forest tracts because they are massive. It looked (and smelled) like a lot of trees were recently cut down. The trails are not marked and there are trails all over the place – so it’s easy to get lost. I recommend that you bring a compass just in case. Love the old red pine trees stretching high into the sky.

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*Glen Eagles Vista (Toronto)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? No.
Time I spent there: about 1 hour
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge/activ/randonnee-hiking/gleneagles

  • Glen Eagles Vista Trail
  • Glen Eagles Vista Trail

Highlights: Vista view. Rouge River.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Unless you go down into the valley.

My comments: This trail is part of the Rouge Urban National Park – Canada’s newest National Park protecting what’s left of nature within the city. There are many trails that form part of the park and can be found in Toronto and Markham. This particular section is near the Toronto Zoo.

The lookout view is beautiful, but the trail is super-short and not very scenic. I was disappointed and bored. I thought there was a body of water in the distance, but turns out they are bluffs. Stubborn as I am when searching for trails, I decided to go straight down into the valley on snowshoes. As I was going down, I debated myself – was I going to roll all the way down in the snow? But determination can go a long way…I went down at an angle and made it safely. Then I headed back to the top, took off my snowshoes and walked closer to the bluffs (they are on the other side of a sloped road at the bridge) to chill near the Rouge River. Walking along the road made me feel like a hitchhiker. It was a bit creepy to have a van slow down next to me. But this extra part of the adventure made it exciting!

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*Rouge Urban National Park (Toronto)* @ Morningside

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Time I spent there: 1 hour
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge

  • Rouge Urban National Park Vista Trail
  • Rouge Urban National Park Vista Trail

Highlights: View of the vista.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot, but I believe it belongs to the Toronto Zoo. Not sure if park visitors are allowed to park there.
Admission/parking cost: Yes, but I didn’t see any parking machines.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? I did the Vista Trail. Not challenging, except a section where you may lose your breath a bit. Dirt trail.

My comments: The trail is very open, which I generally do not enjoy, but the Vista Trail has a nice view looking into the valley. This particular trail is part loop and part dead-end. I didn’t have a chance to explore the other trails because I had already done the Glen Eagles Vista Trail which is about a 2 minute drive from this section of the Rouge Urban National Park.

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*Niagara Glen Nature Reserve (Niagara Falls)* (M)

Rating: 5.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes, how soon?
Time I spent there: 6 hours
https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit/nature-garden/niagara-glen/

  • Niagara Glen Trails and River
  • Niagara Glen trails and River

Highlights: Niagara River, escarpment, bouldering, fishing, beautiful trails, whirlpool, stairway and view from the top.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Parking machine. Pay hourly rates or seasonal rate (I believe seasonal rate is an option, but I didn’t look carefully). I paid $15.00 for about 6 hours. I believe that there is a QR scan code option for payment as well.
Plumbing: Yes.
Challenging trail? There are some dirt trails that are easy walking. Whirlpool Trail and part of the River Trail are more challenging with rock (small and large) covered surface. Expect to climb up some rocks.

My comments: The rocks! The river! The blue-green water! The blue sky! The floating melted ice! The white seagulls circling above the river and geese chilling in the water! The climb around and between massive boulders and strategically placed rock stairs! Say no more, I’m out of exclamation marks…I left my heart behind in that magical place. I stupidly paid for 4 hours figuring I’d be done by then. By the time I got to the whirlpool area I figured that I had to turn around and pay for more parking so that I could explore the other part of the Cliffside Trail. Thus the climb up the 72 step stairway twice. At the whirlpool area, I even got to inhale some free weed blowing in the air. If I do say so – a “highly” recommended place.

Below is a trail map in case you want to take a look before you go.

trail map Niagara Glen
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*Lynde Shores Conservation Area (Whitby)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again: Yes.
Time I spent there: 3 hours

  • Lynde Shores Conservation Area
  • Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Highlights: Wildlife, Lake Ontario, Cranberry Marsh and wetlands.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot with limited parking.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. I paid $6.00 for a day.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: Wildlife galore in a relatively small area. I saw white-tailed deer, wild turkey, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, a downy woodpecker, nuthatch, cardinal and chipping sparrow. Did I mention I saw deer?! The first time I saw deer (aside from the zoo) was at Awenda Provincial Park. Two babies were feeding off their mother on the road side. This time, I saw about fifteen deer. It’s so magical seeing them in their natural habitat. I took the forest trail instead of the main paved trail and saw some deer running into the meadow. It was a bit scary because I wasn’t too close to them, but with the ice and snow crunching underneath my feet, they saw/heard me. A few of them started to charge in my direction. Of course that was my cue to very quickly duck back into the forest! Take caution near wildlife. They are not predictable. I was walking along the main trail and saw three wild turkeys. They are beautiful and huge birds. A reminder why I don’t eat turkey!

The birds however, aren’t afraid of people because people feed them. I got some up-close photos of a gorgeous downy woodpecker because he was busy eating a peanut. There are posted signs warning people not to feed the wildlife (but they say it’s ok to feed seeds to the song birds), which is generally a good rule as it disturbs the natural order of things (as per their sign says feeding them can “lead to human injury, animal overpopulation and disease”). People don’t understand the consequences and still feed junk to the wildlife.

There is a lot of variety of landscape at this conservation area, including forest, wetlands and Lake Ontario.

The conservation area is currently under construction at Hall Road to construct a larger parking lot and add wetlands.

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*Rouge River Trail at Coco Avenue & Shirley Drive (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again: Yes.
Time I spent there: 20-30 minutes

  • Rouge River Trail

Highlights: Rouge River, bridge, storm water reserve, ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
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 at Yorkland Street & Loyal Blue Crescent (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again: Yes.
Time I spent there: 30-45 minutes

  • Part of Rouge River Trail
  • Rouge River Trail

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.
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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*Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area (East Gwillimbury)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Time I spent there: approx. 1.5 hours
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/rogers-reservoir

  • Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area
  • Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area

Location: East Gwillimbury
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 Nokaiida Trail boardwalk.

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*Dave Kerwin Trail (Newmarket)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: approx. 1 hour.
www.york.ca

  • Dave Kerwin Trail

Location: Newmarket.
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 (East Gwillimbury)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: approx. 2 hours
www.york.ca

  • Zephyr Tract
  • Zephyr Tract
  • Zephyr Tract

Location: 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.

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*Eldred King Woodlands Tract (Stouffville)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: approx. 2 hours.
http://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/elder-king/

Location: Stouffville. Approximately 30 minutes from Toronto.
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 (that one has lots of horse dung). Overall a very nice walk in the forest.

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*Terra Cotta Conservation Area (Halton Hills)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? No.
Time I spent there: approx. 2.0 hours.
https://ontarioconservationareas.ca/component/mtree/conservation-authorities/credit-valley/terra-cotta-conservation-area

Location: Halton Hills. Approximately 1 hour from Toronto.
Highlights: Wetlands, valley, terra cotta clay lined creek and forest.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy and moderate.
Plumbing: Yes.

My comments: When I went, the compacted snow on the trails made things very slippery. Crampons would have been a plus that time! There are several trails (of different lengths) to explore – but during the winter months two trails are reserved for cross-country skiing (including one around a lake). I took one of the short loop trails and it was through a re-forestation section (pictured top left) and I tried my best to climb up a slippery slope (second photo from the left) to check out the view on the Escarpment trail. I hung onto trees on my way up and was highly disappointed that there was no view. While it was nice to be outdoors, there was nothing special about this area. I left disappointed and ready to hike somewhere else.

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*Short Hills Provincial Park (Dunnville)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe, because of Swayze Falls.
Time I spent there: approx. 3 hours.
https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/shorthills

  • Short Hills Provincial Park
  • Short Hills Provincial Park
  • Short Hill Provincial Park

Location: Located in Dunnville. Approximately 1 hour 45 minutes from Toronto.
Highlights: Swayze Falls, Twelve Mile Creek and forest.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No. This is not an operational Provincial Park.
Challenging trails? Challenging in some sections toward the falls.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: The trail was a bit challenging when I went because it was extremely muddy. It was hard to walk along the trail. I was lucky that it snowed a bit because it helped to solidify the mud and give some grip. I clung onto trees to make sure I didn’t land in the mud. The trail was pretty open (not forested), which I don’t enjoy as much. The openness reminds me a bit of Forks of the Credit Provincial Park. The highlight of this trip was definitely Swayze Falls.

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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.
Time I spent there: approx. 2 hours.
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: Yes, near the parking lot, but may be closed at this time.

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