Most Ontario Parks officially opened for day-use last weekend, with a few stragglers opening this Saturday. There are plenty close enough to Toronto for a no-muss, no-fuss day trip to enjoy a leisurely hike. Here are our top five within a couple of hours of the city.
This beautiful slice of forest and cliff sits on the Niagara Escarpment about an hour north and slightly west of Toronto near the town of Mono Centre. There are lovely woods here, water features, and all manner of rocky formations that are unique. It is just far enough away from the city that it isn’t always overrun by city dwellers, but it does get busy on the weekends so choose trails that lead furthest away from the central area to avoid those just out for a quick stroll with the dog. There is a great inn with a delish restaurant and patio for a refreshing drink or snack after the hike.
Located between St. Catharines and Pelham, Short Hill is the largest Ontario park in the Niagara Peninsula. It gets its name from the short steep hills that are sliced through by the Twelve Mile Creek that make up the defining topography of the area. This is a non-operating park, which means there is parking but no facilities. Not that they’d be open at this point anyway. It’s got plenty of space and plenty of great hiking as well as many waterfalls. There is a lot of mountain biking in the park as well, so be sure to choose a trail that is exclusively for hiking such as the Hemlock Valley or Terrace Creek trails. Get your hike on in the morning, then tour a couple of wineries in the afternoon. That’s a win-win.
This stunning location lives up to its name as the trail winds through a beautiful forest alongside a scenic little waterway. This is not an immensely popular park since there is no parking lot or facilities. Park-goers must park alongside the road and access hikes at various points along the way. There is a wide variety of trails from which to choose, but watch out for mountain bikers who also enjoy the area. The park includes portions of the Bruce Trail and the Niagara Escarpment system and is included in the Niagara Biosphere Reserve. Try the nine-kilometre Pretty River and Bruce Trail loop.
Located along Georgian Bay in Tiny Township near Midland, this lush green space is likely festooned with trilliums about now, with incredible opportunities for bird and nature watching. The park is home to 120 bird species. Try the 13-km Bluff Trail, which should take three to four hours of moderate and quite stunning hiking through woodlands up to the bluffs that offer great views, especially this time of year before the trees are still somewhat leaf-free.
This gorgeous Ontario park is located in Caledon and is part of the Niagara Escarpment biosphere. It is a popular spot for picnicking thanks to the scenic Credit River. But there are also some nice hikes available as it offers loops off the venerable Bruce Trail and the Trans Canada Trail. Try the 6.6-km trail to Cataract Falls, which should still be lively this time of year. Be sure to go early and get on the trails before the crowds show up.