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October 12, 2020

Hike Together While Apart: 9 Provincial Parks and Conservation Areas Near the GTA


As spring makes its way towards summer in Canada, many of our emergency measures are still in place for community facilities. With many pools, rec centres, and playgrounds still closed communities are taking to the streets for strolls, runs, cycling, rollerblading and skateboarding. 

While there are plenty of things to do outside at home, a change of scenery can rejuvenate anyone experiencing a lack of motivation or boredom from being home too long. As of May 15, the majority of provincial parks and provincial conservation areas in Ontario have been reopened for day use. This means you, along with your family or a friend, can hike, bike, and run to your heart’s content, and enjoy the natural beauty of Ontario’s forests, rivers and plains in springtime. 

As of June 1, limited backcountry camping will be available at Ontario Parks, including access points, paddle and portage routes and hiking trails. Those with reservations made for backcountry camping beginning June 1 and onward will be allowed to proceed. Get you Ontario Parks COVID-19 updates here

Below are some of the parks that are open and encouraging nearby residents to enjoy them, while, of course, maintaining safe distances from other park-goers. Be advised that at the time of posting, the washroom facilities are not open due to Covid-19 restrictions, so plan accordingly.



National Parks 

Rouge National Urban Park 

While most National Parks are opening June 1, the Rouge National Urban Park in Scarborough is open now. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine without leaving the city.



Provincial Parks 

Mono Cliffs 

Mono Cliffs is a beautiful park, sporting cliffs (obviously), caves, rivers, ponds, rolling hills, forests and grassy meadows, there is something to enjoy for everyone. The trails are well marked and there are maps available all over the park, so whether you want to go for an hour or the whole day, there is no shortage of trails to explore. The difficulty ranges as well depending on the trail and terrain you choose, but it’s a good idea to wear proper footwear as many of the trails have uneven terrain and steep climbs or descents. 

Earl Rowe

Earl Rowe is a provincial park located just outside of Alliston, Ontario. It is a popular spot for family picnics and leisurely walks in the woods. There is a small lake in the park for kayaking and canoeing, and an outdoor pool which is set to open July 1. The park is also home to a stretch of the mad river, which adds to the calming ambiance. The trails in the park are very easy, they tend to be flat and meandering, with the most popular trails being paved to allow for greater accessibility. 

Forks of the Credit 

Forks of the Credit is a lovely park located near the town of the same name. It is much closer to the GTA than some of the others on this list, and so tends to be a little bit busier, but the park is large enough that it doesn’t feel crowded. The main attraction here is Cataract Falls, on the Credit River, which runs through the park. The falls and the old train bridge can be seen from a lookout at the end of a well-marked trail. The park offers multiple trails of differing difficulty. The trails are well maintained and relatively smooth, however on the way to the waterfall there are some steep and long ascents and descents, so bring lots of water! 

Pretty River Valley

Pretty River Valley is just like the name suggests, very pretty. The park has loads of trails through the forest that weave around the Pretty River. There are several bridges and boardwalks as well that add to the hiking experience! It’s a little more natural than some of the other parks, trails are well marked, but there are not as many maps around and the footing can be somewhat tricky at times. I suggest you plan your route ahead of time using one of the handy tools below and wear comfortable and supportive shoes to avoid getting lost or injured. 


Provincial Nature Reserves

Hockley Valley 

Hockley Valley Nature reserve is perfect for the hiker who loves hills! The Bruce trail and three side trails wind through this park over lots of hills and streams. The notable feature of this park is its many bridges and streams. It is a fun place to hike, the trails are well marked and there are maps at most trail intersections. Beware that biking and horseback riding are not permitted in the reserve because of the steep trails. There are no park facilities, so it is important to bring everything you will need with you, especially water! 

Holland Landing Prairie

Holland Landing is a good place for a walk or a wander without going too far from the city, the reserve is beautiful, and the trees provide nice shade, and there is a variety of different kinds of terrain. Unfortunately, the trails are not well marked, so if you’re unfamiliar with the area be sure to mark your trail so you don’t get lost. The trails also have a tendency to flood in some places, so be careful which trails you choose, though many of the flooded trails have alternate paths through the woods on either side. 



Hogg’s Falls 

Located near Flesherton, Hogg’s Falls is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour Eugenia falls which is currently still closed. Hogg’s falls boasts a beautiful waterfall and a stretch of the Bruce trail as well as some side trails. Upon first inspection, the falls seem unreachable, but it is actually a popular local swimming hole! From the lookout, there is a trail that leads to a series of rock shelves with a rope that leads down to the falls themselves and the pool underneath. This way down can be slippery so proceed with caution, but it is the perfect place to cool down after a good hike! Again, there are no park facilities here, so bring whatever you need for the day! 

Devil’s Monument 

The “Devil’s Monument” is actually a sea stack, much like you would see on Flowerpot Island off the Bruce Peninsula, which will remain closed until further notice. This nature reserve is located just south of the Bruce Peninsula National Park, which will be reopening some of its trails on June 1st, but not its most popular attractions. Devil’s Monument shares many of the things that the national park is known for, making it a beautiful place to visit while the national park is closed, or potentially a quieter destination once parts of the park reopen. The nature reserve boasts several small waterfalls, a sea stack, a smooth rock beach and the beautiful crystal-clear waters of Georgian Bay. There are no park facilities so take what you need for the day and enjoy lunch in the magical landscape.  


Local Hiking Spots and Handy Tools



While provincial parks and nature reserves are always great places to hike and typically are easy to navigate, sometimes it’s fun to find good local hiking spots too. If you find yourself around the Alliston/ Mansfield area, there are a couple of good spots in the Dufferin forests, and the old concession Line 2, but the fun part is finding your own. A good way to find some good hiking spots on your own is to look for large green spaces on google maps near you and see what’s there. 

If this sounds appealing, you may also like geocaching. Geocaching is essentially a scavenger hunt in real life, the app gives you the coordinates of the cache and you have to use your GPS to find it. There are lots of geocaches in all of the provincial parks and nature reserves, but sometimes you can find them even within your city! It’s a fun way to get outside and get active even if you don’t love exercise, and sometimes it can lead you to some really neat spots! Because of the nature of Geocaching, it’s probably a good idea to go with a friend, especially if you’re searching in the city.

If that kind of spontaneous searching isn’t your style, try out a hiking app! Personally, I love AllTrails. It shows trails in your area, the entrance points, maps, and the expected duration. It’s a great way to find cool trails near you, and which ones are open. You can leave reviews too, so you know before you go if a trail has been washed out or damaged. It also provides information like if the trail is dog friendly, how difficult it is, or if you need any special equipment. Hiking apps like AllTrails are a great way to make sure you’re getting the workout you want and that you won’t get lost doing it!


Get Out There!



So get going! Just because you can’t be within 2 meters of other people doesn’t mean you can’t go out exploring. Take advantage of the beautiful weather, get out and get moving! Summer isn’t here for long, so enjoy it while you can, but be responsible. 

Up to date information on the opening of national parks can be found at parkscanada.ca and provincial park information can be found at ontarioparks.ca.

Read more about urban forests and trails in Ontario here.


Enjoy more hiking inspiration from SWSCD:

Ontario hiking: Urban forests and trails…your path to healthy living

Natural treasures found along the local hiking trail



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