Beautiful Ontario - My list of 10 destinations for nature lovers.
Is Ontario flat, cold, windy, and colourless for tourists?
Well, it does appear so if you talk to an 'accidental' tourist in my province.
This is how a typical conversation goes on between tourists and travellers to Ontario and us (my wife, children and me).
We would inquire, "so how do you like Ontario?"
"It's cool", they would say or something along those lines
"Did you enjoy our outdoors?", we would ask
"Yes, but Florida / California / Rocky Mountains / Norway / Quebec is better", comes the response, depending who has been to which place.
We would defend, "But you can't compare these two regions, each one is different".
"Yes, but still" .....
I thought why not put our case in front of the jury, that is, the readers, to seek the decision from neutral parties.
Ontario has activities ranging from rock climbing to canyoneering, from hiking for micro-exploration of land to scuba diving for micro-exploration of lake bottoms, from horse riding to dog sledding, from observing wildlife to observing hundreds of years old eastern white cedars, so on and so forth. With a mix baggage of guilt, anger, and pride, K2 and I will take you to the nature lovers' destinations in our province, as we cover them ourselves hiking and trekking in them. Please allow us to make it a photographic tour for a picture is worth a thousand words. Finally, you tell us how do you rate Ontario in terms of its natural heritage.
1. Algonquin Provincial Park for all seasons
If you would admire contrast provided by emerald green forests opening on a sandy beach and then crystal clear waters of a lake, by a dense forest opening on a marsh, by a narrow river that you are pedaling your canoe on against rocky cliffs, the howling of wolves against the deafening silence of a late night, a team of red and gray huskies pulling a sled on a white field of snow, or a moose in the same quiet peaceful lake that you are pedaling your kayak in, then Algonquin Provincial Park is meant for you.
Algonquin Provincial Park is categorized as a national Park by IUCN and is the most visited national / provincial park of Ontario.
However, I would be very careful in hiking through this park with K2 for ever present danger of wolves, bears and moose.
Wolves howling at Algonquin Park
2. East coast of Georgian Bay for summer and early fall.
In the company of my family and relatives on various occasions, I have hiked on numerous trails, pedaled canoes and kayaks, piloted a pontoon boat, and taken an awesome cruise around Georgian Bay's 30,000 islands.
This is Ontario's cottage country, primary tourist area, and boasts of 30,000 islands, picturesque sandy and rocky beaches and thousands of inland lakes teeming with trout.
This destination also has Georgian Bay National Park, the Awenda Provincial Park, the Massassauga Provincial Park, the Killbear Provincial Park, and the Six Mile Lake Provincial Park nearby. The last one offers hiking trails, canoeing, boating, fishing, and birding. Black bears, wolves and moose call it home.
3. Point Pelee National Park for spring and fall
If our fellow hubber and bird photographer from Oklahoma - Deb Hirt (Avianovice on Hub Pages) is offered honorary citizenship of the Province of Ontario, Canada, here is where we we will find her in mid to late spring and in early fall. The southern tip of the park is located at a latitude slightly north of San Francisco and is the southern most part of Canada.
Thanks to its location on both the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, the park sees more than 350 different avian species that draw bird watchers from across North America and beyond each spring and fall.
In addition to the birders, Point Pelee National Park is a Mecca for canoeists and cyclists. The national park is located near Windsor, the southernmost city of Ontario.
4. Blue Mountain for summers, fall colours, and especially, winter snows
K2 and I visited Blue Mountain, which is about 90 minutes drive from my home, in late September.
The incessant rains turned our hike up the mountain a pretty arduous and messy task. But when we reached the resort, we found it worth all the effort In summers and early falls, Blue Mountain offers visitors exploration of the caves, a towering zipline, a hike over the beautiful suspension bridge, and scenic views of the valley below and of southern coast and blue waters of Georgian Bay in the distance.
Of course, we were able to enjoy that except for the fact that K2 couldn't be taken to any of these places because of the narrow trails with deep slopes on the side.
Blue Mountain is located in the heart of one of Canada’s most stunning natural landscapes and in a region with a vibrant social and cultural scene. It is a prime winter destination for aficionados of skiing and snowboarding. To top it up, there is the beautiful city of Collingwood, Craigleith Provincial Park, Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, and very popular Wasaga Beach Provincial Park nearby.
5. Northern coastline and 3 parks on Lake Superior for summer
Between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, you can drive on Trans-Canada Highway 17 for about 350 miles of pristine scenic shoreline and forests. On the way, you can explore Lake Superior Provincial Park, Pukaskwa National Park and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for their natural grandeur.
But this is the land of black bears, wolves, and even cougars. I will not hike alone with K2 here. I need to be exploring this region in the company of other humans for there is survival in numbers.
6. Bruce Peninsula National Park for late spring to early fall
As the lonely trail led us to a rocky outcrop at the Indian Head Cove, we glanced casually down at the rocky Georgian Bay lakeside some 10 meters below and were pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of visitors, many with their dogs, picnicking by the crystal clear waters.
A group of daredevils had climbed a rock which was standing tall over the waters at about 20 meters high and was preparing for cliff jumping. We looked in horror as the lead jumper was about to unknowingly jump on two snorkelers in the water directly below him. He prepared himself for jumping and many visitors yelled in alarm, stopping a calamity in the making. Finally, when the snorkelers cleared the waters, the man jumped and splashed into the water, making some visitors clap in appreciation. Oblivious to this great feat, two sea kayakers pedaled pass by fully focused on their elegant strokes. Far out in the lake, couple of islands of the neighbouring Fathom Five National Marine Park were shimmering on the clear early morning sun.
The park, consisting of Georgian Bay coast; cliffs; cobbled and rocky beaches; many inside lakes; forests; unique flora and fauna; hiking trails; and camping sites, offers a plethora of water and land based activities.
For details on this national park, please refer to the following hub:
- Beautiful Ontario - Hiking in Bruce Peninsula National Park
Hiking on the Bruce Trail through Bruce Peninsula National Park. The park, consist of Georgian Bay coast; cliffs; inland lakes; forests; unique flora and fauna; and camping sites.
7. Fathom Five National Marine Park for summer
It got very cold on the upper deck in late May and we relocated to the main deck of the glass-bottom ship. The water was so clear that we could see it as if they were lying in the open. We were all looking at the 2 of the 22 shipwrecks that the sparkling clean waters of Fathom Five National Marine Park boasts of. Highlights of this park include most pristine waters of all the great lakes, oldest shipwreck (150 years old), and a 1,860 years old eastern white cedar discovered on the ancient cliffs of Flowerpot Island.
The park is a part of much larger ecosystem with Niagara Escarpment (a World Biosphere Reserve) as a backbone. Like the neighbouring Bruce Peninsula National Park, Fathom Five National Marine Park is located in close proximity to somewhat densely populated southern Ontario. It is, therefore, popular with the tourists who are attracted to its water and land based activities, including scuba diving, boating, and hiking.
See the following hub to learn more about my adventure to this park.
- Beautiful Ontario - A cruise and hike through Fathom Five National Marine Park
The park is well known for scuba diving, for watching shipwrecks, for water based activities, and for its unique wildlife, plant life and geological features.
8. Bruce Trail, Niagara Escarpment and nearby conservation areas for all seasons
We were totally drenched in perspiration during the hike in a sweltering 36C (with a humidex of 41 C) on the Bruce Trail to reach the Borer's Fall. The dense foliage all along was adding to the humidity. Hiking on Bruce Trail had been a pleasure normally, especially for the variation in foliage all across its path. However, on this particular day, it was a total nightmare. A small departure from the Bruce Trail took us to the head of the Borer’s Fall that we were trying to discover. We sat down here for a rest, preferring drinking fluids over some amazing shots of the fall and its surroundings. The heat had taken a heavy toll on our spirits. My wife and I looked at K2, our Kuvasz boy, to see how he was faring in the sweltering heat. Needless to mention, he was panting too.
Our entourage comprising of 5 humans (including three teenagers) and a great white dog was hiking on the Bruce Trail near Hamilton, exploring many waterfalls that the region boasts of.
The Bruce Trail, Canada's oldest and longest footpath (782 kms long), provides the only continuous public access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is one of only sixteen such reserves in all of Canada. There are a number of beautiful waterfalls, conservation areas, and quaint towns and hamlets all along the trail to explore.
9. Niagara Falls and environs for spring, summer and early fall
We took giant Stairways that led us to 4 km (2.5 miles) of paths that meandered through a pristine pocket of Carolinian Forest and over and around small and big boulders left behind as the Falls eroded through the area thousands of years ago. We descended all the way down to Niagara River where it became white water and was being negotiated by whirlpool jet boats. The spots near the river offered wonderful views of the river upstream, the rapids and the mountain on the US side of the Gorge.
We were exploring the nature trail in Niagara Glen Nature Area. The Niagara Glen is located deep in the Great Gorge that has been a designated Nature Reserve since 1992.
However, Niagara Glen is overshadowed by Niagara Falls, about 2 kms upstream, which is surely the central attraction for all the tourists to Ontario. It is estimated that 6 million tourists visit Ontario's Niagara region every year.
Niagara Falls environs also boast of Ontario's vine producing region.
Please read my following hub in response to a frequently asked question.
- Niagara Falls - what is the difference between US and Canadian sides
This article explains the difference between experiencing Niagara Falls from the American and the Canadian sides, primarily through pictures.
10. Thousand Islands National Park for summer and early fall
Taking a cruise to observe the islands and then pedaling your sit-on-top kayaks to some of the easily accessible islands can be great fun. Turtles, water-fowls, and hunting birds can be seen especially from kayaks. Other ways to explore the National Park are personal or rented boats, houseboats, pontoon boats, etc.
Charleston lake Provincial Park, Bon Echo Provincial Park and Frontenac Provincial Park are located close by offering hiking, fishing, canoeing and birding experience. Frontenac offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on 11 km of track-set trails.
Thousand Islands National Park is located close to Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto and the islands can be seen via a cruise from the USA side too. The fall colour cruises are the most popular ones that start from both Canada and the USA.