Caves Trail
Credit: Martin Lortz
Southern Ontario doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a hotbed of outdoor activity. Not only does it cozy up to three Great Lakes, it’s riddled with rivers and home to one of the country’s most expansive hiking networks—the mighty Bruce Trail and its infinite side paths. Here are three one-day adventures not far from the suburbs.

Explore slot canyons

Most people think of the U.S. Southwest when they think of slot canyons, but you don’t have to go quite that far to find examples of these fascinating formations. Instead, just head to the Collingwood area and hike the Standing Rock and Caves Trail, an offshoot of the Bruce Trail. Admittedly, the deep slot canyons cleaved into the north face of the Niagara Escarpment here don’t look exactly like their southwestern brethren—their wet, mossy flanks are more reminiscent of the West Coast. But the constricted feeling is the same as you explore the narrow passageways and jumbled dolostone blocks. While you’re there, don’t miss the Standing Rock itself, an isolated pillar about 250 feet north of the escarpment. Once you’ve finished exploring, backtrack to your car.

Length: Two hours.

Directions: From Stayner, drive west about 15 kilometres on Simcoe Road 91 to the Clearview-Osprey Townline. Then head north past 26/27 side road to Eagle Crescent, where there’s roadside parking. The Bruce Trail sits on the east side of the road. Walk north for 400 metres and you’ll see the Standing Rock and Caves Side Trail leading off to your left.

Resources: The Bruce Trail Reference Guide, published by the Bruce Trail Conservancy.

Kayak the Niagara River

No, not the stretch that is illegal to paddle (that has a certain falls). Instead, put in at Queenston, which sits about 12 kilometres south of the river’s mouth at Lake Ontario (note to Stockwell Day: the river flows north). To test your paddling skills, you can try heading upstream from Queenston to play a little where the current is stronger. But if you’re looking for a more relaxing float, head downstream. As you near the lake, you’ll have historic Fort George on your left, which bravely defended the kingdom of its namesake from Fort Niagara, on the right. If you plan to paddle out into Lake Ontario, be warned that any wind on the lake will whip the current into a quick chop. Take out at the dock at the 1812-era Navy Hall, below the cannons of Fort George.

Length: Half day.

Directions: Put in at Queenston, at the public boat launch on Dumfries Street just past Princess Street. Take out at the Navy Hall parking lot in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Resources: You can get rentals, info and the Paddling Niagara guidebook from Outdoors Oriented in St. Catharines.

Paddle the Grand

Between Cambridge and Paris, the banks of the Grand River are thick with the exotic hardwoods that make up the biggest patch of Carolinian forest in Ontario. This 22-kilometre stretch of the Grand—the main vein of the largest drainage basin in Southern Ontario—passes high bluffs and flood plains and features enough swifts and easy class-I rapids to keep motorboats at bay. Just upstream of Glen Morris you might spot the ruins of an old mill, a remnant of the rich human history of the river that helped it become a Canadian Heritage River.

Length: Four to five hours.

Directions: Put in at the parking lot at the north trailhead for the Cambridge-to-Paris Trail, located south of Concession Street at the south end of Cambridge on Highway 24 (Water Street). (Hint: look for the GTO service station.) Pull out at the parking lot on river left (Willow Street) above Penman’s Dam near downtown Paris. If you have only one car and need a shuttle, Grand Experiences will transport two people and a canoe for a fee.

Resources: For canoe or kayak rental, shuttle and info, Grand Experiences in Paris.