Autumn is the perfect time for long walks in the woods. Here are 10 of the best trails in Ontario:
Autumn means plenty of company on the most popular hiking trails in Ontario's provincial parks, but if you know where to go, it's still possible to bag a great hike without the crowds. Here are some of the province's best trails, which only get better when the bugs are gone and the foliage is on fire.
1. High Falls Trail
Petroglyphs Provincial Park (near Peterborough), 16 km return - Not surprisingly, most people head to Petroglyphs to check out the Aboriginal rock carvings, and they totally overlook this primo walk through the woods. The trail winds through a mixed forest-with hefty cedars, maples and birch-and features rocky outcrops and boardwalk wetland crossings. The star of the show comes at trail's end-a pretty cascade over tiered slabs of Canadian Shield.
2. Gibson Lake Trail
Frontenac Provincial Park (near Kingston), 26 km return - Hike as far north as possible in Frontenac and you'll end up on the Gibson Lake Loop, the most spectacular of the park's trails come autumn. Beginning from the parking lot at Big Salmon Lake, the journey runs from a barren-looking landscape of rock and wetland to progressively more rolling terrain and mature forest. You'll pass plenty of lakes, lookouts, beaver dams and pockets of human history-old homesteads, reclaimed farmlands and lumber camp remnants. Wildlife sightings guaranteed.
3. Baker Trail
Massasauga Provincial Park (near Parry Sound), 6 km loop - Somewhat of a ghost-walk, the Baker Trail begins at the Calhoun Lodge, a restored cottage-slash-museum, and leads to the gravesite of Thomas Baker and his early-1900s homestead. Baker toiled here for four decades raising cattle and growing vegetables, and you'll see what's left of his home, barn and overgrown fields. There's also an extensive heron rookery. Trail access is by water, a seven-kilometre paddle from Woods Bay Marina, where day-use parking is available. (Canoes and kayaks can be rented locally.)
4. Fire Tower Trail
Restoule Provincial Park (near North Bay), 8 km loop - Back in 1954, a 300-foot-plus granite cliff south of Lake Nipissing seemed the perfect perch for a fire tower. Today the tower is closed but the cliff remains a fabulous lookout for spotting fall colours. Getting there is a pleasure too-first through a plantation of towering red pines and mixed forest, then up a steep climb to the cliff's peak.
5. Under the Volcano Trail
Neys Provincial Park (near Marathon), 4 km return - A great volcano once blew its stack on what is now the shoreline of Lake Superior, before eventually collapsing and being bulldozed by a passing glacier. So what's at sea level today was the very belly of the beast about 600 million years ago. This trail takes you on a tour of the magma chamber, where you'll find one of the largest collections of volcanic alkaline rock in North America—rectangles of pink feldspar, crystals of bright red natrolite and shiny black prisms of amphibole embedded in the smooth grey nepheline.
6. Brent Crater Trail
Algonquin Provincial Park, 2 km loop - A short hike to a 450-year-old meteorite crater.
7. Bluff Trail
Awenda Provincial Park, 13 km loop - A high-bluff, low-wetland combo.
8. Cobre Lake Trail
Mississagi Provincial Park, 11 km loop - Demanding trek with high points, stands of old-growth white pine and remnants of mining activity.
9. Spicebush Trail
Rondeau Provincial Park, 1.5 km loop - Short but sweet, literally, thanks to spicebush fragrance, birdsong and exotic-looking Carolinian tree species.
10. Awausee Trail
Lake Superior Provincial Park, 10 km return - A hike through a forested valley carved by glacial meltwater, including spectacular fall views from four lookouts.
*For more info: www.ontarioparks.com; Provincial Parks Trail Guide, Allen MacPherson, published by Boston Mills Press ($19.95).