Best hiking/walking trails in York Region

Ontario Adventures


Explored and written by Monica Ng

COVID-19 has really changed how we live and enjoy the outdoors. I have a blog titled “Discovering my backyard: Ontario” with reviews of all of my Ontario hikes (including these ones), but because there is currently a Stay at Home order in effect, I am forced to stay local for now. As such I decided to create a separate blog focusing on my local York Region gems. You don’t always have to go far away from home to explore. Beautiful local trails are everywhere – you just have to know where to find them. As you probably know, the landscape in York Region is pretty flat. However, there are a few places (such as the Jefferson Forest) where there is some elevation (think calf-burning). Below are some of my favourite trails so far. I’m always exploring, so check back often for more.

You’ll notice that there are a lot of snowy landscapes shown here. That’s because I have recently explored some of them (either the first time or re-visiting a place from the past).

I love taking photos of nature. I think of this post more like my personal photo gallery.

General note: I try to get an early start on the trails, because they can get very busy. Parking and crowds can be a problem.

Other notes: The formatting of the place headings seem to be wonky on small devices, as such I’ve abbreviated some of the names and included the full name below the location photos.

C.A. = Conservation Area
N.R. = Nature Reserve

There are many trails along the Rouge River, so where you see a Rouge River trail, I have indicated the location of the main trailhead.

Elder’s Mills N.R.

  • Elder's Mills Nature Reserve
  • Elder's Mills Nature Reserve

Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve. Located in Vaughan.
Highlights: Wetlands and Humber River.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Mixed paved, compact dirt/grass trail.

My comments: Another gem tucked into a residential area. There’s nothing like being surrounded by birdsong and beautiful wetlands. The short trail leads to a bridge spanning across the Humber River.

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Vellore Village

  • Vallore Woodlot
  • Eldred King Woodlands Tract
  • Vellore Village Woodlot 6

Vellore Village Woodlot #6. Located in Vaughan.

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: No parking was visible to me. Locals may be access trail from the residential streets, but otherwise have to park on a side street and walk about 10 minutes to one of the trailheads.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Compact dirt trail.

My comments: I saw a trailhead as I was driving home from Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve. Had to check it out. It’s a nice short trail – which is great for locals.

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German Mills

  • German Mills Creek
  • German Mills Creek

German Mills Settlers Park. Located in Markham.
www.markham.ca

Highlights: German Mills Creek.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking but very limited, then you have to walk a bit to trail.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: A nice local trail shared with cyclists beside the German Mills Creek. Both times that I went, it was overcast. I solved the mystery as I walked to the end of the trail (from John St). The other trailhead is at the dead end of Leslie St. and Steeles Ave. – I always wondered what was there as I saw bikers heading that way.

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Pefferlaw Tract

Located in Georgina
www.york.ca

Highlights: Forest, Pefferlaw River and Wetlands.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 2.5 hours.
Challenging trail? Easy. Compact dirt trail.

My comments: This forest is one of the 22 public York Regional Forest Tracts. Most of the tracts that I’ve visited so far are massive forests without water. The wetlands and river made this hike special. I’ve mentioned before that “tracts” are multi-use trails, so expect to find some horse poop (as they decompose they look like lumps of yellow grass – don’t mistaken those for dried grass!). A large section of the trail is flanked with white cedars. You’ll also find a section with a lot of red pine. Another great place to spend time in nature.

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Brown Hill Tract

Located in East Gwillimbury
http://www.oakridgestrail.org

Highlights: Forest. A hemlock lovers paradise.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 2 hours.
Challenging trail? Easy. Compact dirt trail.

My comments: This forest is one of the York Regional Forests. I feel that I’m part of this forest when I’m walking on the trails, because the paths aren’t wide. You can touch the trees without going off trail – a very enjoyable hike. This trail has a lot of unique bridge crossings and if you love hemlocks like me – this is the forest to visit. There were a lot of bikers when I went – so beware when you go.

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Rouge River Trail

Section of Rouge River located in Richmond Hill at Coco Avenue and Shirley Drive.

Highlights: Rouge River, bridge, storm water reserve, ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 30 minutes.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: I visit this trail very often. I’ve enjoyed watching the changes in the landscape as the seasons change. It’s not a long trail, but walking off the main trail (very short walk) toward the river is rewarding. The ducks like to hang out in the water near the massive tree. That area is also where you’ll find rushing water over a small man-made dam. The view from the storm water reserve is absolutely stunning most of the year, especially at sunrise. I highly recommend that you go catch the sunrise there.

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Rouge River Trail

Section of Rouge River located in Richmond Hill at Yorkland Street and Loyal Blue Crescent.

Highlights: Rouge River, forest, bridges, Newberry Wetlands Park and ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking (I normally park on Loyal Blue Crescent and walk over to the trailhead which is just north of it).
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 45 minutes.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: I only recently discovered this part of the Rouge River. It’s another of the many gems in Richmond Hill. The forest is beautiful along the trail. As you walk along the main trail, you’ll reach the wetlands (basically a few ponds). Ducks like to hang out there as well.

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Jefferson Forest

Located in Richmond Hill
www.oakridgestrail.org

Highlights: Majestic covered forest, trilliums, special trails and ramps for mountain biking, and unique happy faces carved onto the ends of fallen tree trunks to be found throughout the forest.
Parking: Yes, but very limited. As of December 2020 – parking is no longer allowed along Bridgewater Drive off Stouffville Road. Not sure if there is more parking in the area. May need to start the trail from Bayview Avenue north of Stouffville Road.
Admission/parking cost: No, but you may get a $30-$40 ticket if you park in the wrong spot. Beware – there is NO parking allowed on the parking pads directly in front of the two trailheads, despite not having any “no parking” signs.
Average time spent there: 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Challenging trail? Easy to moderate. Some calf-burning and breath-shortage sections.

My comments: I call this forest my second home, as I am there a lot. I cannot get enough of the smell of the deep forest and the areas with more challenging terrain. I love the calf-burning sensation of ripping through the numerous trails. This forest is dense and covered. While the biking trails are more narrow, it’s not always easy to tell a foot trail from a bike trail. The non-bike paths are basically shared so watch out for bikers – they come fast and don’t ring their bells.

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Pomona Mills Park

Located in Markham
www.markham.ca

Highlights: East Don River, a couple of bridges, a tunnel (overpass) and meditation invitations posted along the trail (for example, a sign suggesting that you close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature).
Parking: Yes. A parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 30-45 minutes.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trails? No. Very flat.

My comments: There is just something about walking next to the river and listening to the sounds of nature. The trail is designed with forest therapy in mind and if you follow the invitation at each sign, you’ll find that your heartbeat will slow down and you’ll notice the forest sounds more. I visit this trail often because it is just a 15 minute drive from my house. A great place for a quickie hike.

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Saigeon Trail

Located in Richmond Hill
www.richmondhill.ca

Highlights: Pond, forest, meadow, boardwalks, and unique wildflowers.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: 45 mins – 1 hour.
Challenging trail? No. Trail: paved. Great for biking.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this uncovered forest trail. I researched the trail before and wanted to go but shows online that the trail closes in the early evening (saw a sign there – it actually closes at 11:30 pm) so never made it. I took Winter pup to the huge open off-leash area right near the trail. The trail is tucked behind big-name stores in a residential area. The trail is quite long and the variety of colourful wildflowers is amazing. I have been to this trail several times.

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Mary Lake

Located in King City

Highlights: Mary Lake and forest.
Parking: Yes, but only along Keele Street.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Average time spent there: approx. 1 hour.
Challenging trails? Easy. Trail: Dirt.
Plumbing: No.

No My comments: There is no obvious trail to get to Mary Lake. I couldn’t find it the first time I went. The trail starts on the west side of Keele across from the Oak Ridges Trail. You basically go under a metal pipe (looks like a limbo stick) that shows private property and walk on the open field grass until you get to the shrine. To the left of the old heritage building with broken windows, there is a very small path going up a slope – take that and keep walking. The lake is located on private property owned by The Augustinians, but they have generously allowed the public to use the trail for hiking. Mary Lake is a Kettle Lake, basically formed after the glaciers melted. The trail doesn’t appear to be a loop, although I didn’t have a chance to keep walking. It’s a nice forest trail. Worth checking out if you are in the area.

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Joker’s Hill

  • jokers hill

Located in King City
https://ksr.utoronto.ca/hiking-trails/

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy to moderate.

My comments: This forest is owned by the University of Toronto for scientific research. It used to be my go-to (before I discovered Jefferson Forest) because I like the covered forest. One parking area is off of Bathurst Street- you have to watch carefully for a tiny sign across from the entrance. Blink and you will miss the parking lot. If you keep following the trail, there is another entrance to the forest – which is essentially the Thornton Bales Conservation Area (see below).

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Thornton Bales C.A.

Located in King City
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/thornton-bales

Highlights: 99 steps, forest and lots of pretty moths flying around (mid-July).
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? Mostly no, but some elevation in certain areas.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I always thought this forest was part of Joker’s Hill. The first time I got “disoriented” at Joker’s Hill, I found the stairs. This time around I began my hike at the stairs. Forest is covered and nice. I just love inhaling the fresh forest air. Some elevated parts – which make for great calf-burning exercise. There are a few very sloped areas so you have to be careful – especially people wearing regular footwear. I think I was huffing and puffing the very first time I climbed the 99 steps, but since I’ve been hiking a lot – it’s not a problem anymore. It’s amazing the benefits of regular exercise. Get out there and move!

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Eldred King Woodlands

Full name: Eldred King Woodlands Tract
https://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/elder-king/

Located in Stouffville

Highlights: Forest, streams and pond.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy unless you want to climb up the hills on the side of the trails.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: What struck me most was the impressive scale of this forest and the variety of trees (including maple, red oak, red pine and beech trees). I didn’t have a chance to explore the entire tract or see any water, but this is by far the biggest local forest I’ve been to. The trails are wide and I believe they call the forest a “tract” because it’s multi-use (cross-country skiing, hiking, etc.). I know that the Scout Tract (York Regional Forest) allows for horses too (but that one has lots of horse dung). Overall a very nice walk in the forest.

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Rogers Reservoir C.A.

Located in East Gwillimbury
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/rogers-reservoir

Highlights: Holland River, forest and swing bridge.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I once joined a Richmond Hill hiking club organized through the community centre. We went to this trail, but I wasn’t too impressed – as it’s very open (not a covered forest) and there are a lot of electrical cables that run above parts of the trail. Recently I decided to re-visit this conservation area because I drove past it on the way to the Dave Kerwin Trail. This time, I walked the trail on snowshoes. The winter landscape was definitely the highlight. If you follow the loop, you’ll get to a section where the trail meets up with the Nokaiidaa Trail boardwalk.

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Dave Kerwin Trail

Located in Newmarket
www.york.ca

Highlights: Holland River and forest.
Parking: Yes. Residential street, but no parking directly in front of the trailhead. Watch for the no parking signs.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: A hidden gem in a residential area. If you cut through the forest rather than take the main path, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a dense forest. The birch trees and red pines are absolutely stunning. The river was frozen and covered with snow when I went, but I’m sure it would bring the forest alive when it’s flowing.

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Zephyr Tract

Located in East Gwillimbury

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes. Big parking lot, fits about 40 cars.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: First time at this tract. The winter landscape is especially gorgeous. A magical place worth checking out. The straight path took about 45 minutes one way on snowshoes including the time to take photos. The trail is not a loop. I didn’t get a chance to explore the second trail. I like the density of the forest along the trail.

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Discovering my backyard: Ontario

Ontario Adventures
map of provincial parks

***COVID-19 has affected the use of the parks – so check online before venturing out regarding any restrictions. Some parks are closed, and some of the facilities including washrooms are closed as well***



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Explored and written by Monica Ng

What to know before you go.

My review of Ontario parks, conservation areas, forests, trails, falls and places that I have visited. More to come…

Canada is such a beautiful country with so much to offer in terms of the great outdoors. However, since I live in Ontario, I will explore my backyard in this post. I plan to expand this post as I check out new places, so check back frequently for more adventures.

I spend a lot of time deciding where to go by searching online for photos, comments and reviews posted by others – so now is my time to give back. I thought it would be helpful to indicate the location with the name of each place so you can quickly zone in on an area that you want to visit based on the location. The reality is that our lives are busy and some days we only have time for a local trip. I definitely spent a lot of time digging up my photos and putting together this post, but sharing my love of the outdoors and my adventures was my goal. It is also a great chance for me to scrapbook my adventures. I hope you will find time to check out some of these places. Keep me posted on your adventures!

For those of you with kids, I put “KID” next to the places that I believe are more kid-friendly. And my favourites are noted in bold on the list (and I added an “M” in the heading as well).

My current TOP 5!

Clockwise from left: Bruce Peninsula National Park, Killarney Provincial Park, Point Pelee National Park, Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls Provincial Park and McCrae Lake Nature Reserve

Southwestern (7)

Awenda Provincial Park (Simcoe County) – KID
Bruce Peninsula National Park
Earl Rowe Provincial Park (Alliston)
Flowerpot Island (Tobermory)
Forks of the Credit Provincial Park (Caledon)
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park (Mono)
Point Pelee National Park (Essex County) –KID

York Region (38)

Beaver Creek trail (Richmond Hill)
Bendor and Graves Tract (East Gwillimbury)
Bond Lake (Richmond Hill)
Boyd Conservation Park (Vaughan)
Brown Hill Tract (East Gwillimbury)
Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve (Newmarket)
Dave Kerwin Trail (Newmarket)
Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve (Vaughan)
Eldred King Woodlands Tract (Stouffville)
Four Winds Parkette (Richmond Hill) –KID
German Mills Settlers Park (Markham)
Holland Landing Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve (E.Gwillimbury)
Jefferson Forest (Richmond Hill)
Joker’s Hill (King City/Newmarket)
Milne Dam Conservation Park (Markham)
Moraine Park (Richmond Hill)
Nokaiida Trail (East Gwillimbury)
Oak Ridges Corridor (Richmond Hill)
Pefferlaw Tract (Georgina)
Phyllis Rawlinson park (Richmond Hill)
Pomona Mills Park (Markham)
Porritt Tract (York Regional Forest) (Stouffville)
Richmond Green Sports Centre and Park (Richmond Hill) –KID
Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area (East Gwillimbury)
Rouge National Urban Park (Markham)
Rouge River Trail at Coco/Shirley (Richmond Hill)
Rouge River Trail at Yorkland/Loyal Blue (Richmond Hill)
Scout Tract -York Regional Forest (Stouffville)
Saigeon Trail (Richmond Hill)
Sheppard’s Bush Conservation Area (Aurora)
Sugarbush Heritage Trail (Vaughan)
Thornton Bales Conservation Area (King City)
Tom Taylor Trail (Newmarket)
Toogood Pond (Markham)
Vellore Village Woodlot 6 (Vaughan)
Wilcox (Lake)(Richmond Hill) – KID
Whitchurch/Stouffville Conservation Area (Stouffville)
Zephyr Tract (East Gwillimbury)

Simcoe Region

J. B. Tudhope Memorial Park (Orillia) – KID

Grey County

Blue Mountain
Old Baldy Conservation Area

Lake Simcoe

Scanlon Creek Conservation Area (Bradford)

King City (3)

Happy Valley Tract
Mary Lake
King City Trail

Elora

Elora Gorge (Grand River Conservation Authority)

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*Big Chute (Muskoka)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably not.
Time I spent there: 1 hour
https://www.discovermuskoka.ca/the-big-chute/


Highlights: Big Chute, hydraulic turbine system, Trent-Severn Waterway, Big Chute Marine Railway.
Parking: Yes, parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Paved paths.

My comments: While the Big Chute is impressive, you can’t really access the areas around it (I wasn’t able to find any trails) because the falls were used to generate electricity for Ontario Hydro. Based on what I read, a new power station was built, grandfathering this turbine system. And directly next to the falls, you’ll find the Big Chute Marine Railway which allows boats to be transported from one side of a hill to the other on a railway to allow boats to continue their journey along the Trent-Severn Waterway. The railway is Parks Canada “Trent-Severn National Historic Site”. While this place wasn’t worth my four hour drive, it would be lots of fun for locals.

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*Hardy Lake Provincial Park (Muskoka)* (M)

Rating: 4.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: 2.5 hours
https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/hardylake

  • Hardy Lake

Highlights: Forest, island, boardwalks, Muskoka rocks.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot with limited parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Compact dirt trails.

My comments: This park has one of the most beautiful forests that I’ve been to. You get a real sense of peace and tranquility in the density of the forest – except when the people start crowding the trail. It is a very busy park, so make sure you get an early start. Generally, my goal is to hit the trails by no later than 8am. I love walking on the huge sheets of rock – characteristic of the Georgian Bay.

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*Old Baldy Conservation Area (Grey County)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Time I spent there: 2 hours
https://www.visitgrey.ca/business/old-baldy-conservation-area

Highlights: Lookout view.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No, but some elevation.

My comments: Make sure you access the trail from the main parking area. I took the route that Google maps provided and ended up on a narrow dirt road (I’ll call it a road, but it’s almost like a trail). It had obviously rained a lot before I went, so there were numerous VERY deep mud puddles – making it highly risky for my car to get trapped in the mud. I refused to turn back, so I ended up parking to the side of the road and going by foot. You can catch the Bruce Trail from this area. The trail is approximately 8 km return (not a loop) plus a side trail. The trail itself wasn’t very rewarding, but the view from the top is spectacular.

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*Albion and Buttermilk Falls (Hamilton)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Time I spent there: 2.5 hours
https://tourismhamilton.com/albion-falls

  • Albion Falls
  • Buttermilk falls

Highlights: Two waterfalls on one trail – Albion and Buttermilk.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lots at two or three sections.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Compact dirt trails.

My comments: You can no longer access the trail to the base of the falls – bummer! I was told by a local that because people were doing reckless things, the trail to the base was closed off. However, you can still access and enjoy the creek. You will find a couple of side trails and the Bruce Trail at this area. It’s interesting to see two completely different types of falls in the same general area. Albion Falls are considered cascade falls and Buttermilk Falls are terraced ribbon falls. When I went the water volume was low, so Buttermilk didn’t have much water flowing (see last picture on slide).

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*Borer’s Falls (Hamilton)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably not.
Time I spent there: 3 hours
https://tourismhamilton.com/borers-falls

Highlights: Borer’s Falls.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot at the gardens.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Parking machine.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy.

My comments: I was bored on the trail (not much to see), but falls are always nice. I went when the water volume was low, so falls are not as impressive. Nice that you can stand at the top of the falls though. Saw my first bull frog.

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*Stouffville/Whitchurch Conservation Area*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably not.
Time I spent there: 1.5 hours
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/enjoytheoutdoors/conservationareas/whitchurch

Highlights: Forest. Pond?
Parking: Yes. Parking Lot.
Admission/parking cost: Not sure. There are indications that you have to pay, but no parking machines for payment.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy.

My comments: It’s nice to walk in a forest, but there wasn’t much special about this one. I saw maple trees, red pine, white cedar, spruce and lots of trilliums. The trilliums all over the forest floor was probably the highlight of this trail.

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*Gould Lake Conservation Area (North Frontenac)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably if I was in the area.
Time I spent there: 5.5 hours
Approx. 2h45m from Toronto
https://cataraquiconservation.ca/pages/gould-lake

  • Gould Lake
  • Gould Lake

Highlights: Gould Lake, Blue Lake, Cronk Lake and historical Mica Mine.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: The area’s website and the signs on-site indicate that there is a parking fee, but when I went the gatehouse was closed and there were no parking meters nor any pay online through an APP option. The staff replied to an email saying that access to the park was free. This could change at any time, so be prepared to pay.
Plumbing: Looks like there were portable toilets near the beach/picnic area.
Challenging trail? Medium to difficult. Trails are not paved. Rooty dirt trails with elevation in some areas. The Rideau trail is the least travelled as evidenced by the overgrowth of plants/weeds.

My comments: There is a trail map fixed to the barn (I posted it here in the slides), which unfortunately I didn’t see it until the very end of my trip! Other than that there are a few signs along the trails showing where you are. There are mulitple trails making up 20km – which is one of the reasons I picked this conservation area to visit. I tend to stay away from mentions of short trails because it’s not worth my travel time. You’ll walk on Canadian Shield rocks along part of the trail. If you like dragonflys – there were tons of them. If you like black flies and mosquitoes – there is no shortage of them. My only recommendation – use bug spray or wear a bug jacket. The real highlight of the trip were the Mica Mines (take the Mica Loop which can be accessed through the unmarked and almost hidden Rideau Trail to the left of the beach/barn). According to the area’s website, the area was mined for mica (a mineral with a glazed finish) for about 30 years and the mines were closed in 1912. You can hike towards Ottawa by taking the Rideau Trail. I should have researched my trip more before heading out – could have brought my inflatable kayak.

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*Tommy Thompson Park (Toronto)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 2.5 hours including biking onto Cherry St. My second visit, I spent about 4.5 hours there.
www.tommythompsonpark.ca

  • Tommy Thompson Park
  • Tommy Thompson Park
  • Tommy Thompson Park
  • Tommy Thompson Park
  • Tommy Thompson Park

Highlights: Lake Ontario, view of the downtown Toronto’s skyline (including the CN Tower) from across the lake, wetlands, lighthouse and cormorant nesting area.
Parking: Yes. Parking Lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: Yes. Portable toilets.
Challenging trail? Easy. Flat paved trail.
Restrictions: No dogs allowed on trail.

My comments: Great trail for biking and walking along Lake Ontario. At the tip of the trail, you’ll find an old whimsical lighthouse. I believe the main trail is about 10 km return. From a distance you can hear very loud bird sounds. I had to get closer to track down the source of the noise. At the end of one of the many short trails into a wooded area, there’s an incredible nesting area with Cormorant’s circulating all over and others sitting in their nests – a surreal experience. If you look around you will probably see geese, swans and white/great egrets. Bird watchers paradise. According to the park’s website, over 300 species of birds have been sighted.

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*German Mills Settlers Park (Markham)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: 45 minutes.

  • German Mills Creek

Highlights: German Mills Creek.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking but very limited, then you have to walk a bit to trail.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: A nice local trail shared with cyclists beside the German Mills Creek. Both times that I went, it was overcast. I solved the mystery as I walked to the end of the trail (from John St). The other trailhead is at the dead end of Leslie St. and Steeles Ave. – I always wondered what was there as I saw bikers heading that way.

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*Vellore Village Woodlot 6 (Vaughan)*

Rating: 2.5 stars
Would I go again? No, but it’s a good spot for locals to get a touch of nature.
Time I spent there: 20 minutes.

  • Vallore Woodlot
  • Vellore Village Woodlot 6

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: No parking was visible to me. Locals may be access trail from the residential streets, but otherwise have to park on a side street and walk about 10 minutes to one of the trailheads.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Compact dirt trail.

My comments: I saw a trailhead as I was driving home from Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve. Had to check it out. It’s a nice short trail – which is great for locals.

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*Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve (Vaughan)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 1 hour

  • Elder's Mills Nature Reserve
  • Elder's Mills Nature Reserve

Highlights: Wetlands and Humber River.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Mixed paved, compact dirt/grass trail.

My comments: Another gem tucked into a residential area. There’s nothing like being surrounded by birdsong and beautiful wetlands. The short trail leads to a bridge spanning across the Humber River.

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*Pefferlaw Tract (Georgina)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 2.5 hours
www.york.ca

  • Pefferlaw Tract
  • Pefferlaw Tract
  • pefferlaw tract

Highlights: Forest, Pefferlaw River and Wetlands.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Compact dirt trail.

My comments: This forest is one of the 22 public York Regional Forest Tracts. Most of the tracts that I’ve visited so far are massive forests without water. The wetlands and river made this hike special. I’ve mentioned before that “tracts” are multi-use trails, so expect to find some horse poop (as they decompose they look like lumps of yellow grass – don’t mistaken those for dried grass!). A large section of the trail is flanked with white cedars. You’ll also find a section with a lot of red pine. Another great place to spend time in nature.

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*Brown Hill Tract (East Gwillimbury)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 2.5 hours
www.york.ca

  • Brown Hill Tract
  • Brown Hill Tract

Highlights: Forest. A hemlock lovers paradise.
Parking: Yes. Small parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Compact dirt trail.

My comments: This forest is one of the York Regional Forests. I feel that I’m part of this forest when I’m walking on the trails, because the paths aren’t wide. You can touch the trees without going off trail – a very enjoyable hike. This trail has a lot of unique bridge crossings and if you love hemlocks like me – this is the forest to visit. There were a lot of bikers when I went – so beware when you go.

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*Rockway Conservation Area (St. Catharines)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 3 1/2 hours.
https://npca.ca/parks/rockway

  • rockway conservation area

Highlights: Waterfalls, bridge at the upper falls, Niagara Escarpment, Bruce Trail (Niagara section).
Parking: According to the website, limited parking can be found off 9th Avenue on “escarpment tablelands”. I never found that parking area, but parked in the community centre parking lot (but shouldn’t have because it’s private property).
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No, but probably at the community centre if it’s open.
Challenging trail? Dirt trail and rocky terrain. Some areas have some elevation. The area around the upper falls is rocky and slippery when wet.

My comments: A beautiful way to spend a morning. A real body, mind and soul experience climbing up and down escarpment rock. I was told by a local that from one area of the Bruce Trail, you can see the downtown Toronto on a clear day. A section of the Bruce Trail runs through privately owned land (right next to a shooting range!) but the land owner generously allows hikers to access the trail. The upper falls are stunning – and you can get pretty close to them without getting soaked.

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*Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail (Muskoka)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: about 2 hours
https://www.discovermuskoka.ca/things-to-do/hiking-trails/huckleberry-rock-lookout-trail/

  • Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail
  • Huckleberry Rock lookout trail

Highlights: Set foot on the oldest rocks in the world. Leaning white pines. View of Muskoka Lakes.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No.

My comments: A beautiful place with a spectacular view of the Muskoka Lakes. Walking on the massive sheets of rock is amazing. For the amount of elevation of the lookout, the trail leading to it is surprisingly not steep. There are A LOT of benches.

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*Bendor and Graves Tract (East Gwillimbury)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? Probably not.
Time I spent there: about 2 hours
http://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/bendor-and-graves-tract-kennedy-road/

  • Bendor and Graves Tract

Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes. Dead-end parking area.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Compact dirt trails, some wood chips.

My comments: I like the forest tracts because they are massive. It looked (and smelled) like a lot of trees were recently cut down. The trails are not marked and there are trails all over the place – so it’s easy to get lost. I recommend that you bring a compass just in case. Love the old red pine trees stretching high into the sky.

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*Glen Eagles Vista (Toronto)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? No.
Time I spent there: about 1 hour
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge/activ/randonnee-hiking/gleneagles

  • Glen Eagles Vista Trail
  • Glen Eagles Vista Trail

Highlights: Vista view. Rouge River.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? No. Unless you go down into the valley.

My comments: This trail is part of the Rouge Urban National Park – Canada’s newest National Park protecting what’s left of nature within the city. There are many trails that form part of the park and can be found in Toronto and Markham. This particular section is near the Toronto Zoo.

The lookout view is beautiful, but the trail is super-short and not very scenic. I was disappointed and bored. I thought there was a body of water in the distance, but turns out they are bluffs. Stubborn as I am when searching for trails, I decided to go straight down into the valley on snowshoes. As I was going down, I debated myself – was I going to roll all the way down in the snow? But determination can go a long way…I went down at an angle and made it safely. Then I headed back to the top, took off my snowshoes and walked closer to the bluffs (they are on the other side of a sloped road at the bridge) to chill near the Rouge River. Walking along the road made me feel like a hitchhiker. It was a bit creepy to have a van slow down next to me. But this extra part of the adventure made it exciting!

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*Rouge Urban National Park (Toronto)* @ Morningside

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Time I spent there: 1 hour
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/rouge

  • Rouge Urban National Park Vista Trail
  • Rouge Urban National Park Vista Trail

Highlights: View of the vista.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot, but I believe it belongs to the Toronto Zoo. Not sure if park visitors are allowed to park there.
Admission/parking cost: Yes, but I didn’t see any parking machines.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? I did the Vista Trail. Not challenging, except a section where you may lose your breath a bit. Dirt trail.

My comments: The trail is very open, which I generally do not enjoy, but the Vista Trail has a nice view looking into the valley. This particular trail is part loop and part dead-end. I didn’t have a chance to explore the other trails because I had already done the Glen Eagles Vista Trail which is about a 2 minute drive from this section of the Rouge Urban National Park.

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*Niagara Glen Nature Reserve (Niagara Falls)* (M)

Rating: 5.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes, how soon?
Time I spent there: 6 hours
https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit/nature-garden/niagara-glen/

  • Niagara Glen Trails and River
  • Niagara Glen trails and River

Highlights: Niagara River, escarpment, bouldering, fishing, beautiful trails, whirlpool, stairway and view from the top.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. Parking machine. Pay hourly rates or seasonal rate (I believe seasonal rate is an option, but I didn’t look carefully). I paid $15.00 for about 6 hours. I believe that there is a QR scan code option for payment as well.
Plumbing: Yes.
Challenging trail? There are some dirt trails that are easy walking. Whirlpool Trail and part of the River Trail are more challenging with rock (small and large) covered surface. Expect to climb up some rocks.

My comments: The rocks! The river! The blue-green water! The blue sky! The floating melted ice! The white seagulls circling above the river and geese chilling in the water! The climb around and between massive boulders and strategically placed rock stairs! Say no more, I’m out of exclamation marks…I left my heart behind in that magical place. I stupidly paid for 4 hours figuring I’d be done by then. By the time I got to the whirlpool area I figured that I had to turn around and pay for more parking so that I could explore the other part of the Cliffside Trail. Thus the climb up the 72 step stairway twice. At the whirlpool area, I even got to inhale some free weed blowing in the air. If I do say so – a “highly” recommended place.

Below is a trail map in case you want to take a look before you go.

trail map Niagara Glen
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*Lynde Shores Conservation Area (Whitby)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again: Yes.
Time I spent there: 3 hours

  • Lynde Shores Conservation Area
  • Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Highlights: Wildlife, Lake Ontario, Cranberry Marsh and wetlands.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot with limited parking.
Admission/parking cost: Yes. I paid $6.00 for a day.
Plumbing: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: Wildlife galore in a relatively small area. I saw white-tailed deer, wild turkey, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, a downy woodpecker, nuthatch, cardinal and chipping sparrow. Did I mention I saw deer?! The first time I saw deer (aside from the zoo) was at Awenda Provincial Park. Two babies were feeding off their mother on the road side. This time, I saw about fifteen deer. It’s so magical seeing them in their natural habitat. I took the forest trail instead of the main paved trail and saw some deer running into the meadow. It was a bit scary because I wasn’t too close to them, but with the ice and snow crunching underneath my feet, they saw/heard me. A few of them started to charge in my direction. Of course that was my cue to very quickly duck back into the forest! Take caution near wildlife. They are not predictable. I was walking along the main trail and saw three wild turkeys. They are beautiful and huge birds. A reminder why I don’t eat turkey!

The birds however, aren’t afraid of people because people feed them. I got some up-close photos of a gorgeous downy woodpecker because he was busy eating a peanut. There are posted signs warning people not to feed the wildlife (but they say it’s ok to feed seeds to the song birds), which is generally a good rule as it disturbs the natural order of things (as per their sign says feeding them can “lead to human injury, animal overpopulation and disease”). People don’t understand the consequences and still feed junk to the wildlife.

There is a lot of variety of landscape at this conservation area, including forest, wetlands and Lake Ontario.

The conservation area is currently under construction at Hall Road to construct a larger parking lot and add wetlands.

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*Rouge River Trail at Coco Avenue & Shirley Drive (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again: Yes.
Time I spent there: 20-30 minutes

  • Rouge River Trail

Highlights: Rouge River, bridge, storm water reserve, ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: I visit this trail very often. I’ve enjoyed watching the changes in the landscape as the seasons change. It’s not a long trail, but walking off the main trail (very short walk) toward the river is rewarding. The ducks like to hang out in the water near the massive tree. That area is also where you’ll find rushing water over a small man-made dam. The view from the storm water reserve is absolutely stunning most of the year, especially at sunrise. I highly recommend that you go catch the sunrise there.

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*Rouge River Trail at Yorkland Street & Loyal Blue Crescent (Richmond Hill)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again: Yes.
Time I spent there: 30-45 minutes

  • Part of Rouge River Trail
  • Rouge River Trail

Highlights: Rouge River, forest, bridges, Newberry Wetlands Park and ducks.
Parking: Yes. Residential street parking (I normally park on Loyal Blue Crescent and walk over to the trailhead which is just north of it).
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trail? Easy. Paved trail.

My comments: I only recently discovered this part of the Rouge River. It’s another of the many gems in Richmond Hill. The forest is beautiful along the trail. As you walk along the main trail, you’ll reach the wetlands (basically a few ponds). Ducks like to hang out there as well.

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*Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area (East Gwillimbury)*

Rating: 3.5 stars
Would I go again? Maybe.
Time I spent there: approx. 1.5 hours
https://www.lsrca.on.ca/rogers-reservoir

  • Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area
  • Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area

Location: East Gwillimbury
Highlights: Holland River, forest and swing bridge.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: I once joined a Richmond Hill hiking club organized through the community centre. We went to this trail, but I wasn’t too impressed – as it’s very open (not a covered forest) and there are a lot of electrical cables that run above parts of the trail. Recently I decided to re-visit this conservation area because I drove past it on the way to the Dave Kerwin Trail. This time, I walked the trail on snowshoes. The winter landscape was definitely the highlight. If you follow the loop, you’ll get to a section where the trail meets up with the Nokaiida Trail boardwalk.

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*Dave Kerwin Trail (Newmarket)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: approx. 1 hour.
www.york.ca

  • Dave Kerwin Trail

Location: Newmarket.
Highlights: Holland River and forest.
Parking: Yes. Residential street, but no parking directly in front of the trailhead. Watch for the no parking signs.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: A hidden gem in a residential area. If you cut through the forest rather than take the main path, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a dense forest. The birch trees and red cedars are absolutely stunning. The river was frozen and covered with snow when I went, but I’m sure it would bring the forest alive when it’s flowing.

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*Zephyr Tract (East Gwillimbury)*

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: approx. 2 hours
www.york.ca

  • Zephyr Tract
  • Zephyr Tract
  • Zephyr Tract

Location: East Gwillimbury.
Highlights: Forest.
Parking: Yes. Big parking lot, fits about 40 cars.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: First time at this tract. The winter landscape is especially gorgeous. A magical place worth checking out. The straight path took about 45 minutes one way on snowshoes including the time to take photos. The trail is not a loop. I didn’t get a chance to explore the second trail. I like the density of the forest.

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*Eldred King Woodlands Tract (Stouffville)* (M)

Rating: 4.0 stars
Would I go again? Yes.
Time I spent there: approx. 2 hours.
http://www.oakridgestrail.org/moraine/trail-map/elder-king/

Location: Stouffville. Approximately 30 minutes from Toronto.
Highlights: Forest, streams and pond.
Parking: Yes, but limited.
Admission/parking cost: No.
Challenging trails? Easy unless you want to climb up the hills on the side of the trails.
Plumbing: No.

My comments: What struck me most was the impressive scale of this forest and the variety of trees (including maple, red oak, red pine and beech trees). I didn’t have a chance to explore the entire tract or see any water, but this is by far the biggest local forest I’ve been to. The trails are wide and I believe they call the forest a “tract” because it’s multi-use (cross-country skiing, hiking, etc.). I know that the Scout Tract (York Regional Forest) allows for horses (that one has lots of horse dung). Overall a very nice walk in the forest.

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*Terra Cotta Conservation Area (Halton Hills)*

Rating: 3.0 stars
Would I go again? No.
Time I spent there: approx. 2.0 hours.
https://ontarioconservationareas.ca/component/mtree/conservation-authorities/credit-valley/terra-cotta-conservation-area