Fall hiking: more than just red leaves

Every year, more than a million people visit Ontario Parks to witness the splendor of the fall colours. After all, there are 8.2 million ha of provincial parks that set the horizon on fire, with their ever-turning reds, greens, oranges and yellows.

But is there anything else to see other than the leaves? Absolutely! With 1800 km of trails across the province, you just have to know where to look and what to look for.

Fall hiking is one of the best ways to appreciate the splendors of autumn that continue long after the leaves have fallen.

Fall migration.  Hawks, turkey vultures and peregrine falcons can be seen moving their way through many provincial parks in the fall. Once the leaves are gone it makes them so much easier to spot.  Wander along your favourite trail and follow the sound of these multiple shorebirds like sanderlings and plovers dotting the shoreline.  Ducks overwinter at some parks such as Presqu’ile where winter finches and owls can sometimes be seen as well. And who could forget the thousands of Monarch Butterflies that pass through Presqu’ile every fall? Best fall migration areas:

  • Lake Ontario:  Sandbanks, Presqu’ile and Darlington
  • Lake Erie: Port Burwell, Wheatley, Rock Point and Rondeau
  • Lake Huron: MacGregor Point, and The Pinery
  • Lake Superior:  Sleeping Giant

Wildflowers. Most of us spend the fall looking up to see the changing leaves. How about looking down to see beautiful wildflowers like Goldenrods and Asters lighting up the forest floor? Best viewing areas include:

  • The Pinery – The Riverside Trail – 1 km flat trail, home to a variety of plants and animals. Benches and viewing platforms. 3 km Wilderness Trail, the longest here, winds through old forest growth such as Red Pine and mixed Oak-Pine forest to the shore of Lake Huron

Wildlife. Late fall is a great time to strike wildlife viewing off your bucket list. You can still catch a glimpse of moose, white tailed deer and even bears, provided you take the proper safety precautions. Best viewing areas include:

  • Woodland Caribou – This wilderness park is home to one of the largest groups of Woodland caribou south of Hudson Bay and the park is open year-round. Note this park is accessible by road, water and  air.
  •  Sleeping Giant – 100 km of excellent trails with superb wildlife viewing in the boreal forest for moose, wolf, fox, lynx and over 200 bird species. The park is open year around.   Note: the campground closes for the season October 14, but cottages and a lodge are available for rental.
  • Algonquin– Fall is the perfect time to spot a big bull moose with its antlers full-grown and polished, primed and ready for the rut, or mating season, in late September and early October. Birders also enjoy looking out for Gray Jays, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadees and Black-backed Woodpeckers that live in the park year-round. There are several interpretive trails to choose from.
Photo Credit: Peter Ferguson

Golden sunsets

If you really want to see a unique fall phenomenon while walking along your favourite hiking trail, plan to head out in October and early November to see what some have called “the golden encore.” Pack a picnic and some warm clothes as you surround yourself with the beauty of the second wave of fall colours – the yellows.

The yellows come into their own about a week after the reds and the oranges peak. While this waters down the spectacular, fiery reds and oranges, a peaceful walk through the forest still offers stunning views of American beech trees, often found growing alongside maples in mature forests. They really catch your eye when they begin to turn golden-yellow and yellow-brown.

Behold the tamarack

The tamarack is another wonderful yellow that can be found all across Ontario, however it is most commonly found in the north.  Tamaracks are a tall, triangular coniferous tree that is covered in compact clusters of short green needles in the summer.  Mostly seen in wet, boggy areas, Tamaracks usually grow among evergreens and black and white spruce.  Set against the dark greens of spruce trees, the Tamarack stands out like a house on fire.  Some have described Tamaracks as the most beautiful natural hue seen at any time of year in Algonquin Park. There are several hiking trails in Algonquin that are perfect for viewing the Tamarack. Just take your pick!

These are just a few of the reasons to enjoy hiking in Ontario Parks this fall once the leaves are gone. See how many more you can discover.

For a complete overview of hiking in Ontario Parks, including barrier-free trails, click here.