staff in front of pinery sign

The ultimate Pinery challenge

In today’s post, Sarah Fencott, a naturalist at Pinery Provincial Park is sharing her journey to completing the ultimate Pinery challenge. The goal? To complete all ten trails at Pinery, including lookouts and extensions. 

Last year, my goal was to hike every trail before the end of the summer. I completed my goal with three days left in my contract.

This year, my goal was to hike all of the trails in one week. This worked out well, as we needed to do an infrastructure survey of the park trails anyway! By hiking three trails per day I had completed my goal within my first week back at work.

With my initial goal so easily achieved, I set my sights on a new challenge that would be harder than anything I had done in the park before: the Tour de Pinery.

A big challenge

I have a rare genetic mutation called sideroblastic anemia, meaning most of my muscles don’t get enough oxygen and strenuous physical activity can be very challenging.

Despite this, I never let my limitation hold me back and always try to push myself to do better. I knew with a little bit of perseverance and determination I would be able to complete the Tour de Pinery.

Getting prepped

The night before, I sat down and mapped out my ideal route.

staff standing at lookout

I knew I wanted to start with Cedar Trail because it has the least amount of shade and can be quite hot in the afternoon. I also knew that I wanted to end the day on Wilderness, my favourite trail, overlooking the beach.

With a plan in mind, I set out on my Tour de Pinery!

I got to the park around 8:30 am and by the time I had filled my water bottle, put on sunscreen, and started hiking, it was 9:00 am.

I wasn’t sure how long the challenge would take, so I decided to just hike the main trail and not worry about doing the extension.

The first trail of the day, Cedar Trail, is one of Pinery’s accessible trails. The wide, flat trail made the hike easy and I finished Cedar much quicker than anticipated.

Usually when I trim the trails or go out to photograph insects, it takes me 1-2 hours but with a mission in mind, I finished Cedar Trail in just under 30 minutes.

Finishing Cedar Trail so quickly gave me a confidence boost and I decided to attempt the lookouts and extensions on the next three trails: Heritage, Pine and Carolinian. With some of the longest trails out of the way, I felt optimistic that the afternoon would be easier.

A well-deserved break

The fifth trail of the day was Nipissing. That’s where I stopped for a picnic lunch. With Nipissing being arguably the hardest trail in Pinery, a break was well deserved.

Near the end of the trail is a small extension that leads to a beautiful elevated lookout. On one side you can look out over Pinery’s Oak Savanna forests and the farm fields that lay beyond the park boundaries. On the other side you can look out onto Lake Huron and see where the water meets the horizon.

It’s a hidden gem, and one of the most beautiful spots in the park.

After enjoying a meal with a view, it was time to continue on.

In rain or shine

Despite the lovely start to the morning, the journey wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the morning was quite cloudy and just after noon it began to rain.

I contemplated rescheduling the challenge and doing it another day, but I had come too far to give up. So despite the rain and lack of a rain jacket, I pressed on.

Riverside, Hickory, and Bittersweet were next. They are the trails that I hike most often.

hickory trail

Each trail offers a lovely view of the Old Ausable Channel and create great edge habitat for frogs, fungi, and even large birds. It was on Hickory that I got some video of a Great Blue Heron I had been trying to photograph all summer!

Despite these trails all being short, sweet, and relatively easy, I was losing steam.

Bittersweet felt like the longest kilometer of the day.

The last trail

It was just after 4:00 pm when I reached the Wilderness Trail lookout and was greeted with a beautiful view of Lake Huron.

view of lake huron

The rain had momentarily stopped, but I could see it falling in the distance over the lake with storm clouds gradually moving closer. I see the beach almost every day whether I’m doing a beach clean up, trimming a trail, or helping install rolling boardwalks, so the Wilderness Trail lookout should have been nothing special.

However, after seven hours of hiking, it was the most gratifying sight I had seen all summer.

The cool breeze and calm atmosphere brought a sense of peace that had been missing amid the excitement and determination of the day. Despite being wet and sore, I could not have been happier.

The last extension

staff with trail sign

With some time to spare before the end of the work day, I decided to go back and hike the Cedar Trail extension that I had skipped earlier in the morning.

Despite technically completing all the trails, I felt like I was cheating myself by leaving out one extension.

By the time I had finished around 5:00 pm, I had hiked for eight hours, gone a distance of 20.1 km, walked 32,862 steps and climbed 47 flights of stairs.

At the end my feet were aching, I was freezing cold, and I had worked up quite the appetite. I was absolutely exhausted but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Despite the toll on my body, I was incredibly proud of myself.

Challenge completed!

I am unbelievably thankful to have had the opportunity to take on this challenge.

trail

Sometimes when I hike, I am so focused on maintaining the trails or identifying species that I forget to take in the beauty around me and find joy in the little things.

This challenge gave me lots of time for reflection and allowed me to appreciate some of the trails that I don’t hike as often.

Pinery’s trails showcase some truly unique ecosystems that deserve to be enjoyed to the fullest.

After finishing my Tour de Pinery, I can say wholeheartedly that I plan on doing it again, and I encourage campers and visitors to give it a try too!

While it took me nearly eight hours, I took a lot of breaks and went back to hike the Cedar Trail extension. It’s definitely possible to complete the ultimate Pinery challenge in a shorter time span, but it will take the majority of the day.

Let’s get started

If you think that taking on all the trails in one day is a bit ambitious for you, start off small like I did.

boardwalk

Hiking all the trails in a season or a single week is a great way to get started! You can even set your own challenges, like hiking all the trails on the day use road, or for beginners, hiking all of the accessible trails.

Before you go…

If you do decide to take on this challenge, here are some things that I learned:

Dress for the conditions. Despite enjoying my time, I am positive I would have enjoyed it more being warm and dry. Long pants can also protect you from ticks and poison ivy, both present in Pinery.

boots

Secondly, pick comfortable shoes that will support your feet. I was hiking in my work uniform including steel toed boots, which I can say are less than ideal for long distances. I usually hike 2-3 trails a day in my steel toes without a problem, but ten trails proved to be a bit ambitious for my worn-in boots.

staff in front of pinery sign

My final piece of advice for eager hikers is to bring a good attitude. There were lots of times that I wanted to give up, but a positive attitude (and snacks) helped get me through.

Next time I’m on my Tour de Pinery, or just hiking one trail, I hope to see you doing the same thing!