Matt Cunliffe started at Ontario Parks in 2006 and has spent over a decade working as a park interpreter and an assistant park planner, and is now a Discovery Leader at MacGregor Provincial Park. An avid trail user and self-proclaimed nature geek, when he’s not on the clock, you’re likely to find him onto a new discovery somewhere in one of our parks.
Spring has sprung and I, like many Ontarians, cannot wait hike and bike as many trails as I can.
While you’re getting your gear ready for the next adventure, here are some tips to help you prepare and minimize impacts while you are out enjoying the trails.
Pack in, pack out
Organize your pack with zero-waste products, like reusable water bottles, and bring everything out that you took in, including wrappers, food scraps, and dog waste.
When nature calls
While nature can call at any moment, “going” off-trail when you’re out isn’t an option. It can cause damage to sensitive habitats, and is unsanitary for park staff and fellow visitors.
Check the park maps for the closest washrooms, and plan that bathroom trip before you hit the trail. Check the park webpage before you hit the road to confirm what facilities are available.
Stay on designated trails
Trails bring us closer to the landscapes and heritage that draw us to Ontario’s protected places.
Staying on the trail helps keep human impacts to just the trail.
With so many visitors enjoying parks for their outdoor recreational activities, a simple shortcut through a dune, around a wet trail, or across a meadow can have long-lasting negative impacts.
Find each park’s official trails by checking the park map.
Be respectful of others
Our trails are popular (and for good reason!), so be sure to share with your fellow visitors.
Read the trailhead signage before you start to learn more about trail etiquette based on your activity.
On our multi-use trails, move to one side when cyclists are coming through. If you’re on a bike, ring your bell if you hear hikers ahead!
If others around you are quietly observing wildlife, do your best to walk slowly and keep your noise levels down.
If you need tunes, make sure to use headphones. Music played through speakers can be disruptive to animals and fellow outdoorspeople.
Clean your feet
Invasive species are a growing concern in our province.
Help do your part in our protected areas by making sure you (and your pets) aren’t tracking in any unwanted seeds.
A simple boot brush helps to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species, and will help to keep your vehicle clean after a spring hike! Keep an eye out for boot scrubbing stations at some trailheads.
Put safety first
Sure, you know your favourite trails like the back of your boot, but what about those new adventures that are calling?
Ontario Parks staff are called to rescue many lost and injured hikers every season. This uses limited park resources and takes staff away from other important work (and it is also an unpleasant situation for those being rescued!).
Plan ahead by:
- checking the weather forecast and sunset time for your visit
- bringing appropriate clothing to stay warm and dry
- wearing appropriate footwear to handle all types of trail conditions
Pro tip: pack a bug jacket, just in case. You’ll only get caught unprotected once in black fly country.
Keep your dog on-leash
When bringing your pets along for an adventure, keep them on a leash at all times (unless you’re in a designated leash-free area).
This is important because:
- other hikers may not appreciate your pooch’s enthusiasm
- it is illegal to harass wildlife (even if the culprit is a dog)
- leashed dogs protect our parks’ ecological integrity
And, of course, be prepared to clean up after your pet! This includes carrying their waste out with you, not leaving it on the side of the trail in a bag.
Jazz up your hike
Check out AdventureLabs for self-led journeys developed by our own Discovery Program (participating parks only), or become a community scientist by sending us your species sightings on iNaturalist!