Go on, dig out those hiking shoes. The warmer temps are here to stay, and you’ve got more tracks than ever to choose from across South Eastern Ontario. Seriously, take your pick: easy strolls along old rail lines, moderate paths around big sand dunes, difficult routes up the Canadian Shield. Whether you’re an amateur stroller or pro hike head, there’s a trail for you out there. Here are 17 of the best, from west to east.
1. Sandbanks Provincial Park: Dunes Trail
Length: 2.5 km
Get up close to the world’s largest baymouth barrier dune formation at Prince Edward County’s renowned provincial park. On this short loop, you’ll travel through a rare and fragile dune habitat and along the edge of several small wetlands. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for some of the 240 bird species that have been observed here, including woodpeckers, orioles, black turns, and blue jays. Watch out for reptiles and amphibians, too, like several harmless types of snakes and the rare musk turtle.
2. The Millennium Trail
The Millennium Trail stretches from Carrying Place to Picton, backing onto farmers’ fields and vineyards; it’s a great way to experience the tranquility of The County. The more than 40-km multi-use trail is perfect for hiking, biking or even horseback riding. Looking way back 140 years ago, the Millennium Trail was once the Prince Edward County Railway. Today, it’s a favourite of both visitors and locals alike. There are more than 30 places where you can hop on and off the trail, and it’s close to many of The County’s wineries, breweries, restaurants and shops.
3. Menzel Centennial Provincial Nature Reserve
The best-kept secret in L&A! Nature lovers rejoice: this reserve protects one of the largest examples of open and treed fen in South Eastern Ontario. Located about 17 km from Napanee, it’s a 4.8 km path with an abundance of significant wetlands that makes for a visit well worth making. Menzel Centennial Provincial Nature Reserve provides spectacular views including a swamp forest, wildlife, and lake with wetlands in abundance. Be prepared – there are no visitor facilities here. Fun fact: the Olive Hairstreak butterfly and Cooper’s Hawk find shelter here and are protected within the park.
4. Sheffield Conservation Area
Wildflower and reptile enthusiasts, take note! The Sheffield Conservation Area is known for its blooms and also for harbouring Ontario’s only lizard, the five-lined skink. This 4.5 km looped trail offers challenging terrain and stunning granite outcroppings, with extensive wetlands. Keep your eyes peeled for resident beaver and muskrat here, too!
5. Parrott’s Bay Conservation Area
Beautiful waterfront views and wetlands are the gems of this more than 6 km trail system. Parrott’s Bay Conservation Area is also a great spot for fishing – and it’s free! Don’t forget to bring the pooch – this conservation area is dog friendly, and there’s even an easy water entry for dogs to swim. Fun fact: look for a geocache here!
6. Puzzle Lake Provincial Park
Unspoiled natural beauty with rugged and diverse terrain at Puzzle Lake Provincial Park. Keep a keen eye out for rare eagles or Blanding’s turtles, as the park supports a whopping 16 provincially rare species. With 9,000 acres to explore, this non-operating provincial park means there are no facilities, activities or signage on site – but there are an abundance of opportunities to appreciate the wilderness in the forests, lakes and ponds of the park.
7. Frontenac Provincial Park: Slide Lake Loop
Length: 21 km
This rugged hike in the most remote area of Frontenac Park isn’t for the faint-hearted, but the rewards for the willing speak for themselves: a series of waterfalls dropping 16 metres, barren rock ridges overlooking the surrounding landscape, a gorge crossing, and multiple lakes almost all to yourself. The trail also passes through forests, by marshes, and up and around Canadian Shield granite as it follows Buck Lake, Slide Lake, Doe Lake and Big Salmon Lake. Stop for panoramic views and pics of Mink and Camel Lakes, but remember that there’s only so much daylight: give yourself 7 to 9 hours to enjoy this challenge.
8. Cataraqui Trail
Length: 104 km (or less)
With 48 access points along a former Canadian National Railway line between Strathcona and Smiths Falls, the Cat Trail gives hikers the most diverse cross-section of South Eastern Ontario’s natural environment. From Smiths Falls to Chaffey’s Lock (42 km), it’s flat farmland and woods, but after, near Sydenham Lake, it passes along the Frontenac Axis of the Canadian Shield. The trail then goes through or around big lakes, swamps, hilly forests, and pink granite. As it started, the last 40 kilometres are flat farmland, an area called the Napanee Plain. The terrain rarely gets very steep, and for most of the 100-plus kilometres the path has a gravel surface. cataraquitrail.ca
9. K&P Trail
Length: 75 km (or less)
Once part of a rail line for steam trains, this track is now for non-motorized travellers. Hop on and off at six different access points, all within Kingston’s city limits. At one end is Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area; at the other are vistas of the Glenvale Creek Wetland. In between, you’ll pass through meadows, farmlands, forests, rock cuts, marshes and plenty of stops of interest, including the site of the old Glenvale train station on the K&P line. Pack a lunch, and do the whole 15 kilometres in a day. Just keep in mind that this isn’t a looped trail, the K&P Trail starts in Kingston but continues for another 55 KM through Frontenac County frontenaccounty.ca/kptrail
10. Rock Dunder
Length: 3.9 km
Pink granite formations like Rock Dunder are what remain from the Grenville Mountains, which towered over this area just south of Morton about a billion years ago. Rising 275 feet from Morton Creek, all of Rock Dunder’s 230 acres were once a wilderness Boy Scout camp. Now the area is open to the public and has three trails: one easy (1.3 km), one moderate (2 km), one more difficult. Take the last, the Summit Loop, if you can handle a short, steep climb. The trail runs alongside Dean’s Island, through thick forest and offers sneak peaks of the grand finale: a summit atop rocky cliffs overlooking the Rideau and beyond. rwlt.org
11. Rideau Trail
Length: 327 km (or less)
Difficulty: Easy to difficult
This Ontario-famous hikers’ haven runs along the Rideau Canal and its tributaries from Kingston in the south to Ottawa in the north. Most complete the trail in sections (access points are dotted all along), but some do it all in about 9 to 16 days. Either way, you’ll be treated to the full range of the Rideau’s ecosystem, complete with farmlands, quaint villages and, of course, the hum of that historic waterway never far away. The elevation gain is only about 600 metres (2000 feet), and although some sections are flat and easy, parts of the trail are difficult, some may even requiring bushwhacking. rideautrail.org
12. Thousand Islands National Park: Jones Creek Trails
Length: 12 km
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
It’s those ecologically stunning islands that get most of the attention in the Thousand Islands region, of course, but don’t forget about the thick forests and all of that diverse wildlife on the nearby mainland. Get a glimpse at this 12-kilometre trail network within Thousand Islands National park, established in 1904 as the first national park east of the Rockies. There are nine different trails here, each between 0.7 km and 3.9 km in length. You’ll be taken from pine ridges to birch lowlands, and from creeks and wetland boardwalks to forests dramatically changed by beavers. Keep your eye out for rare species like the Black Rat snake and the Least Bittern bird. pc.gc.ca
13. Guindon Park
Guindon Park is Cornwall’s oasis! Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy dozens of kilometres of walking trails as this gem weaves through tall trees and beautiful wildlife. The park accesses Cornwall’s off-road bike trails and the St. Lawrence River, and even has free parking and washrooms on site. Note that the park is smoke-free. Also note that there is a playground here so you can slide into the best day ever with the kids.
14. Gray’s Creek
Spend the day cycling, hiking and walking your dog both on the nature trails and the paved bike path at Gray’s Creek! With more than 6 km of meandering trails that are open year round, explore the trails and keep an eye out for the wide variety of animals, songbirds, amphibians and waterfowl. You’ll never be bored with over 43 hectares of natural landscape for the enjoyment of both residents and visitors.
15. Glengarry Trails
Length: 15 km
The four trails that make up this network and bird-waters’ refuge are found just west of Alexandria on the Gary River watershed. The 3 km Red Trail starts at Island Park and features hardwood and cedar forests, along with chickadees you can feed in the winter. Between it and the 3 km Orange and 2 km Purple loops is the Green Trail, a 5 km straight line that passes through wetlands and forests. Throughout the property are boardwalks, small bridges and interpretive signs, all built by The Friends of Glengarry Trails Association. glengarrytrails.com
16. Two Creeks Forest Conservation Area
Explore more than 4 km of marked interpretive trail in this natural space that will have you marveling at the abundance of species here. Discover Bur Oak trees which pre-date the War of 1812! Partake in hiking, geocaching, picnicking – and it’s even dog friendly (on leash). Two Creeks Forest Conservation Area near Morrisburg is double the beauty and fun.
17. Summerstown Trails
The forest is yours to explore! Whether on foot or experiencing the S-town flow on two wheels, Summerstown Trails in Williamstown are a great way to get into nature. There are about 20 km of hiking trails that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy.This trail is wonderfully wide at 3 metres, and is flat and dry. This main trail is great for people of all ages, including young families. For those more adventurous hikers, the multi-use trails are narrower and more challenging.