Are you a geology nut who loves to spelunk for cool rocks or minerals? Perhaps biology is more your thing – and you’re dying to unravel the mystery of the American Eel’s decline. Have you ever wanted to hunt for fossils, dig up dinosaur bones – or even spend a day walking among some life-sized prehistoric giants?
This article is dedicated to all my fellow #science lovers, young and old. Each summer marks a new season of wonder here in South Eastern Ontario, as several scientific and educational attractions open their doors to the public. From nature reserves, to museums, parks, caves, mines and dark sky viewing areas – there is a broad spectrum of ideas for every field of interest.
Kids, don’t fire up that XBOX just yet, and set down the fidget spinners. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and adult science lovers alike: take note. This list of epic educational (and fun) destinations I am about to reveal, will help make your next summer road trip one for the history books. Or should we say “science books?”
Life, ah, “Finds a Way” at Prehistoric World
A short drive from Upper Canada Village will bring you to Prehistoric World. This epic attraction in Morrisburg, Ontario has been letting tourists come face to face with dinosaurs since before Jurassic Park was even an idea.
Bring the kids, and spend the day exploring a beautiful walking trail that lets you stroll among a brilliant collection of over 50 life-sized prehistoric sculptures. I first experienced this place when I was a kid – around thirty years ago. In the years since this awe-inspiring park has continued to captivate visitors of all ages.
Truth be told, this place still has a direct line to my inner seven-year-old. To this very day, I can’t resist posing for a silly picture, or twenty.
I mean, just look at the chemistry between me and that Pachycephalosaurus (below, right). He and I go way back.
Explore The Silver Queen Mine at Murphys Point Provincial Park
Every summer during July and August, the Friends of Murphy’s Point conduct fascinating guided tours and open houses in the Silver Queen mica mine as well as a restored miner’s bunkhouse. Visitors to the park can also purchase a trail guide for $1 and walk the Silver Queen Trail at any time, but access to the mine and bunkhouse are during tours only.
The mine tours are offered twice a week – and visitors are asked to pre-register in advance (click for contact details). This one hour, to one and a half hour tour is an absolute must for geology enthusiasts who would also enjoy a historical flare as they explore a turn of the century mica mine! Open houses are every Sunday from 10 a.m. until noon.
Climb Foley Mountain up to Spy Rock
On the Northernmost edge of The Frontenac Arch Biosphere, there is a massive granite ridge that overlooks the breathtaking vista of the Upper Rideau and the Village of Westport. This awesome geological formation is none other than Foley Mountain.
Foley Mountain is famous for its dynamic, hands-on, education programs for school children and youth groups. It’s sitting on a massive granite “blister” that the planet belched up when super-hot magma was under pressure within the planet’s “skin” which was much thinner a billion years ago. This “blood blister” of sorts later cooled in the surrounding rock resulting in the over 6 km wide hunk of granite that is now Foley Mountain.
There are scenic lookouts, as well as a host of educational programs and a discovery centre where you can learn more about this astoundingly huge stone formation.
A World of Discovery Awaits at The Brockville Aquatarium
Situated in beautiful downtown Brockville at Tall Ships Landing is the immense and incredible Aquatarium! This massive marine discovery centre is packed to the brim with amazing experiential exhibits that teach visitors about the history and biodiversity of the 1000 Islands region.
Using an engaging series of experiential exhibits, and interactive teaching methods, this amazing 27,000 square foot attraction offers three floors of amazement for the whole family! The Aquatarium goes well beyond what you’d expect from a typical aquarium, offering visitors a hands-on opportunity to experience the biodiversity of the St. Lawrence River. Visitors of all ages will have a blast here!
Stargazing at Charleston Lake
A short drive west of Brockville, Ontario, and conveniently close to Highway 401 is the immense and natural splendour of Charleston Lake Provincial Park. In addition to being a prime location for camping, and a slew of summer activities – there is a very special cosmic event that occurs each August.
Charleston Lake is a prime location for observing the legendary Perseid Meteor Shower.
Explore the Miller Museum of Geology
The Miller Museum of Geology features an extensive collection of minerals, ores, and fossils from around the world. Visitors to the Miller Museum can learn more about the geological aspects of the Kingston area, view breathtaking mineral samples, learn about dinosaurs, and more in this fantastic self-guided museum.
The museum is located in the Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering department at Queen’s University and is open on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. For groups of 10 or more visitors, there are educational programs available for a 70 dollar fee. The exciting topics include mineral identification, meteorites, dinosaurs, introductory geology, and more!
Experience Our Expansive Universe at the Queen’s Observatory
In addition to the intriguing terrestrial objects on display at the Miller Museum, you can explore the expansive wonder that is our universe at the Queen’s Observatory during their free monthly open house events. For details visit the events page of the Queen’s Observatory website.
Get Subterranean at Hell Holes Nature Trails & Caves
A brief twenty-minute drive North of Napanee in Centreville Ontario is a really cool system of caves, grottos and other geological points of interest at the Hell Holes Nature Trails & Caves. Here, travellers can embark on a 3.2 km self-guided exploration of this fascinating natural attraction. Make sure you bring a flashlight, as the caves go as deep as 7.5 metres into the earth – within the depths of the Devil’s Horsestable Cave.
For a more in-depth look at what to expect – I recommend this very detailed blog written by Jennifer Pinarski – who was brave enough to venture into the cavernous realm beneath the surface, and lived to tell the tale! Her post details some important items to note of before visiting the Hell Holes, and provides a really handy guide.
Observe the Final Frontier at The Lennox and Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area
Another popular destination among astrologically inclined travellers is the Lennox & Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area in Erinsville Ontario. Roughly an hour North of Kingston, this amazing sky viewing area offers some surreal views of the cosmos.
The L&A Dark Sky Viewing Area hosts monthly events from May until September. Events typically take place on weekends close to a new moon.
Of course, sky viewing is dependent on weather conditions. During these events, visitors get a laser-guided tour of the night sky. On top of that, you’ll get the chance to take a look through a telescope!
Examples of some upcoming events include getting a good look at the Milky Way galaxy, the Perseid Meteor Shower, and more! Stay tuned to the L&A Dark Sky Viewing Area’s events page for future events!
Dig up a T-Rex Skeleton at Batawa Ski Hill
After the snow has melted, the forests surrounding this famous ski destination are transformed into one heck of a playground for aspiring paleontologists! Batawa Ski Hill’s Dino Dig area sports a 40-foot (replica) Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton for kids and dinosaur hunters of all ages to excavate.
The skeleton itself was designed by a group that creates displays for museums and is as close to the real thing you’ll encounter on this side of Drumheller Alberta or Montana. There is also a huge Triceratops skull, a giant dinosaur egg and an interactive “research centre” where young dino enthusiasts can make fossil rubbings, and spend a day in the shoes of a real dinosaur hunter.
Explore a Fascinating Underworld at Tyendinaga Cavern & Caves
Yet another popular geological feature of South Eastern Ontario is the fun and fascinating Tyendinaga Cavern & Caves. It’s recommended that you bring a flashlight – and temperatures can moderate between 10°C to 50° Fahrenheit.
There are some truly spectacular geological formations in the caves to behold, including 300 million-year-old fossils, a gorgeous flowstone deposit, cave curtains and much more!
Observe over 300 Bird Species at the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area
On one of the Southern tips of Prince Edward County is a lush peninsula that is teeming with life. From mammals to insects and an abundance of birds – a trip to Prince Edward Point is an absolute must for bird watchers and biologists alike. This sprawling 510 hectare (over 1200 acre) wildlife park offers some captivating scenery and a literal bounty of plant and animal life to check out.
Seasonally, there is extensive observation and research conducted by the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory who observe and monitor population levels. The peninsula itself is a vital ‘stopover’ for a variety of migratory species. The Observatory also holds several events seasonally – so stay tuned to their website for more information!
Over 300 species of birds have been recorded on the point, including several varieties of songbird, waterfowl, owls and other birds of prey. In 1998, Prince Edward Point was declared part of the Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area (IBA); by Bird Life International. It continues to be a crucial element of biodiversity for Ontario, Canada and the world at large.
Discover the Geological Mystery of Lake on the Mountain
This perplexing elevated lake in Picton has been the source of legend since ancient times. The lake has a constant flow of clean, fresh water, with no apparent source. The depth of this deep fissure in the earth is still not accurately known, but previous attempts establish its depth at easily over 100 feet.
So, what exactly is it? A dormant volcano? An ancient sinkhole? The Mohawk Nation regarded it as The Altar of The Gods and the ancient stories that have transcended generations – tell of a more mythical origin involving a forbidden romance between a Chief’s daughter and a young man of whom the Chief did not intend for her to marry. Despite millennia of contemplation and investigation, this mountain-top lake remains a beautiful destination that draws scores of visitors each year.
So Much To Learn & Discover!
This summer, I hope you’ll be inspired by South Eastern Ontario’s bounty of fascinating educational attractions for science lovers both young and old! Whether you’re into rocks, animals, plants, or the universe itself – there is a treasure trove of destinations just begging to be explored!
Parents, if after reading this blog, the kids are still reluctant to put down the tablet or controller, tell them about this cool new game that just came out, called “Travel.” It has amazing graphics.
As always, thanks for reading!
Adventure & Discovery Await!