If you’re like us, you never tire of that annual rite known as the fall colours. It’s when forests and meadows and treed boulevards turn from green to a riot of reds, yellows and oranges. It’s the colour of happiness, though tinged with a bit of sadness because after all, this display of natural beauty leaves little doubt that summer, alas, is truly over.
But what is not to love about autumn? Along with crackling leaves underfoot, a nip of frostbite at your nostrils, there are trails to explore without fear of heatstroke, freshly picked apples to crunch, pumpkins to carve and thanks to give for nature’s bounty.
Autumn is also the best time to head off for a romantic weekend at a cozy inn in the country, or to gather the family for a road trip: you’ll find fewer cars clogging the highways, and summer prices smartly lowered to reflect the change of seasons.
If you’re itching to set off on a leaf peeping tour but don’t know where to start, check our fall colour “best views” list before you go. We had intended to share a list of 10 of our favourite places for fall colours, but couldn’t stop once we started to relive our many leaf journeys over the years. We stopped at 23, but only because we ran out of time.
Happy leaf peeping!
Muskoka is known for its breathtaking scenery, so why not combine a feast for your eyes with a fall getaway to Lake Rosseau. It’s here you’ll find the pretty village of Windermere, home to Windermere House, a landmark resort in Muskoka. Windermere House, which has overlooked Lake Rosseau for 140 years, was built in 1870 by Thomas Aitken and reconstructed in the late 1990s after a devastating fire during filming of the Hollywood movie The Long Kiss Goodnight. Stay at the inn for a longer getaway, or just spend the day at the neighbouring Windermere Golf and Country Club, where you can get up close with all those brilliant reds, oranges and yellows while enjoying some fresh air.
Huntsville, famed for the rugged Muskoka landscape that inspired painter Tom Thomson, boasts numerous parks and trails, including 52 kilometres of the Trans Canada Trail. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a seasoned hiker to get out in the middle of nature: try the leisurely 3.8-kilometre Hunter’s Bay Trail, which starts at the Centre Street Bridge and runs beside the river, under the railway trestle, along the east side of Hunter’s Bay, where the trail “floats” for about 450 feet. You’ll enjoy all that fresh air as you soak in the fall colours.
If you’ve never been to Northern Ontario, you’ll love the Lake Temiskaming district and the scenic waterfront community of Haileybury, part of the city of Temiskaming Shores. There are many splendid views to be had, but perhaps none better than from the nine-hole Haileybury Golf Club. Opened in 1921, the golf course is considered one of the most challenging in Northern Ontario. Built above Lake Temiskaming, the course affords breathtaking views of the water and beyond into Quebec, all against a stunning background of orange, red and yellow when the leaves start to turn. While you’re in the area, head south of Haileybury to Bucke Park Campground, which features a beautiful lookout at Devil’s Rock, which rises nearly 100 metres above the water’s surface and plunges a similar distance below. Great place for a fall picnic to go with those wonderful views.
No fall colours journey would be complete without a stop in Haliburton. The pretty village, located in the scenic Haliburton Highlands, offers a breathtaking landscape of hills and lakes that just might inspire you to take up painting (the village is home to the Fleming College Haliburton School of the Arts). Be sure to visit the Haliburton Sculpture Forest in Glebe Park, on the north shore of Head Lake, where you can enjoy nature’s colours and view a unique outdoor collection of sculptures by Canadian and international artists. The trails in the Sculpture Forest are designed for all seasons, so you can walk or cycle — or ski if winter comes early! Before you head for home, take a scenic drive just northwest of the village and you’ll find The Art Hive in the historical Welch’s General Store. The store is now headquarters to the Maple Lane Artisans Collective, a group of Haliburton County artists and artisans who display and sell pottery, fabric art, music, ironwork, sculpture, jewelry and more onsite.
TOWN OF THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
With its Georgian Bay beaches, hills and scenic valleys, Blue Mountains, located next door to Collingwood, is natural beauty at its finest, especially in the fall. The Nipissing Ridge Trail, located just off the Georgian Trail along Lakeshore Road West in the Craigleith area of Blue Mountains, is a great starting point to explore this gorgeous part of Ontario. The trail will take you along the Niagara Escarpment’s Nipissing Ridge, an ice-age glacial shoreline for the former Lake Algonquin, dating back 4,000 to 5,500 years. The Nipissing Ridge Trail also runs along and through a ritzy mountainside subdivision, Nipissing Ridge Park and various alpine ski areas, all offering up fantastic vistas.
NORTHERN BRUCE PENINSULA
Northern Bruce Peninsula covers an area of about 302 square miles, offering a feast for the eyes — from the raw beauty of the Niagara Escarpment to the pristine waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The drive up the Bruce Peninsula will take you to scenic waterfront communities such as Lions Head and Tobermory, the port community located on the northern tip. In between, on the Georgian Bay coast, is Bruce Peninsula National Park. If you want breathtaking views, you’ll find them here, with Overhanging Point, Halfway Rock Point, Cave Point and Halfway Log Dump just some of the great vantage points in the park.
Hailed as the jewel of the 30,000 Islands of Georgian Bay, Parry Sound boasts an abundance of natural beauty, including a beautiful waterfront. You can explore the waterfront and Parry Sound’s urban area by walking along the 6.5-kilometre Rotary Fitness Trail that links the Charles W. Stockey Centre with public beaches, boat launches, restaurants and the West Parry Sound Museum in Tower Hill Park. It’s at the base of the museum that you’ll find the 96-foot observation tower that will offer up stunning vistas across a treed canopy to Georgian Bay — but only if you can climb the 131 steps to the top of the lookout.
ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK
No fall colour tour is complete without a trek through Algonquin Park. One of our favourite short hikes is along the Barron Canyon Trail on the eastern reaches of the park. The 1.5-kilometre loop trail leads along the north rim of the spectacular 100-metre deep Barron Canyon, and then returns to the parking lot. While you’re soaking up all that glorious fall scenery, beware: the trail covers a very high, unfenced clifftop, so watch your footing. You can also see the Barron Canyon’s spectacular fall colours by canoe by accessing the canyon from the Brigham Lake parking lot or from the Barron River parking lot.
Find your way to Eagle’s Nest, a craggy outlook just north of Bancroft, for panoramic vistas. The cliff rises to a height of more than 60 metres, providing fantastic views of the York River valley, the town and surrounding forests. If you love thrills, you might want to come back in winter, when the brave use the cliff, from where icicles as long as 12 metres dangle, to practice ice climbing.
Fill up the car for the 2011 Scarlet Maple Tour. Dubbed the maple syrup capital of Ontario, Lanark Highlands in eastern Ontario is perfect for a fall drive along winding roads through colourful forests and scenic villages. Dotted with several lakes, this part of Lanark County is as picturesque as they come, with rolling hills and Canadian shield topography to go along with all those trees. The Lanark Highlands Business & Tourism Association has compiled a handy online list
of interesting places to visit during your self-guided driving tour, along with maps to help you get there.
Home to resorts, downhill skiing and golfing, Calabogie is the heart of the Township of Greater Madawaska, hailed for its pristine wilderness and beautiful waterways — there are more than two dozen lakes to go with the Madawaska River. There are gorgeous views everywhere, so bring the camera. First stop should be the Calabogie Peaks Resort’s ski hill, where the view atop Dickson Mountain is superb in the fall when the colours change. Next, take one of the many hiking trails, including the one that will take you to Eagle’s Nest, a cliff-top spot sacred to natives. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the giant lookout boulder to yourself, where you can breathe in the silent beauty of the place and watch eagles or turkey vultures soar as the trees glow in their fall colours.
Drive, bike or walk up the Rockcliffe Parkway for the most stunning views around. The view of the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills across the river in Quebec from the lookout at Rockcliffe Park is perhaps the best in the national capital. If you have time, cross the river and take a drive through Gatineau Park, which attracts fall colour watchers in droves every year.
Make your way to Foley Mountain, the most prominent feature in Westport, a scenic village known as the heart of the Rideau Lakes. Grab your camera and make your way to the Foley Mountain Conservation Area, where breathtaking views await from the highest point in the region. Hikers can walk up to the peak at Spy Rock, a granite ridge that looks out onto Upper Rideau Lake, the village and far beyond. The conservation area offers several scenic lookouts to soak in all that beauty, along with beaver ponds and picnic spots. A boardwalk trail allows access to facilities at Foley Mountain by people with all physical abilities.
BOBS AND CROW LAKES
If you’re looking for that Canadian Shield experience this fall — colourful pine trees, rocky shorelines, miles of clean lakes, rivers and streams and wetlands — you’ll find it at Bobs Lake and Crow Lake. Located in Eastern Ontario’s Land O’ Lakes cottage country, Bobs and Crow are connected bodies of water — officially reservoir lakes — situated 30 kilometres southwest of the town of Perth and 45 kilometres north of Kingston. You can get up close with the lakes and the Canadian Shield’s stunning scenery by taking a five-hour canoe ride along these deepwater gems. You can start at Mill Bay near the end of Bobs Lake, near the Bolingbroke dam, and make your way to Crow Bay, following the south shore up to the village, where you can stop at the beach for a picnic.
The Thousand Islands, a world-famous archipelago strewn along an 80-kilometre stretch of the St. Lawrence River, starting around Kingston and divided between Ontario and New York state, have been attracting visitors since the late 1800s. With 1,793 islands filled with trees, it’s a wonderful place to take in the fall colours. For a birds-eye view, head to Hill Island, where between September and October the Skydeck offers a spectacular panoramic view of the splendid landscape. The St. Lawrence forest region of the islands is well-known for its autumn splendour because of the mix of such trees as sugar maples, birch, oak, poplar and evergreens. You’ll see a riot of colour from your perch at the top of the Skydeck tower, more than 130 metres above the St. Lawrence River. From Ontario, travel past Kingston heading east on Highway 401, then take Exit 661 (Bridge to USA/Hill Island). Go over the first bridge to Hill Island and you will see the Skydeck on your left.
Elora, known for its eclectic shopping and artisans, is also hailed for its natural beauty. At the centre of it all is the Elora Gorge, where limestone cliffs plummet 22 metres into the Grand River below. Riverside trails and scenic overlooks will get you up close to those stunning views of the water far below, where kayakers and the brave in water tubes like to make their way through the rapids. You can also see the waterfall from the Elora Mill Country Inn & Restaurant, where you can stop for lunch.
We never tire of the Niagara Escarpment, which offers up more spectacular views at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area near Milton. The conservation area boasts five breathtaking lookouts that dot the edge of the towering forested cliffs of the escarpment. There are hiking trails if you feel like a walk in the woods after soaking in those views from the lookouts. Or you can take in the views while climbing the cliffs — Rattlesnake Point has three designated sites for rock climbers.
Take the elevator to the top of the CN Tower for panoramic views of the leafy city and Lake Ontario. If you’re feeling adventuresome, you might want to go outside to soak in those vistas: EdgeWalk at the CN Tower offers incredible views for those brave enough to stand on a ledge 116 storeys high above the ground. Led by trained guides, visitors walk in groups of six and are encouraged to tip-toe to the edge and hang over with their arms spread wide and nothing but air beneath them. You won’t be able to take your camera, but your $175 EdgeWalk ticket will get you a video of your daring fall feat. EdgeWalk will operate until October.
If you’re afraid of heights, stay away from the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs, which stretch for about 14 kilometres along the Lake Ontario shore, from the Eastern Beaches of Toronto in the west, to West Hill in the east. At their highest at Cliffside in Scarborough, the bluffs rise 65 metres above the water — that’s the equivalent of 17 storeys — offering superb views of the lake and surrounding countryside. The escarpment forms the old shoreline of Glacial Lake Iroquois, formed after the last ice age. In some places, such as the western end of Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough, the erosion has moulded the clay into interesting shapes. You’ll find a nice walking trail beneath the bluffs passing through the park, which is located at the foot of Brimley Road.
What can be better than a waterfall against a backdrop of fall colours? There are many waterfalls to choose from in Hamilton, including the 19-metre Albion Falls, which flows year-round. Located in King’s Forest Park in the city’s east end, at the top of Mud Street, this cascade waterfall flows down the Niagara Escarpment into the Red Hill Valley. There are two viewing platforms to catch all the action. You’ll find two parking lots on either side of Mud Street where it connects with Mountain Brow Boulevard. Albion Falls are said to be haunted — the steep drop has been dubbed Lover’s Leap — but you won’t have time to think about tales of love lost as you drink in nature in all her glory.
The Niagara Escarpment’s forest-cloaked sides turn a riot of reds, yellows and oranges in fall, when a walk or drive up the “mountain” are on the must-do list. Find your way to Beamer Conservation Area, where the view from The Point includes Lake Ontario. On a clear day, you can see Toronto. While you’re soaking in fall’s beauty, don’t be surprised if you spot a hawk or other raptor — the birds flock to the area for the fall migration.
With its miles of beautifully manicured parkland along the Niagara River, fall is a favourite time to see “the Falls,” famous for its dramatic scenic beauty for decades. A ride to the top of the Skylon Tower beside the Falls — you’ll travel in a yellow elevator up the outside of the tower to the top, where indoor and outdoor observation decks offer visitors a bird’s-eye perspective of the Falls and surrounding landcape. On a clear day from the top of the tower 775 feet above the Falls, you can see Toronto, Buffalo and Niagara wine country.
Climb aboard the Island Princess for an all-day fall colour cruise
. Take your camera for photo-ops on this 6.5-hour journey — there will be plenty! — which sails from the Orillia town dock on Lake Couchiching, through Lock 42 up the Trent-Severn Waterway into Sparrow Lake. The cruise includes continental breakfast and a home-cooked sit-down lunch buffet. To warm you up, there’s free coffee all day. Warning: this cruise is wildly popular, so book early! The cruise begins on Sept. 17, with the last sailing of the season on Oct. 2.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — September 2011