Hiking Ontario

If you know me personally, you know that it is quite hard for me to stay still. And by this I do not mean that I fidget and fuss, but that I crave adventure and movement on a scale that most people just don’t understand.

While up to and including this point in my life, travel on a grandeur scale has not been possible – whether monetary tightness or family obligations or school requirements, or, or, or, there has always been something trumping my wild heart’s need to run.

That being said, I have not let that stop me from getting my fix when I can and instead, has made me quite the well-rounded guide for trails and destinations within our beautiful province that just have to be tackled. On a weekend or day off I am often up before the sun and off – solo or with company – hitting the open road with a destination in mind, ready to feed my soul the nourishment she craves of nature, adventure and exploration.

Wanting to get your feet wet with some of the best treasures I’ve found so far? Here are a few to get you started:

1. Spencer Gorge Conservation Area: This location contains some of the best hiking within a 30 minute drive of Cambridge, Ontario and boasts gorgeous views of the escarpment.

upper tews

Overlooking the gorge toward Tews Falls side

There are well traveled paths already available for the less crazy than me type (which lead up to the peak, featured in the above photo), or if you are willing to be a little more daring, (and slightly…illegal), then you should prepare for a 6 hour hike down the basin into the gorge itself where you can meander your way to the bottom of both sets of falls. This area can be reached through a gated off access point on the Webster’s Falls side of the trail, or near the rail way tracks at the bottom of the hill heading into Dundas. Come prepared with proper, sturdy footwear, some water, snacks and enjoy a day playing at the base of waterfall giants. Michael and I did this hike last in the winter and while incredibly challenging in full snow gear, totally worth it to stand in awe of this:

Feeling so small at Tews base January 2015

Feeling so small at Tews base January 2015

2. Beamer Memorial Conservation Area: This beauty of a spot was first visited on a fall day where I was feeling particularly restless and needed a new perspective. Not knowing where I wanted to head, I Googled ‘best Escarpment vantage points’ and this beauty popped up in the search results. It really is something to take in.

Lake Ontario for days

Lake Ontario for days

Roughly an hour’s drive from Cambridge, this trail is located in Grimsby Ontario and is part of the Bruce Trail system that runs along the Niagara Escarpment. There are multiple access points (I have found 3 so far) boasting views of the escarpment cliffs, terraces, Lake Ontario as well as the upper and lower falls. If you’re a bird fanatic, try to visit during the spring Hawk migration (roughly March 1 – May 15) where you can catch these stunning birds of prey on warm sunny days between 10:00am and 3:00pm.
New to hiking? From the main gate the trail is fairly flat, roughly 1.9km and easy to navigate for even the most novice hikers. With multiple lookout points and even more challenging trails leading into the basin, this area needs a whole day’s dedication if you can manage. If you’re able and wanting a little more challenge, climb your way down from the back entrance or end of the top trail from the front; here you will find the upper and lower falls just waiting for you to explore them.

Linda and I reaching the top of the lower fall deck

Linda and I reaching the top of the lower fall deck

3. The Bruce Peninsula National Park: While the furthest of my favourites, clocking in the drive at just over 3 hours from Cambridge, this breathtaking wonder located in Georgian Bay is well worth the drive. A part of the 885km of Bruce Trail, this section offers hikers the unique Northern landscape, incredible turquoise waters and four trails within the park to choose from.

That really is the colour of the water

That really is the colour of the water

As it’s located in the heart of a biosphere reserve, you’re sure to see your fair share of wildlife and interesting vegetation, massive rugged cliffs and limestone barrens. Make sure you make your way down to the Grotto – a natural cave on the shoreline that was formed from the waves from the Bay washing in over thousands of years.

Dancers pose over the Grotto #yogaeverydamnday

Dancers pose over the Grotto #yogaeverydamnday

If you’re feeling extra adventurous and the park just isn’t enough for you (ha, yeah right), head over to Flowerpot island via boat and spend the day on an additional 6.5 km of trail, admiring the natural sea stacks, navigating massive caves and touring the historic light station.

Kelso: Located in Milton, just a 40 minute drive from Cambridge and easily accessable from the 401, Kelso is a location I would consider when I am looking for a slower pace, less challenging climb.

From the mid-point, overlooking the top

From the mid-point, overlooking the top

Still providing great heights for views, it also houses 22 km of hiking terrain which is also suitable for mountain bikers looking for a challenge, 396 hectares of camping, and a network of incredible caves to explore. With the perfect Western views, Kelso is a great place to head with a picnic, your favourite person and find a spot to perch while the sky gives you an incredible show at sunset.

Sunset at Kelso

Sunset at Kelso

If you’re wanting the same proximity to home as Kelso but a little more adventure, on the alternate side of the escarpment you’ll find Rattlesnake Point, accessible from Kelso or a short drive, which hosts three rock-climbing areas and an additional 12.7 km of looping trails.

These are just a few of my favourite spots in our gorgeous province of Ontario – I’ll have to write a few posts to fit them all in as there are still plenty of places in Muskoka, Niagara, through Huron and Bruce Counties, Sarnia, etc. to be shared. What are some of yours? Any different ones you might recommend for me?

~ Toni

 

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She’s 6

It’s been hard to find the words to express exactly what this year has meant for me and my oldest baby Sophie, the one with the looooooong legs and the fascinating brain and the crazy sense of humour and the incredible compassion for all living creatures, especially her tired, worn-out, crying mama (there’s nothing that brings a girl to her knees like a 5-year old rubbing your back and telling you it’s going to be okay). She’s turning 6 this week and I’m struggling to pinpoint exactly what made this year different from the year before.

Crazy tall kid. For our family, of course (she's still one of the shortest in her class.)

Crazy tall kid. For our family, of course (she’s still one of the shortest in her class.)

She’s in her second year of school, so that’s not new, but how she’s handling herself there is different since she is in the oldest grade (she’s a Senior Kindergartener now) and her teachers tell me she’s all about helping the younger kids, the Junior Kindergarteners, figure out the rules and talking to them when they’re crying for their parents. It’s such an oldest sister thing, such a me thing, to be a mother hen, that my heart at once is so proud and aches that her childhood is slipping away in the service of others. You give a bit of yourself away every time you reach out to someone, and it’s not a bad thing, but the fact that she’s starting so early makes me worry about whether or not she’ll have anything left for her when she gets older. It took me forever to find that balance – I hope her path is full of as much compassion for herself as it is for others.

“Don’t I look so adorable?” Yes, Sophie. Yes, you do.

She’s still a diva, a fashionista in training, who staunchly believes still that ‘flat pants’, or leggings, the pants that sit flat against her legs, are the only ones that make her look beautiful. She’s stunning. There is nothing that girl can’t put on with her hair and her ridiculous blue eyes and her tiny nose that doesn’t look pretty, but you can’t reason with her. Sophie is only pretty when she’s got her flat pants on. And if she can’t wear those, the tears and gnashing of teeth and stream of self-loathing that follows is irrational, heartbreaking and frustrating as all hell. There are only so many times you can say, “You are gorgeous no matter what you wear.” before it turns into you yelling, “You’re wearing the ugly jeans so just get dressed already!”

So pretty. But only in flat pants!

So pretty. But only in flat pants!

She’s trying so damn hard to recognize letters and print like a pro and read a book unaided. She’s not there yet, but this year the Valentine’s took waaay less time to print and the word recognition is coming faster and more furious, and the pages of her printed letters and numbers have littered our house to the point where I toss them out because there are SO MANY. She’s always bringing home a book she’s made, or showing me that she sees her name or wants to know if the random letters she’s printed say anything. She’s trying SO HARD. I can’t wait for the penny to drop for her, not only because things will get read a lot faster, but also the pride she feels in the tiny steps she’s been taking will turn into a full-blown mind explosion of excitement. I can’t wait.

This face times a MILLION when she finally reads in a stream without stopping.

This face times a MILLION when she finally reads in a stream without stopping.

She’s thoughtful. SO thoughtful. And not just in kindness, but in thinking through everything you say and connecting it to other stuff that has been said or that she’s seen. We’ve been watching Full House on Netflix as a family. Sophie is by far the most interested in it. We were listening to the radio the other day and the radio host was talking about how they have guest DJ’s every week. Sophie immediately stopped colouring and looked at me. “Did he just say D.J.? Like Full House?” And thus began a 10-minute conversation about the difference between Full-House DJ and a radio DJ. Tricky stuff.

Such good sisters...except when they're SCREAMING at each other.

Such good sisters…except when they’re SCREAMING at each other.

But again, none of these things are glaringly new or crazy insane. We’ve had a relatively quiet year here with Sophie. She’s gone to school, made new friends, is often at our neighbour’s house to play with another girl her age, and generally we just manage her fashion meltdowns and lippy-ness (her wit and smarts get her into trouble more often than not). And the more I think about it, about the year that was for her and me and us, I kind of feel like I cheated her. I’m so focused on Lillian and the war that we are waging right now and getting her ready for school and I am trying to keep Isaac from killing himself since we’ve firmly landed in the climb-everything-and-conquer-it stage, that I’m really not handling Sophie much at all. Really, the only things that Sophie and I do together are get up, read, get dropped off at school, get picked up from school, and then negotiate our way to dinner and then bedtime. It’s so…removed and hands-off. I don’t worry about her going pee or poop everywhere anymore. Generally when she climbs things it has zero impact (unless it’s a fire hydrant…then a nice, blood-spouting hole appears in her chin). And her temper tantrums are usually dramatic friendship woes (that are normally fabricated by her) or rages against the disgusting pants that flair on the way down and don’t hug her legs.

All grown up. *sob*

All grown up. *sob*

I was told when I had her, 6 years ago, that the time will fly quickly. That one day she won’t need me as much and I’ll miss the time when she does. And in truth, I can’t believe it’s been 6 years. I can’t believe she’ll be 6. But, I’m so busy being needed by Lillian and Isaac that I’ve missed missing her needing me as much. It makes me want to grab her and really relish in her independence and her sauciness and her laughter and her crazy thinking. And it makes me worry that maybe I’ve failed her. Maybe in not being there for her, even if she doesn’t need me, I’m making her feel unloved or like she’s drifting away from us.

Not too old to sit in a foam chair and watch a  movie with her siblings.

Not too old to sit in a foam chair wearing fairy wings to watch a movie with her siblings.

But then yesterday she curled up with me to watch DJ hang out with Kimmy Gibler, and I loved the feel of her weight and warmth and her hand and arm crooked through mine. And today, when we walked across the parking lot of a doctor’s office, she grabbed for my hand without me even asking, just as I was debating whether or not I should ask her since we’ve been walking independently across streets on the way to school now for months.

Wearing new birthday flat pants, shirt and purse. STYLIN'. She says she's "fancy." I can not argue.

Wearing new birthday flat pants, shirt and purse. STYLIN’. She says she’s “fancy.” I can not argue.

And then, just like that, all is right in the world again.

To my eldest, my tallest (for now), my sauciest – happy happy birthday, my love. 🙂 I’m excited to see what this year brings us and how far you’ll go, even if it is further away from me.

Love, Mama

~ Julia