Hiking is great year round, and depending on who you ask the biking season runs pretty late too. Some spots, though, beg to be visited in the fall when the leaves are at their peak. If no bugs, cool weather, and stunningly beautiful landscapes sounds like a winning combination, here are seven Kawarthas Northumberland trails to try before the leaves come down.
Peter’s Wood is a short trek at only 0.8 km, but it packs a lot into a brief stretch. It represents the last surviving stand of old-growth forest along the Oak Ridges Moraine, so expect grand, towering maples and beeches — in fall the colours are downright magisterial. Grab one of the free guidebooks and stop at each signposted point of interest along the way. You’ll learn about interesting ecological features such as the so-called stilt walker trees, which sprouted on top of fallen logs that have rotted away and left an extensive root structure open to the air.
The fact that much of the land nearby has been cleared for agriculture makes this area all the more precious, but if you’re left craving a longer hike, Northumberland County Forest is ten minutes away and offers over 45 km of trail. Cyclists with time to spare should consider stopping off at Peter’s Wood while they complete the Rice Lake Ramble, an 80 km loop through pastoral and wooded landscapes. Learn more about the Rice Lake Ramble here >
Speaking of Northumberland County Forest, this is a winner if you’re looking to log some serious outdoor hours. These multi-use trails draw in hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders in the warmer seasons, and cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter. In addition to attracting hobbyists of all stripes, the 3.2 km of trail designed as “universal” seek to minimize barriers to accessibility by offering a leveled gravel surface suited for wheelchairs and other assistive devices, as well as benches at regular intervals. That makes it perfect for hikers and cyclists of all abilities, but since the longest single loop runs 14 km and can be mixed and matched with other sections, you’re likely to run out of daylight before you run out of trail. The narrow Hog’s Back ridge is glorious in the fall, and the aptly named Lookout Mountain affords a commanding view of the countryside. Learn more here >
Warsaw Caves’ network of seven explorable caves closes December 1 for safety reasons, so avid spelunkers should gear up soon. With a total of 15 km of trail and a number of fascinating geological features, though, the park has plenty to offer visitors who don’t mind staying above ground. You won’t need a headlamp to check out the “kettles,” funnel-shaped depressions worn in the rock over the course of centuries. From the lookout at the top of the trail you’ll get a lovely view of a bend in the Indian River, but closer to the park interior the river performs a vanishing act and goes underground. Chose the trail on the western side of the park and you’ll find an extensive limestone plain and a cedar forest that becomes a popular destination for cross-country skiers once the snow hits. Learn more here >
Harold Town Conservation Area was designed with mountain bikers in mind. The first thing you see on arriving is the steep slope of a former ski hill, which should encourage bikers looking for a technical challenge. Switchbacks, log hops, and other trail features offer an adrenaline hit to accomplished riders, but less demanding routes like the comparatively flat Kessel Run are accessible to the beginner.
With fourteen trails total, you’ll likely find something tailored to your ability level at Harold Town Conservation Area. On busy days the forest rings with the sound of bells from riders signalling their presence, but as the weather turns colder hikers often take to the trails as well. The view from the park’s highest point is a quintessentially Ontarian mixture of farmland and forest, particularly striking in October when the leaves are at their most vibrant.
Just north of Lindsay, the Ken Reid Conservation Area is one of Kawartha Lakes’ most popular outdoor destinations. The floating boardwalk is a highlight of special interest to birders and wildlife enthusiasts, since it passes through an ecologically diverse wetland area.
Several trails offer views of Sturgeon Lakes as they wind through forest and meadow. Mountain bikers are welcome, though few climbs mean the route is more relaxing than technical. For cyclists looking to cover a bit more ground, the Ken Reid Conservation Area connects with the Victoria Rail Trail, the total length of which stretches from Bethany to Kinmount.
Speaking of which, the Victoria Rail Trail deserves its own entry. Together with the Kawartha Trans Canada Trail, it opens up some of the most extensive, accessible, and visually gorgeous cycling and walking options in the region. The former rail bed runs mostly flat and straight, but overhanging trees create corridors of fall colour. Walk it in sections or cover distance on an extended biking trip.
The section of the Victoria Rail Trail from Fenelon Falls to Lindsay is in particularly good condition and can be linked up with the Kawartha Trans Canada Trail. Head west on the Kawartha Trans Canada Trail towards Oakwood and hungry cyclists can fuel up in Little Britain at Buttertarts ‘n More; head east from Lindsay towards Peterborough and stop for a photo op on Doube’s Trestle Bridge. This historic bridge rises thirty meters over Buttermilk Valley and grants a panoramic view of surrounding fields and woodlands. Just be advised the bridge is closed for minor repairs starting October 15, 2018, so depending on when you go it might not be possible to cross. Learn more here >
The Oak Ridges Moraine is one of the most ecologically important landforms in southern Ontario, and Fleetwood Creek Natural Area is an ideal place to get a good look at it. The centrepiece is an observation platform that provides an achingly gorgeous vista of fall colours, but hikers can extend their stay with one of several looped trails. Depending on which you choose you’ll be treated to open meadows and handsome deciduous forest, or moody, evocative cedars sloping down into the valley. The parking lot proper is a few hundred metres down an unmaintained road, so you may want to park earlier and walk the final stretch you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle.