This summer, Alex & I decided to try to be tourists in our own backyard. We looked up a few fun & easy hikes to do in Ontario, and chose some that were close by. Here are 3 that we did that I’d recommend, each less than 2hrs from home (Aurora) and very budget-friendly!
1. Dundas Peak!
(June 28, 2016)
Just outside of Hamilton, Ontario, an amazing little hiking area exists along the Niagara Escarpment that will lead you to Dundas Peak, overlooking Dundas & Hamilton.
The peak overlooks Spencer Gorge, and along the way you will find Webster’s Falls & Tews Falls, both relatively small waterfalls, but equally beautiful & fairly quiet lookout spots and photo opportunities.
If you click here for the Google Maps link, you’ll see the small green area that includes Spencer Gorge (around Spencer Creek), Webster’s Falls (To the left), Tews Falls (a bit North), and Dundas Peak (to the right, East of everything else. There is a parking lot inside the park entrance off of Fallsview Road, right near Webster Falls. Parking here is $10, which is a bit pricey, but as we found out it is even more expensive if you park on the road and get a $60 parking ticket… so I’d recommend just paying for parking. The entrance fee is $5 per person on top of that, and both parking and entrance are cash only.
Once you enter the park, you’ll pass Webster’s Falls right near the beginning, a tiered waterfall surrounded by a lovely park area and bridge. From there, you can continue on the Spencer Adventure Trail (there are maps and signs all along the way) which runs through the park all the way to Dundas Peak. Tews falls is a bit off of the main path, but at 41m tall is actually a really neat lookout spot from the top. You also have the option of walking the Glen Ferguson Side Trail, but all of the trails loop around back to the main ones, so don’t be afraid to wander around, you’d have a tough time actually getting lost on these trails, and there are a ton of little signs and arrows everywhere you go.
Dundas Peak itself is the main attraction for most, and the best lookout point (though there are several others along the way that are pretty awesome too). This spot would be beautiful pretty much any time of year. We went in June and enjoyed a sea of green trees below us, but it’d definitely be a great spot for a fall hike as well, as the leaves begin to change colours.
If you walk along the main trail, it is about 4.5km, but adding in Tews Falls and the Glen Ferguson side trail I believe it’s a total of about 7-8km. We walked at a slow pace, stopped at a few of the lookout points along the way, and took lots of photos from the Peak and hung out for a while. In total, we spent about 3 hours there from the time we left the car, to the time we got back (to our parking ticket), which was more than enough time, and if you only had an hour you’d have no problem just quickly hiking through the main trail and taking a peek from the top.
It was an awesome hike, nothing too challenging, with a few steep stairs along the way but mostly just a slower inclining hill. Great for anyone looking for some outdoor fun and a bit of exercise but not necessarily wanting a crazy cardio mountain hike. Make sure you bring water (and a snack if you like) as there is nowhere to buy it there, and enjoy!
2. Scarborough Bluffs!
(September 11, 2016)
About a half an hour East of Toronto, lies an area that until this summer I had no idea existed, and that I thought looked like something I would’ve seen in Thailand, and barely believed it was so close to home until I went myself. The scarborough bluffs look like jagged rocks jutting out of the ground forming cliffs, but in actuality they are rounded cliffs at the top (bluffs are formed by meandering rivers). They are surrounded by a marina, and a couple of beach areas and parks as well, where you can lay by the bright blue and turquoise water and watch sailboats, and pretend you’re across the globe, because it does not feel like you’re in Ontario.
There are a bunch of hiking trails around the bluffs, and in the forested area above the beaches. We parked (for free) on Chine Drive (click here to see it on Google Maps), a residential street nearby, where we then walked to the end of the street and entered the forest. The trail leads through to the main trail entrance (through Scarborough Bluffs Park, off of Undercliff Drive & Cecil Cres.). The trails through the area & lookout point (East of the actual park) overlook the main beach area and the marina. The trails are clearly marked, but are set back quite a bit from the cliff edge. They specifically are covered in signs saying not to climb over the fence, but it is pretty clear that climbing over the fence is exactly what everyone does for photos, and to get a better view over the shrubs.
Disclaimer: Several people have died here unfortunately, and it isn’t hard to see why… if you’re not careful, you could easily trip and slide down a cliff edge… If you’re going to climb over the fence, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your footing, and put away the selfie sticks for a minute… also make sure you’re wearing running shoes (please do not try to climb out in flip flops) and I’d say that under no circumstances should you go out if it’s raining or icy, or even really windy. When we went it was a beautiful day, and we were feeling pretty adventurous… so you can see that we clearly were not on the marked trail for some of these photos… Oops! We were, however, VERY careful.
If you continue along the waterfront trail, you will be able to climb down a steep area that comes out onto Brimley Road South, right where the road turns into Bluffers Park. Here, you can follow the road down past the parking lots and marina (and the bathrooms & ice cream truck that looks like it’s usually there), and to the main beach area. The best beach area is definitely the one that is West of the main peninsula (with the 2 loop-ish round land pieces coming out on the water). This beach is right below a huge cliff, with a spectacular view of the water in front of you and the bluffs behind you.
We chose to walk around the beach area and hang out for a bit, walking around the paths below the bluffs first, before heading back up to explore out on the bluffs and get the crazier photos, once we could see from the bottom exactly where they were (it’s hard when you’re on the trails to realize where the bluffs actually come out, because they’re so much farther below & in front of you, blocked by shrubs). The beaches & park areas below are absolutely stunning though, and we passed by a ton of people having picnics & beach days. Who could blame them on a day like this!?
After walking around the bottom, and checking out the water reservoirs by the bluffs, we decided to walk back up the road, up the steep hill trail to the main trail again that leads back to the park. This time, we climbed the fence, and went out towards the edges (carefully) to find the foot trails leading out through the shrubs onto the actual bluffs. If you click here, you’ll see a zoom in of the bluffs (they are light grey patches) from above, and the trail directly above them, and you can get a bit of an idea as to how they’re set up. It’s pretty obvious though when you’re there, since the foot paths are clearly used frequently, and not hard to follow. We walked out, took some awesome photos of each other, and enjoyed the view. The best part was that we had gone on a quiet day, and other than the main beach area we were virtually alone for most of the walk.
The farther West we walked, the closer we got back to the actual Scarborough Bluffs Park, where we walked along towards the tourist-filled lookout point called Cathedral Bluffs Lookout. This spot was much less hidden, and obviously was open for people to check out and take photos from. It was probably one of the best views, but of course like most things was made a little less fun by the fact that you’re just waiting in a crowd for your turn to take a photo. It wasn’t too busy when we were there, but really anytime you’re waiting in a line to take a photo, you never feel as great about the images you took, and it didn’t feel even the slightest bit as adventurous as us climbing down the other bluffs for photos before. The view of the beach was spectacular though, and the water looked like something out of a travel magazine that couldn’t possibly have been so close to home.
The whole thing took us about 3.5hrs, and we took our sweet time walking around. It wasn’t physically challenging other than the trail going down to the road (which was really steep going back up and a took a bit of muscle), but other than that it was literally just a walk in the park! Definitely a top spot to check out in Ontario, and it’s absolutely free, so no excuses people, get out there!
3. Elora Gorge! (Almost…)
(October 19, 2016)
Incase you haven’t heard of it (like me), Elora is a beautiful and historic little town with a ton of old buildings and amazing scenery. It is relatively close to Waterloo (about a half an hour drive), and only about and hour and a half away from Toronto (or Aurora, where I live). The Elora Gorge brings a ton of visitors to the small town, with trails all around the Elora Quarry, and views overlooking the Grand River. The gorge itself even has tubing in the summer, but we planned on going for a nice fall hike (though the tubing is definitely on our list for next summer!) The drive there was honestly half the fun, and since we decided to go in October, we had a spectacular view the whole drive of the trees changing colour.
The only downside to choosing October, was the fact that we forgot to check that it was actually still OPEN… it wasn’t. The trail areas were all blocked off, and we couldn’t even park in the main parking area. We didn’t have a ton of time, so we drove down the road, parked in a free lot (most parking here is free) and then walked around a bit. We got a view of the river and walked along it for a bit, but couldn’t figure out how to get to the main trail, and the part of the path we were on was absolutely soaking wet and muddy. We decided that if the main hiking trails were closed, we’d just go for a walk through the town and across the bridge.
The View from the bridge actually was beautiful, looking out over the gorge. The surrounding area had several old buildings that were abandoned and half destroyed, but there was also a lot of construction. When we walked to try to find the other trail entrance we saw on our map, we realized it was also completely closed due to construction… oops.
We decided to go for a walk through the town instead, and we stopped at a sweets shop (Sweet Distractions) for some salt water taffy (amazing), and once we started walking down the main street we saw the sign for the Elora Brewing Company… Why not?! We sat and had a couple of beer samples and chatted with the server there. We told her about our failed hike plan, and she told us that we probably could’ve still gone in to the trail entrance… but at this point we didn’t have a ton of time left. She told us instead to check out Victoria Park, right around the corner, where there’s a great lookout point over the river, and is otherwise just a really nice spot to walk around.
By her recommendation, that was what we did. The view was pretty awesome actually, and we walked around the park for a bit, enjoying the fall colours before heading back to the car.
We were a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to go on our actual HIKE here, but we still got to explore a new place, and we had the perfect weather for it. Can’t complain too much about that! Next time we plan on going in the summer, for a real hike and some tubing! Until then, this trip of walking through the town and sampling beer will just have to do!