This post was originally published on the Ontario Travel blog.
Active, fresh air enthusiasts don’t need an excuse to get outdoors and enjoy a brisk walk or challenging hike. But for some of us, a little incentive is required to embark on a nature outing, and Canada’s fall season delivers just that. From climbing old fire towers to hiking rocky mountain cliffs, you’ll be rewarded with 100% bragworthy, Instagrammably breathtaking views lit up by a colourful medley of greens, ambers, golds, and reds. The views alone are totally worth the passport stamp, not to mention the scenic journeys to each and the memorable stays along the way.
The Scarborough Bluffs is a natural geological lakeside landmark in Toronto’s east end, the result of sedimentary deposits over 12,000 years ago, as well as wind and water erosion. The 15-kilometre escarpment features dramatic cliffs that plunge down into Lake Ontario below. There are eleven designated park areas along the escarpment with extensive trails, recreation facilities, and mythic views. Bluffers Park provides access to the beach below, another great vantage point from which to admire the splendid fall colour.
Where to stay: There’s an accommodation option to suit every style and budget in Canada’s most cosmopolitan city. But if it’s views you’re after, check out the vista from Hotel X, Toronto’s waterfront oasis.
Where is this: approximately 65 kilometres southwest of Toronto
Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton is beautiful in every season, but in fall, it is nothing short of breathtaking. With sheer cliffs, cave systems, and rock crevices, this spot is a mecca for rock climbers. The park features several trails of varying levels of ease, including the Buffalo Crag Trail. It begins at the parking lot and follows along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment cliffs to stellar lookout points of the Nassagaweya Canyon below and countryside beyond.
Tip: Nearby, lesser known Mount Nemo Conservation Area also features a ribbon of exposed rock face with equally amazing views from the top. In fact, you can see the Toronto skyline on a clear day. Keep an eye out for mighty turkey vultures soaring by.
Where to stay: Treat yourself to the height of luxury, elegancy and hospitality at Langdon Hall Country Hotel & Spa in Cambridge.
Where is this: approximately 65 kilometres west of Toronto
West of Caledon on Olde Base Line Road, and only an hour’s drive from Toronto, lies an amazing geological site so alien looking it could be the set for a Star Trek episode. The undulating rust and red coloured rocks marked by ribbons of white veins is a result of exposed and eroded shale, and the striking colour is due to iron oxide deposits. This sensitive landscape has recently been reopened to the public with new accessible boardwalk and trails. Though not technically a hike up, the scene from the viewing platform in the fall is a spectacle you don’t want to miss – waves of rolling red rock framed by blazing autumn colour.
Where to stay: Rejuvenate weary muscles at the Millcroft Inn & Spa, a member of the elegant Vintage Hotels group of properties.
Where is this: approximately 72 kilometres southwest of Toronto
Only 20 minutes west of downtown Hamilton is Dundas Peak, an epic lookout within the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area, also home to scenic Webster and Tews waterfalls. Weekday visits are encouraged as weekend parking can be hard to find, and minus the crowds, you’ll have more time to sit and look out over the gleaming treetops across the glorious Dundas Valley. Alternate parking is available at Christie Lake Conservation Area where you can follow the Spencer Adventure Trail to the peak.
Where to stay: Luxury meets heritage at The Barracks Inn in neighbourhood community of Ancaster.
Where is this: approximately 223 kilometres north of Toronto
Just northeast of Wiarton in Grey County, on an extension of the Bruce Trail, you’ll find a massive rock jutting out of the landscape that looks a lot like Pride Rock in the Lion King. The full Skinner’s Bluff Trail system is 20 kilometres, but you can beeline from the parking lot to the lookout spot in just 15 minutes. Take care over the rocky terrain and steep drops along the way. The best views are from the east and north sides of the escarpment overlooking the forest below and the shinning waters and islands dotting Colpoy’s Bay, a scenic inlet of Georgian Bay. Enjoy, little Simba!
Where to stay: Waterview Resort is the closest waterfront accommodation, just outside nearby Wiarton (home of Canada’s most famous groundhog).
Where is this: approximately 245 kilometres north of Toronto
Built in 1922 as a lookout for potential forest fires, this historic structure is strictly a tourist attraction today with an awesome 360-degree view 142 metres above Muskoka’s Lake of Bays. The Dorset Lookout Tower Trail begins behind the Dorset Heritage Museum on Main Street and continues for 2.25 kilometres uphill through mixed forest to the base of the 30-metre-tall tower. Catch your breath and climb up. The scene from the top is well worth the effort.
Head to Foley Mountain Conservation Area in the Rideau Valley for a fantastic viewpoint atop a protruding granite ridge. The showstopping view includes the Upper Rideau Lake and the village of Westport just 48 kilometres south of Perth in eastern Ontario. There are five marked trails, including the wide, crushed stone, low grade Mobility Trail that allows for wheelchair access to the lookout point. The conservation area lies within the Frontenac Arch, one of four UNESCO designated World Biosphere Reserves in Ontario and part of Ontario’s Amazing Places program. About an hour’s drive south is another highlight within the biosphere. A remarkable view of the 1000 Islands and St. Lawrence River awaits from the 120-metre-high observation deck at the top of the 1000 Island Tower.
Note: this attraction includes an elevator.
Where to stay: Soak up small town hospitality at The Cove Country Inn overlooking the lake in Westport.
The hike begins at Calabogie Peaks Resort with an easy walk (just over a kilometre) up a slow incline to the 120-metre-high cliff-top for a spectacular bird’s eye view of the wilderness below. Or opt for the longer 9-kilometre Manitou Mountain trail that passes three other mountain vistas before leading up to the money shot at Eagle’s Nest Lookout.
Note: not to be confused with Eagle’s Nest Bancroft that provides a stunning view of the York River Valley.
Where to stay: Choose from boutique hotel rooms or mountainside condos at Calabogie Peaks Resort.
Where is this: approximately 426 kilometres north of Toronto
Located in Killarney Provincial Park, one of Ontario’s most treasured parks, The Crack rewards determined hikers with a panoramic view of La Cloche’s white quartz mountain peaks on the horizon, shimmering lakes and streams below, surrounded by spectacular fall forest foliage stretching out towards the Georgian Bay shoreline. Catch the start of the trail at the parking lot off Highway 637. It follows an old logging road into the park and joins the La Cloche Silhouette Trail up to The Crack (which is literally a crack – a deep crevasse in the rock you need to pass through to get to the lookout).
Where to stay: Killarney Mountain Lodge is a waterfront resort in the village of Killarney that offers a variety of accommodations styles and meal plan options.
Where is this: approximately 530 kilometres north of Toronto
There are several trails along the Manitoulin Extension of the Niagara Escarpment, including the awesome Cup and Saucer Trail that leads you up the 350 metre climb to the highest point on Manitoulin Island just past the East Lookout. The trail begins at the parking lot on Bidwell Road and Highway 540 and involves a few ladder and rope climbs on the way to the top of the imposing 70-metre-tall cliffs.
Where to stay: The design for The Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre was inspired by the beauty of the region and the culture of the Indigenous people of Manitoulin.
Where is this: approximately 80 kilometres east of Thunder Bay
About an hour’s drive northeast of Thunder Bay, off the Trans Canada Hwy, lies Ouimet Canyon, one of Ontario’s most dramatic vistas. Located within Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, the vast 149-metre-wide gorge is flanked by a 150-metre-deep sheer cliff face and extends over 1,980 metres long. Follow the groomed trail and boardwalk connecting two observation platforms for the ultimate viewing spot. Or join local thrill chasers, Eagle Canyon Adventures, who invite you to cross Canada’s longest suspension footbridge and ride Canada’s longest, highest, and fastest zip line.