Reopened Ontario Provincial Parks That'll Give Families A Break

Just bring your own food, water and hand sanitizer — COVID-19 restrictions apply.
Finally, Ontario families can enjoy some park life... but not without a few extra precautions.
Finally, Ontario families can enjoy some park life... but not without a few extra precautions.

Kids have been jonesing for space to run around outside and, by now, most grown-ups are craving a break from Zoom meet-ups. And who doesn’t crave nature? The gradual reopening of provincial parks and conservation reserves across Canada is sparking a collective sigh of relief.

In this first story, in a cross-country series, we’re highlighting some of the most family-friendly provincial parks and conservation reserves reopening for the summer in Ontario, with a heads up about any COVID-19-related measures in place.

Let’s start with the nitty gritty: Ontario reopened 520 provincial parks and conservation reserves on Monday, May 11, and the remaining 115 on Friday, May 15. But before we all go jumping into our hiking boots, take note: This isn’t a return-to-normal.

Ontario’s provincial parks are open for limited day-use activities. “At this time, camping and other activities are not permitted at any provincial park or conservation reserve. All buildings and facilities, including washrooms, water taps, campgrounds, backcountry campsites, roofed accommodations, playgrounds, and beaches continue to be closed,” read a statement on the Ontario Parks website.

It’s a good idea to manage your family’s expectations before everyone piles into the car: Recreational activities, for the time being, are limited to walking, hiking, biking and birdwatching. But rest assured you still have lots to enjoy.

The trails, wildlife sightings and awesome lookouts, wetlands and waterfalls in these seven Ontario provincial parks will give nature lovers exactly what they’ve been waiting for.

Arrowhead Provincial Park

Where: A 10-minute drive north of Huntsville off Highway 11
Family-friendly activities:
If you’re home-schooling your kids during COVID-19, include an Arrowhead visit for a lesson on geology and land formations. Big Bend Lookout offers panoramic views of the meandering Big East River and of a geological feature left over from the ice age: an exposed river delta. Interpretive panels inform eager learners how meandering rivers form oxbow lakes. Follow Stubb’s Falls Trail to enjoy lunch where Little East River flows down a rock chute.
COVID-19 restrictions: All facilities, amenities and the Visitor Centre are closed. At press time, it was confirmed that two washroom facilities would be open.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Where: Upper Middle Road West, Oakville
Family-friendly activities: The pigs, cows and turkeys in the Children’s Farm delight kids — but it’s the white-tailed deer roaming this suburban park that take them by surprise. There are five relatively flat hiking and cycling trails (one with a 50-metre ravine) where visitors are apt to spot hawks, merlin, kestrels and eagles.

COVID-19 restrictions: Brief the kids before you enter the park: The 0.7-hectare outdoor pool near the entrance is currently off-limits. All buildings (including the historic Spruce Lane Farmhouse) and facilities, including washrooms, are closed. While the barns and sheds are currently off-limits, visitors can view the farm animals outside in pens or in the paddock.

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

Where: 30 kilometres outside Thunder Bay
Family-friendly activities:
The main draw is the 40-metre-high Kakabeka Falls, the second-highest in Ontario. An accessible boardwalk provides excellent views of the falls and the gorge down below — where bald eagles are frequently sighted. The Kaministiquia River cuts deep into the rocks below the falls to expose fossils that are estimated to be 1.6 million years old. To burn off extra calories, consider tackling the 2.5-kilometre Little Falls Trail, which, after a 30-metre descent, takes you to a smaller waterfall in the woods. Then you get to hike back up.
COVID-19 restrictions: All facilities, amenities and washrooms are closed.

Presqu’ile Provincial Park

Where: Presqu’ile Parkway, Brighton
Family-friendly activities: The 930-square-hectare park on the north shore of Lake Ontario is a migratory hot spot for 338 bird species, including the ring-billed gull, double-crested cormorant, great egret and black-crowned night-heron. Presqu’ile is also on the migratory path of monarch butterflies, which travel 4,000 kilometres from Canada to Mexico and back again in the spring. The 16-kilometre trail network is suitable for biking and hiking. Don’t miss the 21-metre lighthouse. Built in 1840, it’s the second-oldest operating lighthouse in Ontario.

COVID-19 restrictions: All facilities, amenities and washrooms are closed. Beach walks are prohibited.

Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

Where: Mono, outside Orangeville

Family-friendly activities: The Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, passes through the 732-hectare park where hikers can observe a diverse mix of ferns (including the rare hart’s tongue fern) and cedars. Plus, there’s a canyon walk below the 30-metre limestone cliffs along the Niagara Escarpment. Wooden boardwalks and staircases give access to crevices and caves carved by ancient glacial activity.
COVID-19 restrictions: All facilities, amenities and washrooms are closed.

Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Where: Off Highway 522 in Britt, which is a 45-minute drive from Parry Sound

Family-friendly activities: Grundy Lake is ideal for birders. Commonly sighted species include the great blue heron, common loon, broad-winged hawk and the great horned owl. Fox, deer and moose also inhabit the park. Keep your eyes peeled for the pair of trumpeter swans that visit each season. Hikers will get an excellent survey of the area’s geography on the 2.5-kilometre Gut Lake Trail, which crosses through rocky Precambrian Shield, past lakes, streams and wetlands. At time of writing, Beaver Dams Trail is closed due to seasonal flooding.

COVID-19: All facilities, amenities and washrooms are closed.

John E. Pearce Provincial Park

Where: Wallacetown

Family-friendly activities: Think of this park, which is located in the Carolinian forest zone of southwestern Ontario, as a walking botany or dendrology (study of trees) lesson. Hikers on the 1.5-kilometre Spicer Trail that loops through the centuries-old hardwood forest learn to identify 30 tree species by reading the 15 interpretative panels along the path. Similarly, nature lovers can learn about the role of wetlands from the 15 interpretative panels along the 1.5-kilometre Wetland Storey Trail.

COVID-19 restrictions: There are no amenities, washrooms or activities. The mid-19-century Georgian Backus-Page House is currently closed.

Wherever you decide to go, don’t forget:

  • Hand sanitizer, since washrooms are closed and there’s no running water
  • Sufficient water and food, as there are no eateries or stores operating in the parks at this time
  • And of course, to practise safe-distancing

Enjoy this long-awaited taste of (near-) freedom!