The leaves are at their absolute best this week. The exact peak depends on where you are — Algonquin Park typically peaks several days before Gravenhurst, for example — but suffice it to say that this will be an amazing weekend to see the colours.
And while the forecast may be calling for rain, rest assured that people will still come by the thousands to see this amazing spectacle. Last weekend, Algonquin Park sold out of day passes, and that was despite the fact that it was raining, wasn’t yet peak colour, and wasn’t a holiday weekend.
This weekend, provincial parks will be extremely congested. Past years have seen cars lined up for hours to get in. And it’s not just Algonquin that gets busy: Arrowhead in Huntsville, and Hardy Lake near Torrance are also certain to be jammed full of visitors.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can be kind of fun to visit the park during a busy fall day, and really feel like you’re taking part in something special and exciting. Then again, there’s also something magical about going on a hike without having to battle for parking or line up for hours to get a permit.
Fortunately, Muskoka is packed full of trails and great places to see the colours. Here are a few that don’t get as much notice.
This amazing property truly ranks as an undiscovered gem. There are thousands of acres of woodland, and more than 50 kms of trails located not far from Huntsville. Hiking there is free, and yet if you asked a random sampling of Muskoka residents about it, we’d bet that fewer than half have even heard of it.
The Limberlost trails have been in existence for more than 80 years and have been maintained by a broad range of people, including, for a while, a coalition of local cottagers. These days, the entire property is run as a sustainable forest, but hiking and trail use remain a key element of the property’s purpose.
The property’s trail guide lists ten principal trails and an equal number of connecting trails, all of which are available to hikers. All are amazing, so just pick one that matches the goals and abilities of your party, and head out. (If you’re up for a hike in late winter, though, be sure to check out the Solitaire Trail. There’s a waterfall that freezes into brightly coloured ice which looks amazing!)
Upjohn Nature Reserve
This is one of many trails owned and managed by the Muskoka Conservancy, a non-profit group that acts to protect significant patches of Muskoka wilderness. They have stewardship over thousands of acres of Muskoka land, including this 114-acre patch of woodland located near Bracebridge.
The trail here isn’t long — just a kilometre or so in length — but it ties in nicely to a walk along South Monck Drive, a seasonal road that becomes a snowmobile trail in winter. Although the road is open to car traffic now, it doesn’t see a lot of it so walking down it can feel a bit like walking a wide trail.
One highlight of the trail is the old stone farmhouse — an unusual sight in a wooded place like this. It’s a great reminder that much of the forest around Muskoka was cleared a century ago in an attempt turn it into farmland. In most places — including this one — the farmers eventually gave up and the forest grew right back in.
If you like this trail (and we’re sure you will), consider a donation to the Conservancy to help them continue to protect and preserve Muskoka’s wild spaces.
Eilean Gowan Island
Going out on the water gives you instant access to some amazing fall colours, but it doesn’t let you enjoy some of the other aspects of a fall hike, like the smell of the leaves, the sound of the wind rustling through the trees, or the surprising plop of a freshly-fallen leaf landing on your shoulder.
But if you’re on Lake Muskoka, you can enjoy the best of both worlds by boating to Eilean Gowan Island.
This is one of the larger islands in the lake. And like a lot of large islands, it has some incredible trails snaking through the interior, away from the private shoreline. Tobin Island on Lake Rosseau also has some great trails, for example. But on Eilean Gowan, the trails come with a public dock and an invitation to wander.
The access point is at the south end of the island, in the channel between it and Browning Island. The approach is shallow, but it’s sandy so just trim up and approach gently and you should be fine. Tie up, come ashore, and enjoy a stroll through the island forest.
Other trail options
This is just a small sampling of the dozens of trails available in Muskoka. To learn about more of them, be sure to check out the website of the Muskoka Trails Council, a non-profit group that promotes trail use and development.