About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
Dropping temperatures and shorter days signal not just the end of summer but also an annual ritual: leaf-peeping. The urge to witness the explosion of reds, yellows, golds and purples that are the hallmarks of fall foliage season is not an exclusively Canadian activity: the Japanese call it momijigari.
To really appreciate the burst of colours within driving distance of Toronto, fall foliage tours take a little planning. One big question is when to go. Nature can be fickle and doesn’t strut its stuff on demand. Generally, fall foliage runs mid-September to late-October, but changes in temperature and precipitation can impact the timing. Luckily, Ontario Parks makes it a bit easier to know thanks to its online Fall Foliage Report.
If you’re keen to experience the motherlode of fall colours in Ontario, Algonquin Provincial Park is the place to go, but do so on a less-busy weekday and reserve your day-use permit in advance. Fall foliage-fuelled traffic along the Hwy. 60 corridor – along with more people hitting the road on social-distancing drives because of COVID-19 – makes planning essential. Or consider one of these five equally colourful leafy driving tours.
One of the best fall foliage vantage points along the Bruce Trail is the Blue Mountain Lookout (sometimes called the Bruce Trail Lookout), located about 10 kilometres west of Collingwood. Follow Scenic Caves Road to Grey Road 119 and watch for the lookout on the bend in the road. You’ll see great swatches of multicoloured deciduous trees — with leaves ranging from yellow to orange to red — stretching down the mountainside to the shores of Georgian Bay. You can time your fall foliage visit to coincide with the Blue Mountains Apple Harvest Festival, which takes place Oct. 9 to 11. For a dose of adrenalin during your visit, strap into a harness at Wind Rider Trip Zipline, which will give you a bird’s-eye view of the red-orange-yellow treetops 15 metres below you.
How to get there: Take Hwy. 400 north and then turn west on Hwy. 26 toward Collingwood.
Peterborough and the Kawarthas
This mostly rural region a 90-minute drive northeast of Toronto is known for the Trent-Severn Waterway, outdoor activities, organic food growers and maple syrup. The latter bragging point (all those maple trees) tells you it’s a must-visit destination during fall foliage. The tourist board has curated five fall foliage drives, like the 118-kilometre “To Burleigh or Bust” excursion, which takes between two to four hours to complete depending on how many stops you make along the route. In between leaf-gazing, be sure to visit Curve Lake Cultural Centre and Whetung Ojibwa Centre to learn more about Indigenous culture, grab ice cream at Lockside Trading Company or explore the Warsaw Caves. When the route takes you through Burleigh, allow time for the three-kilometre paddle on Trent-Severn Waterway to Lovesick Lake in Wolf Island Provincial Park so you can experience the colours from the water. You can rent a canoe from Adventure Outfitters.
How to get there: Take Hwy. 401 east before turning North on Hwy. 115.
Awenda Provincial Park
This provincial park offers leaf-peppers a 31-kilometre network of hiking trails that wind through 2,900 hectares of forest full of mature second-growth deciduous trees along the shores of Georgian Bay. The easy Brûlé Trail takes you past areas dominated by sugar maples and red oaks, so expect a blast of dark reds. Feeling peckish after your ramble? About 15 minutes south of Awenda is the small town of Perkinsfield. Just look for a food truck (with lineups and picnic tables) on County Road 6. There you’ll find Perky’s Fish & Fries, a local favourite.
How to get there: Drive Hwy. 400 north to exit 121, just north of Barrie, where you’ll merge onto Hwy. 93 (also known as Penetanguishene Road). Awenda is 20 minutes northwest of Penetanguishene.
The rolling hills of the Caledon area include the Cheltenham Badlands, Belfountain Conservation Area, Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and numerous spots that turn into a patchwork of colour each fall. To take in the views while driving, start early in the day at the Cheltenham Badlands and head east along Olde Base Line Road to Chinguacousy Road. From there, you can drive west along Boston Mills Road before turning north on Winston Churchill Road to experience the leafy display at Robert Baker Forest. After, make your way to Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, which is on the Bruce Trail, to hike among the trees or make a beeline to the nearby Terra Cotta Inn for a lunch or early dinner featuring rustic Italian fare.
How to get there: Drive north on Hwy. 410, exiting onto Hurontario Street (look for signs for Hwy. 10 or Orangeville). Turn left onto Olde Base Line Road to the Cheltenham Badlands.
Ferris Provincial Park
Not only is Ferris Provincial Park in Northumberland County known for its fall colours, but leaf-gazers can admire the seasonal show from the Ranney Ferris Suspension Bridge that spans 10 metres above the Ranney Gorge. After your park ramble, hop back in the car and head to Dooher’s Bakery in nearby Campbellford. It’s one of 50 stops on the popular and delicious Kawarthas Northumberland’s Butter Tart Tour.
How to get there: Drive Hwy. 401 east to County Road 30 and then County Road 8.
COVID-19 need to Know
As of Sept. 22, you will need to provide proof of vaccination to access certain businesses and settings during your fall foliage tour. More details are available at covid-19.ontario.ca.
For the Drive
Delve into the mysteries of trees by listening to the audiobook “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben from audible.ca. If you have kids along for the drive, consider downloading “Nancy Fancy and the Fall Foliage” audiobook to hear all about the title character’s fall adventures. It is available from audiobookstore.com.