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Local writer Nancy Early explores the various types of "interesting" one can find in the region

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In search of "interesting" ... in The Hills of Headwaters

“What’s the hiking like up there in October?” queried a reader, intent on bringing his family up from the city to the Hills of Headwaters for an autumn hike. For years now I’ve been getting calls, emails and requests from folks who read my trail trekking features in the In the Hills magazine, and routinely ask for suggested hikes, especially in the fall.




“Depends on what you’re looking for,” I usually answer, but despite my delving, their answers are often the same… “Just a pleasant afternoon hike, a walk to keep the kids busy, lots of fall colours, maybe a spectacular lookout… you know something ‘interesting.’


“Interesting?” I muse aloud, “now that could be challenging.” Truth is, I find it hard to pinpoint ‘interesting.’ Take the Bruce Trail Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath that winds along the Niagara Escarpment from Tobermory to Queenston. Midway along this 1000-km trail, it travels through the Hills of Headwaters from Terra Cotta through the Caledon Hills and up to the top of Dufferin County.



Using my Bruce Trail reference maps I point out the many shade of interesting. For instance, if you want one-of-a-kind interesting, the Cheltenham Badlands are an absolute must-see! This is the best example of ‘badlands topography’ in southern Ontario, and the Bruce Trail stops to admire these remarkable (and rare) red clay hills of Queenston Shale. The fascinating story of how the badlands were formed is fully explained on a newly mounted interpretative display along the trail.



But if you prefer cliff-top interesting, head north to where the Bruce Trail literally drops over the edge of the Devil’s Pulpit in the Caledon area. Hikers use a steel cable to maneuver down the 100 meter descent to the bottom of the escarpment (or climb up if you’re going the other direction). The autumn views overlooking the Credit River Valley are simply amazing.



“Sounds great,” interrupts my reader, thinking I was finished, when in fact I’ve only begun. Now if you want historically interesting, the Bruce Trail also jaunts through the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park – an area that once teamed with mills, hydro-electric plants, railroads and stone quarries. Trails lead to a unique kettle lake (formed by melting glacier), and benches strategically overlooking the spectacular Credit River Valley. However, the most popular stop is the viewing platform that takes in the gushing waterfalls and river gorge. Interpretative displays recounting the area’s vibrant past are dotted throughout the park.



But if cave interesting hikes are your bag, head to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park (just 10 minutes north of Orangeville) on the first Sunday in October when the local Dufferin Hi-Land Club celebrates Bruce Trail Day with guided cave hikes, BBQ and family activities. Of course, for caves year round, the Bruce Trail also meanders through Rock Hill Corner in Mulmur Township. It’s a short but fascinating hike through an extensive outcrop of crevices with samples of rock stacks, outliers and gullies. An interpretative display along the path helps hikers identify these unique rock formations. More geologically interesting, I’d say.



On the other hand, the best quirk-and-quaint interesting hike is through Belfountain Conservation Area and village. The Bruce Side Trail starts at the conservation area, where in 1908 an eccentric inventor Charles W. Mack bought the land, and set out to replicate his favorite tourist attractions. His miniature Niagara Falls, Yellowstone cave, suspension bridge and fountain still exist. A Belfountain daytrip is wonderful year round, but a real attraction in the fall. Don’t miss a stroll through the village’s quaint shops and General Store renown for its ice cream and baked goods.



Keeping-the-kids-busy interesting? Your best bet is Glen Haffy Conservation Area near Mono Mills where the Oak Ridges Moraine virtually collides with the Niagara Escarpment. The Bruce Trail rambles past picturesque lookouts with nearby picnic spots, nature paths and even ponds stocked and open for family fishing. Fish tackle and bait available.



My favorite scenic interesting hike is halfway along Hockley Road (just minutes north of Orangeville). This historical road is a favorite fall colour drive but keep your eyes peeled for trailmarkers at 2nd Line EHS. Here the Bruce Trail ducks north into the woods, and like a rollercoaster ride, it climbs and falls over the steep riverbanks and beautiful hardwood forests with views interspersed. It’s a workout, but worth the effort. If you like to make your hikes inn-interesting – may I suggest adding a stop at the Woodside Inn on Hockley Road, or hike through to Mono Cliffs Inn just minutes off the Bruce Trail at Mono Centre.



For outstanding lookout interesting hikes, it’s back to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park where the Bruce Trail’s Lookout Trail climbs over 500 meters above sea level atop a moraine hill with sweeping vistas that extend as far as the CN Tower on a clear day. Another autumn must-see! Also, along the nearby Cliff-top Trail, you’ll find two viewing platforms. When you descend the steel staircase to the lower platform look for the rare walking fern and spindly white cedars, part of an ancient old-growth forest – nearly 1000 years old.


For more valley-and-views interesting hikes, trek further north through the Boyne Valley Provincial Park (accessible from Hwy. 89, just 1km east of Hwy. 10) where the Bruce Trail leads to the top of Murphy’s Pinnacle. It’s a breathtaking walk (literally) up and down the ravines but offers equally breathtaking pinnacle panoramas overlooking the Mulmur countryside.


Of course, you can’t talk about fall colour interesting hikes without mentioning the Bruce Trail’s Bell’s Lookout just off River Road (between Horning’s Mills and Terra Nova in Mulmur Township). The trail passes through the historic hamlet of Kilgorie and its schoolhouse, then slips by the ruins of an old generating powerhouse on the banks of the Pine River. Take a deep breath, then climb to t he bench at Bell’s Lookout with views over most of the Pine River Provincial Fishing Area – a fall spectacle.


“Wait, that’s enough!” my reader stops me, “you didn’t’ tell me you had so many trails.” “What do you mean – this is only part of the Bruce Trail,” I gasp back. “I’ve yet to cover the Trans Canada Trailway, historic town walks, county forest paths, heritage hikes… not to mention dozens other interesting conservation trail around here.”


“I thought you said ‘interesting’ would be a challenge?” my reader reminded me. “Oh it is,” I assure him, although I should explain. The real challenge isn’t finding an interesting hike in the Hills of Headwaters – it’s picking one.


-Nancy Early is a freelance writer who resides in the Hills of Caledon with her family and best friend Savanna (Golden Retriever).


For more information on the Bruce Trail in the Hills of Headwaters region, contact:

Dufferin Hi-Land Bruce Trail Club

P.O. Box 698, Alliston, ON L9R 1V9











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