What better time to visit Canada than during its Maple Syrup season. Every year from late February to early April maple trees in Ontario are tapped for their sap. To take part in this very Canadian ritual there are numerous sugar bushes located just a short drive from Toronto that allow visitors to participate in this ‘sweet’ experience.
When To Go
The maple syrup season starts when temperatures dive below zero at night and rise above zero during the day. This usually occurs sometime in late February or early March and extends until early-to-mid April.
To get the most out your experience it’s best to visit one of the greater Toronto sugar bushes on the weekend when additional activities are organized beyond those typically available during the week. If you’re planning to visit with children then a visit during Ontario’s March Break week – a week in mid March when school-aged children in Ontario have a week’s vacation from school – will also coincide with numerous additional activities, although slightly larger crowds.
What To Expect
A visit to a sugar bush typically involves a short walk/hike through the maple trees (the sugar bush) with demonstrations of how the trees are tapped with spouts (spiles) to collect their sweet sap in buckets that hang from the spouts. The sap actually looks like water which is why its often dubbed ‘sweet water’. This is the traditional method of collecting the sap that was taught to early settlers by Canada’s Native peoples. Originally, the sweet water was boiled in hollowed out logs using red hot rocks. Later, the more efficient process of boiling the sap in cast iron pots was developed to produce the golden syrup Canadian’s love to pour over their pancakes.
Modern methods of collecting the sap through narrow plastic tubes that run like a maze from each tree throughout the sugar bush down to a sugar shack where it is boiled into syrup is also a standard feature of any sugar bush tour. Visitors are always treated with samples of both the sweet water and the delicious finished product.
Few visitors will leave any sugar bush without learning a few interesting facts about Canadian maple syrup production; the most popular being that it takes a whopping 40 buckets of sap to produce 1 bucket of maple syrup. This is the primary reason why pure maple syrup is a little pricey.
Rounding out the experience of visiting a Canadian sugar bush is tucking into a plate of hot pancakes smothered in the ‘liquid gold’ syrup.
Where To Go
There are numerous sugar bushes located within a 20-45 minute drive from Toronto and during the maple syrup season almost all of them run festivals celebrating the sap tapping process.
Mountsberg park’s sugar bush is over 150 years old and during the syrup season is referred to as Maple Town. Brooks Farms, Horton Tree Farms and Purple Woods Conservation area all run maple syrup festivals on weekends during the maple syrup season and are located anywhere from a 3o to 45 minute drive from downtown Toronto. Bronte Creek Provincial Park offers an annual maple syrup festival every weekend in March and during March Break week and admission is charged per vehicle (approx. $15/vehicle). My favourite is the Kortright Centre for Conservation’s Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival. Located a quick 25 minute drive from downtown, the festival offers the traditional sugar bush experience as well as a guided twilight tour complete with lanterns and a sweet campfire treat. Advance tickets are required for this evening tour.
Admission fees range from $6.50-$8 for adults. Most offer discounted rates for children and those aged 4 and under are typically free. Admission tickets to Purple Woods must be pre-purchased online. Most accept cards and debit payment but having cash on hand is advisable as a few operate as cash-only.
Make the Most of Your Trip
Maple sugar season comes with unpredictable spring weather. Its advisable to wear warm clothing and boots as the ground is often snowy or muddy as things begin to thaw. Most of the sugar bush’s are also great areas for hiking so give yourself extra time if you’d like to enjoy a little more of the nature on display. If there is still a lot of snow on the ground when you plan to visit, consider bringing a sleigh to pull children along or even a pair of snowshoes to add to your Canadian experience. Many of the sugar bushes also offer additional activities to entertain families during the festival season such as horse-drawn wagon rides, pony rides, play barns and maple candy making and tasting. It’s easy to make your visit a full-day event.
Finally, don’t forget to stop by the sugar shack store/gift shop before leaving to pick up some maple syrup, maple butter, maple tea, maple sugar, or some maple candy! Canada produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup making it the perfect Canadian souvenir.