Exploring. That’s what Fall is all about for me. I can’t honestly say that Fall is my favourite season because the truth is, I love them all. Every time the seasons change I feel as though I have the opportunity to start anew – a change of clothes and a change of attitude. I also feel inspired to get outside and take in all that nature is showing off.
Even when you live in (or visit) a big city like Toronto, its possible to find an outdoor-sy adventure to help you soak up the season. You just have to know where to look.
A few months ago I made a promise to myself to have more local adventures and to start doing the things I’ve fallen in love with while travelling (hiking and water sports) when I’m at home. I may not be able to travel year-round but there’s no reason I can’t fill my days and months with adventures and new experiences. I think I’ve done a pretty bang up job thus far. I’ve tried water skiing, paddle boarding, surfing and flow riding over the past few months and have plans for a few more adventures in the coming weeks.
I’ve also explored more of my own city and discovered some gorgeous places I didn’t even know existed. From hiking across strange landscapes and beautiful waterfalls to strolling through orchards and colourful city neighbourhoods, I’ve had some great mini adventures in my own backyard lately.
Here are my top 4 Fall outings – all within an hours drive from Toronto.
1. THE CHELTENHAM BADLANDS
The Cheltenham Badlands showcase a rare landscape for Ontario. Located in Caledon, the Badlands are a visually stunning example of the rolling hills and gullies that form when areas of soft rock (clay) that lack vegetation or soil cover become moulded and eroded by water over time.
I visited the area with my daughters a month ago and was amazed by the landscape. The entire area around the Badlands is a green belt and all you can see in the distance in any direction is green trees as you approach. We literally drove up over a hill and suddenly on our left this strange red landscape unfolded before us amidst the sea of greenery. Its not a large area but its quite striking.
The Badlands have a reddish hue which is apparently due to the iron oxide in the Queenston shale that forms them. The streaks of green are created when that iron oxide turns from red to green as a result of the circulating groundwater. The affect of these colour contrasts and the starkness of the rolling hills gives the impression of being on another planet. I certainly felt worlds away from Toronto even though I was only 45 minutes from its downtown core.
The Badlands are located along the Niagara Escarpment and as such are part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. In an effort to help protect the fragile environment, there are currently signs requesting visitors to stay at the top of the formations to view them and plans are underway to create a viewing platform to help facilitate this.
The Badlands are located on the south east side of Olde Base Line Road in Caledon, Ontario (approx. 40 minutes from Toronto). Limited parking is available on the side of the road but a parking lot is expected to be built and ready for use in the Fall of 2015 to help alleviate the traffic that currently exists during the peak fall colours season.
If you visit the area, consider continuing your day with a visit to the Spirit Tree Estate Cidery. Its a cidery, bakery, kitchen and farm store all rolled into one. Located just a 5 minute drive from the Badlands, its a picture perfect place to stop for lunch, a snack or just to sample their cider. You can find out more about the Spirit Tree Cidery on their website here.
Chudleighs is known for being an ‘entertainment farm’, home to a delicious fresh-baked apple dessert (the apple blossom) and THE place to pick-your-own apples. We’ve been visiting the farm every September and October for years to pick apples and select our Halloween pumpkin. Its become a tradition in our home. This has to be one of the more picturesque play farms I’ve ever visited and children absolutely LOVE it. How could they not? It has everything you could want in a farm visit – wagon rides into the orchard, pony rides, a straw maze, farm animals, a large play area with huge slides and horse-tire swings, baked goods, a market store and a weekend BBQ.
The Fall season hasn’t started until we’ve made a trip to Chudleighs and come home armed with bags of apples.
The farm is located on Highway 25 in Halton Hills, just 45 minutes from Toronto. Details on entrance fees, days and hours of operation and amenities can be found on their website here.
3. WEBSTER’S FALLS AND GORGE
The Spencer Gorge (Tews Falls)/Webster’s Falls Conservation Area is also part of the Niagara Escarpment which basically means (in my opinion) that its bound to have fantastic look-outs from its cliffs. And it does.
This beautiful area, located in Dundas (Hamilton), Ontario, boasts 2 of Hamilton’s most scenic water falls (Webster’s Falls and Tews Falls), its best look-out (Dundas Peak) and ample nature loving opportunities. The whole area has become my favourite place to hike, take nature walks and enjoy the Fall colours.
Webster’s Falls is a 22-meter high curtain waterfall residing inside the Spencer Gorge and with a 24 meter width, it is both the largest and most popular waterfall in the area. From a side trail, one can hike 1.3 km from the parking lot adjacent to the falls all the way over to Tews Falls which are equally impressive. At 41 meters, Tews Falls are the tallest falls in the area and only 10 meters shy of Niagara Falls.
That’s worth seeing!
There’s more than just beautiful waterfalls to see if you hike in this area though. From Tews Falls you can continue another 1.3 km to Dundas Peak; a look-out which gives you a fantastic view across the Dundas Valley. When the Fall colours are in full swing that fantastic view turns spectacular.
I should probably share the importance of hiking with a friend and knowing how to read trail signs but I’ll save that for another day. Let’s just say that my mini adventure hiking along the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment almost turned into my LAST adventure which reminded me of these smart, simple hiking rules.
2014 entrance fees to Spencer Gorge are $10/vehicle and $4 to walk/bike-in. The area offers picnic shelters/tables, washrooms, numerous trails and access to the Bruce Trail. There are also viewing platforms and look-outs for both Webster’s Falls and Tews Falls. Given the steepness of the escarpment caution should be taken in walking the trails, especially with children. Details on parking are available here.
If you want to add-on to your day with a stop at a local market, the Dutch Mill Country Market is just a few minutes drive from Spencer Gorge/Webster’s Falls and offers hearty breakfasts and lunches in its tea room, fresh fruits and veggies for sale, a unique gift shop, garden centre and an outdoor play area complete with animals to entertain the children.
4. KENSINGTON MARKET
Is the great outdoors not quite your thing? No problem. Toronto’s colourful Kensington Market neighbourhood rivals nature’s Fall foliage and is a great place to spend a day exploring its shops, galleries and multitude of eclectic restaurants.
Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct personality and offerings and Kensington Market is my favourite. Nestled in alongside China Town, it represents the grittier, eccentric side of Toronto and its bursting with its own personality.
I used to live near this neighbourhood and loved it for all its breakfast joints. Sometimes its the buildings and shops that you love about a place and sometimes it just the vibe you get when you’re walking around that makes you fall in love with it. I love how I feel when I walk around Kensington market. Maybe that sounds weird but its true. I feel like its one of the few places in Toronto where the people who live and work there are truly being themselves – how refreshing!
So if you’re looking to get outside and explore but hiking isn’t your thing then head down to Kensington Market, grab a coffee and stroll through its colourful streets and check out the shops. My favourite store is the Blue Banana Market. It has anything and everything you could possibly imagine – as well as the stuff you’d never have even dreamed of. This place has some really cool stuff and if you need a souvenir from Toronto, you’ll do far better here than any of the tacky souvenir shops on Yonge street.
So there you have it – 4 outings for a Fall day. Get outside and soak it up. Have an adventure.
What’s your favourite thing to do when the Fall season rolls around?