words & photos :: Kristin Schnelten.
Simcoe County’s rolling fields, dense forests and sparkling waterfronts are an explorer’s dream, boasting a broad range hiking and walking paths, from paved multi-use trails to scrambling, rocky tracks.
Thinking of taking a casual stroll? Just north of Orillia, the Ramara Trail is wide and gentle enough for a leisurely walk through the trees. Beginning at the historic fish weirs built by Mnjikaning First Nation people, the rail-to-trail path offers views of the historic swing bridge in the Atherley Narrows, making its way past breezy farmlands and beneath an intertwined forest canopy overhead. Historical markers along the path tell a tale of its long history as a CN Rail Line, running between Toronto, North Bay and Vancouver.
In picturesque Midland, sailboats bob at the Midland Town Dock beneath the largest outdoor historical mural in North America. Depicting Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons in 1640, the 80 by 250-foot painting greets sailors and visitors to the welcoming pier.
The Midland Rotary Waterfront Trail meanders past this imposing mural on its way from Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons to Pete Pettersen Park and Gawley Park, passing pristine parklands, bright gardens and varied historical sites as it offers both glimpses and panoramic views of the Wye River, Tiffin Basin and Midland Bay. The paved, multi-use trail is popular with walkers, cyclists and in-line skaters, with ample parking along its 8 km length.
For an immersive experience in the natural world, a trip to Bradford leads to the 700-acre nature preserve at Scanlon Creek Conservation Area. The 3.5-km Scanlon Creek Loop Trail, with its shorter Evergreen, Sugar Maple, Chickadee and Kingfisher side loops, welcomes hikers, birders and families to a criss-crossing overview of the greenspace. Wildlife-filled wetlands and a forest thick with foliage are connected with scenic bridges, boardwalks and overlooks—and picnic areas and washroom facilities encourage a longer stay and connection with nature.
Just south of Duntroon, the Nottawasaga Bluffs Loop Trail treks along the Niagara Escarpment in the extensive 400-acre conservation area. Along the trail, watch for signs of settlers and their efforts to create a home and a living in the rocky forest with an abandoned stagecoach road, limestone kiln, original farmstead—and even a generations-old rhubarb patch.
The quintessential far-reaching views of the Bruce Trail here are filled with the soft pillows of an endless forest canopy, and side trails sneak into the bottoms of narrow crevice caves whose floors boast snow even into summer and whose walls are covered with bright lichens and tiny ferns.
Northwest of Barrie, just behind the Simcoe County Museum, the Warbler Way Loop Trail showcases an extensive effort to restore habitat and welcome wildlife. The Museum Tract Forest and Habitat Restoration Project aims to “establish suitable nesting habitat for the Kirtland’s warbler…a globally rare and endangered migratory bird which was nearly extinct 50 years ago, but has since begun to recover.”
In this short and gentle loop, beauty abounds—beauty in both destruction and rebirth, as the controlled burn of non-native species in the 74-acre swath made way for the planting of more than 150,000 native trees. Around the fringes of this restoration project, open and airy pine forests alternate with tunnel-like paths through dense woods.
With a wide variety of trails, and locations from one far-flung corner of the county to the other, hitting the trail in Simcoe is as simple as selecting a location and tying your shoes. Choose a full day hiking a nature preserve, a speed-walk on a paved town path or a quick stroll with the dog on a former rail line and visit trails.simcoe.ca for interactive and printable maps, descriptions, photos and histories of 25 area trails.