As the weather cools we're all looking for a reason to escape to cottage country to savour every last moment of cottage season. If your road trip plans take you cruising on Highway 7 between Toronto and Ottawa, then you are in for a treat. Home to some of my favourite scenery in the Canadian Shield, the roadway weaves through rocky hills and lush forests, rolling valleys and wetlands teeming with wildlife in a wilderness that’s just begging to be explored.
We all need to take a break and stretch our legs on a long drive (and use the facilities!), so my suggestion? Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Ontario’s Highlands at one of these trails along the way!
Urban Riverside Trail at Marmora’s Memorial Park
This trail starts at the Marmora Visitor Center, on the paved Brian Goodchild Memorial Trail in Memorial Park. Wind your way through the colourful flower gardens, beside the picturesque Crowe River and relax at one of the picnic tables, benches, or in the gazebo.
The tree-lined path follows the waterfront along Water Street for 120 metres to reconnect to the trail. Take a pause at the dam, marvel the surging river and listen to the incredible sound as it reverberates off the cliff face. Continue to Mag’s Landing, the public boat launch, and calmer waters to sit beside before returning on the riverside path.
● With a paved path for the entire length, this trail is fully accessible, except for exploring the dam
● Accessible facilities are available in the Marmora Visitor Center
● A splash pad and playground in Memorial Park make this a perfect spot for kids to burn a little energy
Finding Serenity by the Skootamatta River
Where Highway 37 meets Highway 7, on the north side you’ll discover the Skootamatta Picnic Area, and a short path that follows the Skootamatta River where you can relax at one of several picnic tables, listen to redwing blackbirds and be mesmerized by reflections in the water. Jumping fish break the smooth surface, and hypnotic whirlpools swirl around large rocks as the river’s current gains speed, flowing out of sight toward a series of dams.
● The river has a strong current, so make sure to supervise young children by the water’s edge
● Accessible facilities are available at the Skootamatta Picnic Area
Energizing Rapids of the Skootamatta River
Price Conservation Area is an often missed gem, on the south side of Highway 7, just west of Highway 37. As the trail descends towards the water’s edge, you can see the raging river through the trees after it has passed through the dams. The short path leads to a few picnic tables where you can listen to songbirds and watch for waterfowl swimming across the Skootamatta River before disappearing around the far bank.
● Unfortunately there are no facilities at Price Conservation Area, but the Skootamatta Picnic Area (pictured above) is located just a short drive east if you need to stop for a bathroom break
● Watch where you’re stepping as there was some poison Ivy growing next to the trails when I last visited - leaves of three, let it be!
Hiking the Highlands at Kennebec Wilderness Trail
The landscape varies in elevation at Kennebec Wilderness Trail, providing a moderate to challenging hike with magnificent views. The trail takes explorers into mixed forests, across bare rock and through grassy wildflower fields buzzing with insects. You can hike alongside ponds to see where some busy beavers have been cutting trees, and up hilltops for a panoramic look at the woodlands and wetlands below.
As this 7 km network of rugged, interconnecting trails wind through the highlands, there are some steep sections, but the tough parts are marked on the map located at the trailhead. Rest assured, the path is well marked, and the side loops have signs indicating length plus the time it takes to complete each.
● Take a good look at the large map at the trailhead to pick the best route for you - I downloaded a copy before going but you can take one of the printed copies if available or snap a picture on your phone when you arrive to help guide your exploration
● Unfortunately there are no facilities at the main trailhead at 28786 Highway 7, but there is an outhouse at the second trailhead - access by trail or drive 1.6km east of main lot, north on Henderson Rd., then west on Nordic Rd. to the 2nd parking lot
Off the Beaten Path at Perth Wildlife Reserve
Located on the Tay Marsh, Perth Wildlife Reserve has two easy trails that are perfect for seeking out the sights and sounds of nature. From songbirds chirping and bumblebees buzzing in search of wildflowers, this Conservation Area is ideal for quietly observing the abundant wildlife in their natural habitat.
Take a leisurely stroll through the forest and count the wildflowers, walk through the fields and see how many butterflies you can spot, and listen to the mingling melodies of birds in the trees as you meander through the woodlands. With two beginner trails, you can easily discover the diversity of flora and fauna of this 257-hectare reserve.
● Facilities are available down a short grassy path, near the main parking
● Parking is $7 for the day and can be paid via mobile app or by phone
● Perth Wildlife Reserve Conservation Area is just 7 km south of Highway 7
● Dogs are not allowed at the reserve, so I’d choose from one of the trails above if you’re traveling with your furry friend
On your next road trip along Highway 7, don’t forget to explore these hidden gems in Ontario’s Highlands - after all, life is about the journey, right? With a diverse range of trails from beginner to challenging, I know you’ll find the right place to stop and smell the wildflowers before continuing on to your destination.
Don't miss our other story featuring the Best Highway 60 Hikes and expand your hiking horizons.