Every year when autumn arrives, we are treated to a spectacular display of fall colours across Ontario’s Highlands. Knowing that the warm days are numbered, we head to the hills to take a scenic drive or stroll to drink in vistas as vibrant reds, warm oranges, and sunny yellows explode across the landscape.
Seeking out the kaleidoscope of colours created by nature’s paintbrush is a passion most of us share, but these days we aren’t looking for a crowd, and a nice drive on some beautiful country roads might be just the thing. Be warned – the colourful display we’ve been looking forward to can come and go pretty quickly so make sure you don’t miss it!
Cherish the last few weeks of warm weather with a road trip to one of these best off the beaten path spots to view fall colours in Ontario’s Highlands.
Blueberry Mountain Lookout – Lanark Highlands
A little hard work pays off, especially when you hike up Blueberry Mountain for the sweet views of the changing trees. Blueberry Mountain is part of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy and features 1,250 acres of pristine wilderness. The hike itself is a surprisingly gentle 2.5 kilometre walk with a big payoff in the end – think of all the Instagram likes you’ll get!
Insider Tip: Cider goes perfectly with a fall outing. Visit Ugly Apple Cider when you’re in the area and do a cider tasting, only a short drive from Blueberry Mountain. Appointments available with advance notice.
This site will be worth the drive, especially if you love winding, tree-lined roads in fall. This Frontenac County conservation area has more than seven kilometres of trails, two of which lead to a lookout. For a spectacular fall display, take the Cattail Trail, a gentle hike that’s less than a kilometre in length, and the lookout is phenomenal.
Insider Tip: After your hike you can relax and take in the views at nearby Palmerston Beach.
Haliburton Forest Canopy Tour – Haliburton
You could enjoy the seasonal colours from the ground level of a vast forest, or you could take it up a notch and walk among the treetops in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. The two-to-three-hour canopy tour will take you across the longest canopy walkway in the world. Reach out and touch the brightly coloured leaves as you pass from tree to tree.
Insider Tip: Don’t delay on this one! The canopy tours end on October 11, but the forest is still accessible for exploration year-round. Tours must be booked in advance.
Griffiths Uplands Trail Lookouts – Greater Madawaska
This is a new trail and not one for the faint of heart – embark on a 10-kilometre challenging hiking adventure that will test your fortitude, but with spectacular viewing rewards. The full loop has no less than five lookout points on it (wow!), so be sure to bring your cell phone to snap some shots of the fiery glory of the Madawaska River Valley in fall.
Insider Tip: Download this trail map to take with you on your hike; a GPS or compass would be helpful as you navigate. Plan for between four and five hours to complete the full loop.
Mill of Kintail – Almonte
This cute little park area is only a few minutes from the small town of Almonte and features a lovely wooden bridge that crosses over the Indian River. The bridge and the historic stone building nearby make a unique setting for the vibrant fall colours for which Lanark County is so well known. Hike or cycle the park’s more than four kilometres of trails and dive deep into the brilliance of the forest.
Insider Tip: Plan for a picnic in the park by stopping by Joe’s Italian Kitchen and pick up a wood-fired pizza to go. You can also dine on their patio overlooking Almonte’s iconic waterfall.
Thomas P. Murray Recreational Trails – Barry’s Bay
Head to Crooked Slide Park in Combermere to explore this network of trails that are easily accessible and of moderate difficulty. The 3.5-kilometre McGillivray Trail is the park’s most challenging trail that takes you to a stunning lookout. If you’re not into a hike you can get to the lookout via an active logging road south of Long Lake Rd.4
Insider Tip: Cap off your day with a stick-to-your-ribs hearty meal on the patio overlooking Kamaniskeg Lake at Ash Grove Inn Restaurant, a roughly 10-minute drive from the trails.
Lake St. Peter Provincial Park – Hastings County
This is another lookout that’s going to take some effort to get to, but the Instagram photos will be worth it! Hike the 2.5-kilometre Lookout Trail to a spectacular spot overlooking a small kettle lake, a depression formed during glacial retreat. This trail is rugged and with steep inclines.
Insider Tip: Bask in the fall colours all weekend long by booking a camping trip to the park.
Oxtongue Lake Ragged Falls Provincial Park – Haliburton
Named one of the 10 best waterfalls in Ontario, Ragged Falls offers a short but sweet hike to a lookout overlooking a scenic waterfall created by the Oxtongue River as it boils down a steep and rocky gorge. At only one-kilometre long you can make the trek to this lookout without breaking a sweat – there are no excuses here! This park is open for day-use only, but is a great spot for an impromptu picnic.
Insider Tip: Rent a canoe from Algonquin Outfitters and explore Oxtongue Lake for more breathtaking views. The sight of the fall foliage crowding the waterfront will make this paddle even more memorable.
Crests of Kennisis Trail – Haliburton
At six kilometres, this trail will take you over rugged terrain and craggy ridgelines to one of the best lookout spots in the region. This is a one-way trail so you will either have to double back at some point or arrange for a pick-up to shuttle back to your vehicle. Make sure you have the trail map with you because there are other trails that converge onto this one.
Insider Tip: Do the trail in reverse and you will reach a stunning lookout in short order. Then you can choose to either continue on or head back the way you came for a shorter trek which just as much bang for your buck.
Skyline Park – Dysart et al
The hilly town of Haliburton sits in the shadow of a towering ridge, and on that ridge is a public park with sweeping views of the landscape below. The entrance to Skyline Park is just a minute or two east of the town, and allows you to drive all the way to the top for an easy lookout option without breaking a sweat!
Insider Tip: Pair spectacular fall scenery with art at the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, a 10-minute drive from the park.
Bonus: Eagles Nest Park – Bancroft
This park opens again after renovations in October, just in time to catch the bounty of fall colours. The Hawkwatch lookout at Bancroft Eagles Nest Park stands tall over the town and the surrounding Hastings County. Don’t be intimidated by the steep hill you’ll need to drive up before parking your car. This hike is a short and simple one to the observatory deck overlooking the winding river and hills below.