Unique Greenbelt Trails To Get You Outside This Winter
Ontario’s Greenbelt is a protected area of farmland, forests, wetlands and watersheds that surrounds the province’s most populous area, known as the Golden Horseshoe. It stretches from the Niagara River in the west to near Rice Lake in the east and includes the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and dozens of urban river valleys.
While its main purpose is to buffer urban growth and protect vital farmland, it is also home to numerous conservation areas and parks that are perfect for exploring year round.
If you are one of the nearly 8 million people who live in the region, you might be looking for trails close to home and the Greenbelt delivers. Here are three Greenbelt hiking trails you can try this winter season:
Forest Meadow Loop: Terra Cotta Conservation Area
The Terra Cotta Conservation Area sits just 20 minutes west of Brampton and contains 485 acres of mature forests, streams, wetlands and ponds. It is part of the spectacular Niagara Escarpment. If you visit when there is no snow, you’ll find plenty of quiet forested trails to explore — keep an eye out for white-tailed deer.
Once the snow falls and the temperatures dip low enough for the ice to freeze, Terra Cotta offers groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing as well as a frozen pond for skating.
Try the seasonal 0.9-km Forest Meadow Loop, which begins at Forest Meadow Lane and takes you through open meadows and pretty stands of coniferous trees. Parking is available onsite, visit Credit Valley Conservation for more details.
The 99 Steps: Thornton Bales Conservation Area
Located in the Oak Ridges Moraine, just a few kilometres from Newmarket, Thornton Bales Conservation Area offers quiet forest walks with significant elevation changes. From the southwest corner to its northern boundary, the area has an elevation drop of 54 metres and will feel like you are descending into a winter oasis.
Nicknamed the “99 steps”, the trail is known for steep slopes and a long staircase that takes you deep into the forest ravine where pileated woodpeckers and white-tailed deer can be found. Be sure to wear supportive footwear, especially during the icy winter months. Very limited parking is available onsite, visit Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority for more details.
Swayze Falls Trail: Short Hills Provincial Park
A non-operating park, Short Hills Provincial Park is within the Niagara Escarpment close to St. Catharines. Due to its non-operating status, the park has no admission fees but does have limited facilities. There are three parking lots, all with bathroom facilities, and plenty of beautiful trails.
The 6.2-km Swayze Falls Trail is a one of the most popular in the park and, as its name suggests, it leads to the Swayze Falls. You’ll hike through open meadows and forested paths to get to the scenic falls. Visit Friends of Short Hills Park for detailed maps and parking information.