Find wellness in Ontario’s parks, trails and forests
Getting outdoors to experience wellness in nature is easier than you may think in Ontario.
Finding wellness in the forest is not a new concept. The ancient Japanese practice of “Shinrin-yoku” translates to “forest bathing,” “Friluftsliv” is the Nordic tradition of embracing outdoor life, while “Waldeinsamkeit” is the German term for experiencing solitude in the forest and connecting with nature.
From Aristotle (who famously declared that “the physician heals, nature makes well”) to David Suzuki (who wisely said, “Our very being, essence, health and happiness depends on Mother Earth”), it’s clear that humans have benefited physically, emotionally and spiritually from spending time in nature.
Find the best trail or outdoor experience for you
From summer hiking boots to winter snowshoes, each season transforms Ontario’s forests and woodland trails with changing climate, scenery and wildlife.
Capture magical moments on a birdwatching expedition, delight in an evening of winter stargazing or explore blooming gardens and horticulture attractions. Lace-up a pair of skates and enjoy skating under the stars on a skate trail.
From the shores of the Great Lakes to the Canadian Shield, and from the deciduous forests in the south to the northern boreal wilderness, Ontario features great diversity in its natural topography and climate. Its parks, nature reserves and conservation areas reflect this variety, offering a wide range of experiences and adventures.
Provincial and national parks
The government of Ontario manages over 330 provincial parks that span approximately ten million hectares of land and water. These include operating and non-operating parks as well as conservation reserves that balance recreation, education and preservation with sustainable tourism.
- Operating parks offer visitor services, facilities and experiences including information centres, camping and roofed accommodations, washrooms and showers and learning and discovery programs.
- You’ll also find extensive land and water trails perfect for a day of hiking, wildlife viewing and paddling. Fees and reservation requirements vary depending on what activities you choose.
- Locate individual parks near you on a map or search by activities, facilities and rentals.
- Over two dozen parks remain open throughout the winter with winter camping, maintained trails for winter walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and in some cases, skating on ice trails.
- Explore Ontario Parks’ first designated forest therapy trail at MacGregor Point Provincial Park.
Wellness benefit: Research in Ontario Parks demonstrates the restorative effects of spending time in nature. But what’s interesting are the findings around the type and quality of environment, activity and time spent outdoors. Visitors experienced mental and physical benefits from various activities, like hiking, paddling and relaxing on the beach. Positive results were reported for short visits as well as longer excursions.
It’s for these reasons the Healthy Parks Healthy People program offers an annual free day of access to Ontario Parks among other incentives to encourage us to connect with nature.
Parks Canada represents almost 50 protected natural areas, parks and reserves across the country.
- In Ontario, Bruce Peninsula National Park is famous for its rocky vistas over clear, aqua waters.
- Canada’s second-smallest but most diverse national park, Point Pelee National Park, is a bird lover’s paradise as it plays a key role in annual migrations. Just as spending time under the sun invigorates, spending time under the moon and stars enchants. Witness the splendour of the night sky from West Beach, a prime spot to take in the constellations. Both Point Pelee and Bruce Peninsula operate year-round.
- Discover rich natural and cultural ecosystems along amazing hiking trails on the doorstep of Ontario’s largest urban area in Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Rouge National Urban Park is open every day of the year and entry is free.
- Seasonally, Georgian Bay Islands National Park lures paddlers to explore Lake Huron.
- On the biodiverse shore of Lake Superior, Pukaskwa National Park is Ontario’s only park with a wilderness designation.
- Explore over 1000 islands sprinkled throughout the St. Lawrence River in Thousand Islands National Park.
Conservation Ontario oversees more than 35 community-based agencies (known as conservation authorities) who collectively operate over 500 conservation areas, with just under 300 accessible to the public.
- Just like Ontario’s parks, these conservation areas are spread across the province and vary dramatically with waterways, wetlands and waterfalls to discover, and forests, marshes, dunes and beaches to wander through.
- Find a conservation area close to you and discover the myriad activities each area offers. Several feature free entry and even more operate year-round, with snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing opportunities available.
Wellness benefit: Between May and October, Step into Nature - Healthy Hikes at Ontario Conservation Areas, an annual outdoor wellness challenge.
Ontario’s Parks Commissions
Two government crown agencies manage and conserve parklands, as well as recreation and heritage sites in the Niagara region and along the shores of the St. Lawrence River.
- The St. Lawrence Parks Commission is responsible for the series of parks and other attractions along 280 kilometres between Kingston and Cornwall. Three self-guided nature trails offer abundant birdwatching.
- Famously described as the “prettiest Sunday drive” by Winston Churchill, the 56-kilometre route between Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie is maintained by the Niagara Parks Commission and features extensive natural landscapes with hiking trails and gardens.
Wellness benefit: Wellness and safety in nature go hand in hand. Niagara Parks provides helpful tips and reminders on trail etiquette and safety.
Private and semi-private parks
Several nature parks and wilderness areas are privately owned or co-managed.
- Hiawatha Highlands operates in conjunction with Sault Ste. Marie Regional Conservation Authority, the Kinsman Club, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and other landowners. The cross-country and snowshoe trails are groomed regularly, and daily passes, seasonal memberships and rentals are available.
- Just a 25-minute drive east of Huntsville, Limberlost Forest is a privately owned, wilderness and wildlife reserve with maintained hiking and snowshoeing trails looping through mixed forests and lakes that are open to the public for free, year-round.
- Located next to Algonquin Park in the Haliburton Highlands, Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve is a privately owned recreational wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers and a pioneer in sustainable forest management and eco-friendly tourism.
- Explore, learn about and reconnect with nature through various year-round workshops at the Robert L. Bowles Nature Centre, located in Ramara, just north of Lake Simcoe.
- Point Grondine Park is another amazing wilderness experience, located just east of Killarney. Owned and operated by the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, the park features scenic hiking trails, as well as canoe routes, camping and other outdoor adventures.
Wellness benefit: Park trails will often provide information about the local flora and fauna. For example, the self-guided A-Mik-Zii-Bi Interpretive Trail at Point Grondine Park is a fascinating 3-kilometre loop featuring educational signage detailing Indigenous medicinal knowledge about a variety of plants along the way.
Whether you’re hiking, biking, paddling, snowshoeing, skating or cross-country skiing, find the perfect trail for your next outdoor excursion with Ontario Trails.
- Ontario Trails Council works toward preserving, developing and managing Ontario’s multi-use recreational trails. These include trails within Ontario’s parks and conservation areas.
Wellness benefit: Ontario Trails is an unbeatable resource, providing maps, seasons, distances and difficulty levels, trail education, updates on trail openings and closures and more.
Trails of Distinction
A selection of iconic trails in Ontario have been celebrated for their accessibility, connectedness and versatility.
These five Trails of Distinction are worth leaving the road to explore. They present endless opportunities to experience wellness in nature from an invigorating afternoon stroll to multi-day backcountry adventures.
- Hike unspoiled nature trails past scenic cliffs and shorelines along the 900-kilometre Bruce Trail, the oldest in Ontario. It snakes between the Niagara Peninsula and the Bruce Peninsula, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve.
- Inspired by the early voyageur fur traders’ routes, the epic Voyageur Trail extends almost 600 kilometres between Sudbury and Thunder Bay and offers hiking opportunities on Manitoulin Island and along the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior.
- The TransCanada Trail is a national treasure. This multi-use, coast-to-coast trail across Canada is the world’s longest network of recreational trails. Some parts of the trail merge with the National Trail. The Ontario portions reach from the Manitoba border to North Bay, down towards Hamilton and from Windsor to Ottawa.
- Following over 3,000 kilometres along the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair and the Niagara, Detroit and St. Lawrence Rivers, the multi-use, signposted Great Lakes Waterfront Trail connects people to over 400 parks and natural areas including wetlands, forests and beaches.
- Ontario’s Greenbelt covers two million acres of protected forest, rivers, farms, wetlands, watersheds and countryside that extend from Niagara River to the Oak Ridges Moraine, near Rice Lake. 10,000 kilometres of trail and road make up the Greenbelt Route and include part of the Bruce Trail, Oak Ridges Moraine Trail and Ganaraska Trails.
Wellness benefit: To learn more about the health and wellness benefits of being in nature, check out the Global Institute of Forest Therapy (GIFT), an Ontario-based organization.
Last updated: November 21, 2023