Enjoy Outdoor Wellness in Ontario’s Parks, Trails & Forests

Two people walk along a snowy forest trail

Photo credit: Ontario's Southwest

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 Japanese practice of ‘Shinrin-yoku’ translates to ‘forest bathing’, ‘Friluftsliv’ is the Nordic tradition of embracing outdoor life, while in German, ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ is the term for experiencing solitude in the forest and connecting with nature. From Aristotle who famously held “The physician heals, nature makes well” to David Suzuki’s wise words “Our very being, essence, health and happiness depends on Mother Earth”, it’s clear humans have always benefited physically, emotionally and spiritually from spending time in nature.

Now, more than ever, we could use a dose of nature’s therapy.

Find the Best Outdoor Experience for You

Get into nature. From hiking boots to snowshoes, each season transforms Ontario’s forests and woodland trails with changing climate, scenery and fauna.

Equipped with your camera, capture magical moments on a birdwatching expedition, a night of winter stargazing or exploring 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, 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 great range of experiences and adventures.

Provincial & 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.

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.

Wellness Benefit: Research in Ontario Parks demonstrates the restorative effects from 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. Similarly, positive results were reported from short visits, as well as longer excursions. It’s for these reasons the Healthy Parks Healthy People program offers an annual free-day use in Ontario Park, among other incentives to encourage us to connect with nature and experience waldeinsamkeit.

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 the 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. 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 in the St. Lawrence River in Thousand Islands National Park.

Conservation Areas

36 community-based agencies known as Conservation Authorities collectively operate over 500 conservation areas as Conservation Ontario, with just under 300 accessible to the public. Just like Ontario’s parks, its 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.

Wellness Benefit: 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. Between May and October, Step in Nature on 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 km between Kingston and Cornwall. Three self-guided nature trails offer abundant birdwatching.

Famously described as the “prettiest Sunday drive” by Winston Churchill, the 56 km 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-privately Owned 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, 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 forest and lakes that’s open to the public for free, year-round.

Explore, learn 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: Often park trails will provide informational on the local flora or fauna. For example, the self-guided A-Mik-Zii-Bi Interpretive Trail at Point Grondine Park is a fascinating 3 km loop featuring educational signage detailing Indigenous medicinal knowledge of a variety of plants along the way.

Ontario Trails

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 towards preserving, developing and managing Ontario multi-use recreational trails. These include trails within Ontario’s parks and conservation areas.

Wellness Benefit: With maps, season, length and difficulty levels, trail education, updates on trail openings and closings and more, Ontario Trails is an unbeatable resource. Their trail etiquette page includes helpful tips on keeping yourself, others and the trails safe and healthy for everyone.

Trails of Distinction

A selection of iconic trails in Ontario have been celebrated for their accessibility, connectedness and versatility. To quote Pythagoras, “leave the road, take the trails.” 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 walks past scenic cliffs and shorelines along the 900 km Bruce Trail, Ontario’s oldest trail that snakes between the Niagara Peninsula and the Bruce Peninsula, and a UNESCO world biosphere reserve.

Inspired by the early Voyageur fur traders’ routes, the epic Voyageur Trail extends almost 600 km between Sudbury to 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 km 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, signed 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. Within, 10,000 km 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: June 15, 2022

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