Hiking Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area
With the beautiful fall season hanging on strong, with above normal temperatures, I can’t help but hit the trails. Just the other weekend a friend and I headed up to Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area. Located just south of Collingwood, Ontario, it’s a great area to hike, with plenty of parks, and amazing trails.
I never tire of driving the backroads of Grey County, especially in the fall. With rolling hillsides, winding roads, and views all around, it’s a feast for the eyes. And this morning was no different. We even passed by a small village that seemed to be out of the pages of a late 19th century mill town. It even had its own waterfall.
We arrived at the main parking lot of the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area just before 9am. Eager to explore we grabbed our gear and began at the trail head. The Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area is a 400 acres conservation area full of natural treasures. Here along the Niagara Escarpment you’ll find caves, cliffs, and crevices among hardwood and coniferous forests.
We began by heading south on the Bruce Trail. The air was crisp and a very British mist hung in the sky. We shuffled through the leaf carpeted trail passed seemingly endless side trails, adorable mushrooms, and canyons carved into the Earth.
With a fork in the trail I realized we missed the side trail we were looking for. Maybe we were caught up in the wild beauty of the woods, or perhaps our feet just wanted to keep going. We took the Betty Carter Side Trail back to the main Bruce Trail, determined to find the Keyhole Side Trail this time.
Related: Top 10 Hiking Tips for Day Hikes
This time we hopped on another section of the Bruce Trail, which weaves its way around the park, which can cause much confusion for first timers to the Bluffs. But getting a little lost only means more time on the trails! We found the side trail on our next try. The Keyhole Side Trail is a loop trail through a portion of the Bluff’s caves and canyons. And it doesn’t get any more magical than this. Brilliant green moss clings to the rock faces. Narrow passages through towering cliff faces push your spatial boundaries. But after clambering over janky rocks you descend into the belly of a whimsical fairytale.
Don’t be afraid to explore deeper. You can’t really get lost as each dead end will push you towards the blue trail markers on the rock faces, steering you back on course. Think of it as a bewitching game, where around every bend lies more wonder.
Alas, just when you think you’re on the right path you’ll find what at first appears to be another dead end. But look deeper. Here, below the blue blaze is a hole in the wall. Consider yourself a youth again, entering a fort. Crouch down and enter. You may need to take off your daypack to get through, but I didn’t need to. It also makes for a fun photo-op!
After the remaining Keyhole Side Trail we went in search of the Bluffs Lookout. Little did we know it wasn’t down the Bluffs Lookout Side Trail. Hard to believe, I know! After following the advice of some fellow hikers we headed back to the Bruce Trail. Continuing on a bit until the trail curved to the left, we decided to venture into the forest before us. A hint of blue sky made me think this could be the cliffside lookout. I was right. There before us was an incredible view over rolling hillsides, lush green farmlands, and the remaining leaves of fall holding on.
We relished in the beauty for a while, and then my friend headed into the woods to our left. Coming back she was beaming. Turns out there was another lookout, and probably the main one. Standing on a giant slab of rock that gave an even better view, we paused. Here you could see along the bluffs, the limestone gorgeous white in stark contrast to the fall colours and evergreens. I was wowed! All I kept thinking was, I could sit here forever! A wander through the woods is refreshing, but finding incredible sights like this is one of the great ways hiking brings me unimaginable joy.
Looking for a place nearby to refuel and grab a bite to eat after a great hike?
Than head on over to Creemore. Less than 15 minutes from the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area, Creemore is not only a great place to eat but also to explore. This historic little town is another of Ontario’s gems. It’s full of charming shops and great options for food, from bakeries to pubs. We opted for The Old Mill House Pub that’s been around for nearly 100 years. Their burgers are even made fresh daily with fresh cut fries from local growers. Great food, good prices and full of treasures!
Difficulty – Moderate
Time – 2 to 3+ hours, depending on trail
Trails – Bruce Trail, Betty Carter Side Trail, Keyhole Side Trail, Bluffs Lookout Trail, Ian Lang Memorial Trail
Parking – Small lot off of Sideroad 15 &16 Nottawasaga. Fee is $6.50 through the Mackay Mobile App
Have you hiked the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area?
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