As the summer peels away and gives way to shorter days, kids back in school, pumpkin spice lattes, and cooler temperatures, we're also treated to one of the most remarkable shows nature has to offer – the fall colours and the changing of the leaves.
Whether you live in Ontario or you're coming to visit, one of the key highlights to our province is that we're blessed with forests of maples and other deciduous trees and that makes for a truly unique travel experience.
While there are many ways to see the leaves, the best place to see them en-masse is to go to a Provincial Park. So the question then becomes, where are the best Provincial Parks to see the Ontario fall colours? I have two here that'll really impress and surprise you!
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Where to stay in Toronto?
- If you're coming to Ontario for the changing of the leaves, you'll probably be spending time in Toronto to start and end your trip. The Super 8 by Wyndham near Chinatown is extremely affordable for the location and newly renovated.
Here's what we're covering:
- A Little About Fall Foliage and Fall Colours
- Provincial Parks to See Ontario Fall Colours
- Camping is Awesome in the Fall
- Frequently Asked Questions
A Little About Fall Foliage and Fall Colours
First it probably makes sense to do a quick introduction of what to expect when it comes to seeing the fall foliage in Ontario which will help answer some of your basic questions.
When is the best time to see the fall colours in Ontario?
This is the kind of thing that's hard to answer because every year it changes. There are also a number of other factors to think about.
- The further up north you go, the earlier the temperatures start to drop and thus leaves start changing colour earlier.
- The above isn't necessarily true because some pockets of Ontario and their parks have their own micro climates so even though somewhere is further up north, they could experience a slower changing of leaves because of a valley or lake effect.
As a general rule of thumb, October is the month to see the autumn changing of leaves with mid-October being the peak season.
The best place to monitor the progress of the changing of the leaves is actually on Ontario Park's fall colour report which factors in live reports from park rangers on the ground. They have a really clear categorization system of providing percentages for “Colour Change” and “Leaf Fall”. The optimal condition is around 60-70% colour change.
The window for the peak viewing where you see mostly oranges, yellows, and reds is also very short so it is something you need to watch. That being said, even if you go at 40% change, you'll still be treated with quite the landscape of colourful leaves because you'll have a mix of trees that are deep in transition and others that are just starting.
Conclusion: Plan to visit in mid-October for the best viewing but adjust accordingly based on the fall colour report.
Why Provincial Parks?
You might be asking, “why should I plan a trip up to a Provincial Park if I can see it in the city or just drive around”?
That's a great question. What it really comes down to is scale, temperature, and activity pairings.
- Scale – Provincial Parks are large areas of protected lands and when it comes to seeing the fall colours, you want to fill your view with trees from end to end. You might be able to see pockets of beautiful fall colours in the city but it's not going to compare with seeing an entire valley, hill, or lake surrounded by the fiery coloured leaves.
- Temperature – In general, the leaves change earlier in the north and this is where the highest concentration of provincial parks are located in relation to the big city. The advantage of heading up north is that you can enjoy the fall foliage much earlier in the month where the deep cold chill hasn't set in yet. This is when you could luck out with 15 to 18 degrees celsius weather if a warm front hits. In the city however, the peak doesn't arrive until late October and at that point it's typically much colder.
- Activity Pairings – Seeing the leaves is one thing but to be able to combine it with outdoor activities is what makes it truly memorable. By going to an Ontario Provincial Park, you'll have access to amazing hiking trails, mountain biking, bird watching, canoeing/kayaking, camping, and RV-ing. You get a way more immersive experience compared to “just driving around”.
Are there other ways to see the Fall colours?
If you're looking for a different way to see the fall colours, there is the famous Agawa Canyon Tour Train in Sault Ste. Marie. Alternatively, you can see the leaves from above with this Niagara Escarpment fall colours airplane tour. Also, don't sleep on Pinery Provincial Park.
Provincial Parks to See Ontario Fall Colours
As a big fan of the outdoors, we spent this year seeking out where the best place was to not only see the Ontario fall colours but also to be able to go camping at the same time. Here are two Provincial Parks that truly impressed.
What makes this pair of parks unique is that because of their close proximity together, there's always the option of doing both of them in one trip to really get the best of both worlds.
1. Mikisew Provincial Park
Mikisew means “eagle” in Anishinaabemowin and when you get here that'll make a lot of sense because this Provincial Park is on the shores of the scenic Eagle Lake.
Mikisew is one of those parks that might not be as well known as Algonquin, but offers a really balanced offering of available activities and amenities plus a bit of a twist to make it a great option for the Ontario fall colours. It's small on size but big on fun and here's what I particularly liked about it.
- Has a 9 and 18 disc golf course that is set in the pine woods that is loads of fun for both beginners and experts. There aren't many Provincial Parks that have this.
- Easy access to Eagle Lake for water activities.
- Trails that are perfect for mountain bikes.
- Hiking trails to see the changing forest colours.
- Campgrounds themselves are gorgeous, blanketed by leaves of all colours.
- They will often extend the camping season so you're able to see the fall foliage.
While small, this park packs a ton of things in its space and you'll find that nothing is too far from you. What the topography doesn't offer however is any height and so there isn't necessarily a view point to see the changing of leaves from above but I was amazed at what I could see just walking or biking through the campgrounds.
Where is the park?
Mikisew Provincial Park is north of Muskoka and you could say sandwiched between Huntsville and North Bay. It's not too far from Hwy 11 and close to the town of Sunridge if you need to stock up on supplies.
Best place to view the leaves?
Mikisew has great fall foliage viewing almost anywhere you go within the campgrounds because there are numerous paths between campsites that are blanketed with red, yellow, and orange leaves and towering maples and oaks flanking both sides.
Besides the campsite, the Maple Canyon Trail is another great spot to immerse yourself in the changing forest.
What is there to do in the park?
Here is a breakdown of the Autumn-season activities that you can do while you're at Mikisew Provincial Park.
Biking – Whether used to get around the campground or doing a bit of mountain biking through the Lakeview Trail, this is a great activity while at Mikisew. You can rent them from the park or you can bring your own. The cost is $24.95 for 4 hours or $34.95 for the day + tax. Note that a $100 deposit is required. You can also save 15% if you rent for 2 days or more. Youth bikes are slightly cheaper.
SUP Board – While it might be a bit cold in the season to go SUPing, the options is there to rent one out and head out on Eagle Lake. They're locked by a chain at the beach but the Park Office will provide you with a key and you'll be able to take it down on your own. The cost is $29.95 for 4 hours and $39.95 for 1 day + tax.
Disc Golf – This has to be the main activity at the park and something that's truly unique. The course is designed to offer a beginner/intermediate disc golf experience and is set in the pine forest. If you haven't played before, this is basically golf but instead of clubs and a ball, you use frisbee-like discs that are slightly chunkier and heavier. Even if you're not good, this is a goldmine of hilarious fun. There is a warm-up 9 hole course and the full 18 hole course as well. Discs are for rent or sale at the Park Office.
Hiking – There are 5 official trails at Mikisew with the longest being the Maple Canyon Trail at 2.3km. This is a trail that takes you through the thick of the forest where you'll see features like wooden boardwalks, streams, and rock outcrops.
Canoeing and kayaking – With access to Eagle Lake, this is another great activity for those wanting to see the fall colours from the water. What's a little different about this park is that the rentals for these are by the Eagle Lake Narrows store. The canoes are already on the beach but they have to unlock it for you.
What are the facilities like?
When you first enter the park, you'll be greeted by the Park Office and it's here where you'll be checking in, renting out equipment, and buying souvenirs.
There are two campgrounds at Mikisew – The Hardwoods and The Pines. Each offers spacious campsites with picnic benches and fire pits. The difference is mainly in the type of tree cover with The Hardwoods being home to Maples and Oaks while The Pines consisting mostly of Red Pines.
Electrical sites are available in both campgrounds but not all sites have them.
Comfort stations are available at each campground and include amenities such as flush toilets, showers, and laundry facilities. I found these to be extremely well maintained and clean.
Have pets? This is a pet-friendly park with even a pet exercise area in the Day-Use area which has a pet-friendly beach and a fenced, leash free area.
2. Restoule Provincial Park
Just north of Mikisew and south of Lake Nipissing is another incredible Provincial Park that you may not of heard of. It's one of the best-kept secrets of the area and home to impressive bluffs, sweeping forests, interconnected lakes, and mountain biking trails. There's a ton to explore here.
Restoule Provincial Park gives you a completely different look to the fall landscape even though it's only an hour away from Mikisew. While some of the features are the same, in many other ways it's completely different. Here are my favourite things about Restoule.
- Fire Tower Trail is awesome and culminates in an unforgettable birds eye view of the colourful forest and Stormy Lake.
- Trails for mountain biking are perfect for those wanting a bit of excitement without being too hardcore.
- Access to multiple lakes and outlets from the campground which is perfect for canoeing and kayaking.
- Amazing lake view campsites that have the perfect sunset view.
- Camping in Restoule is also available until October 15 in the 2019 season.
Where is the park?
Best place to view the leaves?
Hands down the best spot to view the autumn colours is along the Fire Tower Trail on the Stormy Lake Bluff. It's the perfect spot for a picnic and view the panoramic view of the lake and forest below.
What is there to do in the park?
If you come here in the fall, here are some of the activities that you can look forward to.
Hiking – There are 5 main hiking trails but the must-do one is the Fire Tower Trail which meanders through the mature forest and rocky ridges before opening up to the Stormy Lake Bluff. From here, you have the best view of the Ontario fall colours. You'll also pass around the historic Fire Tower that was used back in the day to spot forest fires in the region.
Mountain biking – Restoule is a great park for mountain bikers with the one trail in particular being pretty great. Angel's Point Trail has two loops through the forest which are quite wide and offers a ton of winding corners, changes in elevation, tree root bumps, and other humps. You can rent mountain bikes from the Park Office. The cost is $24.95 for 4 hours or $34.95 for the full day + tax. Save 15% if you rent for 2 days or more. A $100 deposit is also required.
Canoeing and kayaking – What's nice about Restoule is that you can rent canoes and kayaks from the Park Office. With Restoule Lake, Stormy Lake, and Clear Lake, there are 5 prescribed paddling routes that you can take that range from 1 hour to 6 hours. These are available at various docks and beaches in the park. They're locked up but once you pay at the Park Office, you'll receive a key to unlock it and you can take it out yourself. Rental rates can be found below depending on whether it's a canoe, kayak, or double kayak.
SUP Board – If you're interest in SUP, these are also available next to the canoes at the dock. Like the canoes and kayaks, they're locked by a chain at the beach but the Park Office will provide you with a key and you'll be able to take it down on your own. The cost is $29.95 for 4 hours and $39.95 for 1 day + tax.
What are the facilities like?
The facilities are near identical to Mikisew and what makes Ontario Parks so awesome for those that want to experience the outdoors but do it with comfort.
The Park Office is where things start and it's here. Inside, you'll do everything from checking in, rent gear, buying Ontario Parks swag, or grabbing a coffee.
Campground wise, there are two areas that are more secluded and private but don't have electricity – Putts Point and Bells Point. For those looking for more comfort and electricity, look at one of the 97 sites at Kettle Point Campground.
From a comfort station perspective, only Kettle Point and Putts Campgrounds have them. They're outfitted with flush toilets, showers, and laundry facilities. From our Kettle Point campsite, it's a short walk or bike ride and was impressed with how clean it is and maintained daily.
Have pets? Located at the Bell’s Point Boat Launch is a pet exercise area where pets are allowed on the beach.
One thing you have to know is that Restoule is in “Bear Country” so you do have to be more careful here. Make sure to put your food and garbage in your car at night and to pay attention while on trails.
Camping is Awesome in the Fall
Mikisew and Restoule Provincial Parks are great choices for your Ontario fall colours trip. What makes camping during this season great because:
- There are no bugs – We didn't see any dreaded mosquitos or black flies.
- No crowds – The campground is so quiet which means no noise, busy comfort centres, no fighting for rentals, and more privacy.
- Campsite of choice – With the park pretty empty, you can usually reserve your site of choice.
- Fall colours – Colours are vibrant and beautiful in the final few weeks of camping at these Provincial Parks.
If you're ready, make a reservation at one of these Provincial Parks!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few commonly asked questions for the Fall colours experience in Ontario.
This depends on where you're looking to go in the province but a really handy tool is the Ontario Parks' Fall Colours report which shows grading of colour changes at all of their parks.
There are so many viewing points for Fall colours but if you're looking to combine it with an outdoor experience, the Provincial Parks, Mikisew and Restoule are really great options.
Yes, the Fall is a slower time of the year right before the parks close so there is usually plenty of openings. That said, it will be busier on the weekends and quieter during the week.
Comfort stations are now re-open but laundry facilities are closed.
Yes, these are available for rent and include safety gear such as helmets and life jackets.
The parks have implemented measures to address overcrowding and promote physical distancing by limiting occupancy for day-use and camping in select Provincial parks. This includes limiting the number of daily vehicle permits sold or the number of campsites available for reservations. You may notice that day use parking areas will not be as full or some campsites will remain empty during your stay.
The last day of overnight camping is October 12, 2020.
The last day to visit the park during the day is October 12, 2020.
The last day of overnight camping is October 13, 2020
The last day to visit the park during the day is November 22, 2020.
Here are all the recommendations for camping must haves.
This content was made possible with our partnership with Ontario Parks however all opinions and experiences are our own.
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