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Fall Treks in the Boreal Forest of Ontario's Sunset Country

Fall shoreline at Dryberry Lake • Credit: Gerry Cariou
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Fall Treks in the Boreal Forest of Ontario's Sunset Country

There's no better time to explore the forest

Fall is the best time of year to explore Ontario's vast boreal forest. Cool days, bright foliage, and no bugs make this the perfect time for a trek.

As a longtime resident of Sunset Country, I'm speaking from experience when I say the fall (autumn for the purists) is far and above the best time of year to trek into the boreal. I've been venturing into the woods out here for over two decades and when it comes to the enjoyment of the forest, I definitely like fall the best. Here are some reasons why fall is the best time of year for a boreal trek:

  • The colour burst–especially the small shrubs and bushes–is spectacular. 
  • There are few, if any, bugs to bother you.
  • As the leaves begin to fall, the sightlines in the forest improve.
  • You have an overall better chance of seeing wildlife.

That's only four reasons. I could list more but the best reason of all is still to comeFor me, the crisp air–especially in the morning–is what makes a trek into the boreal in the fall extra special. It's invigorating to breathe it in and you can feel the strength and energy it gives you, and along with the wonderful scent of the forest, there's nothing quite like it.

Head out on the highway and turn down a back road–many are great to walk on!

Finding a place to go to is easy. There are marked trails that are located in or near our communities or you can venture down any highway and look for a place to pull off. Often a road into a remote lake will have trails or paths off the side. For serious trekkers, you can plan your own trail but make sure you're prepared for the woods when you set out, including letting someone know where you are headed and when you are expected back. Wherever, you go, remember to always consider your skill and physical abilities prior to setting out.

Those crisp fall mornings are something else!

The idea is to get into the woods, even if just walking down a backroad (of which there are many), or you can see the forest from the lake in your boat (my favourite) or, for the off-road enthusiast, on your ATV or side-by-side. Just being outside and in the woods is what it's all about! This is a great, close-to-home activity that is suitable for the entire family all the way up to serious outdoor people. Think about it, being out in the woods is a not only fun–it's an activity where it's easy to follow social distancing protocols too–and we all want to do that! More info on COVID-19 and travel to NW Ontario here.

Check Out Natural Attractions

One of the things I like to look for in the fall is the colour bursts from the leaves along the rocky cliffs. Often a lake shoreline is the best place to see this display. Dark rock contrasted with red, yellow, orange, or even purple-hued leaves is a great sight to behold. I also look for moving water (aka waterfalls). The steam created by the warmer water rising into the contrasting cool air is an amazing fall sight. Nature puts on a show for you–the key is to learn what to look for. We've put together a list of top hikes in Sunet Country that are sure to deliver when it comes to fall foliage viewing. 

A Bird's-eye View

If you have the means to do this, chartering a float-plane to get a bird's-eye view of the colour change is a very worthwhile experience and it will take your breath away when you get up off the lake and above the treetops. Some of the air charter services in the Sunset Country region offer this service but you have to call ahead and arrange it beforehand. It is well worth the cost and make sure you bring your camera!

Fall colour burst as seen from the air. Photo courtesy True North Outposts

Paddle ON

Any experienced paddler will tell you that autumn is a great time for a wilderness canoe trip in the boreal. The benefits of no bugs are at the top of the list and of course, seeing the sights of the boreal from the back of a canoe is awe-inspiring. I did a fall trip in a canoe in my younger years and I rank that trip as the best canoe expedition I ever went on. Thirty years later I trailer a boat in and view the shorelines that way but back in the day, when I had the energy to do it, paddling was (and still is) the best way to access the forest. Your chance of seeing wildlife from a canoe is excellent!

Late fall is the time of the rut–look for whitetail deer!

Some Preparation & Safety Tips

For most readers, I expect you'll take it relatively easy and stick close to town but some of you may venture out a bit further. Unless you're planning a multi-day trek, then common sense is all you really need to have a good time and ensure you do it safely. Here are a few tips:

  • Plan your trek. The bare minimum to figure out is how long your trip will be if you're walking–just like mountain climbing, once you get to the top you have to climb down. Once you get to the end of the trail, you have to walk back. Looped trails solve that problem but keep it in mind.
  • For trekking boaters and off-road enthusiasts, bring enough gas.
  • Dress for the weather–bring a warm, waterproof jacket, warm shirt(s), pants, a hat, and good walking shoes or consider hiking boots. 
  • Bring sufficient water or beverages to drink and food to snack on. 
  • Let another person know where you are going and when you expect to return–just in case.
  • Consider bringing a handheld navigational device (and a backup battery) or at least a topo map, especially if you are venturing deeper into the bush. 
  • For novice trekkers, stay on the road or on the trail. Veering off just to look at something can get you lost really quickly. 

Here is a good safety checklist to look at prior to venturing out into the woods.

There are many lodges you can stay at so check those out - image courtesy Kevin Palmer

So there you have it, my encouragement to get outside in the fall months is something you should consider. You might like it so much that you'll make it an annual trip from now on. 

Stay safe and have fun!

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