The Haliburton Forest Tour is one of the most unique hiking experiences in a country awash with great hiking trails. The four-hour guided hike starts along the bank of a scenic river near the Ontario town of Haliburton, then ascends 20 meters into the top of the forest canopy via a suspended boardwalk. It’s an aspect of the Canadian forest that most Ontarians have never seen, despite the fact that the Haliburton Forest lies just a few hours drive from cities like Toronto, Ottawa and London.
It’s a fact that many Canadian city dwellers seem unaware of. No matter where you live in this country, it’s possible to spend the day immersed in the natural world and still be home in time for dinner.
The natural drama is everywhere. In Nova Scotia every September millions of plovers and sandpipers gather along a thin strip of beach in the Bay of Fundy, blanketing the mud flats, swirling in flocks with thousands of individuals, gorging themselves on shrimp to double their body weight for a nonstop migratory flight to South America. At the Saguenay-Saint-Laurent Marine Park where the Saguenay River meets the Saint Lawrence, 13 species of whales can be seen in one place, as they feed in the rich waters. At Point Pelee National Park in the southern tip of Ontario keen observers can spot almost 400 species of birds and a variety of plants that aren’t found anywhere else in Canada.
Western city dwellers are even closer to nature. Winnipeg sits at the edge of three major Canadian ecosystems — the tallgrass prairie to the west and south, the Canadian shield to the east and the interlake region to the north. In Calgary and Edmonton an hour’s drive west puts day trip adventurers into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The same distance east opens up the harsh, beautiful world of the badlands. And British Columbia, with five spectacular national parks and nearly 400 provincial parks, is one of the great ecotourism destinations on the planet.
Taken together it represents a lifetime of exploring for Canadian urbanites. One day trip at a time.
Some Canadian ecotourism destinations within easy reach
Bay of Fundy: Currently on the short list of choices for the “seven wonders of the natural world” the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is a mecca for whale and bird watchers, fossil hunters, kayakers and photographers.
Bruce Trail: Quite possibly the best hiking experience in eastern Canada, the Bruce Trail winds 800 kilometers along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, from Queenston to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula. With seven million people living within 100 kilometers of the trail it’s a great natural escape for urbanites.
Algonquin Park: The oldest provincial park in Canada is also one of the country’s finest. Within easy reach from Ottawa, Algonquin Park is a chance to see big game wildlife in its natural state, and follow in the footsteps of the Group of Seven. Hiring a qualified guide is the best way to make the most of a short visit.
Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area: Just a short drive north of Quebec City in Quebec’s spectacular Charlevoix region, Cap Tourmente is a major snow goose migration stopover and an internationally recognized tidal marsh wetland.
Mantario Trail: Located about 150 kilometers east of Winnipeg, the 63-kilometer-long Mantario Trail in Whiteshell Provincial Park will take an experienced hiker three or four days to complete. It’s not for the ill-prepared, but it’s a good place to experience the natural wonders along the edge of the Canadian shield.
Maligne Canyon: One of the most dramatic hikes in Alberta’s Jasper National Park, Maligne Canyon is a deep canyon complete with waterfalls, glacier carved caverns and spectacular gorges. The trails are well maintained and marked and easy for beginners.
Johnston Canyon: An easy drive from Calgary, Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park offers hikers a chance to see as many as seven waterfalls, depending on how much energy they want to exert. The trail is paved, easy to follow and has plenty of wildlife and scenery along its route.
Sea Kayaking in Howe Sound: With practically a lifetime of natural getaways within easy reach of downtown Vancouver, it’s hard to know where to start. A guided sea kayaking tour of Howe Sound is one option — complete with epic mountain scenery, seabirds and possible orca sightings. A number of local outfitters offer rentals, instructions and qualified guides for novice paddlers.