If you’re not from Canada, you may equate the country with its age-old reputation as the land of ice and snow. However, the country is much larger than most people realize with a wide variety of different climates. At the southernmost point of Canada, Point Pelee National Park is a beautiful stop for outdoor travellers that deserves far more attention than it currently receives!
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Located just outside of Leamington, Ontario, Point Pelee National Park may be the country’s second-smallest national park, but don’t let that fool you. If you are in the Southern Ontario area, it is well worth the trip!
Due to its location, the park experiences much milder weather than most people would expect in the ‘Great White North’ aka Canada. The province of Ontario extends down into the United States, and the park itself is actually located at the same latitude as Northern California! Don’t believe me? Check out this article from City Metric including maps to illustrate the shocking truth. Canada isn’t as far north as many believe it to be!
In fact, our pack decided to spend a full afternoon at the park last Sunday, on the first weekend of February. While there was still some snow on the ground on the trails nestled deep within the trees, the majority of the park was reminiscent of a nice summer day. We hiked all afternoon without the need for coats and the biggest challenge we faced was the fact that there was mud EVERYWHERE, which meant 2 very muddy puppies needing a bath when we returned home.
The park offers a variety of different trails, showing off the incredible ecological diversity in the area. A large portion of the park is composed of marsh areas, including one of the largest freshwater marshes still in existence in the Great Lakes area. To allow visitors to really see this beautiful area and the wildlife that call it home, a floating boardwalk trail has been installed. In addition, the park built a large observation tower and installed telescopes for better viewing. Along the boardwalk, benches are available so that you can sit down and take in the sights.
The trails available at the park include:
- Marsh Boardwalk – 1km loop (discussed above)
- Centennial Bike & Hike Trail – 4km
- DeLaurier Homestead & Trail – 1.2km loop
- Chinquapin Oak Trail – 4km loop (including the Cactus Field Footpath)
- Shuster Trail – 0.5 km
- Tilden Woods Trail – 1km loop
- Woodland Nature Trail – 2.75km loop
- Tip Trail – 1km loop
You can access the full trail map HERE.
Due to the mild temperatures that are generally experienced in this area of the province, the park is a go-to spot for hikers that aren’t interested in trudging through the snow that blankets much of the country. While we do experience some snow in the Windsor/Essex area, it’s fairly minimal in comparison.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the milder temperatures here introduce their own challenges. The combination of accumulated rain and melting snow has resulted in some overly muddy trails now which will continue through until the area dries up again as we move through mid to late spring. If you’re planning on heading out, make sure you’re okay with getting a little dirty. Dog owners, be warned, this isn’t something that can be fixed by wiping your pup’s paws down with a towel. That being said, a little mud never hurt anyone, right?
The park was incredibly well taken care of. Despite visiting during the slower winter season, we could tell that the park employees were hard at work to keep the area looking nice. In fact, we passed an employee picking up litter off the marsh boardwalk while we were on the trail. I was impressed with the attention to detail that they maintain throughout the year.
In addition to the hiking trails, Point Pelee National Park is also home to 24 oTENTiks that are available year-round for an overnight experience. If you haven’t heard of oTENTiks before, they are outdoor accommodations that are a combination of a traditional prospector tent and an A-frame cabin. It’s the perfect ‘glamping’ opportunity with full-sized beds and a comfortable dining area. Outside, a gas barbeque and fire pit allow you to embrace the camping experience.
The park also offers canoe rentals, allowing its visitors to explore the waters of Lake Erie. It is also home to the longest continuous natural beach in Essex County. In various spots along the beach, you will find change rooms, picnic areas and washrooms. It should be noted, however, that while the tip has a beach-like appearance, it is not safe to swim at that particular spot due to the strong currents.
In the spring, the park is a go-to birdwatching location. It is an incredible opportunity to see over 370 species of birds as including the northward songbird migration. If you’re more interested in making a trip during the fall months, you can witness the beauty that is the Monarch butterfly migration firsthand. Thousands of monarch butterflies can be seen in the park for just a few short days, making a stop during the process of their migration south.
If you haven’t heard of the Monarch migration, you need to check out this video from Parks Canada:
Finally, the biggest draw to the park is the area known as ‘The Tip’. The park is a triangular-shaped land formation extending into Lake Erie, and ‘The Tip’ is the southernmost point not only of that formation but also of mainland Canada. You can drive down in your personal vehicle to access the area from November to March, however, during the busier months you need to park further up in the park and take the Tip Shuttle.
The Tip itself is a small sandy area. You can walk out on the tip, the water surrounding you on 3 sides, and know that at that moment, the entire country stretches out north of you. The only part of Canada further south is Middle Island, a small island in Lake Erie that is also part of Point Pelee National Park. The entire island is a conservation area.
If you’re looking for a beautiful outdoor experience in Southern Ontario, make sure to add Point Pelee National Park to your list!
Point Pelee National Park is easy to reach by car, located just outside of the town of Leamington. There is no public transit access to the park at this time, however, if you take a train or bus to the Windsor or Chatham stations, you can rent a car or take an uber.
Do you have a favourite go-to spot to leave the world behind and escape to the outdoors? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Share your suggestions in the comments below and inspire others to explore!