One of my favorite hikes is Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, a 750 hectare natural environment park just a short drive north of Toronto. Besides the short drive I like how this park changes with every season presenting a new look to the hiker.
For a 12 km walk, get started from the park entrance by heading west along the slightly rolling Carriage Trail. To your left you can see the dramatic dolomite cliffs of the South Outlier rising above the valley forest. After about 1 km, you reach a T-junction where you turn right and continue along the Spillway Trail.
On your left you will pass and series of small ponds easily located from the noise of the ducks. And farther along also to you left you can see the tops of the steep cliffs and observation deck which you will visit later. For now continue on the Spillway Trail until just past a set of washrooms.
At the junction take the right trail (white blazes) along the Bruce Trail as you begin a long, yet gradual, ascent up the Niagara escarpment along the dirt road right of way until reaching the top. Here the main Bruce Trail turns right but you should continue straight through along the Lookout Trail which then veers to the left.
In the past I have seen deer in this area which has open areas and young trees. You now discover you actually did not reach the top yet as you enter a glove of cedars for the short jaunt to the real top. From the clearing here at 1650 feet above sea level you can see the entire park and on some days the Toronto skyline in the distance. You are now at the north end of the park and to the south you can seen the two ridges with the valley below.
Continue along the rolling trail through a hardwood forest until arriving at a T-junction. Turn left on the McArston’s Lake Trail as you head downward eventually reaching the shores of the lake itself, an excellent spot for a break for lunch. In autumn the color around this small lake is nothing short of spectacular. Expect some ducks to keep you company.
Back on the trail as it heads slightly downward and across a creek until you reach the junction with the Cliff Top Trail. Follow it to the right and continue to the viewing platform. Expect lots of “visitors” arriving from the other parking lot with their families. Also expect to see lots of birds of prey as they catch the thermals riding them along the cliff face and above.
Continue along the Cliff Top Trail until almost reaching the parking lot where you take a sharp left turn through a gap in the fence. A short distance brings you to another turn where you turn right still along the Cliff Top Trail. Going straight ahead is a short cut along the Carriage Trail back to your car.
This rolling section has plenty open space, young trees, abandoned apple orchards and open spaces until you reach some switch backs which take you down the cliff safely. There are two long boardwalks across some marsh sections and a side trail into the village of Mono Centre but you should continue to the lake where you can take a break and view the ducks and geese.
Continue straight until you reach the Bruce Trail and take a left turn heading north again. When you reach the fork on the trail head left along the base of the cliff for the best scenery, passing a junction with the Carriage Trail again. Onward over a small stream until reaching my favorite part of the park, a small pond with greenish water surrounded by hardwoods. Take a break using the benches provided.
Continue taking the right turn at the T-junction and down the hill to the washrooms you passed earlier in the day. Return to your cars via the Spillway and Carriage Trails.
Directions from Toronto
Head north on the Highway 400, west along Highway 9 turning north at Mono Centre on Airport Road (County 18). Continue your drive through the Hockley Valley and up the hill turning left (west) on Dufferin County Road 8. Continue until reaching a dip along the road where you turn right on 3rd Line EHS with the park entrance a few kilometers on your right. Washrooms are located beside the parking lot.
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