Thursday, August 27, 2020

Big Bend Lookout and the Big East River

The Big East River starts in Algonquin Park and heads to Lake Vernon near Huntsville, twisting and turning especially as it flows near and through Arrowhead Provincial Park. As the fast flowing water cuts through layers of sand it causes the formation of oxbow lakes and loops in the river and the lookout in the provincial park provides an outstanding view of one of the great loops in the river.

Arrowhead Provincial Park is 2.5 hours north of Toronto and is part of Ontario's primo cottage country called Muskoka. In addition to the camp sites and beaches, the park has two great points of interest - Big Bend Lookout and Stubbs Falls on the Little East River.

Panorama of Stubbs Falls on the Little East River

When rivers are allowed to determine their route (not constrained by man) they tend to follow the past of least resistance, from high elevations to low elevations. Sand does not stand up to the flow of water very well and erosion in sandy areas is quite extensive and the river meanders, causing some areas to be cut off from the river and be turned into oxbow lakes or even dry up, hiding the past river channel. Big Bend Lookout has large sand slopes along the outside of the curve, cut by the current, while sand is deposited on the inside of the curve as the water slows and the sediment falls out of the water. Erosion of the outer bend forces the park to move the lookout back from the edge each year. The view is similar to the famous Horseshoe Bend in the Grand Canyon.

Upstream launch point at Arrowhead Park Road adjacent to Highway 11
Cruising down the river

One of the reasons we came to Arrowhead was to kayak down the Big East River which flows fast enough that it is almost lazy river quality if you head downstream. We decided to drop the kayaks on Arrowhead Park Road adjacent to Highway 11. There is a small parking lot near Tulip Inn where you can park for free during the day. Then we parked our other vehicle at Hutchenson Beach at Lake Vernon which also had free parking. Light paddling and a stop for a barbecue lunch on one of the many sandbanks along the river had us completing the journey in about 5 hours and a distance of about 10 kilometres. It was a great journey and we hope to do it again next year. Highly recommended.

Stopping for a barbecue lunch on one of the many sand beaches along the Big East River
Spring runoff make for a powerful river. These steps got caught up on fallen trees

Update August 2021: We made it back to the Big East River, this time traveling down stream between Williamsport Road and Highway 11, passing through the famous Big Bend Lookout in Arrowhead Park. Last year we looked down upon the river and decided that we needed to put on our pirate hats and rest up on the sand bank below the lookout.
Pirates approaching the Big Bend

See more of the journey after the jump.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Toronto's Humber West Recreational Trail

The city has many kilometres of multi-use trails - some of my favourites are the Don Valley Trail, the Lakeshore Trail and now the West Humber Rectreational Trail. You can ride from Highway 427 and Finch through the North Humber Trail, the Mid-Humber Trail and finally down along the Lower Humber River Trail till you get to the Humber Arch Bridge which is a distance of about 35km. The path is paved and about three metres wide.

We parked at the Humber Arboretum, just off of Finch Avenue and headed south along the trail which ends at the shores of Lake Ontario. The trail is actually signed with route markers within the trail system. When the trails come to an intermediate terminal point you have to go on the streets to pick up the next trail portion. The only problem is where you hit the road there are typically no trail signs posted on the road, you have to guess where to go or if you have a phone with a data plan you can try to look up the trails on google maps.

Two deer enjoying the river valley

What is incredible about the journey is the natural forests and green spaces winding between stretches of municipal parks which include such jewels as James Gardens, the Arboretum and the Humber Bay parks along the lake. On our ride back we saw two small deer eating shrubs near the Arboretum. I was surprised that we were about 50 feet away from the deer but they weren't too scared of us and they kept eating while a small crowd gathered to watch the wild animals.

During our trip there were lots of families enjoying barbecues and playing in the river and when you hit the lake area the amount of people riding the path across the Humber bridge and along Lake Shore Blvd West was quite high during an ActiveTO weekend event.

The trails are posted and numbered and the ones we followed were #15 and #40, you can see where they branch off to connect mid-trail to adjacent roads, or go towards another side trail. I haven't found a map yet which shows the bike route numbers. During this route we passed under the long bridges for Highway 401, Gardiner Expressway and the Lake Shore west railway line. The trail also had a number of pedestrian bridges crossing the river including one that had a wooden walkway over an old bridge footings.

Graffiti murals under Highway 401
The long staircase in Mallaby Park. It has a bike ramp along both sides

James Gardens

Friday, August 07, 2020

Biking on the Elora Cataract Trailway

You can explore an abandoned rail line turned into a multi-use pathway through nature in Centre Wellington which continues to the Forks of the Credit in Caledon - a 47km journey on a limestone covered railway bed, minus the rails. Centre Wellington includes Elora, Fergus and Belwood which are towns along the Grand River which are always worth a visit and about an 1.5 hours northwest of Toronto. The areas are very touristy and feature some fine limestone buildings, some great stores and restaurants along with the Elora Gore, the Elora Quarry and Lake Belwood. During non covid times you could go to the annual Fergus Truck Show.
Elora is the "most road trippable town in Canada" apparently.

I have passed the trailway often in my travels in the area, but didn't know too much about it. So after visiting their website I found out that it was part of a spur line built in the late 1800s by the Credit Valley Railway. The main line ran between Toronto and Orangeville while the spur line ran from Cataract to Elora. Cataract, which I never knew before, is located at the Forks of the Credit in Caledon and is named after the nearby waterfall. In 1883 the Credit Valley line was merged with the Ontario and Quebec Railway and then leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway and then, just over 100 years later the line was abandoned. Usually abandoned rail lines are offered for sale first to the municipality, then to adjacent land owners, then to any interested party. In this case the land was purchased by two separate Conservation agencies in 1993 - the Credit Valley Conservation Authority and the Grand River Conservation Authority.
Sit on the occasional bench - like this one with a view of the Grand River
With the assistance of the Province of Ontario, private donors and a number of other parties the trail was developed as a public trailway by the Elora Cataract Trailway Association. The trail is also part of the Trans Canada Trail which runs 24,000km between the Pacific, the Altantic and the Arctic Oceans. You can still sponsor some of the trailway if you have some spare cash.

From their website; "A community group, the Elora Cataract Trailway Association, has been working with the two conservation authorities to bring the project to fruition. The goal is to create a greenway or linear park through which people can explore their environment in different ways while, at the same time, encouraging the protection of natural and cultural heritage values."
Follow the trailway signs in Fergus
The Elora Cataract Trailway is free to use and the website has maps of the route along with parking locations. The trailway is about 1.5m wide in most locations, wide enough to have two lanes for biking, hiking or passing. At intersections there are gates with single wide access points, stop signs and street signs so you know where you are. In Fergus the trail takes a break from the old rail line and continues along small town streets - just follow the Elora Cataract Trailway directional signs until you pick up the trail again.
There is a great washroom in Fergus at Forfar Park. The trailway maps also indicate where there are bathrooms along the way

For this trip we wanted to bike to Elora from a point west and chose the start of Lake Belwood which is about 20km away from Elora. There are several free places to park around Smith and Queen Streets as well as a small lot right beside the trail off County Road 26. Plus there are two places in Belwood that sell ice cream, so there is that as well. This route would allow us to check out some of the lake, the Shand Dam that holds back the water that creates the lake (photo at top) is part of the trailway, pass through Fergus and puts us almost into downtown Elora with the Gorge on the far side of the main street. At the Elora Gorge park we could stop for a picnic, then head back to our starting point. Unfortunately for us we hit torrential rain on the way back so we had to pedal fast and spent less time exploring then I had wanted to do.

Doors Open

Scarborough Bluffs





Lake Ontario

Nathan Phillips Square