A picturesque journey into the trails of Killbear and MacGregor Point Provincial Parks
Hiking with children can be a pleasure, with some preparation and luck. A smooth experience means ensuring the park you choose meets the needs of your children’s age and skill levels.
Killbear Provincial Park near Parry Sound, which is known for its Georgian Bay beaches, windswept campgrounds, and low mosquito population, has a few quiet trails. There are four main trails, but the Twin Points Trail (1.6 km loop), the Lighthouse Point Trail (800 m loop) and the Lookout Point Trail (3.5 km loop) provide the most breathtaking experience and all three are surprisingly easy to navigate with children in tow. At Twin Points Trail the smooth pink granite of the Canadian Shield is exposed in large swaths. Markers along the trail share interesting tidbits about the visible geological features. The trail winds through a sparse pine forest and emerges onto the shore, where hikers can be spotted taking breaks to sunbathe on the smooth warm stone and dangle their toes in the lake. The crystal clear water here beckons swimmers, but the stone shore makes for a slippery entrance and exit.
Lighthouse Point Trail is located at the south-eastern tip of the Killbear provincial park and loops around a small peninsula. The west side offers rocky platforms, panoramic views and a quaint red and white signal light at the tip. The eastern side of the trail is forested with off-shooting paths to small sandy beaches along the way.
Lookout Point Trail at Killbear provincial park takes hikers through a forest where signs of past fire and regrowth are evident. Small plaques along the route offer insight into the ecology of the park for little burgeoning scientists. At the midpoint the trail breaks from the forest onto a rocky cliff, which offers a stunning view of Parry Sound, both the bay and the city in the distance. The trees here are latched precariously onto the rock and provide shade to a few picnic tables. For the more experienced hikers it is possible to descend the cliff here to a secluded beach below, which features a layered rock formation.
Parents of infants will want to bust out the baby carrier for the trails at Killbear provincial park. Though the terrain is easy and wide, the elevation can vary and become rocky. Leaving your stroller behind is, by far, no detriment to the experience; these trails showcase the natural splendor of Georgian Bay and are best experienced with the freedom to explore without bulky equipment. Toddlers will find the rocky outcrops and lookouts exceptionally interesting; diverse insects, flora and wildlife also abound. The deers are especially desensitized, grazing frequently at the edge of roadways. A back carrier is essential and allows you and your youngster to explore together on foot at your ease, while still completing the entire loop once they tire. Lighthouse Point Trail may be possible to accomplish solely on foot if your toddler is ambitious; at 800 m it’s a relatively short hike (with a long nap sure to follow). Older children will have no problems with any of the trails and will enjoy the handy map adventures, which provide scenic and informative check point stops along the way.
For a different experience head further south along the Lake Huron shoreline. Nestled on the outskirts of Port Elgin, you’ll find MacGregor Point Provincial Park. MacGregor Point is renowned amongst cyclists for its trails, which have inadvertently produced some of the most child-friendly and stroller-friendly hiking to be found in the Ontario parks system. Nearly all of the trails are spacious, flat and smooth. Ground cover consists mainly of packed earth, short grass, hard sand and long expanses of boardwalk.
Five of the park’s eight trails are stroller accessible, and all eight are managed with baby carriers if you are camping with infants or toddlers. Walking-age youth may tire here, as some trails lengthier then those at Killbear provincial park. If that’s the case you can always bike, after all it’s what the park is known for. Children will particularly enjoy the Tower Trail (3.5 km loop), the Lake Ridge Trail (4 km) and the Huron Fringe Boardwalk (1.2 km) for their story boards, ample wildlife and bird watching. MacGregor Point Provincial Park is notably home to the annual Huron Fringe Birding Festival and an innovative “Critter Cam” program (a series of game cameras throughout the park that spot wildlife on the move). Tower Trail features a Ducks Unlimited Wetland Project, a two story viewing tower, a bird hide, wild apple trees, lily pads, grassy trails, and boardwalk sections. The trail is teeming with frogs, snakes, wood ducks, Canadian geese and redwing black birds. Plenty of additional wildlife is waiting to be discovered, including over 200 species of birds.
Lake Ridge Trail is one of the longer trails in the MacGregor Point Provincial Park, at 4 km. It is neither bicycle nor stroller accessible, with rocky sections and stairs, and is best enjoyed by older children. The approximately 1.5 hour hike offers the chance for the discovery of interpretive story boards, natural habitats, and the former bottom of a post-glacial lake. Huron Fringe Boardwalk is a short and easy stroll for all ages. It branches off the Old Shore Road Trail and winds along the lake, past Turtle Pond, the Visitor’s Centre and Ash Swamp. The boardwalk features convenient benches with outdoor picnic tables at the Visitor’s Centre for the hungry hiker. The Visitor’s Centre at MacGregor Point Park is a great pit stop for children, while you’re there. It houses some live animals commonly spotted in the park, including a happy turtle. The trail also features easy access to a rocky beach. On clear days Chantry Island Lighthouse can be spotted in the distance.
All this excitement and hiking will land your children in their sleeping bags sometime around twilight. There isn’t a parent out there who won’t be happy to sit back and enjoy a leisurely campfire in quiet solitude at the end of the day.
By Jennifer Schleich