If you head to Northumberland County, about an hour east of Toronto you’ll find a section of the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail – a 300 km trail that winds from the Caledon area east to Castleton with a couple of short spurs off its eastern end.
Although the Oak Ridges Moraine trail travels through some of the most populated areas of Ontario, you can enjoy a semi-wilderness experience along with a good dose of nature in the form of bird and plant life (including poison ivy so take precautions).
You’ll also see lots of squirrels and perhaps even the odd chipmunk. We saw no signs of larger animals.
The actual Oak Ridges Moraine is a 160 km long hilly remnant of sand and gravel left by retreating glaciers in the last Ice Age, of which approximately 25% is covered by forest today. The end result is charming forested country along with a mix of meadows, streams and kettle lakes.
An easy hike on the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail
Our experience hiking 15 kilometres on the eastern section of the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail approximated what you’d expect to find in southern Ontario – lots of hills though nothing that required herculean efforts, lovely, open forests and some civilization, mostly as roads.
We started at a parking area south of Dunbar and finished at Villa Conti Winery where we had lunch. I’d highly recommend following in our footsteps, preferably with a shuttle so you don’t have to walk 15 kilometres back to a car after a couple of glasses of wine.
The Oak Ridges Moraine Trail is marked with white blazes – and though generally well-signed, there are sections where signage just seems to disappear. We had a map so we knew we were heading in the right direction but some people might not feel quite so calm.
If you go to the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail website you can find maps showing parking, both on and off road. Basically, pick a section and arrange a shuttle or do an out and back hike.
Should you live in southern Ontario in the vicinity of the trail you might want to join the Oak Ridges Trail Association and get involved as a volunteer.
Lunch at Villa Conti
Nothing beats a delicious lunch with a glass or two of superb Italian wine after a full morning of hiking. Situated about one and a half kilometres off the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail (and easily accessible on foot), Villa Conti Oak Heights Estate Winerysits on a hill overlooking 35 acres of vines and a beautiful pond. The setting is stunning. And it’s quiet as it’s out in the country with hardly another building in sight.
Opened in the spring of 2016, Villa Conti dishes up rustic Italian food. Tommaso Conti, the chef and co-owner of Tommaso’s Trattoria in Toronto comes from a family that for four generations has been farming and making wine so he really knows what he’s doing in the kitchen. His co-partner, Bambina Giannitti is equally involved with the restaurant.
I would have been happy eating just the first course – grape foccacia (the best I’ve ever eaten) with cheeses and meats. But it would have been rude to stop there.
Rather than order off the menu we asked for a sampling of food they thought we’d enjoy – so out came a salad with freshly made to-die-for cheese along with fresh figs on a bed of greens; followed by a fettuccine with mushrooms imported from Italy and cannelloni. There was no room for dessert. Thank heavens we’d walked for hours and had started the meal famished.
The winery would make a great day trip from Toronto or the Port Hope to Brighton area. It’s also super convenient to the cottage country around Rice Lake.
Thank you to Northumberland Tourism for making this trip possible and for ensuring a stop at the winery was on the itinerary!
Further reading on things to do in Northumberland County