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Looking North From The Most Southerly Point In Mainland Canada

Things to Do in Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

If birding, beaches, hiking and boardwalks have appeal – some of the top things to do in Point Pelee National Park, then perhaps you’d enjoy a trip to one of Canada’s smallest national parks. The park in southwestern Ontario is located at the crossroads of major migration routes, not only for birds but also butterflies, bats and dragonflies. Loop trails lead through five Carolinean habitats including dry forest, wet forest, swamp, cedar savannah, marsh and rock beach.

These habitats make up less than one quarter of one percent of Canada’s total land mass but boast more rare species of plants and animals than anywhere else in the country.

Point Pelee is one of Canada’s smallest parks coming in at just over 20 square kilometres of land. Yet despite its diminutive size, there are loads of things to do in Point Pelee, that you could easily enjoy a long weekend here.

Updated February 2020

Walking the boardwalk is one of the things to do in Point Pelee
Walking the boardwalk is one of the things to do in Point Pelee

Getting to Point Pelee National Park

It’s roughly a 3.5 hour drive from Toronto if you take Highway 401. The closest town is Leamington – Canada’s tomato capital and former home to a Heinz ketchup factory.

Aerial view of the marshlands from the observation tower
Aerial view of the marshlands from the observation tower

Why you’ll want to visit Point Pelee National Park 

If you’re a keen birder you already know about what a fabulous place Point Pelee is during the spring bird migration. It is one of the top spots for birding in Canada in spring – and birding is one of the truly fabulous things to do in Point Pelee National Park.

The total number of species recorded is 372, of which 340 have been observed over the spring migration. According to the Parks Canada website there have been some Big Days where huge waves of birds have stopped for a breather.

Here are a few examples of the numbers seen during a wave of birds.

  • In 1952, 1,000 black-and-white warblers and 20,000 white-throated sparrows showed up over a three day period.
  • On May 15, 1978, 80 yellow-billed cuckoos, 250 scarlet tanagers and 70 eastern wood peewees were sighted.
  • In other years 2,500 tundra swans and 100,000 red-breasted mergansers have stopped by in a short time period.

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Big Year, you will appreciate – even if you’re not a birder – the thrill of seeing so many species of birds at one time.

One of the daily birding maps you'll see in Point Pelee
One of the daily birding maps you’ll see in Point Pelee
A scarlet tanager - the most exotic bird I saw
A scarlet tanager – the most exotic bird I saw
I loved all the wild turkeys I saw in Point Pelee
I loved all the wild turkeys I saw in Point Pelee
Swallows nest under the observation tower
Swallows nest under the observation tower

But you don’t have to be a birder to enjoy Point Pelee National Park.

One of the beaches in Point Pelee National Park
One of the beaches in Point Pelee National Park

Point Pelee is known for its wonderful sandy beaches

The park is situated on a narrow spit of land that ends at a point – the southernmost tip of mainland Canada. There are fabulous beaches on either side of the spit that run for kilometres.

Bring a picnic, go for a swim or just relax with your family. And don’t miss a visit to the very tip. Just don’t even consider a swim there unless you want to become another drowning statistic. The water at the tip is known for its dangerous currents and undertows.

Undertows are a problem around the tip of Point Pelee
Undertows are a problem around the tip of Point Pelee
Quiet stretch of beach
Quiet stretch of beach
Just hanging out at one of the beaches in Point Pelee
Just hanging out at one of the beaches – one of the fun things to do at Point Pelee
Looking north from the most southerly point in mainland Canada
Looking north from the most southerly point in mainland Canada

Take a hike

I spent many hours hiking a myriad of trails that run through the park. Most are short. All are flat and easy. In total there are 8 trails, ranging from 0.5 to 4 kilometres in length.

The 4 kilometre Centennial Trail from the Marsh Boardwalk to the Visitor Centre can also be biked.

The Marsh Boardwalk

My favourite hike was the one kilometre long Marsh Boardwalk.

It’s popular one for the whole family – as you get up close to cattails, lily pads, turtles, birds and frogs. Red-winged backbirds and painted turtles are particularly plentiful. There’s a tower to climb so you get a great overview as well.

The boardwalk in Point Pelee National Park
The boardwalk in Point Pelee National Park
Lily pads coming to life in the warm weather
Lily pads coming to life in the warm weather
Don't forget to climb the Observation Tower for great views
Don’t forget to climb the Observation Tower for great views

Canoe and kayak in Point Pelee

I had also hoped to paddle around the ponds as there are boats available to rent but for whatever reason they weren’t open on the Monday of the May long weekend that I visited. That would be a fabulous way to explore the park.

Paddle through the marsh in Point Pelee
Paddle through the marsh in Point Pelee
Usually you can rent boats right beside the Marsh Boardwalk
Usually you can rent boats right beside the Marsh Boardwalk

Hiking in the woods in Point Pelee National Park

The wooded walks I did were pleasant too – especially as the woods were just full of birdsong – 99% of which I couldn’t identify.

I hiked a number of loops and enjoyed the peace of the woods, trying to find (and identify) the elusive bird singing in the tree and the spring flowers. Though hardly exotic I loved coming across wild turkeys on a couple of occasions.

Walking through a tunnel of green in Point Pelee National Park
Walking through a tunnel of green in Point Pelee National Park

Look out for snakes in Point Pelee

There are a lot of snakes in Point Pelee National Park. I am pleased to report that I saw only one of them – a garter snake that was less than a foot long. Thank heavens I didn’t see a six foot long fox snake. They may not cause you harm but I am just not a big fan of snakes.

Quiet path through the woods
Quiet path through the woods
Exceptionally beautiful forest
Exceptionally beautiful forest

Visit the DeLaurier Farm Cemetery

It’s a short but pretty 1.2 kilometre loop hike on the DeLaurier Homestead & Trail. Along the trail walk through cedar savannah, open fields and swamp forest. 

Although short in length, the trail takes you through 10,000 years of Point Pelee history from the First Peoples through to homesteaders, fisherman, farmers and finally to cottagers.

The DeLaurier Cemetery
The DeLaurier Cemetery- reached by a pretty hike

Point Pelee is well worth a trip – if not in the spring then in the fall to catch the monarch butterfly migration. According to my B&B host in Leamington that’s usually sometime during the last week in September.

Every year there is a Festival of Birds running for three weeks in May over the spring migration. The park is open at that time from 5 AM until 10 PM.

To visit Point Pelee, it’s $7.90 for an adult, $6.90 for a senior and $16.00 for a group. It’s a little bit less in the off-season between November and March.

Brilliant Lake Erie sunset
Brilliant Lake Erie sunset

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Where to stay on a visit to Point Pelee

You can book a stay in an oTENTik year-round in the park. It would be an especially great option in spring, waking up to the sound of birdsong.

If you’d prefer something where you don’t have to walk to a bathroom I’d suggest the following though you’ll have to drive to visit the park.

For a B&B experience 10 km outside of Leamington check out the exceptionally rated Duck Pond B&B Cottage. The Quality Inn in Leamington would be another solid choice.

In Kingsville, a cute town 20 minutes from the park, you’ll find a lovely selection of B&Bs. One of the top choices is Inn 31 or the Lil’ Heart & Soul Boutique Inn.

For more information on Point Pelee National Park visit their website.

Further reading on things to do in Ontario in summer

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Things to do in Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Leigh, I almost feel like I am on a hunt with you during your posts, carefully and patiently waiting for the perfect “shot.” I am not a hunter, so I appreciate your marksman technique!

  2. Sigh – what a beautiful place, and such lovely photos. Look at those leading lines and curves; you have a wonderful photographer’s eye.

  3. Great shot of a beautiful scarlet tanager.

    Also, nice to read about a park on Lake Erie. I spent much of my life in Ohio and much of that near the shores of the lake.

    1. @Bob I think Lake Erie is a lot cleaner too than it was a few decades ago. There is a little island in Lake Erie that you get to by ferry that then takes you on to Point Pelee Island (Sandusky, Ohio I think) so you were very close to Point Pelee. Wonder how the bird life is in Ohio.

  4. I am happy to see one tanager, it would be incredible to see 1,000. I keep getting attacked by red-winged blackbirds when I go running in Chicago. That picture kind of scared me.

    1. @Ted Can you imagine the colour in the skies with 1000 tanagers. Costa Rica has been the best place we’ve visited for abundant and colourful bird life. Those red winged blackbirds are beautiful – but what a racket and you’ll have to wear a hat so you don’t get pooped on if there are that many around.

  5. I bet that butterfly migration must be just spectacular!
    Point Pelee sounds like a great spot, Leigh, and at less than $10 pp, definitely gentle on the pocketbook too.
    Glad you didn’t see the Fox snake.

  6. Looks beautiful and much larger than it is. Never would have guessed that 6 foot snakes were popular there though, doesn’t look like a place where you would see them.

  7. Yet, another park I need to add to my Parks Canada list. It is so great to see such a diverse landscape despite it being small. I’m not a birder but would enjoy seeing all the colorful birds especially that turkey. Love that spectacular sunset photo.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience with the public! My next planning for a family hiking trip is so much easier

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