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 National Park, that you could easily enjoy a long weekend here.
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How to get 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.
Shuttle to the tip of Point Pelee
There is a free shuttle that will transport you 2 km from the Visitor Centre to the Tip’s outdoor exhibit and Tip Tower. It’s a shorter walk from there to the most southerly point in mainland Canada. Remember – no swimming at the tip. It’s dangerous because of the strong currents and people caught can be fined up to $10,000.
Why it’s worth a 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.
Non-birders love Point Pelee National Park too
There are a lot of things to do in Point Pelee National Park that have nothing to do with birding. Everyone who enjoys a dose of nature, sandy beaches, beautiful boardwalks, swimming, Lake Ontario sunsets and more will love a visit to the park.
Described below are some of the fun things everyone to do in Point Pelee National Park.
Visit the most southerly point in mainland Canada at the tip of Point Pelee
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. Walk down to the very tip of land but 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.
Enjoy sandy beaches and swimming in Point Pelee National Park
The park is home to the longest natural beach in Essex County. You can swim and build sand castles on over 20 km of beaches on the east and west sides of the peninsula. Bring a picnic, go for a swim or just relax with your family.
Northwest Beach and West Beach are the two most popular beaches. Have a look at this Point Pelee map with the beach locations before you visit.
Go for 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.
Check out 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 blackbirds and painted turtles are particularly plentiful. There’s a tower to climb so you get a great overview as well.
Canoe and kayak in Point Pelee National Park
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 Point Pelee National Park.
Explore the woods looking for birds and wildlife
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.
Look out for snakes
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.
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.
Other useful information about Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee National Park 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 $8.50 for an adult, $7.25 for a senior and $16.75 for a group. Youth are free. It’s a little bit less in the off-season between November and March.
Where to stay on a visit to Point Pelee National Park
Camping in the park
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. Reservations open on February 5, 2024 at 8 AM EST.
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.