Our Travels: Hooray for Hiking
A lively fall festival in Ontario celebrates sport, food and the arts
Attending the annual Hike Haliburton Festival is a must for this nature-loving couple.
Every late September, I look forward to the unique Hike Haliburton Festival, having participated in the 13th and 14th annual ones in 2015 and 2016, respectively. My husband and I were among the 1,500 people of all ages and abilities who joined the festivities during this four-day event throughout the lovely Haliburton Highlands in northern Ontario.
In addition to traditional hikes (which are awesome, especially the many dog-friendly ones), the festival showcases the arts, culture, food, drink and heritage of the area. While we use our nearby family cottage as our base, many visitors come from all parts of Ontario and across Canada. Local lodging, from quaint B&BS to fancy resorts, is posted on the festi- val’s well-organized website. More than 80 guided tours are available from Thursday to Sunday, throughout the day and evening, spread out among four neighbouring regions, including Minden Hills, Dysart et al, Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East.
Due to the growing popularity, as well as the importance of keeping a manageable guide-to-hiker ratio, pre-registration is encouraged, as the quota for many hikes fills up weeks in advance. You can take your chances of getting a spot at the last minute, as in my experience some noshows always happen.
Choosing a hike from the variety offered is the first challenge, but after reading the detailed descriptions, I picked some that were relatively close to my cottage and lasted
about two to three hours, maximum. Some hikes involved canoeing/portaging or lasted more than six hours—definitely for hardier souls. There was even a “Ghost Walk” in Haliburton Village, where spooky tales were shared, and a “Star Trek” was held at night. However, I was delighted by my choices, discovering new gems in the countryside just a few kilometres away from the cottage I’d been visiting for the past 30 years.
Last year, we signed up for an early Saturday morning hike to the Harburn Wells—a unique geological phe- nomenon tucked into the wilderness that I never would have found on my own. A knowledgeable geologist and environmental educator led us up a steep trail to the site, where we saw eight kettles (natural sinkholes) ranging in depth from two to 25 feet, with surface diameters of five to 15 feet. We took turns gazing into the deepest one from a rocky precipice: Falling into the hole was not an option unless you were starring in an action movie!
On Sunday, a brisk but sunny autumn morning, we hiked to the Redstone Lake Lookout—a moderatelevel hike that wandered through the 160 acres of a privately owned, managed forest with groomed trails. The terrain was true Haliburton Highlands: dense hardwood bush, spring-fed vernal pools, valleys and a spectacular view over Redstone Lake, its treed fringe just starting to display fall colours. We rested on old logs at the top, sipping water and just savouring the panorama. Our guide was an experienced and enthusiastic Algonquin tripper who not only discussed woodlot management but also gave a brief tour of his 10 kw microfit solar system installation.
Participating in such hikes gives us the chance to meet other like-minded, outdoorsy folk. Striking up conversation seems to come easier than in any other setting. Some hikers walk with poles or homemade walking sticks, and others may lag behind the group, but a second guide goes last in line to prevent any stragglers from getting lost. However, none complain about waiting for everyone to catch up at our frequent stops, because the route is always so scenic and the northern air so fresh.
Can’t wait for this year’s adventures! n