The hard part will be deciding where to go: The Waterfront Trail stretches for more than 3,000 kilometres along Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and the Niagara, Detroit and St. Lawrence rivers. It connects 140 communities with hundreds of parks and natural areas, including wetlands, forests and beaches. One family-friendly choice is a 3.5-kilometre (one way) paved stretch that starts at Rotary Sunrise Park—kids will love the long pier out onto Lake Ontario. From there, head east to Kiwanis Heydenshore Park. Spend time enjoying the playground and outdoor gym equipment by the lake, and then move on to the forest trails of Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve, home of the last old-growth white pines on the north shores of Lake Ontario.
269 Water Street, Whitby
Waterfalls are a wonder to look at, and this six-kilometre round-trip hike along the shores of the Aux Sables River starts at Chutes Provincial Park’s main waterfall and continues past the Seven Sisters cataracts (a series of smaller waterfalls). Rated as easy, the trail is wide and groomed, with a number of lookout platforms and benches. Tip: Save this one for fall, when the brilliant changing leaves are reflected in the water.
Chutes Provincial Park
650 Imperial Street North, Sables-Spanish Rivers
$11.25 to $11.50 per vehicle
This section of the Bruce Trail has a reconstructed Aboriginal village that will ignite your kids’ imaginations. Start your walk at the interpretive centre and take the stroller-accessible, 0.75-kilometre boardwalk around the geologically rare Crawford Lake, pausing to get close-up looks at water critters and vegetation and read the information panels. You can add on the 1.5-kilometre Woodland Trail (although it’s not stroller-friendly) and then loop back to explore the 15th-century Iroquoian village and three longhouses.
Crawford Lake Conservation Area
3115 Conservation Road, Milton
Adults: $7.75; kids 5–14: $5.50; senior 65+: $6.75; kids under 5: free
It’s easy to see why this two-kilometre loop trail in Algonquin Provincial Park is a popular one: It has terrain that’s just rugged enough to feel like a real hike (it’s rated moderate), winds through the classic Algonquin landscape of hardwood forest and gives plenty of opportunity to see beavers in their natural habitat—or, at least, evidence of all their hard work, from gnawed trees to well-constructed dams. Pick up a trail guide at the Algonquin Visitor Centre, which has information that matches up to numbered posts on the trail.
Hwy 60, Algonquin Provincial Park
$17 per vehicle
High Park is the pride and joy of the Toronto municipal parks system, with dozens of nature trails, a children’s garden, sports fields, a zoo, a pond and an adventure playground. If you don’t know quite where to start, consider High Park Nature Centre, which offers drop-in guided family nature walks with themes like nature journalling, urban bats and fairies and gnomes. The early-evening hikes, led by a local naturalist, are usually about 90 minutes long, on wooded trails that are fairly easy to walk but not suitable for strollers.
375 Colborne Lodge Drive (the north entrance of High Park is on Bloor Street West, between Keele and Runnymede)
$2 per person (or donate what you can for guided family nature walks)
Stony Swamp, a natural area southwest of Ottawa, is a network of wetlands, wooded areas and beaver ponds with more than 40 kilometres of trails. One of the most interesting hikes is the 2.1-kilometre in-and-back Lime Kiln Trail, a fairly straight path that leads to the stone ruins of a 19th-century lime kiln tucked into the woods (the pioneers of the area burned limestone to create lime for agriculture, mortar and whitewash). It’s a magical spot for kids to explore, and be sure to bring some birdseed for the friendly chickadees and nuthatches.
Parking lot 10, Richmond Road and Moodie Drive, off Hunt Club Road
This moderately rugged trail in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, east of Thunder Bay, has been a family fave for years. Mostly flat and moderately rugged (think tree roots and exposed rock), this 4.2-kilometre round-trip trail takes you through classic boreal forest—you’ll likely spot bear claw marks on trees, deer tracks and zillions of wildflowers. At the end, you’ll emerge from the dense forest to discover a pristine “oh wow!” sandy beach on Lake Superior. Play in the waves, build a sandcastle and, if you’re brave, take a dip in the famously cold water.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Hwy 587, off Hwy 17
$11.25 per vehicle
This two-kilometre trail has 32 large sculptures and three sculpture benches by Canadian and international artists—the kids will love scooting through the woods to find them all. Which one will be your family’s top pick: the woman dreaming on a rock, the brightly coloured house framework, the sleek black dog or maybe the giant red shoe? The sculptures are scattered among the maple trees on easy, interconnected loop trails, and there’s a platform with benches overlooking Head Lake.
Fleming College, Haliburton Campus
297 College Drive, Haliburton
Free (donations welcome)
Go island-hopping at Dufferin Islands Park, a pretty, petite park just south of the mighty falls. A handful of small man-made islands are linked by bridges, creating a mini-hike just right for kids who love to run back and forth...and back and forth…. Pack a lunch: There are plenty of picturesque spots and picnic tables.
Portage Road, Niagara Falls
The moderate, two-kilometre trail starts on an old pine plantation and the remains of a settler’s farm—tell the kids to watch for a couple of derelict vintage cars that are being taken over by Mother Nature. Then the trail climbs to a ridge with two fantastic lookouts over the park: the famous white granite La Cloche Mountains to the north and the shimmering blue of Georgian Bay, Collin’s Inlet and Philip Edward Island to the south.
Go hiking: Killarney Provincial Park, Killarney 960 Hwy 637 705-287-2900 $11.25 per vehicle ontarioparks.com>