Matt Cunliffe started with Ontario Parks in 2006 and has spent over a decade working as a park interpreter and park planning assistant, and is now a discovery leader at MacGregor Provincial Park. An avid trail user and self-proclaimed nature fan, when he’s not working, you’ll likely find him making a new discovery somewhere in one of our parks.
Spring has sprung and I, like many Ontarians, can’t wait to hike and bike as many trails as I can.
As you prepare your gear for your next adventure, here are some tips to help you prepare and minimize impacts while enjoying the trails.
Organize your backpack with zero-waste products, like reusable water bottles, and take out everything you brought, including wrappers, food scraps, and dog poop.
Pack it up, pack it up: Keep our parks litter-free by packing up zero-waste products and taking all your belongings home.
When nature calls
While nature can call at any time, “going off course” when you are away is not an option. It can cause damage to sensitive habitats and is unhealthy for park staff and other visitors.
Check park maps for the closest bathrooms and plan that trip to the bathroom before hitting the trail. Check the park’s website before hitting the road to confirm what facilities are available.
Stay on designated trails
Trails bring us closer to the landscapes and heritage that draw us to Ontario’s protected places.
Staying on the trail helps keep human impact limited to the trail only.
The trails are designed to allow you to explore the park while minimizing impacts on sensitive habitats.
With so many visitors enjoying the parks for their outdoor recreational activities, a simple shortcut across a dune, around a wet trail, or across a meadow can have lasting negative impacts.
Find the official trails for each park by checking the park map.
Be respectful of others
Our trails are popular (and for good reason!), so be sure to share them with your fellow visitors.
Read the trailhead signage before you begin to learn more about trail etiquette depending on your activity.
On our multi-use trails, move to the side when bicyclists pass. If you’re cycling, ring the bell if you hear hikers up ahead!
If others around you are quietly observing wildlife, do your best to walk slowly and keep noise levels down.
If you need tunes, be sure to use headphones. Music played through speakers can be harmful to animals and people who live outdoors.
clean your feet
Invasive species are a growing concern in our province.
Help do your part in our protected areas by making sure you (and your pets) don’t introduce unwanted seeds.
Cleaning your footwear before and after your walk can prevent the spread of invasive species with tiny seeds, such as garlic mustard and spotted knapweed.
A simple boot brush helps reduce the risk of spreading invasive species and will help keep your vehicle clean after a spring hike! Keep an eye out for boot washing stations at some trailheads.
Put safety first
Sure you know your favorite trails like the back of your boot, but what about those new adventures calling your name?
Ontario Parks staff are called upon to rescue many lost and injured hikers each season. This uses limited park resources and takes staff away from other important tasks (and it’s also an unpleasant situation for those rescued!).
Pro tip: Bring a bug jacket, just in case. You will only be caught unprotected once in the land of black flies.
Keep your dog on a leash
When taking your pets on an adventure, keep them on a leash at all times (unless you are in a designated off-leash area).
This is important because:
- Other hikers may not appreciate your dog’s enthusiasm.
- It is illegal to harass wildlife (even if the culprit is a dog)
- Leashed dogs protect the ecological integrity of our parks.
Your fellow hikers may not appreciate off-leash dogs. Keep everyone safe, comfortable, and prevent the spread of invasive species by keeping your dog on a leash.
And of course, be prepared to clean up after your pet! This includes carrying your waste with you, not leaving it on the side of the trail in a bag.
Give life to your walk
Visit AdventureLabs for self-guided trips developed by our own Discovery Program (participating parks only), or become a community scientist by submitting your species sightings to us on iNaturalist.