Hardy Lake Provincial Park
Like most hikers who live in Toronto, I don't always have the opportunity to hike trails in other parts of the province. I stay fit and active by hiking as often as possible in Toronto so that when I can leave the city, I can enjoy many more trails.
Recently we spent two weeks in the Muskoka region of Ontario. This is affectionately known as "cottage country” to many.
Hardy Lake Provincial Park is located 19 km west of Gravenhurst, ON on Highway 169. Camping is not allowed, but hiking is very popular.
The park is nearly 1800 acres and features million-year-old rocks sloping into Lake Hardy. There are multiple well-marked and well-maintained trails meandering through the park. The forest is made up of mature hardwoods, including maple, oak, beech, hemlock, red oak and white pine. Autumn colours are quite incredible.
I loved the park so much that I went twice in a week. On a weekday, we hiked 10 km and saw very few people. Our second hike was on a Sunday in October, and the parking lot was full, so we parked on the side of the road. Even with many hikers on the trails, we were able to keep a safe distance from other hikers.
The 10 km loop takes you completely around Hardy Lake on well-marked and maintained nature trails.
The part of the trail that is repeated is next to a beaver pond. We were lucky to see a beaver swimming in the pond while we were there. There’s a saying “busy as a beaver”, but he was clearly enjoying his leisure time by swimming slowly in the pond when we saw him.
A sign in the park provides details about beaver’s eating and living habits:
Beaver chew down poplar and hardwood trees to eat the bark and twigs. The sound of running water prompts beaver to build a dam which creates a pond. These ponds quickly become home to a variety of wildlife and plants. Beavers build their lodges and transport branches to their feed beds in the pond. A beaver lodge consists of interwoven branches with an underwater entrance leading up to 2 or 3 chambers. Winter feed is stored under winter and hauled into the house as needed. Once edible parts are consumed the branches are woven onto the lodge or used to strengthen the dam.
The forest is filled with wonder and obstacles.
Dogs must be leashed so they won’t’ disturb the wildlife, but I did let Lucy off briefly to run with another Bernedoodle we met on the hike.
We were a little surprised to see a cabin deep into our hike. There is also the remnant of an 1870s pioneer house foundation that nature is reclaiming.
Maps are placed throughout the park so you can track your progress and gain a perspective of the area you are hiking through.
Perfect for rest and photo opportunities, a couple of colourful Muskoka chairs sit on the lake’s shore.
Large boulders can be found throughout this hike and the Canadian Shield. We learned from a sign written by Alex Tilley that these boulders are called "erratics":
Boulders of all sizes were snatched from the hills of granite by glaciers. They travelled under and within it, scraping away even more rock. These boulders sometimes travelled great distances; we call them erratics, from the Latin errere, to wander. You'll see these smooth rounded rocks everywhere in Muskoka. There are millions of these "wanderers".