6 Outdoor Adventures to Have in Ontario This Fall
Fall is one of the best times for getting outside. The cool temperatures are comfortable and bug season is finished. Fewer crowds are on the trails and lakes once school is back in. And, of course, the changing leaves add to the already incredible scenery.
So many parts of Ontario are worth seeing in the shoulder seasons and autumn presents particularly excellent opportunities for hiking, cycling, paddling and more. Just remember—fall is fleeting in the north, so the best time to get out there is September through October. Plan your fall adventures accordingly so you can enjoy all that is lovely about the season before the snow starts to fly.
Here are the best outdoor adventures to have in the fall in Ontario.
Try some of the longer hikes in the province, like the Top of the Giant hike at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. This park is in the boreal forest, with very few maples turning red. Instead, the view from the top will be of greens, yellows and golds as the aspen, birch and tamarack leaves paint the landscape.
Make the trip an overnight or a weekend adventure by backcountry camping at the Tee Harbour, Lehtinen’s Bay or Sawyer Bay campsites along the Kabeyun Trail. These are all excellent sites right on Lake Superior. Set up camp and hike to the top with just a day pack.
Fall camping is chilly, so it’s best to be prepared with a sleeping bag for single-digit temperatures. Wilderness Supply and Gear Up for Outdoors in Thunder Bay are local gear shops with anything you may need. After your hike, swing down to the Silver Islet General Store for a warm drink (or ice cream) in the quiet harbour.
To help plan your trip, read our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. And for more fall hiking ideas, choose from among this list of 16 Picture-Perfect Fall Hikes in Ontario.
Like hiking, cycling is much more enjoyable in the cooler temperatures. Sault Ste. Marie is one of the cycling hubs of Northern Ontario, with ample gravel, mountain and road routes close to the city. Hiawatha Highlands is the premiere mountain bike trail system near Sault, with trails for riders of all abilities. Red Pine Tours offers guided outings on these trails. For an even longer adventure, join Red Pine on a two-day intro to bikepacking trip or “bikeglamping” to a remote cabin for an overnight stay.
Plan more fall riding with this list of the 30 Best Fall Bike Rides in Ontario.
Visit some of the quieter parts of the province in the fall to increase your chances of seeing wildlife. A manageable five-hour drive from Toronto or Ottawa, the Temagami region is a canoeist’s paradise. There are six operating provincial parks, ample crown land and endless canoe trip options. A good one to experience the area is the five-day Obabika Lake loop, or you can craft your own route.
Go self-supported or with the assistance of one of the outfitters in the area. Temagami Outfitting, Temagami Outpost and Smoothwater Outfitters all provide shuttle, rental, and trip planning services. Temagami Outfitting and Temagami Outpost also run guided trips.
To maximize your chances of seeing moose in the fall, travel silently along the edges of marshes and channels, where cow moose may be feeding. Even allow yourself an extra day to explore side channels and inlets along the route. Bring a pair of binoculars along and scan opposite shorelines in the evenings. For such large animals, they can be surprisingly quiet!
Get comfortable as the temperatures drop and enjoy fall camping. Bundling up in a sleeping bag under the stars is as cozy as it gets, and it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge in comfort foods like hot chocolate and lots of sweets (not like you need an excuse, anyways). For options beyond tents, look to roofed accommodations available in provincial parks, including Quetico Provincial Park.
At Quetico, you can choose from three cabins at the Dawson campground. These cabins provide electric heat, a propane barbecue with a side burner, a microwave, a mini-fridge, a kettle, a coffee maker, 20 litres of potable water and a modest supply of firewood. Use these cabins, or one of the frontcountry tent sites, as a basecamp for adventures.
Take a canoe out on French Lake and meander through the winding creek to Pickerel Lake, where you’ll find the beautiful Pines campsite set on a sandy beach. Canoe and gear rentals are available through Canadian Quetico Outfitters and Quetico North. The Pines campsite can also be reached on foot via the Whiskey Jack and Pines trails. Alternatively, take a day hike on the French Portage and French Falls trails to reach views of French Falls.
Both trails and the campgrounds provide great bird-watching opportunities for classic northern birds like Canada jays and black-backed woodpeckers. In the evening, the stars will be on full display in this Dark Sky Park, and you may have a chance to see the Northern Lights.
For more great fall camping ideas, choose from among the 25 of the Best Places to Camp in Ontario.
With fewer crowds, take the opportunity to paddle at more popular parks like Killarney in the off-season. Water temperatures through September are still pleasant and the fishing is often great if that’s your thing. There’s a good chance you will have some lakes nearly all to yourself, whether heading out for a day paddle or an extended fall trip. You’ll have the chance to snag the prime campsite and experience more solitude.
Plan a trip to Killarney around the third week of September for the ideal fall colours, although the timing may change year to year. If you’re flexible on timing, keep an eye on the Ontario Parks Fall Colour Report. Frontcountry campers will enjoy staying at the George Lake Campground, which has easy water access for launching canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
The long, meandering bays of Johnnie Lake are perfect for a no-portage base camp in Killarney’s backcountry. Johnnie Lake has some of the best views of Silver Peak, which you can hike to the top of if you portage into Clearsilver or Bell Lake and hop on the La Cloche Trail. The changing colours against the white quartz is truly spectacular. The Johnny Lake Access Point is one of the lesser-used access points in the Park, compared to the busier Bell and George Lakes. To extend the trip, paddlers can loop from Johnnie to Bell via David and Three Mile Lake as a nice three- or four-day trip. This route can also be started at the Bell Lake Access Point.
Rent canoes, kayaks or any other gear you might need through Killarney Outfitters. Killarney Kanoes offers rentals at the Bell Lake Access Point. Make reservations for backcountry or frontcountry sites online through Ontario Parks.
Next to spring, fall is the best time for checking out waterfalls. Water levels resurge after dropping (or even drying up) in the summer, and the backdrop of changing leaves really makes photos pop. The short days give photographers an opportunity to play with changing light, making for dramatic shots on overcast autumn days. Those up for a challenge can venture deep into Lake Superior Provincial Park along the Towab Trail to Agawa Falls.
The Towab trailhead is an hour-and-forty-five-minute drive north of Sault Ste. Marie. The 24-kilometre round trip trail is best hiked as an overnight trip. You can camp at the Agawa Campground in the provincial park the night before so you’ll have time to arrange permits and have nearly a full day on the trail. Give yourself extra time to navigate the technical terrain and make stops along the way.
Great Lakes Outfitters in Sault Ste. Marie has any gear you may need for setting out on your hike. Closer to Sault Ste. Marie, Forest the Canoe offers interpretive hikes in the rolling sugar maple forests of the Algoma Highlands. These hills turn spectacular reds, oranges and yellows in the autumn.
Read about 10 Incredible Experiences to Have in Lake Superior Provincial Park to round out your trip. And pick from among the Best Waterfalls in Ontario to fill out your list of falls to visit this autumn.