Featuring guest blogger Cassie Pellerin, of the Couchiching Conservancy
A common misconception about road trips is that they need to cover long distances in far-away lands over an extended period of time. The truth is, you don’t have to travel across the world to experience new things, explore new landscapes, and have a great adventure.
As part of The Couchiching Conservancy’s Passport to Nature program, we followed a pre-planned itinerary packed with hot spots and hidden gems highlighting the beauty of the Black River region – Experience The Wildlands Road Trip. Our adventure would soon take us through a mosaic of trails along open marshes and majestic wetlands, mixed old-growth forests and even gave us the chance to experience the ruggedness of the Canadian Shield. And, because the trails are dog friendly (if your pup’s on-leash), this was the perfect outing for the whole family to enjoy. We quickly registered online to receive our free digital info package with driving directions, species to look out for, details on the reserves, and more!
With two destinations and so much to discover, we packed our daypacks, grabbed our bug spray and hit the road to rediscover our own backyard, right here in Southern Ontario…all in one afternoon.
So, hit the road with me as I explore Ramara and the Wildlands of The Couchiching Conservancy!
Destination #1: Sweetwater Farm Nature Reserve
The best way to describe arriving at the trailhead of our first destination is, “if you blink, you’ll miss it”. But trust me, you won’t want to miss Sweetwater Farm Nature Reserve. Immediately I noticed the untouched nature of this trail network. Being that the trails are still new and are not yet well-used, it was crucial to make use of the wayfinding trail markers on trees and posts to help guide our way!
The trail weaved us in and out of lush, mixed deciduous forest, sunny open grasslands, and alongside gently moving waterways, like the Stickleback Stream. Hitting this trail in the late spring, we were quickly reminded of the importance of taking the time to look closely at what may be blooming beside our own feet. We were flaunted by a striking array of colour, from Wild Columbines to Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers, and even some bright red wild strawberries that caught our eye.
While the midday heat in this open field may have kept many of the unique bird species away, we continued along the trail and stepped back in time to admire what still stands of an Old Homestead. Appreciating the history of the land and imagining those who previously occupied it.
Before making our trek back to our vehicle, we followed the sound of rushing water down a short, forested lookout trail. The detour not only gave us a break from the sun, but offered some magnificent views of a deep valley with small waterfalls as part of the Limestone Rapids.
A quick tick check before hopping back into the car, and we were on the road again. The short 30-minute drive between sites offered just the right amount of time to reflect on our first hike, enjoy the scenery of the Simcoe County countryside, and get excited about our next destination!
Destination #2: Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve
Our second stop on The Wildlands Experience took us to Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve just outside of Washago. Though another unassuming trailhead, this trail was much more established and easier to navigate with a clear footpath and boardwalks along the way to keep you out of the low-lying wet spots.
As we meandered deep beneath a tall mixed forest along Boyd’s Creek, the cool and damp conditions showed to be an ideal growing environment for many picturesque fungi species on the forest floor. The forest footpath was scattered with unique granite outcrops and rocky ridges to walk along, revealing the Precambrian granite rock the nature reserve lies on.
The highlight of this trail is undoubtedly the scenic view at Boyd’s Creek lookout. The short detour trail offered not only spectacular views of the wide river, but also proved to be the perfect picnic spot on a rock platform just above the water, where we happily enjoyed a snack break to recharge and reflect on our afternoon adventure.
While it was tough to end our road trip here knowing there was so much more to explore in Orillia & Lake Country, it was a relief to remember that all of these extraordinary destinations are right here at home. We can’t wait to come back and visit the Conservancy’s recommended experiences in Downtown Orillia. Refillery District, Eclectic Café, Picnic Snack Bar – here we come!
Cassie Pellerin is a lens-based and cross-disciplinary artist based in Ontario. Her passions lie in the crossover between science, nature, technology and creativity. She holds a BFA in Fine Arts, specializing in Life Studies with a minor in Sustainability, and continues to utilize her creative voice throughout her work in Marketing and Communications.
As a photographer, she is driven by a love for adventure and life itself. From digital to analogue, and even filmmaking, Cassie strives to capture the moments of everyday and extravagant stories.
The Couchiching Conservancy is a local non-profit, non-government land trust that has worked with partners to protect over 14,000 acres of natural habitat in the Couchiching-Severn region.
The Conservancy’s successful Passport to Nature program is run by a committee of volunteers, and thanks to generous community sponsors, all events are free to attend with registration. The program aims to have fun while bringing awareness to the organization and nature reserves they’re working hard to protect, alongside thousands of like-minded volunteers and supporters who are dedicated to safeguarding nature for future generations.