Add a little colour to your life
If Canada's spectacular changing of the leaves isn't enough to keep you entertained come fall, these excursions may give you new reasons to love the season
Every September I turn into a leaf-peeping fraud.
It happened again the other day. I was admiring the view from the Robin's Roost, a quirky new rental cottage perched amid the branches of a mature maple in the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary, when my wife pointed and exclaimed, "Check it out: The leaves are starting to turn!"
I followed the line of her gesticulations and quickly – perhaps too quickly – echoed her enthusiasm: "Ah yes. Lovely! I can't believe it's almost fall."
But my reaction was nothing more than a feeble charade. After all, I'm red-green colour-blind.
For one in 12 men and one in 200 women, give or take, fall's arrival can be frustrating. While others admire the fiery foliage, we must make do with vistas that lack the same dramatic contrast between red, orange, yellow and green hues.
But there is hope. Across Canada, new experiences combine prime colour-viewing with diversions that require no red-green visual acuity to appreciate.
Here, then, are dozens of options that will please leaf-peepers and leaf-liars alike.
Robin's Roost Treehouse, Ingleside, Ont.
The gloriously windowed Robin's Roost provides a uniquely elevated vantage point from which to admire more than the forest canopy surrounding the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary's tidy campground. While sipping coffee under the spreading maple that bursts through the Roost's wraparound deck, I watched as great blue herons foraged in the nearby St. Lawrence River.
Several hundred yards beyond, an enormous ocean freighter chugged across the horizon. Then, after preparing lunch on the two-bedroom A-frame's barbecue and grabbing some complimentary binoculars, I set out on one of six self-guided walking trails to explore the sanctuary's 9,000 hectares of forests, fields and boardwalk-bisected wetlands.
Canyon Sainte-Anne, Beaupré, Que.
The phrase "just sit back and relax" has never really applied to Canada's ziplines, which have proliferated with the opening of WildPlay Niagara Falls, British Columbia's Kokanee Mountain Zipline, and Edmonton's Snow Valley Aerial Park, among others.
But this changed earlier this year with the launch of the Air Canyon in the Canyon Sainte-Anne nature park.
Sitting in comfortable-looking two-person cable cars, visitors whiz down a 396- metre-long steel strand at up to 50 kilometres an hour as they cross the 90-metre-deep canyon and pass waterfalls and giant potholes.
Cabot Cliffs, Inverness, N.S.
Don't forget to pack your golf clubs on a driving tour of Cape Breton's famously scenic Cabot Trail. Ranked No. 1 in Golf Digest's top 30 courses in Canada for 2017-18, this year-old public track, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, pairs 18 holes of challenging links-style play with exceptional views of the rugged coast and surrounding highlands.
Chinese Junk Tour, Charlottetown
Billed as "the only Chinese junk ship available for charter tours in North America," the 12-metre Hai Long first set sail out of Hong Kong in 1968. Nearly 50 years and hundreds of hours of refurbishment later, the scarlet-sailed junk-rigged vessel recently became available for daily sightseeing and dinner cruises around leaf-lined Charlottetown harbour that highlight Chinese history, culture and cuisine.
Skywood Eco Adventure, Mallorytown, Ont.
The colour of the surrounding leaves wasn't exactly top of mind as I gingerly negotiated a few of the 80-plus aerial games at Skywood Eco Adventure. Like Robin's Roost, Skywood is owned by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, which partnered with Quebec's Arbraska chain of aerial parks to turn a defunct campground on the Thousand Islands Parkway into what it calls "Ontario's largest aerial and zipline experience." Fastened to a stand of towering white pines, Skywood's five areas range from a child-friendly Treewalk Village of elevated pods, log bridges, nets and slides to the Adventure Course – a self-guided tour of five routes as high as 18 metres above the forest floor – and a guided zipline excursion with eight speedy descents.
Lake Superior Water Trail and Lake Huron North Channel
Two of the newest and longest sections of the recently completed Trans Canada Trail are also among the most beautiful in fall. The mixed-surface Lake Huron North Channel passes various scenes immortalized by the Group of Seven as it winds 375.3 kilometres between Sudbury and the densely forested Gros Cap Bluffs just west of Sault Ste. Marie.
Cyclists and hikers must then pick up paddles for the Lake Superior Water Trail, which stretches nearly three times as far across its namesake Great Lake. Between Gros Cap and Thunder Bay's Fisherman's Park, 16 access points provide docks, composting toilets, bear-proof garbage disposal and recycling containers. The autumn splendour of the Algoma coast was especially revered by Canada's most famous painterly collective, and is home to Pukaskwa National Park's new Mdaabii Miikna Trail, a 24-km alternative to the Coastal Hiking Trail.
Agawa Canyon Tour Train, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
One of Ontario's oldest leaf-peeping attractions – the 183-km rail journey across the Canadian Shield to the remote Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park – has partnered with Tourism Sault Ste. Marie to offer a three-night package that highlights the Group of Seven with free admission to local attractions – including the Art Gallery of Algoma, which on Oct. 5 will open a new Canadian Icons: Group of Seven and Beyond exhibit.
Tom Thomson exhibitions
Indeed, the Canada 150-fuelled mania for all things Group of Seven, along with the 100 th anniversary of Tom Thomson's untimely and mysterious death, have given rise to myriad retrospectives and tributes. Among the most innovative is Betwixt & Between: An Untold Tom Thomson Story at the artist's namesake gallery in Owen Sound, Ont. It ends on Sept. 10, but an interactive app will continue to host a geocaching game that guides players to four different Ontario locations to unlock clues and find hidden prizes.
New and original Thomson-inspired work will be on display at Arta Gallery in Toronto's Distillery District from Sept. 6 to 19, when an exhibition called Untamed Things showcases 11 bush-trekking painters from across Ontario.
Parc Omega, Montebello, Que.
This 890-hectare wildlife park is justifiably renowned for letting visitors feed deer and elk by hand while driving or strolling through the bucolic property in the Gatineau Hills. Doing the same at the new Wolf Observatory is forbidden – and for good reason if the feeding-time frenzy I witnessed was any indication.
Billed as the world's first enclosure devoted to grey wolves, the facility features a glass-enclosed ground-level viewing area and a tiered rooftop platform.
Larch Valley Trail, Banff National Park, Banff, Alta.
Aspens and willows add pleasing bursts of fall colour to the Banff townsite and its sublime surroundings, which can be viewed from nearly 900 metres up in the Banff Gondola's new Sky Bistro, or from the 10-km-long Banff Commonwealth Walkway that officially launches on Sept. 17. The biggest autumn draws, however, are the stands of sub-alpine larches that blanket the occasional mountainside in gold. Starting at the Moraine Lake Lodge, which can be reached via a newly expanded free shuttle service, hikers can make the steep 4.3-km trek to the aptly-named Larch Valley, which is made all the more spectacular by the soaring backdrop of the Ten Peaks.
Treetop Haven, Albany, PEI
If treehouse stays and train trips seem like old hat, there's always this collection of five geodesic domes set amid 20 hectares of birch forest. Each dome is mounted on a 3.5-metre-high deck and includes a bathroom, kitchenette, bedroom, barbecue and private hot tub, with a wall of triangular windows framing the foliage outside. A variety of getaway packages include massage, yoga and guided strolls known as "forest bathing."
Nordik Spa-Nature, Chelsea, Que.
You've admired (or pretended to admire) the fall leaves, so why not use them for some detoxifying flagellation?
This 100,000-square-foot spa complex in the verdant Gatineau Hills is launching a namesake treatment for its nine-month-old banya space that houses a Russian sauna, exfoliation room and yoga studio. By brushing and then striking guests with bunches of birch branches infused in hot water, the hour-long banya treatment is said to reduce inflammation, relieve joint pain and relax muscles.
Beer Around the Bay, Simcoe County, Ont.
This new self-guided tour visits five breweries clustered near the bucolic southern shores of Georgian Bay: Creemore Springs – the best-known of the bunch – and craft players Northwinds Brewhouse, The Collingwood Brewery, Side Launch Brewing Company and Wasaga Beach Brewing Company.
Lager tastings and self-guided tours don't always mix, so it's a good thing six-month-old The Beer Bus Company offers excursions that include samples, lunch, snacks and transportation.