In the heart of Caledon, Ontario lies a number of great hiking trails and nature areas. Just an hour drive from Toronto, head to Belfountain Conservation Area and the Cheltenham Badlands for a solid dose of nature.
Both are located in the Credit Valley and are managed by Credit Valley Conservation. This community-based organization’s mission is to protect and restore the natural resources within the Credit River Watershed. Established by the Ontario Government over 60 years ago, they work with schools, businesses and other organizations in the community to support water resources, education, and more.
While Credit Valley Conservation protects over 60 natural sights across the Credit Valley watershed, Belfountain Conservation Area and the Cheltenham Badlands are in close proximity. This makes them the perfect pairing for a day’s outing!
About the Cheltenham Badlands
Head down Olde Base Line Road in Caledon and you’ll find this incredible natural wonder. The Cheltenham Badlands refer to the area of soft rock, called Queenston Shale, which has formed into a landscape of rolling hills. It’s the only place in Ontario where you can catch a glimpse of a ‘Martian’ landscape!
The iconic red hue is thanks to the iron oxide in the shale. However if you look closely, you can see narrow green brands due to the area’s circulating groundwater. The unique landscape first formed over 400 million years ago at the base of an ancient sea. It’s actually only been exposed for barely 100 years because of land clearing and livestock grazing in the early 1900s! This is one of the reasons it belongs to the Ontario Heritage Trust, who strives to identify, protect, promote and conserve the province’s heritage.
Why Were the Cheltenham Badlands Closed?
As shale is such a soft stone, the area can easily erode if not respected. This is what happened as visitors didn’t obey the signage and trampled all over this delicate geological formation. After years of abuse by humans, Credit Valley closed the area to everyone. Even the Bruce Trail was diverted by the Caledon Hills Bruce Trail club in order to help preserve the area. For over three years the Cheltenham Badlands were completely closed so the area could recuperate from the damage. As of late September 2018, the area has reopened to visitors and I couldn’t be more thrilled!
Experiencing the Cheltenham Badlands
Since the re-opening of the Cheltenham Badlands, a brand new lookout platform has been erected. This allows visitors to enjoy the beauty of the Badlands while protecting that beautiful shale stone. It’s accessible from the neighbouring parking lot via the sidewalk along the road or through a small stretch of trail. This also means the Bruce Trail is back to its original route for all to enjoy! Just be sure to stay on the trail in order to keep the sensitive area around it preserved.
Despite the deterrents to get up close and personal with the badlands, I could still see footprints where visitors had jumped the barrier so they could walk all over the clay-like rock. Do NOT jump the barrier. Continuous disregard for nature will ensure this area is closed again, ruining it for future visitors. You are not entitled to the area and this beautiful gift should be respected.
Visiting the Cheltenham Badlands
Planning to visit the Cheltenham Badlands yourself? The area is open from Easter weekend until the end of October. Hours vary depending on the time of year so be sure to visit their website before visiting!
Getting to this conservation area is quite easy, however a car is required. The parking lot just to the left of the area is set at a flat rate of $10 per car. As of September 2020, reservations are required to visit the Cheltenham Badlands which you must book in advance in order to visit. The cost is still the same at $10 and you can book it online. However, you only have 1.5 hour time slot which is honestly more than enough time to see the area.
In a typical year, the parking fee can be used against admission fees for other Credit Valley Conservation Area locations on the same day. All you need to do is keep your receipt! It’s unsure if this will return once the current state of affairs passes, but I will update this article as I know more.
On weekends and beautiful summer days, the parking lot here can fill up quite quickly. If you’re unable to find parking, head to the Terra Cotta Conservation Area where you can take a shuttle to the Cheltenham Badlands. Be sure to note that this shuttle normally runs on summer weekends and holiday weekends while the Badlands are open. Also, some bus tours offer a stop here as part of their route.
As the Bruce Trail runs through the area, you can follow the trail into the Cheltenham Badlands. There are a number of places to park along the Bruce Trail, though in this area its often small, roadside parking areas. Take a look on the Bruce Trail maps to see if this adventure suits your needs!
Looking For More Adventures Along The Bruce Trail? Check These Out!
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The Ultimate Guide to Hamilton’s Epic Lookout
Hiking Belfountain Conservation Area
Once you’re done gazing at the badlands, it’s time to head to the Belfountain Conservation Area. Residing in the village of the same name, this is a great place to enjoy the beautiful Niagara Escarpment. In 1908, the area was purchased by Charles Mack, the inventor of the cushioned-back rubber stamp. Along with his wife Addie, they opened it to the public 6 years later.
While the conservation area isn’t overly large, it is still picturesque and offers plenty of great views. You’ll hear the rumble of my favourite aspect as soon as you make your way towards the trails – Belfountain Falls. Built by Mack shortly after purchasing the land, he wanted to create a miniature Niagara Falls. Across it you’ll find a suspension bridge, linking both sides of the escarpment.
Crossing the bridge will leave you with a choice. Either head left to tackle the Gorge Loop (600 metres) or head right for the Pond Loop (500 metres) which will take you back towards the parking lot. The Pond Loop is relatively flat and an easy hike, great for a leisurely stroll with the whole family. If you’re looking for a bit of a workout, the Gorge Loop has you hiking up uneven terrain, dodging tree roots and rugged trails.
In all honesty, I suggest doing both. If you’re an avid hiker like me, it won’t take long to do the combined loop. Even when you’re distracted with great friends and taking photos, you can do the loop twice in just over an hour!
If you’re looking for a longer excursion, there is also the option of the Trimble Side Trail. You’ll see signs for it along the Gorge Trail as it diverts from there. It leads to the crossing of the West and Main Credit Rivers, also known as the “Forks of the Credit”.
Why Visit the Belfountain Conservation Area?
Hiking isn’t the only reason to visit the area! You’ll find picnic tables for public use, though you should note they do have a 30 minute time limit. It sounds silly but it’s to ensure everyone has access to them. However, if you visit in the fall as I did, I’m sure that limit won’t matter. There was barely anyone else around!
If you’re looking for a more relaxed reason to visit, yoga often takes place here along with Shinrin Yoku (a type of nature therapy known as forest bathing). Both are run by independent organizations. While Belfountain Conservation Area camping was available previously, it is no longer allowed.
Lastly, the West Credit River’s spring-fed waters create the ideal habitat for brook trout, brown trout and other fish who love colder waters. This makes Belfountain Conservation Area fishing a popular activity for visitors. You’ll also have a chance at spotting other wildlife such as flying squirrels, rabbits, ruffed grouse and more. There’s even a Salamander Festival at the end of September that’s fun for all ages!
Planning Your Visit to the Belfountain Conservation Area
Similar to the Cheltenham Badlands, the Belfountain Conservation Area now requires you to reserve a 2-hour time slot in order to experience the park. This must be done in advance and can be reserved up to two weeks before the day of your visit. Reservations cost $20 per car and can be booked online.
As I mentioned earlier, you can easily do both in a typical year. If the state of the world does return to normal, I recommend visiting the Cheltenham Badlands first as you can use your parking receipt for free entry into the Belfountain Conservation Area. As the Cheltenham Badlands are normally unattended, I’m not sure how well it works vice versa so best to play it safe with this order! Until this wave of insanity is over though, you’ll need to book your reservations online for both places in advance.
Make A Day of It in the Credit Valley!
Great for an afternoon outing or a full day excursion, there are plenty of things to do in Belfountain, Ontario. While the town becomes a little sleepy in the winter, it’s a great spot to explore in the warmer months. Just around the corner from the conservation area’s entrance, you can satisfy your sweet tooth at Cool Scoops Ice Cream Parlour. Keep following Forks of the Credit Road and you can grab a bite to eat at the Belfountain Inn, one of the Belfountain restaurants. About a block or so further, stop by Higher Ground Coffee Company or The Common Good Cafe and General Store for a caffeine boost.
As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of other conservation areas close by. Looking to chase some more waterfalls? Forks of the Credit Provincial Park is a great destination if Belfountain wasn’t enough. Did you get a little thirsty after your hike? Just south of both locations you’ll find one of Ontario’s great craft cideries, Spirit Tree Estate Cidery. Here you can take a tour, sample delicious cider or dine at their bistro. They’re open Wednesday to Sunday and their website suggests making a reservation during the summer months.
Whether you’re looking to stretch your legs or to get away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, a trip to Caledon is the perfect option. Check out the map below to plan your visit. Tackling both the Belfountain Conservation Area and the Cheltenham Badlands is the perfect recipe for a day of adventure!