It's nice to know places like Bronte Creek Provincial Park exist, places where people can recharge themselves, not their electronic gadgets, and escape from a busy schedule to connect with nature.
This 648-acre wilderness haven, situated 70 miles north of Buffalo on the border of Burlington and Oakville, opened in 1975 to serve the surrounding urban population as a day-use recreational facility and campground. The park is open year-round, with six miles of trails, 11 picnic shelters with fire pits and a children's farm and play barn.
Several accessible walks, many of them barrier-free, give everyone a chance to view wildlife. White-tailed deer, red fox, red-tailed hawks and snowy owls are just a few of the species that make the park their home. Chickadees will feed from an open hand if you bring some seed, a thrill no matter what your age.
The Half Moon Valley Trail is a popular hourlong walk that takes visitors into Bronte Creek Valley. An audio tour, which can be downloaded from the park website, gives information on the geology and history of the land, which at one time was used for agriculture. A lookout platform provides a view of the creek 80 feet below.
The Trillium Trail, named after Ontario's provincial flower, is known for its abundance of wildflowers. It is especially popular in spring when the trilliums bloom -- usually in late April and May -- and with heated washrooms and rest stations with fire pits, the stark beauty of a chilly landscape can be enjoyed in relative comfort. And the bugs aren't here yet.
The Olympic-size skating rink and toboggan hill are other fun activities, especially for families, during the colder months.
For children under 10, there is a Children's Playbarn, which is a highlight of every child's visit. A 150-year red barn has been transformed into a two-story play structure, where kids can climb ropes, swing on tires, run through tunnels and slide and jump from the hayloft onto cushioned pads. When they have run out of steam, they can visit the sheep, pigs and other farm animals housed in original homestead buildings. Feeding the baby goats is a big hit for the kids (animal and human variety).
The Spruce Lane Farmhouse, once the home of a well-off farm family, is now a turn-of-the-century living history museum that re-creates life on the farm during Victorian times through costumed guides and demonstrations.
The aroma of cookies and a wood fire often greet visitors when they enter the old-fashioned kitchen, and you can taste the treats, which are as good as they smell. Looking at the family photos and their prized possessions gives a realistic feel for what life was like at the time.
Some people have felt something else in these rooms. Ghost hunters investigated the farm for paranormal activity after reports of whispers, children's laughter and a smoking room door that opens and closes on its own. You can decide for yourself on a ghost tour, held every Sunday in August.
Spruce Lane Farm House, unlike the Playbarn and animal farm, is open only in the summer, as is a small nature center that delights children with its collection of creatures that includes turtles, fish, snakes, salamanders, toads and even honey bees. A tunnel connects the hive to the outside and they buzz in and out, while visitors watch their hard work through a window.
The biggest summer attraction, though, is the swimming pool, which is massive, covering a 1.8-acre area and holding 1.3 million gallons of water. It may seem early to start planning for the summer, but if you're thinking about camping here, it pays to plan ahead. Reservations can be made up to five months in advance, and this popular park fills up fast. Camping season is from April to October and there are 144 electric service campsites and three yurts -- canvas-covered very basic accommodation that can hold up to six people.
Special events also are held throughout the year. In March, maple syrup time marks the beginning of spring, and costumed guides demonstrate how to tap trees, and boil the liquid until it is transformed to the delicious treat we love. Wagon rides, pancakes with sausages and pure maple syrup are part of the festivities.
Even with all its activities, the park's main draw is the landscape. Nature has been shown to have a calming effect, lowering the levels of stress hormones in our bodies. It is comforting to know that in the midst of a densely populated urban environment, there are places like Bronte Creek.
>If you go:
To get to Bronte Creek Provincial Park, take the Q.E.W. to Burloak Drive (exit 109). The entrance is on the right. Note that the campground has a separate entrance point off Bronte Road. Day-use park fee is $16 vehicle, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; playbarn is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; for more information: (905) 827-6911, or go to www.brontecreek.org.
More in Ontario
Ontario has a staggering 30,000 square miles of parkland, including more than 50 parks in Southern Ontario alone. Popular parks like Bronte Creek fill up fast so if you want a campsite in the summer, reservations usually need to be made ahead of time. Campers can book campsites, cabins, yurts and cottages by phone at (888) ONT-PARK (668-7275) or online via www.OntarioParks.com.
For general information about the parks, (800) ONTARIO (1-800-668-2746) or contact the park you plan to visit.