A few days ago, Facebook reminded me that Toronto had a major snowstorm around this time last year and as a proof, pulled out a picture of my son, knee-deep in snow, playing soccer with his friend while waiting for a school bus (I captioned the photo “‘Snowccer’ Before School”). These days, with temperatures hovering way above zero, snow seems like a distant memory. This transition between fall and winter feels like a drawn-out pause filled with restlessness and longing for the crispness of a frosty day. With all the colourful foliage now turned into uniform brown mash under our feet and snow nowhere close on the horizon, landscapes around this time of the year may seem boring and lifeless. And the temptation to stay indoors, especially on a gloomy, overcast day like last Saturday, is quite strong.
We didn’t give in, though. Determined to continue with our microadventures and to find beauty even in the seemingly unexciting landscapes of mid-December, we headed to Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.
Located in Caledon, this day-use park is part of the Niagara Escarpment biosphere and famous Ontario Greenbelt. There are several hiking trails in the park, including parts of the Bruce Trail and Trans-Canada Trail. With all these trails intersecting and running concurrently, it was a little confusing at first. Eventually, we figured it out with the help of the regularly placed maps and trail markers.
We hiked the Meadow Trail and Ruins Trail as well as parts of the Dominion, Bruce and Trans-Canada Trails. It may sound like a lot but quite often it was two trails in one. (I wonder if I can double the distance walked on those double trails?) Even without mathematical manipulations, we hiked over six kilometres, and there were some pretty steep chunks so we got a good workout.
The terrain at Forks of the Credit is very diverse with a lot to see along the way: Kettle Lake framed by rolling hills, Credit River running through a deep, wooded gorge with waterfalls and cascades, a beautiful river valley, plus some old ruins for history buffs.
Kettle Lake was our first stop along the way. As I later found out, the lake and surrounding hills, known as kame hills, were shaped by a retreating glacier. As the glacier melted, it deposited all the debris (sand, gravel and rocks) that it had picked up along the way forming these irregular mounds. The lake was created when a large, isolated chunk of ice got partially or completely buried and eventually melted leaving behind a depression, which was later filled with water. Whether you are into this kind of geological details or not, the outcome is quite beautiful.
There were also traces of more recent history visible along the way: wide trails that were clearly remnants of old roads, apple trees and ruins of an old farm house, which we saw from a distance on our way back.
In addition to being used for farming, the area around the Credit Forks was also a site of numerous quarries due to the deposits of fine sandstone found here. Both Queen’s Park and Old City Hall in Toronto were built out of this rock. The biggest reminder of a busy industrial past are the remnants of an electrical generating station right above the falls. Back at the end of the 19th century, it powered the nearby town of Cataract. Not that we could get anywhere close to the ruins since they were heavily fenced. Even the misleadingly named Ruins Trail only allowed a distant glimpse, and as a price to pay, we got endless stairs to climb.
The waterfall itself wasn’t very accessible either. The viewing platform at the Mill Site is now closed so the view of the falls wasn’t particularly great (I am not sure if it would be much better from the platform, though: I would imagine the trees down below would still be in the way). An obstructed view wasn’t the only inconvenience. With the platform closed, the only way back was to retrace our steps. However, additional walking distance is never a bad thing, even if it includes a steep hill, plus a walk through the river valley was quite pleasant.
Once we got back to the top of the gorge, it was time to head towards the parking lot if we didn’t want to get caught in the dark. We walked through sumac groves, rolling hills and endless milkweed fields.
Yes, the scenery lacked the boisterous beauty of the fall or the saturated liveliness of the summer, but there was a lot of subtle beauty all around waiting to be discovered: the grasses cascading down the slopes as if pushed by invisible water, bright red sumac cones, intertwined bare branches, dried-up milkweed pods bursting with fluffy seeds, and even decomposing apples.
By the time we reached our car, the hills behind us were already disappearing under the weight of an early December nightfall. Surprisingly, a big group of people was just setting out on their walk. I guess they were going on a night hike.