The leaf peeper’s guide to fall foliage

Woman sitting on cliff looking at fall foliage Photo by haveseen/Shutterstock

One of the great benefits of living in a country with four seasons is watching the leaves change colour as fall turns to winter. And while not everywhere in the country has the vibrant display of the reds, golds, and oranges that characterize fall in some provinces, for those who can get to a spot to check out the fall foliage, it’s worth the hike or drive. 

Leaf peepers can expect to see fall’s magic from the end of September to the middle of October—although colours are late in some areas this year. Check online or call ahead if you’re planning a trip.

Humber Valley, N.L.

Stretching from Deer Lake to Corner Brook, the Humber Valley winds along the Humber River at the northernmost part of the Appalachian Mountains. See the colours from the car, or take a hike along the Humber Valley section of the International Appalachian Trail, which can be accessed in Corner Brook or Humber Village. 

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, N.S.

If you can take the time, a week-long road trip around the Cabot Trail will take you around the full loop and give you plenty of time to stop, shop, hike, and take in the beautiful scenery. Ocean views and fall foliage? Plus great communities to visit? When do we start? 

Saint John River Valley, N.B.

The Saint John River Valley is divided into upper (Fredericton to Grand Falls) and lower portions (Fredericton to Saint John), with leaves reaching their peak in the lower half about a week later than the upper half. In the upper half, check out the spectacular views of the gorge and falls at Grand Falls. In the lower portion, take a cable ferry to explore both sides of the Saint John River.   

Sugarloaf Provincial Park, Campbellton, N.B.

If you’re up for a tough climb, 305-metre-high Sugarloaf Mountain—an extinct volcano—has spectacular views of Campbellton, Pointe-á-la-Croix, the Restigouche River, and the Gaspé coast. If you don’t feel like making the entire climb, there are lookouts halfway up. However far you get, the views of the fall foliage are worth it.

Champlain Lookout, Gatineau Park, Ont.

This spot is hugely popular in the fall, which means crowds, capacity limits in the park, and road closures. Thankfully, from September 25 to October 24, the National Capital Commission runs free shuttles from downtown Ottawa through the southern part of the park, stopping at key spots for hiking, views, and waterfalls. For a less crowded experience, head to Meech Creek Valley, Luskville Falls, or Phillippe Lake.

Eagle’s Nest, Bancroft, Ont. 

The Hawkwatch, providing great views over the York River valley and the town of Bancroft, is a popular spot in this park, which also features an interpretive trail highlighting the Indigenous presence in the area. To get to the Hawkwatch lookout platform, visitors can take a moderately difficult hiking trail that includes other lookouts, or head along the shorter accessible path.

Cup and Saucer Trail, Manitoulin Island, Ont. 

The classic Manitoulin Island hike, the Cup and Saucer trail is an extension of the Niagara Escarpment—with all the dramatic cliffs and far-reaching views that the Escarpment is famous for. For extra fun, check out the 500-metre Adventure Trail, which involves wooden ladders attached to the rocks, crevices, and scrambles. Make sure to wear good hiking shoes.

Spencer Gorge and Dundas Valley, Dundas, Ont. 

Tew’s Falls and the Dundas Peak are classic spots for leaf peeping in southern Ontario, but be forewarned—you’ll need to make a reservation to head into the conservation area, and it will be crowded. To get good views of the fall foliage in Dundas Valley without quite so many people, hike east along the Bruce Trail from the Rock Chapel Sanctuary, or take in the panoramic view from the Sydenham Hill lookout above Dundas. 

Forks of the Credit Road, Caledon, Ont.

If you’re looking for a classic fall drive, the winding Forks of the Credit Road has you covered. Stretching from Hwy 10 to Mississauga Road, the route involves lots of twists and turns, including a somewhat hair-raising hairpin. Enjoy the drive, but stay on the lookout for cyclists and motorcycles. 

Moose Mountain Trail, South River, Ont. 

A moderate climb, some rugged sections and potentially slippery conditions shouldn’t deter hikers from heading up Moose Mountain, located in the rolling Almaguin Highlands close to the South River. There are great views of fall foliage all the way up, and you’ll get a look at Lake Loxton from the very top.

Robertson’s Cliffs, Algoma, Ont. 

North of Sault Ste. Marie, Robertson’s Cliffs are a steady climb with great views as the payoff at the top. If you do the entire five-kilometre trail, called Ila’s Loop, you’ll get to peek at a waterfall. Make sure to wear good shoes, and pack layers in case it gets chilly. 

Haliburton Skyline Park, Haliburton, Ont.

An easy drive up Skyline Park Road in Haliburton brings you to Haliburton Skyline Park, which offers lovely views over Haliburton, Head Lake, and the highlands beyond. To make an afternoon of the trip, pack a lunch and enjoy the expanse while you’re seated at the picnic tables at the lookout. 

Big Valley, Rosedale, Man.

The Big Valley, north of Neepawa, has been a recreational area for many years and is an example of a glacial meltwater spillway. The Rosedale Farm Trail, located west of Eden, Manitoba, has gorgeous views over the Riding Mountain Escarpment, as well as interpretive signs that tell the history of the area.  

Larch Valley Trail, Banff National Park, Alta. 

There doesn’t tend to be the same dramatic display of colours in Alberta as the ones that happen further east—with one exception: the larch trees that turn gold in the fall and can be viewed with a hike in Banff National Park (as well as other spots). A trek up the Larch Valley trail begins at dramatic Moraine Lake and can head all the way up to Sentinel Pass. During Larch season, you may need to take a shuttle from an overflow parking lot to the trailhead.

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