Summer is booming in PEC, with both provincial park and dinner reservations hard to come by, as tourists flock to the sandy beaches and charming towns. Fall, however, tends to be much quieter. Given the gentler southern Ontario climate, it also makes for an ideal time to visit the area and still reap the benefits from its recreation options, like these beautiful hikes in Prince Edward County.
These hikes take you through some of the most scenic spots and offer a look at the unique protected environments that make PEC special. Note that some of these hikes are within Sandbanks Provincial Park, the predominant recreation area in the County, and you may need to reserve a vehicle pass in advance. Always check the park website and plan ahead—they also frequently update availability on social media.
Don’t be intimidated by the 13-kilometre length of this trail—it’s easy to traverse and has plenty of options to cut short if you’d like to. Situated within Sandbanks Park, this hike weaves through the forest, out to the shoreline of Lake Ontario and back again, offering great diversity and beautiful vistas along the way. In some spots where the terrain allows, you can walk down to the water, but be careful, as Lake Ontario can be pretty rough—this isn’t an area for swimming. Since the trail is easily accessible from the parking lot, consider bringing a chair and a good book, as there are numerous areas to set up and relax.
The Dunes Beach offers a quieter alternative to the popular, bustling main beach of Sandbanks Park, but if you’re up for it, the trail (situated behind the beach) is well worth the hike and gives you an even better sense of the unique dunes area. The trail is relatively easy, with some elevation up and down the dunes. While boardwalks are built over most parts, they can be rickety and unstable, so exercise caution—and be mindful that your shoes might wind up full of sand. The Dunes are located on West Lake, which tends to be more shallow near the shore than Lake Ontario—why not go for a dip?
The Woodlands trail is popular for walking, cycling, and mountain biking and can be accessed from West Lake Campground at Sandbanks (not far from the Dunes parking lot). As the name suggests, this is more of a forest than a shoreline-views hike, but as the fall colours start to turn, it’s bound to be beautiful. At six kilometres long, it’s a good mid-level Prince Edward County hike that usually takes a couple of hours.
Calling all birders! This easy, short walk is popular for those looking to see various bird species in the area and also makes for an enjoyable stroll for people of all abilities. It’s located near the Sandbanks Outlet Beach across parking lot 10, where there are usually a good number of available spots. There are stairs along the way to accommodate the elevation, and dogs are welcome (as they are with most hikes on this list), though they must be on a leash. Due to the forest and swamp/bog environment situated around this hike, bugs can be a little more of a nuisance, though in the cooler fall weather, less so—ticks, however, are common in this part of Ontario, so be sure to check for them and follow protocol.
Offering a beautiful, expansive view just above the main town of Picton, this conservation area has more than seven kilometres of hiking trails, most of which are on the easier side and can be completed in under an hour if you’re short on time. The Main Loop is one of the more popular routes and showcases the best parts of the area, including Birdhouse City, a paradise for avid birders. There are picnic tables and washroom facilities, so you can spend a whole afternoon wandering and picnicking in this peaceful spot.
Another area under the purview of Quinte Conservation, Little Bluff is something of a hidden gem. Like Macaulay Mountain, you have to pay to access it (about $5), but it’s well worth it if you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track nature experience, something that’s becoming harder to find in PEC. The trails in Little Bluff will take you to breathtaking views of the rugged Lake Ontario shoreline, and with the higher vantage point, you get a much more expansive view than in other areas. Bluff Lookout and Barrier Beach are popular photo-op and stopping spots on this Prince Edward County hike.