An unedited excerpt from Ten Day Hikes in Ontario scheduled for release early 2017.
Hockley Valley Nature Reserve - South. The Don East Side Trail.
A day trip into the Hockley Valley has long been an enjoyable activity for many busy Torontonians. It's only about 60 km from town yet it offers beautiful vistas, wide valleys, charming antique and pottery stores, skiing, hiking, cycling and dinning. So far the valley planners have managed to keep their sanity and avoid overdevelopment, high rise condos and strip malls. Hats off to them. Lets hope they can keep it that way for years to come – to the benefit of themselves and interlopers like me.
Walking Distance: A tad less than 6km by my GPS and a quick check of Google Earth.
Time: When ML and myself last hiked the trail on January 8, 2014, it was lightly snow covered and, it took us about 2.5 hours, but we stopped a lot and really took our time. Two hours would be well within an average hiker’s range.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Comments: This trail cuts through a lot of small ravines, so there is plenty of up and down over a short distance and you’ll have to climb two stiles. It seems there has been one or two changes on the trail route since the 2012 Bruce Guide was printed. Nothing major, just follow the trail.
The trail starts with a quick short climb up and around a large boulder in the middle of the trail. A few meters beyond the boulder you come to a large sign pointing the way to the main Bruce Trail (the white trail) and the Tom East Side Trail (blazed in Blue). For the purposes of this hike, we’re heading left up the white trail but will finish the hike coming back down on the blue trail to this very spot.
The path climbs generally northwest to the top of a ridge where you can take a breather at the hiker’s bench, while taking in a beautiful view to the south and east, across and down the valley. You’ll be able to spot the Hockley Valley ski area on the far side.
The trail continues mostly north through abandon fields, woodlots, and small ravines on an old logging track. At one point we came up a small valley and caught sight of a golden field to the west of the trail and just had to take a look. Of course it’s private property and we were careful not to trespass, but took a couple of dramatic photos over the fence. I mention this only as a lesson about how quickly you can lose sight of the trail, even if it’s only 50m away. Before we left the trail, I marked a waypoint on the GPS, so if we needed it we’d have it. As it turned out, we didn’t need it, as I had noted one particularly large tree on the way out so we just walked towards it on the way back, but you get the idea. Within only a few meters we lost sight of the trail.
The trail turned northeast before long and we came upon an abandoned car. Don’t know what kind, but looked like something from an old black and white gangster movie. I could almost see George Raft sitting in the back, smoking a cigar. As we approached, we noted that someone (likely an offspring of the cars original owner) posted a plastic covered picture of, presumably, the child, the father and a few other kids posing with the car. The sort of pose you’d see if the new car had just arrived at the house. After a few photos we soldiered on and soon could hear the river babbling along just down the hill.
Shortly after passing through a long abandoned apple orchard, we came to the intersection of the white trail (which continues mostly north) and the blue Tom East Side Trail. At this point we checked the time, the map, the weather and our motivation and decided to walk north on the white trail to the bridge over the Hockley River. It added less than 1km and offered some good, photo ops. It was well worth the effort as it was so scenic.
We returned to the junction after a short time and started off on the blue blazed Tom East Side Trail in an easterly direction. Soon the trail swung south and climbed out of the ravine, past open fields on our left and steep ravine sides on our right. We skirted along this border for a bit, climbed a couple of stiles, veered west again for a while then southward. The trail continued in and out of the little ravines. At one point we stopped to listen for a woodpecker, which we eventually spotted, high in a nearby tree.
As you approach the end of the hike, you’ll come near a field on your left. Gain a vantage point (without crossing any fences) and take a few photos down the valley. With the right sky, they can be quite drama