The Altona Forest Hike

Trail Head at Altona Forest

An excerpt from Day Hikes in Ontario, Vol I.

Altona Forest

Pickering, Ontario

Total distance about 5km.

Time; 2.5 hours

Difficulty ⭐️☆☆☆☆

Walking times vary with weather and trail conditions

The Alton Forest is some 53 hectares of near-wilderness land, located entirely within the municipal confines of Pickering, a major urban centre immediately east of Toronto. 53 hectares sounds small, but this little forest has lots of hiking trails, a couple of ponds, wetlands, boardwalks, and both intermittent (seasonal) and year round streams. It’s home to foxes, coyotes, migratory birds and various rare and not so rare amphibians. The area is managed by the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority.

Permitted uses are rather strict; no mountain biking, horseback riding, motorized vehicles of any sort or any activity that would damage the trails. Hiking, walking and interpretive trips are welcome. As with any protected natural area do not pick any flowers or plant material from the forest. Try to minimize any impact you have on this delicate ecosystem by staying on the marked trails and using the boardwalks where provided.

Highway 401 eastbound from Toronto to Port Union/Kingston Rd exit. At the lights, turn right onto Kington Rd and follow along about 2.5km to Alton Rd (first left after you go over the big bridge that takes Kingston over the Rouge River). North on Alton for about 2.4km. Parking is on your right (east side of Altona) at Pine Grove Ave. Be respectful and do not park in, or block the driveway of the private property immediately north of the Altona Forest Parking lot.

The waterways that crisscross the forest are mostly “intermittent” streams and rills. This means that they don’t usually flow unless there is a good rainfall or a spring melt, although the Petticoat Creek that touches the park boundary on the west runs all year and the Rosebank Creek that flows out of Lacey’s Pond, along the eastern border, seems to run most of the year as well.

Frog Pond in Altona Forest

Interesting thing about the Rosebank is that back in the 1970s a developer owned this land and had the intention of building houses where the forest now stands, but the wetlands were a problem. They brought in heavy equipment and deepened the Rosebank Creek so it would better drain the wetlands at Lacey’s Pond so they could build. Thankfully this operation was not successful and the forest was largely spared. An artifact of this creek deepening effort are the mounds of clay soil that are heaped up at various points along the trail, next to the creek. The soil was just dug out and dumped on the edge of the creek, where it sits today.

Depending on when you visit, there may be “vernal” pools located alongside the trails and throughout the forest. Vernal is Latin for spring. These freshwater pools form primarily in the spring, after a snow melt, but can form any time during the year, depending on rainfall. These pools may last only manifest for a couple of days, or they may last a couple of months and are an important part of the local ecosystem. Vernal pools tend to form in the Altona Forest as the topsoil rests atop a layer of clay, which means the water is not easily absorbed into the ground and so sits on top, in pools.

Special Cautions

Poison Ivy is a common plant throughout Ontario and all the more so in the Altona Forest. It’s quite plentiful along the fences and off the main trails. Stick to the marked trails, wear long pants and be sure to keep your pets on a short leash. See the section on First Aid.

On The Trail

The last time I was at the Alton Forest, was late October, 2015. During that trip, I followed the White Trail from the parking area, northward to the frog pond. From there, I continued in a northern loop along the Blue Trail, to its conclusion where it intersects the White Trail, further south. I continued southward along the White Trail to Lacey’s Pond and the viewing platform. Having enjoyed the pond and taken a few photos, I continued south along the White Trial, along side a stream all the way down to Strouds Lane.

South of Strouds Lane there are more lands administered by the TRCA, with some trails on them, but I didn’t explore them on this trip. I returned northward along the White Trail (retracing my steps) all the way back to Lacey’s Pond, then turned left (west) on the White Trail. This section of the White Trail hooks onto itself in a couple hundred meters and when it does, turn left to get back to the parking lot.

During my trip, it was raining gently, so the boardwalks were slippery and the intermittent streams were beginning to run. I struck strictly to the trail and avoided most of the mud. On the hike I saw what was likely a coyote jogging along to the NE, beside the fence near where the boardwalk comes closest to the hydro lands at the north end of the forest. I heard many woodpeckers, but despite my best efforts, couldn’t spot one, although I did see plenty of chickadees and one cardinal.