Ontario’s expansive landscape has four forest regions: the Hudson Bay Lowlands of the far north, the boreal forest in northern Ontario, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest in central and southern Ontario, and the deciduous forest in southwestern Ontario.
The province has more than 70 million hectares of forest, yet a recent environmental report from the Office of the Auditor General in Ontario showed that the number of hectares of forest lost annually is nearly four times more than the number of newly established forests.
Since settlement in the 1800s, southern Ontario has lost 75% of its traditional forest cover due to human impacts such as intensified agriculture and industrial development. The good news is some intact forests still exist in Ontario. These areas support natural systems, provide habitat to species at risk, and enhance the wellbeing of visitors looking for tranquility, exercise and inspiration.
Here are five biodiverse forests that you should explore.
Wolf Lake, near Sudbury and Temagami, contains more than 1,500 hectares of old-growth red pine forest – ranging between 140 and 300 years. Portaging into Wolf Lake allows nature enthusiasts to find themselves encompassed by deep fresh waters, pine-clad slopes and quartzite hills. The call of the wild – represented by the voices of the common loon, Canada warblers and nighthawks – invite visitors to appreciate this jeopardized yet enchanting forest area.
Ontario Nature’s Reilly Bird Nature Reserve is located in the heart of the Ottawa Valley. With its trails above the Ottawa River winding through 28 hectares, this area property is perfect for checking out birds wildflowers, fungi and streams. It displays a wonderful array of colours in its resplendent autumn foliage. On a hike through this property, visitors may observe panoramic views of the Ottawa Valley through the trees, white pines, yellow birch, dwarf rattlesnake-plantain orchids, ruffed grouse, hermit thrush, polypore and coral fungi.
Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve
Located west of the Greenbelt and south of Owen Sound, Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve with 300-year-old growth and a mature maple-beech forest is a remarkable destination. Kinghurst is a rare example of pre-settlement woodlands in southern Ontario. The 370 hectares of this Ontario Nature destination also include meadows, ponds and wetlands, providing habitat for bluebirds, maidenhair ferns, red-backed salamanders, spring peepers, broad-winged hawks and great crested flycatchers.
Ojibway Park, located in Windsor near the Detroit River, is part of the Ojibway Prairie Complex. Featuring a nature centre, visitors can learn about the provincially rare pin oak forest, tall-grass prairie, ponds and oak savanna habitats. Carolinian forest and grasslands once covered southwestern Ontario, a fragmented area now mostly zoned for residential, commercial and agricultural uses. Yet, park trails take visitors through 64 impressive hectares of natural corridors within Ojibway Prairie Complex and provide photogenic landscapes as well as habitat for at-risk species, endemic vegetation such as shumard oak, and fascinating wildlife such as western chorus frog, comet darner dragonfly, yellow-throated vireo, yellow-billed cuckoo and hooded warbler.
Quetico Provincial Park
Quetico, located near Atikokan and two hours northwest of Thunder Bay, features three ecozones: Great Lakes forest, boreal forest and prairie. Quetico is home to significant old growth forest areas, with some of its red pines being nearly 300 years old. Paddlers and campers who choose to explore the area will delight in exploring the landscape while seeing moose, loons, blueberries, bald eagles, wolves and Canada jays.
Noah Cole is Ontario Nature’s communications technician and a regular contributor to Ontario Nature's blog and ON Nature magazine. Noah is an accomplished naturalist with a passion for protecting the great outdoors and a nature photographer. Noah is the author of Ontario Wildlife Photography (canadianimages.net).