7 Tips for Chasing Perfect Fall Colours in Ontario

The Canadian province of Ontario may be lacking snow capped mountains, sandy oceanfronts, tall grass prairies or arid deserts, but one thing...

The Canadian province of Ontario may be lacking snow capped mountains, sandy oceanfronts, tall grass prairies or arid deserts, but one thing that all western provinces are envious about is the Ontario's iconic fall colours. Mild temperatures and not too much rain make the leaf peeping season last longer than anywhere else in the country. With most of the foliage fallen down by now, I do realize that the tips I'm about to share will probably make more sense around mid-September - early October next year. But who said we can't start preparing for the next season now? Plus, as an added bonus, that's an opportunity to enjoy some pictures and bring good memories from this past season.

1. Check Ontario Parks Fall Colour Report.
Since Ontario enjoys up to two months of perfect autumn each year, you have plenty of opportunities to see leaves changing colours. 
If you're a nature lover, like me, you can't go wrong no matter the season. But if you specifically look for the best foliage, timing is pretty important.
I'm sure you would agree that there is a huge difference between visiting Algonquin Park on the Labour Day and on the Thanksgivings long weekends. Early September is simply too early to see any red or orange leaves, with some rare exceptions, of course.
When I do my research where to go when, I always start from Ontario Parks Fall Colours Report. It's hard to underestimate a value of this resource. At a peak season, Ontario Parks makes updates almost every day, so information there is pretty accurate. 
You should also have some basic understanding about primary weather patters. Southeastern Ontario gets cold weather earlier than Toronto and Southwestern Ontario. I would say that the difference between fall colours around Ottawa and Toronto can be as much as two weeks.
This means you can travel around the province for quite a bit and still catch peak foliage at different places. Thankfully, cars travel faster than leaves change colours! 

2. Avoid Busy Places.
Am I right that your goal is to enjoy the nature and not to bump into other people constantly or get stuck in traffic? Then stay away from busy places like Algonquin Park, especially on weekends.
While Algonquin Park is undoubtedly the most beautiful place in Ontario to see fall colours, many people in Ontario (especially those who live in Toronto) don't realize that maple trees grow outside of Algonquin Park too
By the way, in 2020, Algonquin Park implemented a daily visitors quota on the Highway 60 corridor. An admission couldn't be booked in advance, so the only way to get in was to arrive early.
The reason why Algonquin Park is the way it is (i.e. made of sugar maple trees that yield such vibrant colours) is because of a huge deforestation operation that resulted in cutting most of white pines in the 19th century. 
In the blink of an eye, maple trees lost their main oppressor and thrived in a new open space. However, it won't last forever: white pines will eventually outgrow maple trees again and create a deadly shade where maple trees will lose the fight and perish. 
Another busy place is Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto. Unfortunately, there is just too many people in Toronto, so any decent park around a 2-hour drive from the city will have many other fellow visitors.

3. Hike or Paddle a Canoe.
People tend to pick a low-hanging fruit. Seeing fall colours from a parking lot - great, walking a few miles  in - too difficult. 
So that's a simple formula for you if you look for privacy or solitude: a number of people you'll see is inversely proportional to the effort you take. 
Overnight camping is king if weather cooperates. Better yet - overnight canoe camping. Remember, Septembers and Octobers in Ontario can be pretty cold at night. 
Take into account whether a place you want to visit has primarily deciduous or evergreen trees. The latter, as the name suggests, won't be as dramatic as a forest made of sugar maple and oak trees. 
Hiking up a hill or a tower will yield the best views. Some of my favourites lookouts include the Dorset Tower, the Track and Tower trail at Algonquin Park, the Crack Trail at Killarney Provincial Park and the Fire Tower trail at Restoule Provincial Park.

4. Find a Body of Water.
If you find a body of water, you can double the amount of vibrant fall colours you see thanks to a mirror reflection. 
Water adds more contrast and blue hues on a sunny day.
Since water must remain calm to achieve a desired effect, it's best to find a small forest lake surrounded by picturesque trees.
When looking for a great view, you can occasionally bump into very interesting artifacts. Like this construction truck circa 1930s left to rust at the abandoned farm in Frontenac Provincial Park. I also remember seeing a similar old rusty car on the Granite Ridge trail in Killarney Provincial Park.

5. Flexibility with Weather and Time of Day
Unlike summer, autumn weather and a time of the day can be more forgiving when taking pictures.
The reason you can take great pictures right at midday is the angle of the light. It's simply tilted all day long, so there are no harsh shadows.
Don't discard grim days either. Fall pictures taken on overcast days are moody, but still pretty vivid. 
A lack of sunshine can easily be compensated with post-processing software. 
I would also encourage you to plan your autumn photoshoot at sunrise or sunset to capture the best colours. Midday sun won't be able to create such a dramatic scene. 

6. Don't Miss Small Towns.
Small towns is Ontario’s best kept secret. 
Many tourists rush to see the biggest attractions like Downtown Toronto, Niagara Falls and even Algonquin Park that I mentioned a few times already, but miss those cute Victorian towns dotted along main waterways - the Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, and Rideau Canal.
My absolute favourite is Niagara-on-the-Lake. A bit pretentious, very touristy during a high season, but very worthy. 200-year old Victorian houses are the oldest mansions in Canada. The food is awesome too - try the award-winning Napoletana-certified pizza at Pieza and traditional Hungarian chimney cakes at Budapest Bakeshop.
As an added bonus, the climate at Niagara-on-the-Lake tends to be very mild, so you can still enjoy the foliage even when the rest of province is leafless. 
That same climate created perfect conditions for wine and fruit growing. Don't miss out wine tasting along the Niagara Parkway. 

7. Hit the Road Less Travelled.
Driving in the fall can be an experience on its own.
Hit the road less travelled and see what is awaiting you beyond the next curve.
Try taking a backroad instead of a major highway if time permits. 
For someone like me who often drives between Ottawa and Toronto, I always like to explore a new road or at least take a very picturesque Highway 7. Thankfully, there are many ways you can get between those cities, so I haven't run out of options yet. 
Just north of Kingston, ON lies the Frontenac Arch, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designated in 2002. It's a prehistoric granite bridge between the Canadian Shield and the Adirondacks Mountains in New York. 
Frontenac Provincial Park sits in the middle of the region and makes a unique threshold wilderness (kind of wild) where five different forest types converge resulting in a very rare biodiversity. 
It's also a backpacker's and canoeist's paradise offering 22 lakes, immense network of canoe routes, and over 160 km / 100 miles of hiking trails. 

My other posts about fall colours in Ontario:

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