Southern Ontario

Our last week in Canada began by crossing to the north side of the St. Lawrence River and then crossing from Quebec into Ontario, our last Canadian province of this trip.

We were a little sad to leave Quebec, having gotten used to hearing and seeing French everywhere. But we are also starting to look forward to home after 12 weeks of travel (3 to go), so moving west feels like the right thing to do.

Our first Ontario campsite was literally on the St. Lawrence River, where we enjoyed watching numerous birds, ships, boats, and some wonderful neighbors (who’ve been camping here since the 1970s!). They even offered us the use of their kayaks, which we unfortunately weren’t able to take advantage of.

Camping right on the St. Lawrence River
Watching huge ships go by

Our first Ontario exploration was right along the St. Lawrence River, where we could look across and see New York State. There are over a thousand tiny and huge islands along this stretch of the St. Lawrence, many privately-owned, but Canada has created the Thousand Islands National Park, so of course we had to go.

Sunset over the St. Lawrence River

We hiked on the mainland in the park boundaries, enjoying a lovely view of the islands in the river below us, plus a few treats on land.

An osprey on our hike

We had some great wildlife sightings along the road, including three minks. Is that the correct plural for mink? This was our first ever mink sighting, so that was a thrill.  Swans are always a treat as well.

Our first mink sighting!

We also had the chance to rescue a stinkpot musk turtle that was slowly crossing the road. Our good deed for the day!

Rescuing a stinkpot turtle

Right near the national park you can visit the 1000 Islands Observation Tower that is 400 feet above the St. Lawrence River, with a 360-degree view of the river and islands for miles around.

A few of the "thousand islands"
When you build on a small island, beware of rising water levels!

Knowing that it was going to be very hot the day we visited Ottawa, Canada’s capital, we opted for a river cruise to help us see the sights. The Houses of Parliament are beautiful structures right on the water.

Numerous other historic and architecturally-diverse sights made for a lovely river cruise (and a great way to beat some of the heat).

The pillars of this museum are shaped like canoe paddles
National Gallery of Canada

We enjoyed watching boats travel through some of the locks along the Rideau Canal, which has been continuously operated since 1832 (oldest in North America). This UNESCO World Heritage Site was quite a wonder to observe, as each section of the locks would fill up to the level of the next section, allowing the boats to move up a level at a time.

The whole canal structure extends for 202 kilometers (126 miles) from the Ottawa River to where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario (in winter it’s the world’s largest skating rink). We only saw the first eight locks in Ottawa, but there are 49 locks along the whole route, which take 3-5 days to get through! The first eight locks alone take 1 ½ hours to get through, rising 79 feet in only 350 meters (about 1150 feet). Quite an amazing feat of technology, especially for the early 1800s.

The lock on the left is just starting to fill with water. When it reaches the level of the lock on the right, the gates will open and the boats will move to the right.
The locks are still operated by hand. That takes some serious muscle!

Our visit to the Toronto area focused on a brand-new national park, Rouge National Urban Park. We enjoyed a lovely (though hot!) hike on the Vista Trail through the woods along the Rouge River, and of course, focused on the wildlife, including more turtles, frogs, a trumpeter swan, colorful butterflies, and lots of bright flowers. In the evening we hiked the Mast Trail from our campground, connecting up to our earlier hike of the day. In total it was 7.6 kilometers (4.75 miles) of hiking that day!

Trumpeter swan

And right in our campground we discovered the infamous black squirrel that my mom had told us about. Sure enough, it really exists, and a park staff member told us it’s simply a subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel species (basically, it’s a recessive gene, like blue eyes). Found in Ontario and the northern Midwest/Eastern states, it was our first sighting of black squirrels. They really are very striking in appearance!

Our last stop in Ontario (and Canada) was Niagara Falls, and it was definitely worth the stop. You have to look past the cheesey, touristy shops and all the hordes of people, and just focus on the falls. We drove along the Niagara Parkway, and then parked and walked so we could enjoy the falls at our own pace.

The rapids just before the water drops over Horseshoe Falls

There are three separate falls, Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side (definitely the most dramatic) and American and Bridalveil Falls on the U.S. side. This is a sight like the Grand Canyon, where the pictures just don’t do it justice. Truly breathtaking to see Niagara Falls in person!

American and Bridalveil Falls
Horseshoe Falls

We ended our 6 weeks in Canada with a lovely seafood dinner and a drive across Peace Bridge (back into the U.S. at Buffalo, New York). Next post will begin Phase IV, the journey back across the states.

Dinner at Tide and Vine Oyster House in Niagara Falls, ON
Crossing Peace Bridge into Buffalo, NY. Goodbye, Canada! It was a great 6 weeks!

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