I love it when I find the unexpected in the least likely place. South Western Ontario is riddled with fields of wheat and corn as far as the eye can see. Many would be surprised to find there is anything other than kilometres of cash crops in every direction. Surrounded by farmland, the Ausable Bayfield watershed has tucked away a gem in plain sight, the Rock Glen Conservation Area, which Q and I visited this past weekend.
This parcel of Carolinian forest contains the Rock Glen Waterfall and Ausable Gorge, in addition to the wildlife and plants specific to this area of the province. Devonian Era fossils and indigenous artifacts, all discovered locally, can be viewed at the Arkona Lions Museum and Information Centre within the park grounds.
Veins of boardwalks, bridges and trails channel through the forest, leading visitors to lookouts of the waterfall and gorge. There are stairs that descend the 100 foot drop to the forest floor below. One set of stairs view the waterfall, while the staircases near the river place you at the right height to view the canopy of the forest. Many platforms have been strategically placed on all the stairs to allow viewing of the gorge below and to take a much-needed break. Everyone wants to climb down but I’m not sure how many consider that they have to climb back up. If your knees are not up to par, view the gorge from the top which is just as beautiful.
Although not an abundance of water flowing over during any season, the 10.7 meter (37 ft) high waterfall is impressive. For those with an archeologist within, hike the Hobbs Mackenzie drain to the Ausable River, as fossils still riddle the stream and forest floor. If you visit Rock Glen in spring the watershed will be higher, leaving the boulders wet and the stream wide. Take caution on slippery rocks you have to climb up and over and watch for areas where the gorge sides have given way. The hike through the gorge floor is very beautiful and can be a good workout. My ass hurt for a week after Q’s and my exploration of the park! Expect to use your knee and butt muscles extensively getting up and down.
The Ausable River moves quickly in spring. Although not the prettiest time of year to see the conservation area, spring provides a trade-off. Sure you don’t get to see the trees and plants in bloom but you do get to see the forest infinitely. Also, there may be no growth but there are also no bugs eating you alive!
If hiking isn’t your thing there is a picnic area complete with pavilion and kids play area. Bathrooms are found throughout the park as are several parking lots. The very reasonable $4 per person entrance fee not only grants admission to the park and museum but aids in the cost of preserving this slice of nature and all that is contained.
If you find yourself in the London/Sarnia area take a quick drive out to Arkona and the Rock Glen Conservation Area. Open year round, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
What other gems have you found hidden in your backyard?
~True North Nomad
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