Hiking trails have taken on a whole new level of importance in the age of COVID-19. For many months earlier this year, going for a hike was one of the few physical activities available to us that would satisfy public health directives about physical distancing.
Even as gyms, dance studios, and other facilities have reopened, hiking remains a popular way to get some safe exercise.
There have been some problems, as was seen recently with the Jokers Hill parking fiasco. A situation where the public's need or easily-accessible trails clashed with the University of Toronto's frustration that the Koffler Scientific Reserve was being treated as an "off-leash dog park," rather than a research facility.
Newmarket Councillor Victor Woodhouse points out that there are some excellent alternatives to Jokers Hill a few minutes drive from Newmarket in the York Regional Forest.
"I always enjoy going to one of the eight regional tracts that are just 15 minutes from my home," he said.
"Most of the trails have multiple entrances, available parking (along the side of quiet roads or in parking lots), and there's a variety of trails. So the quiet and fresh air you find there is just unbeatable."
"I think more residents should go and discover the incredible walks that York Region maintains for the public. There are so many regional tracts, and not all of them are on the regular maps."
To help local residents and visitors to the Newmarket area go out and enjoy these underutilized treasures, NewmarketToday has put together a short guide to nine different trail systems, all located a few minutes from Newmarket.
Here is a map listing most of the different entrances and parking lots to the trails.
Icons of the same colour show different entrances and parking lots of each tract. Click on them to see which tract it is, and then look below for a trail map, pictures and a brief description of each tract.
1. Davis Drive Tract
This one of the smaller hikes on this list. It's an easy walk with wide and well-maintained trails.
The tract has two very distinct areas. The first is a recovering forest of planted red and white pine trees. These trees are still fairly young, and they stand in stark contrast to the back part of the trails, which goes through an old-growth hardwood forest.
An easy walk, but a little hilly in the old-growth forest. A good place for a stroll or a cross-country jog. But it is frequented by horse riders, so watch out for droppings.
It also has a parking lot and is an excellent place for bird watching in the spring and summer.
2. North Tract
This place is huge. If you want to see it all, it will probably take you all day.
The tall, perfectly straight trees are spaced out enough that it gives a surprising amount of light and a sense of openness that isn't found in most of the other tracts.
It is an excellent place for a long afternoon hike where you can sit on the couch afterwards guilt-free.
The trails range in quality from good to moderate. The place is a popular spot with horse riders, so some of the trials have been chewed up in the middle by hooves.
Riding instructor Faith Arnold-Dentay, whom NewmarketToday met while there, advises hikers not to stand to the side of trails when they see horses coming. It spooks the horses, who see it as a predatory posture.
"Keep walking and call out to say hi," she said. "When the horses hear a human voice, it puts them at ease."
There are two parking lots available for people who do not wish to park their cars alongside the road.
3. Mitchell Tract
Very similar to the North Tract, but much smaller and a bit darker.
If you are worried about the amount of people or horses at the North or Scout Tracts or just want a deeper forest experience, this may be the right choice.
4. Scout Tract
This trail is an absolute jewel of the York Regional Forest.
It's an easy-going trail that heads down to a beautiful mirror-like pond with an island in the middle before it heads back up toward the road.
It's only then that you realize that heading back is all uphill. Not steep by any means, but good for some moderate exercise.
The quality of the trails is excellent, and there are some places that are off the beaten path if you are inclined to look for them.
The length is the perfect one for an afternoon walk with the dog and the kids. Highly recommended.
5. Eldred King Tract
This place is another beautiful area, complete with its own pond, although this one was built in the 1970s as a water source for forest fire suppression.
It has the main parking lot that sits at a nexus of several different trails, all of them a good length for a walk with the family.
The terrain is very hilly, so if you are looking for some exercise, this is a good spot. If you want to get your heart pumping, park at the ravine entrance (noted on the map) and enter the trails from there. Be forewarned: the ravine is steep. Being sure-footed is a must if you are going in this way.
Otherwise, the main trails were very nicely maintained, but things can get a bit rugged if you start venturing down side paths, which will be a plus for some people.
6. Hollidge Tract
The Hollidge Tract also contains the York Regional Forest headquarters and the Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre.
This is the original tract of the York Regional Forest. It was purchased in 1924 for $4,000 as part of forest rehabilitation efforts. The creek that runs through it provides spawning habitat for brook trout.
It has the biggest parking lot of all the tracts and even has chargers for electric vehicles if you want to plug the car in while you hike.
It also has an accessible trail loop, perfect for anyone in a wheelchair, with a stroller or other mobility issues. The accessible trail is meticulously maintained, with even the leaves being swept off of the path.
The main loop is quite large for anyone looking for a longer walk.
This tract is the one that seems the most like a municipal park, likely because of its legacy.
7. Hall and Patterson Tracts
While technically two separate tracts of the York Regional Forest, the two are connected in such a way as to make them one big trail system. Hall tract also has access to the Eldred King Tract as well.
Mostly a beautiful old-growth forest with gently sloping trails. In 2004, agricultural lands were purchased to expand the Hall Tract, and evergreen trees were planted starting in 2005 to help the forest recover.
An accessible trail runs around the evergreens, which are now two or three metres tall.
It has a parking lot, although the entrance of which is marred somewhat by the presence of huge piles of scrap metal located on the adjoining private property. But once you are past that, it's a lovely area.
It is another area used by horse riders.
8. Dainty Tract
An appropriately named small trail through a dense forest. Perfect for the deep-forest experience.
It has a small parking lot available. A good place if you want to go somewhere calm and less busy than the other tracts.
9. Clarke Tract
Right across from the Dainty Tract, close enough to use the same parking lot.
Worth checking out if the Dainty Tract was too short for you.