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The Greenbelt covers two million acres of protected land in the Canadian province of Ontario, extending from Tobermory in the north and stretching 325 kilometres from Rice Lake in Northumberland County into the Niagara River. The Greenbelt also extends around the region known as the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which is one of Canada’s fastest growing regions: by 2031 the population in this area is expected to reach to more than 11 million.
The Greenbelt was created through legislation passed by the Government of Ontario in 2005, considered a major step towards the prevention of urban over-development and sprawl on environmentally sensitive land in the province. A region that encompasses distinctive landscapes, here are some reasons why the Greenbelt should be on the radar of any traveler heading through Ontario.
For cycling enthusiasts, the Greenbelt offers a network of over 3,000 kilometres’ worth of coastal and countryside cycling, through the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and the curated local cycling itineraries that are offered via the Greenbelt Route. There are extensive paths and trails that have varied durations and difficulty, so that there’s something enjoyable for all levels.
The Greenbelt is Ontario’s primary agricultural region, which is one of the reasons why the land was reserved for governmental protection. Here, you can have your fill of Ontario-produced meats, eggs, and cheese, along with plenty of farmer’s markets, pick-your-own farms, apple and peach orchards, as well as berry fields. In December, this is also the regional go-to place for nurseries with local Christmas trees.
In addition to fun cycling opportunities, the Greenbelt is also known for its extensive and beautiful hiking routes. Many of the Greenbelt Walk trails are open year-round and can be used for walking, hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing—depending on the season that you’re visiting. Especially popular are the Bruce Trail, Oak Ridges Moraine Trail, and the Ganaraska Trails.
If you’re looking for a beach getaway, you’ll find plenty of sandy shores throughout the Greenbelt region. This is mainly due to the abundance of small lakes throughout the area, in addition to the Great Lakes that shape the landscape—mainly Lakes Ontario and Erie.
This region is the world’s largest permanently protected greenbelt, keeping Ontario’s farmlands, forests and wetlands safe and sustainable. The Greenbelt’s natural heritage system encompasses 535,000 acres of lakes, wetlands, river valleys, and forests, and it is said that the forested area of the Greenbelt alone can offset the equivalent of 27 million cars driven over one year. By partaking in the activities and events throughout the area, visitors are also supporting the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, which works to help keep farmers successful, strengthen local economies, and continue to protect and expand natural features.
The landscapes of the Greenbelt can be enjoyed even when the season is more white than green. During the winter months, the region comes alive with skiing, snowboarding, showshoeing, snowmobiling, and other exhilarating winter sports that draw locals and visitors from all over.
Maple syrup season starts when spring is just around the corner, giving snowbound residents the extra little push they need to get through the long winter. In Ontario, the Greenbelt offers plenty of opportunities to participate in the fun of maple tree sap-tapping and maple syrup making. Many farms in the Greenbelt do their “sugaring off” in early spring, so be sure to keep an eye out for the best time to head into Greenbelt country.
There are numerous waterfalls scattered throughout the Greenbelt, including those close to Hamilton, St. Catherines and Twenty Valley. In fact, Hamilton is known as the Waterfall Capital of the World, mainly thanks to the Niagara Escarpment running through the area. The Escarpment creates the ideal conditions for over 100 stunning cascades. Visitors will want to check out the Upper DeCew Falls in St. Catharines, which is a large 22m waterfall, and Jordan Village along the Twenty Mill Creek Valley is home to Ball’s Falls Conservation Area, where you can follow the trail and see two sets of cascades.
The Greenbelt forms a protected wildlife habitat that is home to 78 species at risk. Whether you’re hiking, cycling, or even driving through the region, you’re sure to catch sight of interesting wildlife that call the region home—from deer to black bears, foxes, rare hawks, owls, and even flying squirrels.
The Greenbelt is Ontario’s wine country, boasting more than 88 wineries in the Niagara region alone. Many of the producers specialize in VQA wines (Vintner Quality Assurance), which are made exclusively with Ontario grown grapes. The area is famous for its sweet ice wine production. There are also a lot of breweries, and locals and visitors alike can enjoy self-guided craft beer, cider, & culinary experiences throughout the Greenbelt—perhaps as a reward for a day spent hiking, cycling, or exploring the region.