Cliche though it may be, autumn is my favourite season. Crisp mornings, cozy sweaters, hot drinks, I crave it all year. Fall has a very particular kind of light, in my opinion, as if everything is cast in a golden glow. I can’t get enough.
Planning the route
Ontario is famous for, among other things, its fall foliage. Every shade of green, orange, gold, red, all the way to almost purple, is represented here. It really makes me wish I knew more about the different trees. The minute I moved to southern Ontario, I knew that I had to do a fall colours photo mission. Lucky for me, much smarter and more observant people have done a lot of the legwork. A quick Google search led me to the Ontario fall colours progression report, which shows how the leaves are progressing through the colours in different regions throughout the province.
With that resource in hand, I plotted my mission. Based in London, I knew I wanted something close enough to do a day trip. I wanted a variety of landscapes to shoot. I was going by myself, so I didn’t want anything that would take me too far into the wilderness where I would inevitably sprain my ankle and get eaten by bears, but I didn’t really want to go to the most popular spots where I would be competing for views (I’m looking at you, Muskoka).
In the end, I chose a route that took me up to Owen Sound and around the Georgian Bay.
And we’re off!
Off I went! Extra large coffee in hand, I set off from London. The day was cloudy, with a constant threat of rain, but thankfully the weather held out with every stop I made. My first official stop was Inglis Falls, but it wasn’t long before I found myself pulling over to take photos of the farms and creeks that oozed charm along the highway. It took me a lot longer than the estimated two hours it was supposed to.
By the time I got to Inglis Falls, the extra-large coffee had kicked in. With desperation, I hopped out my rental car and looked frantically around the park for a restroom. Success! You can only imagine the despair I felt when I got to the door to find it locked. The forlorn, abandoned gift shop offered no comfort. The situation was dire; while I had expected the park to be relatively empty, there were enough people there that I wasn’t about to pull my pants down behind a bush. Alas. Girding my loins, I decided to push through and try to enjoy the scenery before (hopefully) finding a bathroom at my next stop.
The falls are beautiful and the park offers great views, though the foliage was much greener than I would’ve liked. The trails struck a good balance, where they are relatively easy to follow, but you still feel like you’re clambering through the wilderness; you could walk right up to the edge and look over the cliffs down to the valley below. Given the circumstances, I wasn’t able to enjoy the trails as much as I would have liked, but that just means I have to go back.
The next stop was Weaver’s Creek Falls in Harrison Park. Mercifully, Harrison Park was well-equipped with all the (ahem) services I required, making my explorations in this area much more comfortable. The park was… interesting. It’s a huge park in the town of Owen Sound. It had a bit of a retro feel, like it was really exciting and well-maintained when it first opened, but had since been let to get run down. Despite my gratitude for the restrooms, I was prepared to be disappointed. With hesitation, I proceeded deeper into the park until I found myself at Weaver’s Creek Falls. It. Was. Beautiful. Totally alone, I walked along the boardwalk, following a stream up to the waterfalls. Here were all the colours I was craving. I don’t know how long I spent watching the water and enjoying the silence. I had a hard time tearing myself away, but I was only a few stops into my journey.
Getting to my next stop took me through Owen Sound. This place is all charm. It looks like a movie set. It wasn’t long before I found myself pulling over to take a few more shots. As I left town, I got my first ever glimpse of Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay was voted the top hidden travel gem in Canada by Destination Canada, and the title is well-deserved. The eye doesn’t know where to look; I found myself envying every charming little house along the bay. Though it wasn’t the most efficient way to my next stop, I chose to take the road that hugged the shoreline.
A disappointment and a pleasant surprise
My next stop was Cobble Beach. I had read that the restaurant of the golf course would be a good place to stop for lunch. I was disappointed to discover that Cobble Beach was, in fact, all golf course, surrounded by a new housing development. Not exactly the vibe I was going for. In fact, you couldn’t really get to the beach itself without trespassing. Though it was pretty, I didn’t linger too long after grabbing a shot of the lighthouse.
A more interesting discovery was a nearby lookout, maintained by the Kemble Women’s Institute. I stopped here to enjoy my packed snack, watching the cows graze in the valley below. It wasn’t until I got out of the car to throw out my garbage that I discovered the table set for tea. Yep, you read that right. There, in this random spot next to the highway, overlooking a spit of farmland next to the water, was an entire tea service. Totally random, totally lovely.
Letting my imagination get the best of me
Onward to Bruce’s Caves. Not going to lie, the drive into the cave area almost made me turn around. It was beautiful, but also made me feel like I was entering a horror movie. I was almost convinced I had the wrong place. After driving an incredibly pot-holed, narrow, gravel road that made think I was going to bottom out my car, I came to a small parking lot that presented me with a moral decision: do I pay for parking, like the small sign directed? There was no one around and the only way to pay was via credit card on their website. It would have been sooooo easy to ignore it. In the end, what made me decide to pay was: one, I honestly would have felt guilty not paying, since I know the money goes to preserving areas like Bruce’s Caves; and two, I realized that no one really knew exactly where I was and I wanted to make sure there was a means of tracking where I was, should something happen to me. Seriously, that’s how my mind works. With that transaction taken care of, I left my car and entered the woods. There wasn’t so much a trail as a slightly trodden depression that I followed, over and under fallen trees, deeper into the woods until I came out to a clearing.
And there they were, Bruce’s Caves. Mindful of, again, not wanting to sprain my ankle and get eaten by wolves, I carefully wove my way through the cave debris. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard some teenage boys yelping from somewhere deep in the caves. Suddenly I was no longer alone and was feeling rather silly at all of my daydreamed worst case scenarios as a stream of other visitors made themselves known. With a little more confidence in my step, I clambered into the cave, squeezed myself through openings in the rock, and generally had a grand old time (though still paranoid of slipping and destroying all of my camera equipment). In the end, I was so, so happy I stuck it out.
I made my way back to the car just as sunset was starting, back south towards Owen Sound and home. I had to pull over again and again on my way back south as golden hour set to the entire area aglow. Final verdict: spend more time at Inglis Falls, give Cobble Beach a miss, bring a buddy, and get out there. Even if you have no interest in photographing the fall colours, the area of Owen Sound and Georgian Bay is stunning, and the area is a photographer’s dream.