Sometimes, you just need to get away…
As much as I love my hometown, there are times when I need to get the hell away from London, Ontario.
More specifically, I need to escape the bottlenecking traffic at rush hour; the frantic pace of Western University; the notoriously bad air quality. As I’m sure many would understand, my mental stability thrives on regular intervals of peace, quiet, and a change of scenery.
With an LTC pass and an erratic work schedule, I don’t have many options in the way of lengthy exotic vacations.
Luckily, the Forest City lives up to its namesake and boasts elaborate nature trails that are part of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and accessible by bus, meaning I can take a break from the city anytime I want to without actually leaving.
These are the places I go when I need to get lost.
To find Meadowlily Woods, hop on bus Route 3 (Downtown-Fairmont/Argyle) heading east, then get off at Hamilton and Meadowlily Rd NS. Follow the road, cross the bridge and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of a 60 hectares-long trail winding alongside the Thames River.
Be prepared to spend an entire day exploring the diverging pathways and breathtaking sights. This trail features marsh, creeks, unexpected drops down steep hills, and several conservation areas to admire from afar. Meadowlily is lush with flower life and makes for a romantic walk – that is, if your partner is up for a challenging hike.
The farther you go, the less you’ll believe you’re still in London, and the more optimistic you’ll be for the state of our local environment.
Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills
Six ponds, three separately managed trails and, 20 boardwalks make Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills a repeat destination promising a new discovery every time.
The most convenient entrance points for LTC riders are located on the Adelaide St. S and Commissioners Rd E intersection via Route 16 (Masonville Mall-Pond M./Summerside), or at the Tourist Information Centre off Wellington St S.
Compared to Meadowlily, Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills is slightly more straightforward, allowing your mind to relax as your feet follow the well-maintained pathways. While there are a few more adventurous alternatives, first-time visitors to this trail should stick to the yellow-markings as this area is also much denser than Meadowlily, and the woods darken quickly at dusk.
A personal favourite is the floating dock overlooking the central pond, where the sounds of the city can be heard only faintly in the distance.
Like Meadowlily and Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills, Sifton Bog has several forest trails, but is definitely smaller.
However, this area is best known for its boardwalk, which sprawls through a 40-hectare floating acid peat bog located just west of Hyde Park Road and Oxford Street, and a short walk away from stops for Routes 17 (Argyle Mall-Byron/Riverbend) and 19 (Downtown-Hyde Park Power Centre).
For 50 years, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority has protected the bog, formed 13,000 years ago due to glaciation and now laden with a plethora of plant life including Sphagnum moss and spruce trees.
If it’s close encounters with birds, butterflies and white-tailed deer you seek, the Sifton Bog is the trail for you. Animal lovers will be amply rewarded by the boardwalk’s glorious floating dock, where curious Midland Painted Turtles are known to make appearances in the lake.
I strongly advise first-time visitors to bring a camera.
Medway Valley Heritage Forest
At a vast 129 hectares, Medway Valley Heritage Forest is a seemingly endless, epic departure from the urban world, and one that I have yet to explore in its entirety. Thousands of years ago the land was used by Aboriginal peoples. Today, a main entrance point for LTC riders is located on Wonderland N. by the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, via Routes 9 (Downtown-Whitehills) or 31 (Hyde Park Power-Center/Alumni Hall).
The trail stretches all the way from behind Brescia and Huron College to Sunningdale Road W., encompassing both sides of Medway Creek. This body of water is the trail’s most prominent trait and is by far the cleanest you’ll see in the area. It feeds the surrounding greenery, but also necessitates proper footwear as water levels fluctuate throughout the year.
Because of its size, Medway is ideal for pairs or groups needing a breath of fresh air.
I dream of one day visiting Canada’s great national parks to get a taste of the truly remote hiking experience, but for now I’ll make do with the cards I’ve been dealt: an LTC pass and the occasional day off. The trails in London are surprisingly expansive, well-tended by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, and in my opinion underrated gems. This summer, save yourself some gas money and go exploring in these inner-city trails.
Adventure is but a bus ride away.
Feature photo by Caitlyn Peesker