Quiet. Ancient. Beautiful.
- Land: Peter’s Woods Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Mississauga First Nations, and is very close to Alderville First Nation.
- Transit: You pretty much have to drive. You could bike from near-enough areas.
- Cost: None.
- Crowds: We met two other people and a dog during a long weekend.
- Attractions: Old-growth forest, peace, quiet, photography, birding, relaxation, hiking.
- Accessibility: It’s not an intense hike, but it’s all dirt paths, and there are some slopes and hills.
- Environmental note: As always, stay on the paths so you don’t trample delicate organisms by accident, and try to leave the trails cleaner than you found them.
- Click here for map.
We pass into a hole in a wall of green to enter Peter’s Woods from the parking lot. There are no other cars when we arrive, just before lunch. Tellingly, the parking area is not big.
The first trees are skinny, close together, none too tall. I know these are sure signs that this places was logged, probably clear-cut, at some point in its past. It’s also very flat. It’s farm country around here, and if I remember correctly, I read that’s what the northernmost part of Peter’s Woods used to be.
Birds are chattering away. The nearest are easy to hear, but when I listen closely, all of a sudden there are more, and more, and more. There’s no traffic noise here, no planes overhead. The birdsong extends out as far as my ears can reach.
I breathe in the rich, clean smell of the woods.
The trail takes a hard left as we come up to a wall of much older trees. This must be where the clear-cut boundary was. A titanic, magnificent white oak stands sentinel here, vaulting so high through the forest that its bottom leaves don’t even touch the lower canopy. The lack of low branches tells me this tree grew up before the forest was cut, and that the forest was ancient even then.
My reading tells me that the oldest trees in Peter’s Woods are upwards of 460 years old. That means they took root when Michaelangelo was still sculpting. Looking at this venerable soul, I believe it.
There’s something about standing next to something so old, to know that it’s survived all the turbulence that’s blown through the human and natural worlds in the last half-millenium, and to see that it is still thriving. There’s a deep comfort in that that cannot be sold or packaged.
It can only be felt.
The quiet trail dips into a ravine – where, even without any flowing, the smell of water is unmistakable – and then winds through old-growth pine, oak, maple, and beech forest. It is a riot of green, a solar-powered celebration of life held up by the occasional thirty-plus-metre forest giants. I wonder how much of the under-story is the children or grandchildren of the big trees that make up the supercanopy here.
Closer to the ground, the remains of a white pine snag stands by the path, its colours brought out by the rains the night before. It’s not apparent from the outside, but inside these snags are full of the bacteria, fungi, and other lifeforms that will return it to the soil and build the future of the forest. Not far away is a small tree that was growing in a stump that’s since eroded away. Life in the forest never ends.
We take a small side trail to see a particularly impressive oak sheltering its own glade with sky-bound limbs. It’s one of the last stops on the hike.
The sun that beams down through the leaves is warm, but the forest air is cool.
The sweet smell of green surrounds and birds are singing from as far away as we can hear.
And the peace of this place stays with us long after we leave.