Hiking in Point Pelee National Park

Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: December 2022

Point Pelee National Park is located on a peninsula in Lake Erie and is the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland. It is the second smallest national park in Canada and is the first national park established for ecological conservation reasons. It contains marshes, wetlands, swamp forests and sandy beaches. It is also an important resting point for migrating birds and monarch butterflies in the spring and fall.

Given its small size, Point Pelee has a single campground that contains 24 oTENTiks, which are a cross between an A-frame cabin and a canvas tent. These permanent shelters sleep up to six guests and come furnished with beds and a table with chairs. The oTENTiks in Point Pelee also contained a dish kit, cooking equipment, an overhead light, electricity, a fireplace and a BBQ outside. We just had to bring our sleeping bags, pillows and food for the weekend.

Day 1: The Waves

We drove to Point Pelee the night before with my mom and uncle and arrived a few minutes before the Visitor Centre at Camp Henry closed. We checked in and picked up the keys to our oTENTik. The sites are all walk-in only, but the park provides wagons to help lug in and out your gear. We carried all our stuff in one trip and returned the empty wagons to the parking lot.

The next morning we woke up to a grey and gloomy sky. After making a cup of coffee, we went for a short walk along the Tilden Woods Trail (1km loop), which is located a few hundred metres from the campground near the Visitor Centre. The trail winds through a mature swamp forest and cedar savannah. It also passes by a small section of what’s left of the former road that was once here. Most of the road was removed in the late 1990s, along with several cottages, as part of a plan to return the park to a more natural state.

The trail branches off for a short detour for the Shuster Trail (500m) which leads to the East Barrier Beach. The water levels were extremely high and there wasn’t much of a beach to walk along. Instead we admired the waves and the remaining hints of colour from the sunrise at the end of the trail.

We walked back towards the junction to complete the rest of the Tilden Woods Trail. We then returned to our oTENTik to make and eat a hot breakfast.

Afterwards we drove to the tip of the peninsula in Point Pelee which leads to the southernmost point of mainland Canada. During the peak season from April to October the road from the Visitor Centre to the tip is closed to visitor vehicles and the park operates a shuttle service. Since we were visiting in the off-season, we could simply drive there as there weren’t many visitors. At the tip there’s an outdoor exhibit, observation tower and hiking trail. The Tip Tower was unfortunately closed due to a possible safety issue.

We hiked along the Tip Trail (1km loop, rated easy) which follows the shore of the peninsula and leads to the tip of the point. It was wild to see that the water was super wavy on one side of the peninsula and completely calm on the other side.

On the way back to the parking lot, we walked through the outdoor exhibit where there are a series of panels that provide more information about why Point Pelee was created and how the sandspit has changed over time. Every spring and fall thousands of birds, insects and bats travel through this region as part of their migration. However the landscape in the park has changed dramatically in recent years and the peninsula is getting much shorter and narrower. Part of the land is being lost as a result of more frequent storms and less protective ice cover in the winter.

We then drove to the Marsh Boardwalk (1km loop, rated easy). At the start of the boardwalk there’s a wooden observation tower that provides a panoramic view of the wetlands. We followed the floating boardwalk around part of the marsh. Along the way there were a few storyboards that provided more information about the importance of wetlands and how they support a diverse collection of plant species and animals.

We drove back to our campsite. We weren’t quite ready for lunch, so we walked over to the Visitor Centre. There were a few exhibits inside that provided more information about the history of the park, why it was created and about the geology of the landscape. Point Pelee National Park was established in 1918 to protect its fragile and diverse environment. However, it continued to be a popular holiday park in the summer. By 1966 much of its natural environment was rapidly deteriorating so the park closed most of its campsites, introduced a new shuttle service to the tip and removed or demolished all of the private cottages, homes, hotels and other businesses on the park lands.

After eating a late lunch, we returned to the Visitor Centre to hike the Woodland Nature Trail (2.75km loop, rated easy). The trail weaves through the forest and is signed with 20 numbered posts.

We then walked back to our oTENTik and spent the rest of the day by the fireplace playing games.

Day 2: The Vegetation

We woke up the next morning to blue skies and mild weather. After making a hot beverage, we walked down to West Beach which is located right across the road from Camp Henry. The sun was just starting to rise over the trees.

We returned to our oTENTik to make breakfast and pack up. After checking out at the campground, we walked to the trailhead for the Chinquapin Oak Trail (4km loop, rated easy) which is located near the Visitor Centre. The chinquapin oak is a Carolinian tree which is common throughout the eastern United States, but only grows in extreme southern parts of Ontario, including Point Pelee. This type of tree is found along the trail, along with cedar savannah, beach swamp forests and dry forest habitats.

Along the trail, there’s a short detour for the Cactus Field Footpath, which leads through a restored savannah and reconnects with the Chinquapin Oak Trail. We spotted several Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus. In Canada, this type of cactus is found only in southern Ontario where it grows in dry sandy habitats. There are only two known locations where it grows, which are on sand spits along the shore of Lake Erie. The Eastern Prickly-pear cactus is considered endangered due to erosion along the sandy shoreline and shading by trees and shrubs.

On the drive out of the park, we stopped for one last hike along the DeLaurier Homestead and Trail (1.2km loop, rated easy). The trail passes a historic house and barn that once belonged to the DeLaurier family in the late 19th and early 20th century. The house is associated with the early settlement of the Point Pelee area and is the oldest remaining structure in the park.

The trail also passes former fields and irrigation canals and leads through a cedar savannah and swamp forest. Part of the path follows along a boardwalk and passes a set of Parks Canada Red Chairs as well as a viewing platform that overlooks the swampy area.

Once we wrapped up our hike, it was time to hit the road and head back home.

L

84 thoughts on “Hiking in Point Pelee National Park

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always nice to visit in the off-season and experience a quieter side of the park. There weren’t many people around, which is just how we like it. The Marsh Boardwalk is my favourite trail in the park and the observation tower is a great way to get a different perspective of the area from up above.

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  1. kagould17 says:

    Some stunning hiking conditions for December Linda. While the skies were not always the bluest, you managed some good hikes and some great shots. Not sure why they build these high lookouts, if they always have safety concerns. We ran into the same thing with the one in Fort Frances in 2018. Thanks for sharing. Happy Friday. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The weather in December can be hit or miss. Thankfully we didn’t encounter any wild weather and the temperature wasn’t too cold. We’ve actually had an unseasonably warm winter so far and don’t have any snow at the moment. It’s very weird. It was a bit puzzling to us why the Tip Tower was closed too. We hiked up it last year and now wonder was it even safe then? Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend. Linda

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was wild to see how different the water was on either side of the tip of the peninsula. We visited last winter and had a similar experience where one side was covered in ice and the other side wasn’t. And agreed, the observation tower is a great way to get a different perspective of the boardwalk and marsh. It’s my favourite trail in the park. Take care. Linda

      Liked by 2 people

  2. John says:

    A great post! I thought the Prickly Pear cactus grew only in the desert southwest. They look different too. I visited this park decades ago and remember it as a very nice place to be. The tip of the peninsula is amazing. How were the private homes or cottages taken from the owners, and the hotel? In the States, some jurisdictions use what is called Eminent Domain. They pay you fair market value for your property and take it from you. Terrible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. Prickly pear cactus aren’t common in Canada. They are only found in two locations in southern Ontario, one of which is in Point Pelee in an area in the park where the conditions are dry and sandy. We only spotted them on that one particular trail. Agreed, the tip of the peninsula is pretty cool. It was wild to see the contrast in the water from one side where it was wavy compared to the other side where it wasn’t. Apparently this is a popular spot to watch the migrating Monarch butterflies.

      The history of Point Pelee is interesting. Even though it was designated as a national park, park land was still being sold for private cottages. It became such a popular spot for vacationing that it was close to being de-listed as a national park as the ecological integrity had been so damaged by all the visitors. It wasn’t until after the 1980s where the government got more serious about protecting the area and removed some of the roads and most of the campgrounds. They also bought many of the cottages on park land to help restore the land. I couldn’t find much information as to how they purchased the properties though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • John says:

        So I was correct about the government getting rid of the houses. They made the right choice! I was there in 1986, it’s been a while. It’s so weird to see what I think is strictly a desert plant so far north, it’s bitter cold in winter, that should kill them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Oh I know. It’s too bad for the people who owned cottages there, but at the same time it’s such an important area for so many migrating birds. They definitely made the right choice. Some areas are better left to nature. I know what you mean, I never would have guessed that any type of cactus could survive in a place like Canada. It felt pretty special to find the eastern prickly-pear cactus along the trail.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. leightontravels says:

    Despite the gloomy weather this looks like a quiet and relaxing place to visit. You photographed a fascinating phenomenon on the peninsula with choppy waters on one side and perfectly calm seas on the other. I love all the endemic and rare plant life that comes up in your posts. It was really interesting to learn about the prickly pear cactus and chinquapin oak. The shot of the Marsh Boardwalk is very cool.

    Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The weather is always unpredictable in December. Even though it was drab and dreary outside, at least it wasn’t raining or overly cold or windy. It was pretty fascinating how the water was so different on one side of the peninsula compared to the other. I totally get why they don’t allow swimming at the tip. I had no idea that we had cactus in Ontario since our climate is so humid and we can have some brutally cold winters. The prickly-pear cactus are only found in two locations in southern Ontario, one of which is in the park. So it felt pretty special to find some along the trail.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Travel Essayist says:

    Sounds like you made the best of the visit. Marsh Boardwalk is one of my favourites over there. Since we live close by, I often go road cycling in the park in the early mornings and we take our kayaks around the marsh in the summer months.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Point Pelee has become one of our favourite national parks. This was actually our second visit in 2022 as we were here earlier in the year in March. The trails are in such good condition and the scenery is lovely. We’re hoping to return either in the spring or fall this year to catch the Monarch migration. It’s awesome that you live close by and can visit throughout the different seasons. Kayaking through the marsh sounds amazing.

      Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! I love how the landscape and forests look so different in southern Ontario, especially around Lake Erie, compared to further up north. Point Pelee has become one of our go-to weekend getaways. There are plenty of great hiking options, the scenery is stunning, and it’s always fun to camp in an oTENTik. It was pretty special to see a bunch of the prickly-pear cactus in the park. I had no idea that cactus could even grow here.

      Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’m a huge fan of national parks as well and we share a similar goal of wanting to visit them all in Canada and the United States. We actually just came back from the US where we went on a road trip through southern Utah to see the “Mighty Five” national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. The landscape was unbelievable.

      Parks Canada started the Red Chairs program just over a decade ago. They can be found at most of our national parks, often at a nice viewpoint. They’re a great excuse to take a break and admire the views. Glad to hear that Point Pelee is now on your radar. It’s a small park and it’s often overlooked.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Rose says:

    Catching a sunrise with a hot beverage on the beach sounds lovely. I really like the high lookouts and long board walks. My brain has a hard time with the wild cactus growing in Canada – seems like it should be a southwest thing…

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was the perfect way to start the morning! There are a lot of great hiking options in Point Pelee and most of the trails have some type of boardwalk section, which are always my favourite. It was pretty wild to see the eastern prickly pear cactus in Ontario. And here I thought cactus only grew in the desert. They only grow in two locations in southern Ontario, so it felt pretty special to see some on the trail.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Bernie says:

    Very interesting that in this National Park, they removed business and homes to return it to a natural state. But in other parks, the construction goes ahead. Think Banff or Prince Albert National Park. Must have had a substantial lobby from somewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Point Pelee National Park is teeny tiny and has a fragile ecosystem. It was actually close to being de-listed as a national park as the ecological integrity of the park had been so damaged by all the visitors and cottages. The park didn’t really have a choice but to start taking stricter steps to better protect the environment, which involved removing some of the roads, campgrounds and buildings.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      You bet. It’s a small park that sure packs a punch. We’ve been here several times over the past few years and the trails and views never get old. Plus it’s fun to camp in style in one of those oTENTiks. They are surprisingly quite spacious and comfortable, even in the winter.

      Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s unfortunate because the shoreline around most of the Great Lakes is eroding, especially around Lake Erie. They had pictures at the outdoor exhibit to show how much the peninsula at Point Pelee has changed (and shrank) over time. It is pretty sad as it’s such a biodiverse region and is an important area for birds, especially as they migrate north or south.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Bama says:

    I always find it interesting when a structure with historical value is found along a hiking path — a bonus if it actually looks pretty, like that house that once belonged to the DeLaurier family. I was particularly intrigued by the French on that signage at the Cactus Field Path as it is more descriptive than the English since the former includes the word “undeveloped”. That shot with the waves on the water on the left-hand side and the complete calm on right-hand side is wild!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I’m glad the house has been preserved as I’m sure it’s filled with lots of stories. It’s also a more dynamic way to learn about the history of the area and about early settlement. It is kind of funny how the French portion of the sign was more descriptive. The path wasn’t as wide as some of the other trails in the park, but it was still easy to navigate along. The real highlight was finding some of the eastern prickly-pear cacti for which the trail is named after.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We are lucky to have so much wilderness in Canada and that national parks have been carved out, even in developed areas like southern Ontario. It was pretty amazing to learn how Point Pelee is one of the most biodiverse regions in the country.

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  8. Ab says:

    What a beautiful outing at Point Pelee. This is definitely on our list of places to visit one day and you keep selling me on those inviting Otentiks.

    The Tip Trail looks so cool and it was wild indeed to see the waves on one side and the calm waters on the other.

    And I do love a good boardwalk trail. That aerial view you had the boardwalk is awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Point Pelee is a very family friendly park and there’s a nice variety of hiking trails, all of which are relatively flat and easy to navigate. The Marsh Boardwalk is my favourite as I’m such such a fan of wetlands and boardwalks. There’s also an observation tower at the trailhead to get a different perspective of the marsh. Staying in an oTENTik is the only camping option within the park, which I can’t complain about since they’re quite comfortable, even in the winter. I would highly recommend visiting Point Pelee and staying in one of the oTENTiks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ab says:

        I just did a Google Map search. Not bad, 4 hours. 😊

        We’ve started to map out our summer which will include another New Brunswick visit and a weekend in Killarney. Yay! It’s too early to book camping for Labour Day (April 2 start). We have some time end of June that we’re trying to figure out what to do with. So many competing wishes. We’ll add Point Peele to the list too.

        Todays my first day in the office since mid December and sitting on the bus at this moment makes me wistful for summer!

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      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That’s exciting!! I’d love to go back to the east coast, but I hear yah on too many competing wishes. It’s good to start planning things out, especially if you have to book campsites. It’s crazy how competitive certain parks have become. We need to start doing the same. We’re planning on returning to Killarney in the beginning of May (already booked a yurt) and Point Pelee sometime in the fall (I think reservations open in February). We’d like to do some backcountry camping, but I need to still figure out some of the logistics.

        Hope you had a good return to the office. And hey, at least you went in yesterday before the major snowstorm that we’re supposed to get today!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ab says:

        Thanks Linda. Todays another in office day. 😆 Not looking forward to the commute later but this morning should be ok.

        Enjoy Killarney in the spring. I feel like it’s a park you can go to every year and there’s always something new to see.

        Backyard camping sounds awesome. Something we’d like to try when T is a bit older.

        Happy mid week!

        Liked by 1 person

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That’s pretty rough that you had to commute into the office today. I was supposed to go into the office too, but took one look at the weather forecast and thought forget it. Good luck getting home!! Hopefully you can leave a bit early. I think it’s supposed to get bad later in the afternoon.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. The scenery in Point Pelee is beautiful, even when the weather is drab and dreary. It was neat to learn about how this small peninsula is important for many birds, insects and plants. It was pretty wild to see the eastern prickly pear cactus along one of the trails. They actually only grow in two locations in southern Ontario.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh I know. We’ve been trying out some of the roofed accommodations at our provincial and national parks this year, which has been a great way to extend our camping season into the winter. It’s going to be tough to return to our tent! Since Point Pelee is a small park, it’s makes for a great weekend getaway. It’s funny that you brought up Alaska as that’s really high on our travel bucket list. Hopefully someday!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. The downside to visiting in December is that you never know what the weather is going to be like. Even though it was overcast, the trails were quiet and we felt like we had the park all to ourselves, which is just how we like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. ourcrossings says:

    Wow, this looks like a wonderful place to explore, even in the off-season. I am sorry to hear that The Tip Tower was closed and you had no access to it. I bet the views from it are quite spectacular. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Visiting Point Pelee and staying in one of those oTENTiks was a fun weekend adventure. I’m not a fan of the crowds, so prefer to visit in the off-season. While the temperature is cooler and the weather can be unpredictable, it’s nice to have the trails to ourselves. It was unfortunate that the Tip Tower was closed. We’ve climbed it before and it provides a nice panoramic view of the tip of the peninsula. But hey, safety first I guess! Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your week. Linda

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Staying in an oTENTik is such a comfortable and convenient way to camp. They are offered at several of our national parks in Canada. The ones in Point Pelee are winterized and come equipped with a fireplace, which is great when you visit in the winter. It was nice to visit in December as the forest was very peaceful and there weren’t many people on the trails.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      And here I thought cactus only grew in the desert! Apparently the area where they are found in Point Pelee is very dry and sandy. It was such a fun surprise to find them along the trail. It felt really special since they are only found in two locations in Canada.

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  10. Lookoom says:

    It is fortunate that this part of the shoreline has been returned to nature with its special geography. In the summer it is very crowded; I didn’t manage to see the cactus during my visit, I probably didn’t pay enough attention.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. Point Pelee was actually close to being de-listed as a national park as the ecological integrity of the park had been so damaged by all the visitors. The government then took stricter steps to better protect the environment, which involved removing some of the roads, campgrounds and buildings. We’ve never been in the summer, but I can imagine it would be busy since it seems like a great spot to go swimming. We only found the eastern prickly-pear cactus on that one trail (the Cactus Field Footpath). They were surprisingly much smaller than we were expecting and we had to pay close attention to the ground to find them.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That’s exactly it. Point Pelee is teeny tiny and doesn’t have many camping options. It can get busy in the summer as it has a really nice beach, but during the off-season, it’s pretty deserted. No complaints as I’m not a fan of the crowds anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I never would have guessed to find cactus in Canada since our climate is so humid and we tend to have some pretty cold winters. The eastern prickly-pear cactus is only found in two locations in Canada, both of which are on sand spits along the shore of Lake Erie where it’s dry and sandy. It felt pretty special to find some along the trail.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. The Marsh Boardwalk is my favourite trail in the park. It’s neat that there’s even an observation tower at the trailhead which gives you a panoramic view of the wetlands and boardwalk.

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  11. Laura says:

    I visited Point Pelee a couple of times when I was living in Southern Ontario but have not done many of these trails mentioned! The last time I was there, it was Stable fly season which was horrible and I didn’t even make it to the point before having to turn around because I was getting eaten alive haha. Glad you enjoyed your stay there! 😊💗

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh gosh. I imagine Point Pelee can be pretty rough in the spring and early summer with all the mosquitoes and flies given how marshy it is. We’ve only ever visited in the winter to avoid the crowds and the bugs. We’re hoping to return in the fall to catch part of the Monarch migration.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a wonderful weekend getaway. It was very comfortable and cozy inside the oTENTik. It came equipped with a gas fireplace which helped keep us toasty warm. We’ve visited before in the middle of winter and it does a pretty good job of retaining the heat. The floor can get pretty cold though, but we brought an extra pair of shoes to wear inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. rkrontheroad says:

    How interesting that the water was rough on one side and calm on the other. I liked the photo of the driftwood at the beach. I was also wondering about heat in the cabins – did they provide wood to make a fire? Nice hikes, they look like quiet places.

    Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was pretty wild to see how different the water was on either side of the tip of the peninsula. No wonder they don’t allow swimming here. Most of the oTENTiks have a gas fireplace, but there are a few with wood burning fireplaces. I prefer the ones with a gas fireplace as we can just set the temperature on the thermostat and forget it. We’ve stayed here before in the winter and it does a pretty good job of heating up the place. The ground tends to be cold though, so we had to wear our shoes inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. usfman says:

    This park seems very accessible to my birth town of Cleveland Ohio on the south shore of Lake Erie. I don’t care for Detroit so we can just drive through it to the SE to see this beautiful lakeshore. The walks you made seem manageable for a two day visit.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Point Pelee is a lovely spot to visit to enjoy the scenery around Lake Erie. There’s a nice variety of trails, all of which are relatively short and flat. It was crazy to hear about how much the shoreline around Lake Erie has been eroding though.

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  14. wetanddustyroads says:

    Nice – I like your view of sunrise on the beach! And yes, the wavy water on the one side and calmness on the other side – that’s pretty amazing. Oh … and it’s always great to see your lovely oTENTiks and the red chairs in a post 🙂.

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