Thanks to the Parks Canada Discovery Pass national parks in Canada had free entry last year. My girlfriend and I wanted to take advantage of this pass so we decided to explore some of the national parks close to home.
Just a short drive from Hamilton and Toronto is the Point Pelee National Park.
The park is located closest to the small town of Leamington. London and Chatham are also easily accessible.
In case you’re unaware, Point Pelee is the southernmost point in all of Canada. It’s just as far south as Barcelona and Northern California! This is one of those bucket list destinations here in Ontario that is definitely worth checking out.
Visiting the park provides a unique experience to see a range of different outdoor habitats. At Point Pelee you can explore sandy beaches, wet marshlands, and dense Carolinian Forest at your leisure.
It’s so close to most of us here in Ontario. If you’re looking to explore somewhere new then hop in your car and make your way to Leamington!
In this post I want to share my experience at the Point Pelee National Park. I also want to go over some helpful tips for visiting the park and what you can expect during your trip.
A Trip to Point Pelee National Park in Ontario
Quick Look at the Park
Of all of the national parks in Canada, Point Pelee is one of the smallest. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the most ecologically diverse.
Visiting the park you rewarded with a trip to the southernmost point in Canada. This is just one of the many highlights of visiting Point Pelee. As long as you enjoy spending time outdoors and you’re interested in learning more about local nature you’ll have a great time at the park.
Like I mentioned in the introduction, the park is home to a wide range of different natural habitats.
It’s dominated by marshland that covers more than 70% of the park. This Marshland is one of the main reasons why Point Pelee is designated as a Wetland of International Significance!
You’ll also find Carolinian Forests and sandy beaches at the park. The forests and beaches are what you’ll notice the most although you will get an introduction to the vast marshes.
Point Pelee was established as a national park in 1918. It was the first national park to be established for conservation in the country.
These days people are visiting to spend time at the beach, explore the marshland, or to make their way to the southernmost point.
I visited the park in August and it wasn’t as busy as I expected. Try to arrive as early in the day for a quieter experience and to get the best photos.
What to Do at Point Pelee
The Marsh Boardwalk
One of the highlights of the National Park is the Marsh Boardwalk. This is a 1.5 kilometer long raised wooden walkway through the marsh.
At a leisurely pace it should take about 25 minutes to walk the entire loop. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to stop and explore the marsh or take some photos.
During my August visit the marsh was full of plants and buzzing with insects. I saw a number of turtles and large frogs as well.
If you don’t feel like walking you can rent a canoe or kayak from the Visitor Center beside the parking lot. This way you can explore the marsh from the water for an even more unique perspective of the landscape.
There are guided canoe tours every day in July and August. This is a good option if you don’t want to explore the marsh on your own.
At the Marsh Center you can also find more information about the marsh or ask the Rangers any questions you might have.
Interesting fact: this is one of the last freshwater marshes still remaining anywhere on the Great Lakes.
When you’re done the boardwalk loop climb up to the top of the observation tower.
From here you’ll have the best view of the marsh and you’ll get a better idea of its massive size.
The Southern Tip of Canada
As a Canadian myself even I was surprised to find out how far south Canada really stretches.
At the southernmost point in Canada you’re standing below the 42nd parallel. This puts you just as far south as Northern California and European cities like Rome and Barcelona. No wonder it gets so hot here in the summer!
The southerly climate experienced at Point Pelee is the main reason why there are so many rare plants and animals at the park. Some of the wildlife in plant life found here aren’t found anywhere else in all of Canada!
Everything about visiting the southernmost point is amazing and Parks Canada really knows how to run the show.
After parking at the Visitors Centre you can start making your way to the southernmost point. There are two options to get there – walk a 2.5km trail or hop on to a free shuttle.
In August with the heat and humidity my girlfriend and I decided to take the shuttle. We ended up having to wait 20-minutes for enough people to show up for a full shuttle run. It was a short drive to the tip and from there it was just a 10 minute walk to the southernmost point.
Walking out to the tip starts with a scenic trail through a forested area. After a short while the trail makes its way onto the beach. From here you walk along Lake Erie until you reach the southernmost point in all of Canada!
At the tip you can look out onto the water and know that you’re probably the southernmost person in the country at that moment. How cool is that?
There really isn’t much to do apart from enjoy the view of the beautiful surrounding scenery. I took a few steps into the water for a better photo although this isn’t recommended because of the tides and fast moving current.
Spend Time at the Visitor Center
Once you’re done with the photos and exploring the point it’s time to head back to the visitor center.
Spend some time at the Visitor Centre and check out all of the different exhibits.
There is a lot to learn about Point Pelee and the exhibits cover some important information about the park.
With the Marsh Boardwalk and southernmost point out of the way you can now explore the rest of Point Pelee!
Explore the Hiking Trails
There are a number of different hiking trails at Point Pelee. Most of the park is accessible by foot or bicycle so it’s really easy to get around.
Hiking is going to reward you with some of the best views and other areas of natural beauty at the park. Many visitors head to the tip and boardwalk without exploring much else. This leaves the rest of the park waiting to be discovered!
The trails are accessible from parking lots and well-marked trailheads. I recommend picking up a map at one of the visitor centers to give you a better idea of where to go.
Regardless of which trail you choose you’ll be hiking through beautiful landscapes and natural habitats. You’ll get the chance to explore marshes, forests, beaches, and you might even see a cactus or two!
Bird lovers are especially going to want to spend some time on these Trails. Birds from all over North America use Point Pelee as a landing point on their southerly routes. It’s a popular bird-watching destination for a reason!
Photograph the Night Sky
The Point Pelee National Park is one of the few Dark Sky Preserves in Ontario. You can find another one a few hours north at the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve in Muskoka.
On certain nights throughout the year you can visit the park to admire the beautiful night sky above you.
Light pollution isn’t as bad here as in neighboring cities and other areas. This makes the park a great place to photograph the night sky and stargaze.
On these nights local astronomers will be sharing information on the location of constellations and other important stars and sights.
At the visitor center you’ll be able to learn more about what happens at the park during the night.
There are exhibits about nocturnal wildlife such as bats, owls, and other critters. You can even go on a canoe ride on the marsh if you’re so inclined!
Spot Some Wildlife
Point Pelee has a lot to offer when it comes to wildlife. There’s a good chance you’ll see a number of different birds and small mammals during your trip.
At the park more than 300 species of birds have been spotted. During the spring hundreds of thousands of birds fill the sky as they begin their migration. This is a popular time to visit for bird watchers and it makes for a unique experience to see all the different birds.
Small mammals such as fox, skunk, coyote, squirrels, and chipmunks can be found in abundance at the park. Deer have been known to venture out into the shallows and even towards the tip. You might get lucky and spot a deer when you’re hiking around!
Reptiles such as snakes, small lizards, and turtles also call the park their home. These are harder to find so you still might run into a turtle or two in the spring or summer.
While birds are the most popular form of wildlife here at the park there’s a good chance you’ll see something else!
Where to Stay
The park is located closest to the small town of Leamington. Options for dining and accommodation here are limited, especially if you’re not camping.
During my trip to Point Pelee my girlfriend and I stayed in Chatham. We used it as a base to explore Essex County and the surrounding area. It’s about a 55 minute drive to the park from Chatham
For accommodation we spent two nights at the lovely Retro Suites Hotel. This is a boutique hotel downtown with free parking and easy access everything nearby.
Take a look at my Retro Suites Hotel review for a better look. It’s definitely where I would recommend staying if you’re planning a visit to Southwestern Ontario.