Cheltenham Badlands in Caledon is one of the most unique natural sites that you will find in Ontario and a great day trip destination for anyone in the Greater Toronto Area.
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This past spring I started research for an Ontario Bucket List article after realizing that we were going to be spending much more time exploring close to home in 2020. When I saw photos of the incredibly unique Cheltenham Badlands, it skyrocketed to the top of my wish list but I was disappointed to learn that the site remained closed to visitors. Fortunately, it reopened in September with new guidelines in place and, in retrospect, I’m glad I had to wait because the site is absolutely gorgeous in the fall when the leaves have turned.
What Are the Cheltenham Badlands?
Once you have either seen a photo or visited The Cheltenham Badlands, you’re first question is likely to be “what caused the Cheltenham Badlands?“. Although the site might look like the set for a movie that takes place on Mars, the rolling red hills and gullies actually formed as the result of erosion accelerated by poor farming practices.
According to the interpretive boards on site, the Cheltenham Badlands is a large expanse of exposed red shale that is part of the Queenston Shale Formation which extends from Western New York to the Bruce Peninsula. This shale bedrock was formed about 450 million years ago when much of the Northern hemisphere was under water. The greenish grey streaks that you see on the badlands are created by groundwater circulating through openings in the shale.
When European settlers arrived in the area, they began clearing the land for homesteads and farms. Until around 1950, the land was used for growing a variety of crops as well as cattle grazing. The removal of trees and other farming practices caused the shallow topsoil to erode away exposing the red shale underneath to the elements. The erosion of the shale was rapidly accelerated by rain, snowmelt and freeze-thaw conditions resulting in the unique ridge and gully landscape of today’s badlands.
The land that the site is on was acquired by the Ontario Heritage Trust in 2002 and it is managed by Credit Valley Conservation and the Bruce Trail Conservancy. The land is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit.
Where Are the Cheltenham Badlands?
The Cheltenham Badlands are located in Caledon, Ontario on the south east side of Olde Base Line Road, between Creditview and Chinguacousy Roads.
How do you get to Cheltenham Badlands from Toronto? From Highway 401 Westbound, take the exit for Highway 410 towards Brampton. Continue on Hurontario Street to Olde Base Line Road in Caledon and turn left. The parking lot is on Olde Base Line Road.
How do you get to Cheltenham Badlands from west of Mississauga? From Highway 403 Eastbound, take the exit for Highway 410 towards Brampton, continue on Hurontario Street to Olde Base Line road in Caledon and turn left. The other option that I used driving from Southeast Oakville is taking Erin Mills Parkway and Mississauga Road all the way north to Olde Base Line Road and turning right – a few minutes slower but a nice country drive.
Visiting the Cheltenham Badlands
As part of the reopening, entry to Cheltenham Badlands is now by reservation only in order to limit the number of visitors and ensure physical distancing. I chose to visit on a weekday as it was much easier to obtain a reservation than on the weekend. Parking is only allowed in the parking lot with a reservation and there is no vehicle stopping or parking allowed along the road.
Reservation time slots are available between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily and may be made up to two weeks in advance of your visit. Make your reservation on the Credit Valley Conservation website. The Cheltenham Badlands site closes for the winter in late October and reopens again in April. The cost for a weekday visit is $8.85 + HST per vehicle and a weekend/holiday visit is $13.27 + HST. Dogs are permitted but must be on leash at all times. Portable Toilets are available in the parking lot.
At one time visitors were able to walk on the badlands, however, it was determined that this practice was causing further erosion and the site was closed for a conservation project in 2015. It reopened in 2018 with an accessible viewing platform (60 m) in place and visitors are now required to stay on the platform or trails at all times to prevent damage to the landscape.
There are two trails at the park – the Badlands Trail and the Bruce Trail – and both are easy enough for beginners. Typically, one would access the Bruce Trail from the parking lot and walk to the Badlands Trail which connects it to the viewing platform, however, that access was closed the day I visited so I had to walk up the road and start at the viewing platform. The trails can be slick and muddy particularly if it has been raining so be sure to wear appropriate footwear
The Badlands Trail is 0.32 km and takes approximately 5-10 minutes. The portion of the Bruce Trail on site is 1.3 km and takes 20-30 minutes one way.
A visit to Cheltenham Badlands is currently restricted to 90 minutes but that is more than enough time to see the landscape and take photos from the viewing platform, walk the Cheltenham Badlands Trail and even hike the section of the Bruce Trail. I spent about 45 minutes or so taking photos and going for a short walk. I was by myself and it started raining unexpectedly while I was there so I didn’t hike too far on the Bruce Trail.
Things To Do Nearby
As your time at Cheltenham Badlands is limited to 90 minutes, it’s easy to combine with a visit to another conservation area nearby. Both Belfountain Conservation Area (entry currently by reservation only) and Terra Cotta Conservation Area (visitor and parking capacity limited currently in place) are just a short drive away.
If you’re visiting during the fall then you will enjoy a drive through Caledon to see some of the most incredible fall foliage in the province.
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