Crawford Lake Conservation Area, one of eight Conservation Halton Parks, can be visited in any season to explore the trails, enjoy outdoor activities and learn about First Nations history at the Iroquoian Longhouse Village.
Most recent update: October 1, 2023
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Visiting Crawford Lake Conservation Area
Crawford Lake Conservation Area in Milton, Ontario is one of the region’s best destinations to enjoy some time spent immersed in nature at any time of year. The 232 hectare park located along the Niagara Escarpment was established in 1969 and offers approximately 19 km of hiking trails connected to the Bruce Trail.
There are trails open for hiking during the spring, summer and fall seasons and in winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In the winter there are sometimes even Moonlight Guided Snowshoe Hikes.
Typically there is a slate of activities, events and educational programs taking place at Crawford Lake as well including Longhouse tours, guided hikes and more. There is also a Visitor Centre & Gift Shop and public washrooms.
What Type of Lake is Crawford Lake?
Crawford Lake is a rare meromictic lake which means that it has layers of water that do not intermix whereas in a typical lake there is a physical mixing of the surface and deep waters at least once a year. Crawford Lake is deeper than its surface area, so the lowest levels of water are very rarely disturbed, and little oxygen reaches the lowest levels.
The unique qualities of this lake led to an important discovery relating to the history of First Nations in the area. Scientists found ancient corn pollen deep in the sediment of Crawford Lake which indicated the presence of settlements and led to the conclusion that First Nations had settled the area over 600 years ago.
Crawford Lake made the news in the summer of 2023 when a group of scientists called the Anthropocene Working Group announced at a media conference in Berlin that they had picked the bottom of Crawford Lake in Ontario as the “golden spike” to mark the start of a new proposed geological epoch — the Anthropocene.
Many people ask can you swim in Crawford Lake? The answer is no! Swimming is not permitted in Crawford Lake because it is a rare meromictic lake and a habitat for many species. Swimming in the lake (or allowing a dog to swim in the lake) would be disruptive to this habitat.
How to Get to Crawford Lake
Crawford Lake Conservation Area is located at 3115 Conservation Road in Milton south of Highway 401 and east of Guelph Line.
The park is open 9:00 am – 7:00 pm Monday – Sunday (May to October). Park hours vary by season – check the Conservation Halton website for details. Longhouse Village and the Visitor Centre are open 10am – 4pm (varies seasonally).
Planning a Visit to Crawford Lake
Reservations are not currently required for visiting Crawford Lake Conservation Area but are recommended. If you book online, you can reserve your spot and save money on gate fees. Gate attendants are on duty Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm at all Halton Conservation Parks with the exception of Mount Nemo. On weekends gate attendants are staffed daily.
Reservations are rain or shine, however, changes can be made up to 1 hour prior to your scheduled visit. Refunds can be issued up to 48 hours prior to your visit.
During my most recent visit, there was still a 2 hour time limit and I was able to complete two trails and tour the Iroquoian Village during that time frame. Ideally I would have liked to have a bit more time as my tour of the longhouses was a bit rushed but two hours is a reasonable length of time for a visit. You can spend as much time at Crawford Lake as you like now that time limits have been removed.
Crawford Lake Hiking Trails
There are several hiking trails at Crawford Lake of varying difficulties. The Crawford Lake Trail (1 km) and the Woodland Trail (1.5 km) are both rated as easy trails, the Pine Ridge Trail (3.6 km) and the Escarpment Trail (2.4 km) are both rated moderate and the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail (4.7 km each direction or 9.4 km round trip) is rated as the most strenuous trail. Some of the trails also connect to the Bruce Trail.
On a recent visit, I hiked the Crawford Lake Trail first and then hiked the Escarpment Trail and spent approximately 1.5 hours in total.
Crawford Lake Trail
The Crawford Lake Trail is approximately 1 km in length and, as it is mostly on an elevated wooden boardwalk through the woods around the lake, is easy enough for most anyone to walk or possibly even push a stroller.
The beginning portion of the trail before reaching the lake and the boardwalk includes the Hide and Seek Trail of wooden animal carvings which is great for a scavenger hunt with kids.
The Niagara Escarpment Trail is a loop trail that winds it’s way through the woodlands to the Nassagaweya Canyon Lookout where there’s a spectacular view of the canyon and the Niagara Escarpment. It’s particularly beautiful in the fall when the leaves are changing colour. I was there a bit past peak leaf viewing season but it was still quite beautiful.
The first part of the loop in the direction that I was travelling was very flat and an easy walk until the Lookout. Past the Lookout, however, the trail became quite rocky and was a more challenging and strenuous hike.
Be sure to wear proper footwear as the footing is uneven and can be slippery. It had rained for a couple of days prior to my visit so the rocks were slippery plus there were a lot of wet leaves on the ground as well. I would have liked to have been wearing proper hiking boots instead of just running shoes as I was hiking by myself and a bit worried about slipping and falling on the rocky terrain. (I completed this trail on another hike with my husband and it was much easier when dry!)
Nassagaweya Canyon Trail
The Nassagaweya Canyon was created millions of years ago by rivers carving through the massive sedimentary rock. Today Limestone Creek winds along the bottom of the canyon and hikers on the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail are able to descend into the canyon as they travel between Crawford Lake and Rattlesnake Point.
The Nassagaweya Canyon Trail which connects Crawford Lake to Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area is not a loop and is 4.7 kilometres in each direction so a round trip of 9.4 km which takes an estimated 4-5 hours to complete. The trail has a 3 rating which is the most strenuous as it is longer than 5 km and may be uneven with steep sections and narrow places with tight turns.
I haven’t yet completed this trail as it had been closed for some time since it couldn’t be completed during a 2 hour timeframe. Now that the time limit on visits has been removed I plan to hike at least a portion of it on an upcoming visit.
Crawford Lake Iroquoian Village
After hiking, I spent some time exploring the reconstructed 15th century Iroquoian Village at Crawford Lake. Between 1973 and 1987, excavations on this site uncovered 11 longhouses and over 10,000 artefacts from the daily lives of the Iroquoian people who made their homes here. Three of these longhouses have been reconstructed and are open to visitors.
Visitors can wander around the village and learn about what life was like here 600 years ago. There are artefacts on display in the longhouses and interpretive programs and demonstrations to educate visitors about the history of the First Nations. Crawford Lake is a popular field trip for local schools but I somehow missed out on this one with both of my girls.
The Deer Clan Longhouse also features seasonal exhibits that explore contemporary Indigenous art and culture. The exhibit on display during my most recent visit was Haudenosaunee Clans…Extended Families of the Iroquois which was quite interesting.
Conservation Halton Parks
There are now eight Conservation Halton Parks: Rattlesnake Point; Hilton Falls; Mount Nemo; Crawford Lake; Robert Edmondson; Mountsberg; Kelso (including Glen Eden in winter) and the newest park which is still known as Area 8.
Although I have lived in the region for more than 20 years, I hadn’t visited any of the parks until the Covid shutdown in 2020. During that time that we were limited in our travels, we started exploring more close to home and taking advantage of all the beautiful places in our region including our conservation areas and continued to do so after the world opened up again.
At various times of the year we have visited Hilton Falls, Robert Edmondson, Crawford Lake, Kelso, Mountsberg, Rattlesnake Point and Mount Nemo (some multiple times) but have yet to visit Area 8. Sunday hiking has become our favourite activity so we’ll continue to explore the parks to get that nature fix that we all need.
The current fee for a visit to the parks is $10.50 + HST per adult when purchased online and $12 + HST when purchased at the gate with reduced fees for seniors (65+) and children (ages 5-14). Admission is free for children under 5. There is no longer a time restriction on your visit – you can stay until the park closes.
There is a Conservation Halton Park Membership available for purchase which includes admission to all 8 of the parks year-round. Members do not need to make a reservation online before visiting the parks. The cost of a membership is currently $105 +HST for an individual and $165 +HST for a vehicle membership (replaces the former “family” membership and covers admission for all occupants in a personal vehicle). There are also individual and vehicle memberships for seniors at a reduced price. We purchased and used it many times so it is definitely economical if you plan frequent visits.
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