Situated along the
beautiful Lake Erie, Point Pelee is notable for being the most
southern point in mainland Canada. As such, the area benefits
greatly from the resulting milder winters and longer growing seasons
Point Pelee National Park, where the tip or point is actually located,
has been a protected nature preserve since 1918. At that time, much of
the park was inhabited by hunters and farmers, known as The Pointers.
Today, no one lives inside the park boundaries and the area has become
a safe haven for many wildlife species. Every year, thousands of song
birds, butterflies, dragonflies and bats migrate to the area from
locations further north. Somewhat hesitant to cross the open water
of Lake Erie, they stop and make their home in the park. The Festival
of Birds celebrates this amazing natural phenomenon each May.
To get to Point Pelee, travel west along highway 401 almost to Windsor
and turn south on highway 77. This will take you into the town of
Leamington. A more scenic route, though a little slower traveling, is
possible by taking any of the smaller highways south after you pass
London until you reach Hwy 3. Then travel west until you reach Leamington.
This route will take you through numerous small towns and along the
waters of Lake Erie in some places.
Leamington - The Tomato Capital of Canada
Where else but in the Tomato Capital of Canada would you expect to find
the head office of Heinz Ketchup. You wonít be in Leamington long before
you realize tomatoes are big business here. If youíre planning a trip
in August, try to arrange it around the annual Tomato Festival.
Driving around the Leamington area, you will be astounded by the number
of greenhouses. There are over 800 acres "under glass". Besides growing
tomatoes, both cucumbers and flowers account for a large number of the
greenhouse crops. But many other vegetables are grown here as wellÖ and
grow well due to the southern latitude. Itís been said that if it
doesnít grow in Leamington, it wonít grow anywhere else in Canada!
In addition to crops, the area is home to over 700 different plant species.
Forming part of the Carolinian forestís northern border, many species of
plants will not grow anywhere else in Canada. This is a naturalist paradise.
Besides the abundant plant life, more that 300 species of birds have been
recorded in Point Pelee. And in September, many naturalists from around the
world flock to the area to witness the Monarch butterfly migration.
World Famous for Finding Nature
From my perspective, there are two reasons why you would want to visit
Point Pelee, and the National Park in particular (though there might be other reasonsÖ you may
really enjoy tomatoes as my wife does). First, there is something
curiously fascinating about standing on the very southern tip of
Canada. That youíre standing in the same latitude as places like
northern California or Rome. The other reason you want to come here
is to be one with all this nature. Whether you want to get involved
in physical activity, relax under a tree or enjoy a nice picnic, there
are many ways to explore, discover and connect with all the parks
Our adventure to Point Pelee began with a 10 to 15 minute drive from
Leamington, through open country side, until we hit the shores of
Lake Erie. From here to the entrance of Point Pelee National Park,
the roadsides are lined with cottages. (Once inside the park, youíll
no longer find any cottages as they were all removed from the park
in the 1960ís in an effort to preserve the natural environment.) Being
a national park, an admission fee is required. On entering, we are
informed that today there is no swimming allowed in the park. Which
for us was okay, as we werenít planning on swimming anyway. If you
are planning on going to one of the many beaches to swim, you might
want to call ahead to check that the beaches are actually open for
swimming. You can reach the park at 519-322-2365 or visit
Once inside the park, thereís really only one way to go. We figured we
would start out at the tip and make our way back up, stopping at the
various attractions along the way. Of course, you canít drive all the
way to the tip of Point Pelee. If everyone did, it would be awfully
crowded there. The furthest one can drive is to the visitor center,
which is about three kilometers from the tip. From here you can hike,
bike or jump on one of the free shuttle trolleys going back and forth
between the tip and visitor center every 20 minutes. We made it to the visitor center just as the
shuttle was about to leave, so we hopped on. Itís a quick ride to the
drop off point near the tip. From here, thereís a short walk out to
the sandspit and the tip of Point Pelee.
Remember the Scoutís Motto - Be Prepared
Now hopefully, before youíve made it this far, youíve come prepared.
This area is filled with little black flies, or Stable Flies. They
look much like regular house flies, except theyíre a little smallerÖ
and they bite! They are attracted to exposed skin and dark clothing,
so wear light coloured clothing consisting of long pants and long
sleeved shirts or jackets. Also, donít use insect repellent. They
seem to be attracted to the scent rather than repelled by it. As
you might imagine, our traveling companions were quite pleased I
decided to wear black shorts and a short sleeved shirt. To top it
off, I put insect repellent on as well. As a result, our traveling
companions were hardly bothered.
So, now weíve made it out to the sandspit area and make our way to the
tip. First thing you will notice is the difference in water current
on both sides of the spit. The east side is exposed to heavy currents
and appears more weather beaten than the west side just a few meters
away. The water on the west side is very calm. However, on either
side youíre not allowed to swim at any time. As with almost everyone
who comes to the area, we made our way out to the very tip and snapped
a few pictures of each other.
Back at the visitor center itís time to relax a bit and tour the short
exhibit on the parks history. If you have any questions, the staff here
are friendly and knowledgeable. Here youíll also be entertained by a
theatre show on the park. Thereís a book store, the Nature Nook, where y
ou can pick up some of the Point Pelee National Park nature series books.
And for the kids, thereís a nature discovery room where I found an
interesting display on solar and wind powered energy.
A Trail to Remember
From the visitorís center, you will find access
to six or seven themed hiking trails covering over 12 kilometers of
walking distance. From the DeLaurier House and Trail you will venture
through cedar savannahs, drylands and swamp forests. The DeLaurier
Trail features a restored house and barn with exhibits and artifacts
dating back to an era long gone. The Chinquapin Trail provides access
to an old cemetery and leads to the White Pine picnic areaÖ a great
place to stop for lunch. Most of the trails are relatively short;
about 1 kilometer for a return trip.
Making our way back up to the Marsh Boardwalk, we pass numerous stop
off points providing ample opportunity for swimming (when allowed),
hiking, picnics or just relaxing and discovering. Theirs West Beach,
White Pine, Black Willow Beach, Sleepy Hollow and The Dunes. All
situated between the visitor center and the Marsh Boardwalk.
The Marsh Boardwalk
features a 1.4 kilometer long floating boardwalk which tunnels through
a seemlingly endless forest of cattails. All along the walk, you will
want to search for toads, turtles and fish in the waters underneath.
There are two tall observation towers, one at the beginning of the
boardwalk and another situated in the middle of the marsh. Here you
will also find the Cattail Cafť. This is the only location in the
park that serves foodÖ mostly canteen style burgers, or chips, pop
and ice cream. You can also rent bicycles and canoes here. If this
is your starting off point, why not rent a bicycle here and take
the Centennial Bike Trail all the way down to the visitor center
about 4 kilometers away.
Another popular location in the area is Point Pelee Island. It takes
about 1.5 hours each way by ferry to access the island. The island
offers more opportunity for biking or hiking. Given the time of day,
we decided not to go the island this trip.
Point Pelee Winery
Still with plenty of time left in the day, we
decide to make the trip into Kingsville, a short drive west of Leamington.
Our mission was to get a quick bite to eat and check out the Point Pelee
Winery. We arrived at the winery just as the tour was getting under way.
If you like wine but have never been to a winery, Iíd recommend taking a
tour at least once. Youíll learn lots about how wines are made and
perfected. Essentially, they are all made the same way (though the
wineries might disagree) so you really only want to go on more than
one tour for the wine tasting at the end.
The Point Pelee
Winery adds a nice touch by providing a souvenir wine glass with
payment of the tour fee. The glass also acts as a way for the tour
guides to identify those that just happen to tag along with the tour
but didnít pay the fee. The tour itself last about 30 minutes, after
which we entered the wine tasting room in the cellar to watch a short
film on the making of Point Pelee wine. Interestingly, all the grapes
are not grown on the property where the winery sits. The grapes are
grown on Point Pelee Island. The instructional film will tell you why
itís best to grown grapes there than anywhere else.
Following the film, you will be given the chance to taste five or six
select wines. The tour guides will advise you on the proper way to hold
your wine glass, inspect the wine, smell and finally taste the wine. If
youíre like me, this is where you can actually learn to distinguish one
wine taste from another. Soon, everyone has decided on which is their
favorite of the wines tasted. The tour ends and we ascend back into
the retail part of the winery. Sure enough, to purchase our favorite
from the tasting just minutes before.
Colasantiís Tropical Gardens
Just before heading home, we wanted to stop at Colasantiís Tropical
Gardens. The brochure we picked up at the hotel promoted a tropical
wonderland for the entire family. And admission was free. Well, if you
plan to make this one of your stops, donít be fooled by the free
admission part. For sure admission is free, but this is not the botanical
garden you are lead to believe. This is actually a retail nursery.
Mind you, itís a huge nursery with a wonderful selection of tropical
plants for purchase. Thereís also a petting zoo, pony rides for the
kids, gift shops, restaurants and an 18 hole miniature golf course.
All housed indoors under three acres of glass. Oh, and all these
extras are not free. For more information, you can check them out
Locate Point Pelee with MapQuest.