Three's a Charm in Ontario

Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park

Ouimet Canyon is a great gorge 150 meters across and 100 meters deep, cut by ice, rain, and wind over the course of eons. The canyon walls are made of large columns of diabase rock, arranged in a pattern of near vertical joints. The formation began over a billion years ago, when magma rose beneath the earth's surface and flowed horizontally, about a half-mile under the surface, forming a large sill. After cooling, the magma became the hard rock called diabase. As the softer rocks above were eroded away, the diabase sill became exposed.

Roughly one million years ago, glaciers came through the area, and large portions of the sill were broken under the weight of the ice. When the glaciers retreated, the land went through many cycles of freezing and thawing, thereby chiseling out the crack in the sill that became Ouimet Canyon.

The canyon bottom has a modified climate that sees little sunlight, and snow there lasts until late spring. The canyon walls also trap cold pockets of air, creating an environment suitable for Arctic plants. In fact, three species of Arctic plants—the Arctic Pyrola, a moss called Aulacomnium acuminatum, and a liverwort known as Temnome setiforme—are all found here at the southern-most extent of their range. The canyon also hosts several other rare Arctic and sub-Arctic species such as arctic wintergreen, saxifrage, and a variety of lichens. These plants represent relic communities, survivors from a period when the local climate was colder due to glacial conditions. Outside of the canyon, plants typical of the boreal forest are present, including jack pine, black and white spruce, balsam fir, and white birch.

An easy one-kilometer loop leaves from the parking area to two viewing decks that extend beyond the sheer cliff faces of the canyon. Hiking to and along the canyon bottom is restricted due to the fragile nature of the ecosystem.

Ouimet Canyon is a day-use park only, open for visitation through mid-October. A small fee is charged.

How to Get There

From Sleeping Giant Provincial park, continue northeast from the Sibley Peninsula on Highway 17/11 about thirty five miles to the spur road leading to Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 2 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »