Whenever I travel, I am always on the lookout for a new adventure or activity, and I managed to find one in my own backyard. If you are visiting Ontario, Canada and want to see a rare ecological gem, I recommend visiting Ontario’s only badland, known as the Cheltenham Badlands. Say what you ask! Let me explain, by providing a bit of history on how and what a badland is.
WHAT IS A BADLAND
Badlands are located in dry areas where sedimentary rock and clay-rich soils have been eroded by wind and water. They are known to be some of the most naturally breathtaking terrains found on earth today and remain a rare ecological gem. Believe me when I say that you will recognize a badland when you see one.
HOW DID THE NAME “BADLAND” COME ABOUT
Due to the extreme conditions of high temperatures, lack of water and difficult terrain, the Lakota people referred to these lands as “mako siko” or “land bad”. The French Canadian fur trappers referred to it as “les mauvais terres pour travers”, or bad lands to travel through. Hence, the name badlands came to life and they continue to remain known as that to this day.
During the time the badlands were forming, as far back as 75 million years ago, wildlife became trapped under the soft rock layers which eventually formed into fossils. To this day, geologists and scientists continue to examine the fossils formed in the badlands in order to get a better understanding as to what inhabited our earth during pre-historic times.
WHERE CAN I FIND A BADLAND
While badlands can still be found across the world, including countries such as Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina, they remain most prominent in Canada and the United States.
In Canada they are prominent in the western part of the Country, with the Big Muddy Badlands being located in Saskatchewan and Dinosaur National Park located in Alberta. The Dinosaur National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Numerous badlands can also be found in the United States:
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has the Chinle Badlands in Utah
- Makoshika State Park is in Montana
- The Toadstool Geologic Park is in Nebraska
- El Malpais National Monument is in New Mexico
The Cheltenham Badlands are the only badlands that can be found in Ontario, Canada. They are located a short hour and a half drive from Toronto along the Niagara Escarpment. While they are not near as large as other badlands found throughout Canada and the United States, the Cheltenham Badlands will provide you with with a glimpse of Ontario’s geological history, and are an absolute must to see!
At one point in time, a river occupied the area that the Cheltenham Badlands are situated today. As you follow the trails, and take in the shapes and forms of the badlands, the history of the river seems to come to life. It is believed that poor farming practices eventually led to the erosion of the soil which then exposed the underlying shale.
Due to the damage being made and the sensitivity of this geological treasure, it was necessary to close the area to visitors and tourists. During the time the badlands remained closed, a viewing deck, educational signage, boardwalks and marked trails were installed. This will allow this geological gem to be preserved for future generations to come. The geological site was re-opened in the Fall of 2018, but all visitors must now remain on the marked trails and take in the badlands from the viewing deck.
Location and Hours of Operation
Location: 1739 Old Base Line Road, Caledon, Ontario
Hours of Operation
- Summer: May 13th – August 18th 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- Later Summer: August 19th – September 17th 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- Fall: September 16th – October 27th 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
- Winter: October 28th – April 18th CLOSED
It is highly recommended that you visit in the badlands during non-peak times, so that you are able to get parking. Parking is limited and will only accommodate up to 33 vehicles. A fee of $6.50 for 1 hour or $10.00 for two hours is charged, which is used to off-set the cost of the park maintenance. Parking is not allowed along the street and is highly enforced.
If you are unable to find parking directly at the Cheltenham Badlands, shuttle service is available on weekends and holidays from Terra Cotta Conservation area. The shuttle is free of charge when you purchase a pass to Terra Cotta Conservation.
Shuttle Hours and Times on Weekends and Holidays:
June 1st – October 27th between 10:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
If you are planning on visiting the badlands, one hour is more than enough time, but if you also plan on hitting the trails, at least two hours will be needed. To plan your visit to the Cheltenham Badlands, click here.
There are two trails which run through the Cheltenham Badlands. The Bruce Trail (1,330 m) and the Badlands Trail (325 m):
Badlands Trail: this trail is ranked as a beginner trail, and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The trail offers scenic views throughout and is frequented by casual hikers, walkers, birding and nature lovers in general. It is a 2 km. (1.25 miles) round trip.
Bruce Trail: the Bruce Trail runs through the badlands area and is part of a much longer trail expanding 900 km (559.25 miles), from Queenston, Ontario, at the southern end, to Tobermory, at the northern end. This trail is one of 13 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves. You are able to observe the badlands by connecting to the Badlands Trail, which will take you to the viewing platform.
If you haven’t seen this geological wonder, I encourage you to take 2 hours out of your day to visit the Cheltenham Badlands, an Ontario heritage site, just to get a small glimpse of this Ontario gem. This little taste of the badlands has given me a huge thirst to see more.
“The Cheltenham Badlands offer an extraordinary glimpse into the history of Ontario’s natural landscape. By protecting the site, installing a boardwalk, and improving safety with a parking lot, visitors can better enjoy this exceptional tourism destination. It is important to protect this natural heritage property and promote its conservation so the Badlands can be enjoyed for years to come.” – The Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport