A few days ago, I made it to the last of the Halton Region Conservation Parks which lie along the Niagara Escarpment. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Crawford Lake, although it does have some more typically rugged hiking trails, has two substantial walking paths geared to allow even people of limited mobility to experience the unique geology of the Escarpment region at close quarters.
First, consider the lake itself. Crawford Lake is a smallish lake atop the Escarpment which has one very unusual feature -- it is considerably deeper than its width. A lake of this type is called a meromictic lake.
Because of this depth, the bottom of the lake is both very dark and consistently cold at all times. Unlike most wider lakes, the different layers of water do not ever mix, and the deeper water contains very little free oxygen -- somewhat like a deep ocean environment. Due to the lack of mixing, the sediments settle evenly on the bottom of the lake. There, they can be analyzed and dated on a year-by-year basis, revealing all kinds of useful scientific and archaeological information about the environmental and human history of the lake and its shore lands.
But this is still Escarpment Country, and that means the usual accumulation of rugged, exposed rock layers along the ground surface. The solution is simple. The entire "trail" around the lake runs on an elevated wooden walkway with railings along both sides.
Although this walkway "trail" has its ups and downs, these would pose no problem other than slowing some walkers down. There are no steps involved, just ramps, and even those are not unduly steep. At this time, due to Covid-19 and the need for social distancing, the circle trail around the lake is "one way only" -- counter-clockwise, as shown by the arrows I've added on the website's trail map here.
The "X" markings on the map show two places where trails are closed -- the lengthy trail down into the Nassagaweya Canyon because it's impossible to hike it within the current two-hour limits on visit time, and the short connector between the two sides at the north end of the lake as well (although I am not sure why this one is closed).
If you read my previous post about Mount Nemo Conservation Area, and looked at the trail map there, you'll readily see a major difference -- Crawford Lake does not have any of those handy trail indicator posts with their numbered labels. In fact, this park has almost no trail signage of any kind at all. Bringing along a map like this one is suddenly critically important! For a first-timer, it's helpful to know the most direct route to get onto the trail to the lake.
From the upper parking area by the Iroquoian Village (more on that a little later), go down the flight of stairs immediately to the left of the visitor centre building. At the bottom of the steps, simply follow the paved path directly in front of you on down the hill. This is the short black trail shown on the map to the east of the visitor centre. It's a continuous moderate down-grade, so handle with caution with strollers, walkers, and the like.
Take the first junction on the right hand side, and you're now on the gravelled blue trail towards the lake. The picture at the beginning of the post shows how the lake appears as you first approach the shore.
Signs direct you to the right and you walk up a short hill to reach the beginning of the boardwalk around the lake. These pictures give you an impression of the ups and downs of the walkway, the expanded rest areas which occur at regular intervals (and allow faster walkers to pass slower ones), and the mixture of rock outcroppings, dried pine needles, uniquely-shaped trees, and wetlands which can be seen along the walkway as you proceed.
At the far end of the lake trail, this ramp and viewpoint by the lakeshore was unfortunately included in the closed section. Pity.
Because of the trail closure, I proceeded straight ahead to the junction of the Woodland Trail and turned right. This is basically a gravelled continuation of the path down from the parking area to the lake -- broad, mostly level, only the occasional rock breaking the surface of the path, and altogether a very easy walk east to the 4-way junction, and then north along the Escarpment Trail to the lookout point.
The Escarpment Trail as far as the lookout, by the way, is even straighter and smoother than this bit, and yet it's rated by Halton Parks as a Level 2 difficulty. Now, remember this one from my previous visit to Mount Nemo?
This steep rock staircase, with its assist chain fastened around the huge boulder, is also rated as a Level 2 trail. After visiting Crawford Lake, and enjoying an easy stroll out to the lookout and back along that broad, smooth walkway, I'm more convinced than ever that Conservation Halton needs to rethink their rating system to take much more account of the difficulty of walking on the various trails. At present, it's plain that length of trail is the pretty much the sole consideration.
Along the way to the lookout, you enter a dense belt of old-growth forest shortly before reaching the Escarpment's edge, and there again I encountered some white trilliums, just a few of them, in their customary shady nooks under the tall old trees.
The southeast end of the Outlier's cliffs, to the far right of the viewpoint, is the location of Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, which I visited back in the late summer of 2020. Here's a link to that blog post:
And now, upon returning to the parking lot, let's take a quick look at the Iroquoian Village. The three longhouses of this reconstruction were inspired by the archaeological discoveries made at the bottom of the lake, and in the surrounding area. The reconstruction was guided not only by that data but also by oral records of the Iroquoian peoples, with some help from written historic records. In normal times, the longhouses present static displays and living re-creations of traditional life and activities. Sadly, the village is closed now because of the pandemic, but I will look forward to spending some time there in future.
To close this visit to Crawford Lake, I just want to re-emphasize that here is a conservation park with a good selection of trails suitable for people of limited mobility -- not least that fascinating boardwalk around the lake itself.
Here's my usual locator map, showing the approximate location of Crawford Lake:
And finally, a reminder that Crawford Lake, like all the Conservation Halton Parks, continues to require advance reservations for all visitors due to the pandemic -- this to help control visitor numbers and avoid overcrowding at popular times. You can make advance reservations up to the day of your visit, if times are available (they're usually booked completely on weekends). You prepay your fees when you reserve. On arrival, the gate attendant scans your licence plate, verifies the number of people in the vehicle, and then waves you through. Here's the link for making reservations: