From across Ontario, hikers will be strolling through Haliburton County’s forests, clambering across remote rocky shores, and even watching a plein air dance troupe while summer comes to a close.

Hike Haliburton, a yearly festival of guided hikes, kicks off Sept. 16. It’s an event meant to celebrate the area’s beautiful terrain and draw visitors during the “shoulder season.”

“Hike Haliburton was designed to bridge that gap and essentially smooth out the tourism season,” said Thom Lambert, event organizer with Haliburton Tourism.

Visitors from around the province have embarked on a range of hikes over the festival’s 17-year existence (the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19). People can choose a hike that matches their skill level and physical needs, ranging from guided short strolls to full-day hikes that require a paddle to access.

“Most people when they think of cottage country they think of lakes. We love that. But that’s really well known about the Haliburton Highlands at this point,” Lambert said. “The Hike Haliburton festival hikes happen on private land or on places that aren’t traditionally thought of as hiking destinations.”

That means it’s the perfect event for Haliburton locals too, he said.

“I think lots of locals who have lived here for many years have no idea that many of these places existed.”

Bear Mountain, a remote spot in northern Algonquin Highlands, is perhaps this year’s most intense hike. Participants will spend most of the day travelling to “one of the stunning places” in the Highlands with waterfalls, an 80-foot rock face and an expansive vista.

“If there was a place I really wish people knew more about, it’s that area,” Lambert said, mentioning how he has observed a new type of tourist: those who want to explore off-the-beaten-path spots.

Another hike takes walkers through the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, where dancers will be working on interpretive dance pieces based on the sculptures while the tour takes place.

However, this year, the festival imposed participant limits to ensure COVID-19 protocols would be easy to follow. Each hike is limited to eight participants, and the number of hikes are fewer than usual.

Even with participant numbers capped, and a reduced roster of hikes, Lambert said the hiking festival is still set up to fulfill its mission: showcasing a different side of the Haliburton Highlands.

“There’s more to it than a dock on a lake,” he said.

While most hikes are full, there are limited spots on select hikes still available. Learn more: festival.hikehaliburton.com.  

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