About 45 minutes' drive from Toronto, Cootes Paradise is a wetland sanctuary and National Historic Site located along the west shoreline of Lake Ontario, Canada. This beautiful site is tucked close to an edge of the Niagara Escarpment and offers hiking nature trails, birding, arboretum, and canoe launch spots for those who want to explore out on the water.
Cootes Paradise Marsh (now really a small lake) is essentially a breeding ground for fish for Lake Ontario. A narrow, controlled fishway leads from the marsh wetlands into Lake Ontario so that the spawn can migrate. Cootes is also a stop-over for migratory birds, as well as a sanctuary for water fowl, so this is a bird-watcher's dream!
The marsh also supports over 750 species of plants and flowers, some endangered.
Named after Captain Thomas Coote, a 1780s British navy officer who enjoyed hunting the waterfowl while he lived in the area, these wetlands are pretty much all that is left of untouched land around Lake Ontario.
The south shore has lovely hiking trails that lead to McMaster University at the SW corner, and connect eastward to Hamilton Harbour's Waterfront Trail system of more extensive walking and biking paths onwards to Bayfront Park in Hamilton Harbour proper. Princess Point, and Valley Inn host canoe launch spots, so this is a great, mostly free, getaway from the city for a day (unless you're parking in certain areas).
The north shore of Cootes Paradise marsh, if you are traveling by car, has an admission fee ($12.50 per each adult), as well as a parking fee of $1.00 per hour. You will find more hiking trails, and an arboretum along the north shore.
Birdwatchers will also enjoy any of the walks around Cootes Paradise. Recently a pair of Bald Eagles was photographed nesting along the north shore I believe. In the spring, I always see Red Winged Blackbirds at Bayfront Park, and they can be quite aggressive defending their new nests!
One of the most majestic waterfowl you will find in the sanctuary is the mute swan. For some years, a pair of swans has been nesting in Bayfront Park and it was possible to see their nest and clutch of eggs. One spring I was able to photograph a nest full of nine large turquoise eggs! Only one cygnet made it, but I believe that was due to park management as swans are quite aggressive competitors over habitat and there are many other waterfowl nesting here.
Participation is weather permitting, and Cootes Paradise parking at most sites is $1.00 per hour, and there is an additional admission fee at locations on the north shore of $12.50 per each Adult (even if you're all in the same car). A yearly pass is $75.00.
Parking at the Bayfront Park is free.
Mom with Junior
Cootes Paradise is managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens, found close by on the north side of Hamilton Harbour.