Getting caught up in the whirlwind of everyday life can be so easy that we often forget how important it is to spend time outdoors. Mother Nature provides us with an outlet that benefits both our physical and mental health, yet we often stay couped up inside! Science has proven that we only need to spend two hours a week outside in order to start feeling the benefits – but what exactly are they?
There’s a good chance that by being outside, you’re moving more. Whether you’re intentionally going for a paddle, a walk or just reading at a picnic table, you will be taking more steps to explore what’s around you versus sitting in one spot indoors. Statistics Canada has reported that, on average, people take over 700 more steps for every hour they’re outside and therefore spend 13 fewer minutes in a sedentary position!
Did you know that being outside increases the effectiveness of your immune system? It’s true! Breathing in the essential oils called phytoncides that are emitted by trees, leaves and soil boosts your body’s natural ability to fight sickness and infection. There’s also the possibility of increased NK cell activity and these cells can aid in cancer prevention!
Not only that, but nature has a calming effect. Spending time out on the water, on a hiking trail or meandering through a forest will lower your cortisol levels, the body’s main stress hormone. It also has a positive impact on a person’s sympathetic (think fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (the opposite so rest-and-digest) nervous systems to help combat anxiety. Not to mention the boost in mood and improved sleep quality that comes along with it! You’ll also soak up some of that amazing sunshine which is necessary for your body to produce Vitamin D as well as other vital minerals like calcium and phosphorus.
And what better place to enjoy some quality nature time than at a provincial park? In Ontario, we’re fortunate to have over 300 provincial parks scattered across the province making it easy to get outside! There are a number of them in YDH alone, though one stands out as it plays such an important role in the Toronto area – Darlington Provincial Park.
Located on the shores of Lake Ontario between Bowmanville and Oshawa, Darlington Provincial Park offers a refuge for approximately 6 million people in the Greater Toronto Area. This is one of the main reasons why Darlington was established in 1959. Ontario Parks is able to provide a plethora of outdoor recreational activities as well as overnight camping facilities for locals and those travelling down Highway 401!
Darlington Provincial Park also serves to protect the nesting grounds for nearly 100 species of birds. During spring and fall migration, between 100 and 200 different species use the park as a pit stop to rest along their journey. One such bird is the piping plover as this endangered species has been known to nest at the park. If you see an area of beach blocked off during your visit, be sure to respect it as these birds can use all the help they can get!
Naturally, Darlington Provincial Park is a fantastic spot for birding as well as plenty of other outdoor activities. If you’re an avid angler, bring along your rod and cast a line to see what may bite. New to fishing? Ontario Parks can help with their Learn to Fish program. This free, hands-on workshop will teach you the ins and outs of fishing. Darlington also offers a TackleShare program so you don’t need to bring anything but a willingness to learn! If you’d rather leave the fish in the lake, soak up the sun at Darlington’s long stretch of beach. How can you not feel relaxed feeling the sand between your toes? If you’re a paddler, bring along your canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard and enjoy the relaxing sights and sounds of McLaughlin Bay.
If you’re going to enjoy any outdoor fun at Darlington though, chances are it’s along one of their hiking trails. The park offers four different hikes, all of which are relatively easy making them great for visitors of all ages. Enjoy beautiful views of Lake Ontario from the Burk Trail’s scenic lookout. Weave through tall grass and wetlands as you explore the McLaughlin Bay Trail. Admire the beauty of Robinson Creek as you walk along the aptly named Robinson Creek Trail. Of course, there’s always the ever-popular Waterfront Trail which connects you to the 350 kilometre multi-use trail that follows Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake all the way to Trenton!
As if Darlington couldn’t get any more awesome, the park offers daily discovery programs during the summer months! Geared towards visitors of all ages, you’ll learn about the natural ecology of the provincial park as well as some of the area’s cultural history. With guided hikes, drop-in programs and a number of activities to entertain the kids, there’s plenty of fun for the whole family. Make sure to pop by the visitor’s centre to see what programs are available during your visit!
Is a day trip just not enough to satisfy your desire for outdoor adventure? Book a campsite at one of the park’s three campgrounds! With over 300 sites available, there is no shortage of fun to be had. Both the Lakeside and Cliffside campgrounds offer some sites that have views of the water. What better way to fall asleep than by listening to the sounds of Lake Ontario’s waves lapping against the shore? If you’re unable to snag a waterfront spot, the lakeshore is just a short walk away so you can easily catch the beautiful colours at sunset, or sunrise if you’re an early bird!
Well, what are you waiting for? Don’t forget to snag your Darlington Provincial Park day pass up to five days ahead of your visit. Or if you’re looking to grab those prime campsite locations, reservations open five months in advance. It may take a little planning but it’s certainly worth the effort. Get outside at Darlington Provincial Park – your body and mind will thank you!