It may have been named after Charles, the Second Earl of Grey (and I’m a big fan of his tea), but there is absolutely nothing ‘grey’ about Ontario’s Grey County – a fact that Henk and I discovered when we were invited by Grey County Tourism to photograph the region’s emerging fall colours this past week. What we learned is that this part of the province is not just a premier location for viewing autumn colours, it is also a vibrant destination for fine food, culture and all kinds of grownup fun. But first…the colours!
See the fall colours on foot
Even for comfort-loving outdoor enthusiasts like myself (think ‘glamping’, not ‘camping’!), fall is definitely the time of year that inspires me to go hiking, and with the Niagara Escarpment running through Grey County, there are some pretty impressive stretches of the Bruce Trail here to explore. One of these takes you to Skinners Bluff, a spectacular vantage point just north of Wiarton that offers panoramic views out over Georgian Bay and a great place to enjoy an above-the-trees view of the colourful countryside.
(Henk even got to launch his drone for an even more impressive shot of our cantilevered overlook and the Escarpment!)
Walk above the trees as they turn
Henk and I had a taste of what it was like to be above the trees from our Georgian Bluffs lookout, but we had the chance to actually walk above them in the Blue Mountains thanks to Scenic Caves Nature Adventures, who lay claim to Southern Ontario’s longest suspension foot bridge. At 420 feet long, this sliver of engineering allows you to stroll 25 meters above the ground at the top of the escarpment, looking down on the changing colours of the trees below.
But it’s the view out over Georgian Bay and Collingwood that is the real showstopper here, and even though the colours were just starting, our vantage point 300 metres above the lake made for a stunning view.
A birds-eye view of Beaver Valley’s colours
Hiking the trails or driving along Grey County’s backroads are excellent options for enjoying the fall colours, and the views from the suspension bridge were incredible, but when it comes to the most exciting way to view the fall colours, nothing beats seeing autumn colours from the air.
Luckily for us, Owen Sound Flight Services offers a number of popular sightseeing tours that take passengers over Beaver Valley to view the changing colours, and they’ll even customize your flight if you want to see something specific.
Our flight took off just before dusk, and with the late afternoon sun casting long shadows on the rural countryside, the views were simply breathtaking! Looking down on the colourful treetops gave us a truly unique perspective and some incredible photos.
And for those of you who remember that aerial view of the waterfall from the original Jurassic Park movie, there was even a flyby of beautiful Eugenia Falls! Truly spectacular.
Kayak amongst the colours
Having seen the winding Beaver River from above, Henk and I were keen to round out our photo tour with a bit of photography on the river itself, and thanks to Free Spirit Tours in Heathcote, we got to do just that. This 4-season outfitter offers a choice of paddle boards, kayaks or canoes, and since the river is gentle all year long, there’s no need for any white-water skills. (although paddle boards and camera gear seemed like a bad idea, so we chose kayaks!)
The best part about these tours is that the guides actually drive you upriver to where you launch, so the whole trip is downriver, making it feel almost effortless.
Floating around the bends of the river with our bright red and yellow kayaks contrasting the deep blue autumn sky, Henk and I felt like we were actually contributing to the colourful landscape ourselves.
From natural palettes to discerning palates
Grey County boasts a full palette of colours when it comes to its natural landscapes, but its fall bounty doesn’t end here: there are also plenty of local products to tempt your palate – from field-ripened fruit and vegetables to fresh ciders and local wine.
Fruits of the vine
It came as a surprise to learn that Grey County is the largest apple producing region in Ontario, but what was even more surprising was the innovative growing technique we found at T&K Ferri orchards in Clarksburg. Here, owners Tom and Karen Ferri are using an Italian technique to develop high-density orchards where closely-planted trees grow vertically on what are called “Super Spindles”.
This means that instead of only 800 trees to the acre, the Ferris are able to plant 2800 trees, producing a higher yield without compromising quality. In fact, their apples are some of the highest quality fruit you’ll find (and I can’t wait to bake up some of their Cortlands and Macs into a pie or two!)
If orchards that look like vineyards aren’t surprising enough, Grey County boasts award-winning wineries here, too, in what has been officially designated as the Southern Georgian Bay Wine Region. Local vineyards such as Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery have made a name for themselves with their VQA wines and unique brand (I loved their cheekily-named wines like Back from the Dead Red and Into the Light White!)
And with all those local apples just begging to be fermented, there’s no shortage of hard ciders being produced in Grey County as well.
FeastON in Grey County!
With its abundance of local growers and farmers, Grey County has become quite the destination for foodies and locavores, and you don’t have to go far to enjoy top-notch dining. Several award-winning Canadian chefs call Grey County their home, raising the bar for the entire region and inspiring creativity and authenticity in other young restauranteurs. Henk and I met one of these, Beth Milne, who along with chef partner Emily, operate Casera Kitchen Table in Owen Sound.
Beth and Emily started out with a double-decker ‘food bus’ in Sauble Beach which was so wildly successful they opened a bricks-and-mortar location in Owen Sound, bringing delicious and locally-infused authentic Mexican cuisine to the area. If you think creative Mexican food would be a hard sell here, just look at the lineups waiting to get in.
Shaun Edmonstone is another chef who has brought his talents back to his hometown, this time in Thornbury at the Bruce Wine Bar, where his commitment to using locally-sourced ingredients has earned the restaurant a FeastON designation. I love it when I have a meal that is so good that no one thing is the ‘hero’ on the plate because everything is equally delicious, and both Henk and I can say that our duck and pickerel choices were stellar. And with field-ripened ingredients sourced from Edmonstone’s own back yard, our plates were as colourful as the surrounding countryside.
Fall colours may be fleeting in Grey County, so if you want to capture them in all their glory, now is definitely the time to go. But it is the wealth of other attractions here that make Grey County a four-season destination and one you’ll want to return to again and again. I know Henk and I will!
Special thanks to Grey County Tourism who hosted our Grey County getaway and introduced us to these colourful ways to explore the region.