The 99 Steps

Due to construction delays ahead of me, I turned off onto an unfamiliar two-lane sideroad. The roadway reminded me of a race course winding around a mountain. With barely a shoulder, several sharp turns and abrupt ups and downs, drivers have little time to react to what might come into sight. Steep hillsides to one side and deep ravines on the other don’t allow much room for an emergency maneuver.

I was on the Oak Ridges Moraine; an ecologically significant watershed, formed over 12,000 years ago by retreating glaciers. At a maximum elevation of 300 meters above Lake Ontario, the Oak Ridges Moraine is the watershed divide between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. The glacier activity created deep cuts and tall land forms offering spectacular views from the highest elevations in the region.

For road builders, it must have been easier to weave their black ribbon of asphalt along the ridges of the large land forms than to excavate through hills or build over steep grades.

A 7-car parking area came into sight; the only place to safely pull over. I stopped and saw a sign indicating I was at Thornton Bales Conservation Area, nicknamed “The 99 Steps”.

99 Steps at Thornton Bales conservation area

I continued ahead on foot and descended the ninety-nine steps into the ravine. At the bottom of the staircase, I was looking up into a thick forest canopy where only minutes earlier I was nearly eye level with the top of these same trees!

Red Oak Trail

I followed the Red Oak trail up a steep hill. After cresting the hill, I quickly descended further down into the ravine. The up and back down, up and always further down got to be quite a leg work out. At the bottom of the ravine, I looked at my phone app. I was 60 meters lower than when I checked at the roadway.  I had only walked some 500 meters as the crow flies! To my surprise, the elevation change to the bottom of the ravine was greater than the drop over Niagara Falls. I hadn’t anticipated how far down the twisting and undulating pathway would lead.

On the Oak Ridges Moraine, rainwater and melting snow seeps into the porous soil and filters down into the aquafer providing a significant source for drinking water to local communities.  Over 30 major rivers originate from the south and north side of the moraine.

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On the south side of the moraine, all waterways flow directly south toward Lake Ontario. On the north side of the moraine, waterways flow north toward Lake Simcoe; however, Lake Simcoe ultimately drains into Lake Ontario taking a long detour route around the eastern tip of the Oak Ridges Moraine.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite views you can check out from the Oak Ridges Moraine.

  • On a clear day, drive west from highway 404 on Davis Drive and watch for the Toronto skyline; look for the CN Tower.
  • Take a Sunday drive north on Dufferin Street past 18th Sideroad through vast equestrian estates. You will be treated to magnificent sunsets.
  • Head north on Bathurst Street to Bradford and enter the Holland Marsh, a 21,000-acre agricultural wetland regarded as “Ontario’s Vegetable Basket”.

12 thoughts on “The 99 Steps

  1. I came here once in the winter; I can’t say I recommend it for safety reasons, but you could slide down the 99 steps up on your feet, and that was true for many other areas on the trail too. The slipperiness posed a challenge, as well as an exciting opportunity for goofing around. It’s a lovely place!!


  2. Great to see you back in action, Kevin! Always love the work you put into your posts, and I like how your prose is action oriented, for instance, ‘cresting the hill’ and ‘weave their black ribbon’. Inspiring turns of phrases that makes me want to work on mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, thank you, Stuart!
      I was busy with my backyard gardening and family visits. I have too many summertime pastimes. 👩‍🌾 🥾 🦅 🧴 🧳
      I hope to get a post in for August.


      1. Mostly we go up Warden or some other route….last week we went across Old Homestead to Sutton…I was good for the first 65k…after that it came in fits and spurts.


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