Point Pelee National Park is the southernmost part of mainland Canada extending for 15 kilometers into Lake Erie. Derived from the French word pelée which means ‘bald’, the park is a sandspit formation or simply a spit which is a landmass that was formed due to transportation of sediment by longshore drifts and currents along a beach. About 70% of Point Pelee is composed of marsh that is dotted with cattails and ponds. Forests cover a large part of the remaining area occupying about 21% of the park.
The land was ceded to the Crown following the signing of a treaty with Deputy Indian Agent Alexander McKee in 1790. Several decades later, in 1918, the area was designated as a national park after relentless appeals from birdwatchers and hunters. It became Canada’s smallest national park and the first to be created for the purpose of conservation.
Point Pelee National Park allowed hunting with duck hunting continuing until 1989. On 27 May 1987 the park was designated a Ramsar site placing it under the watchful eye of the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty that promotes the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
You may like to visit Bruce Peninsula National Park
Things to Do at Point Pelee National Park
Nature & Wildlife
Extending south to the 42nd parallel, and surrounded by Lake Eerie, the park supports a wide variety of trees and animals amongst the five unique Carolinian habitats found in the park: dry forest, swamp, forest, savannah, and marsh
Bird Watching: More than 370 species of birds have been sighted in the eastern deciduous forest found in the park. This is one of the important birdwatching locations in North America, playing host to songbirds during its annual northward migration during spring and hawks during fall. You can also find plenty of Monarch butterflies in the park during Fall.
You can find more about the butterflies through Monarchs – A Live Exhibit, held at the visitor centre.
Festival of Birds: In spring, you can join other bird lovers and marvel at the wonder of spring bird migrations.
Creature Feature: The park has its very own theatre where visitors can see a turtle or even touch a snake. This treat is offered daily during select hours.
Exploring the Land
Shuttle to the Tip: Visit the southern most point of Canada for free. The wheel chair accessible Tip Shuttle is offered daily between April and October. It allows you to get to the southernmost tip of the park ( Tip Trail – 1km) to enjoy spectacular sunsets, smell the beautiful wild flowers, or to learn about bird, dragonfly and monarch migrations. The Tip area is open to private vehicles from November to March only.
Hiking: Explore some of the oldest forest in the park through hiking and discover its rich history as you hike along the trails that wind through Carolinian forest. You can choose between interpretive hikes like the Marsh Boardwalk (1 km) that takes you through Ramsar
Wetland or the Woodland Nature Trail (2.75 km loop) to hike through the oldest forest habitat in the park. Learn about 10,000 years of Point Pelee’s human history from the First Peoples through to homesteaders as you explore DeLaurier Homestead & Trail (1.2km). Check how many of the 70 species of trees can you find when you hike the Botham Tree Trail.
Bicycling: The Centennial Bike and Hike Trail which stretches over 4km from the Broad walk and will give you quite a workout. You can continue along the road to the reach the tip of the park. Biking is only allowed here and the park road/parking lots.
Geocaching: Do you want to play detective? Point Pelee allows you to do exactly that! For only $3 you can rent a GPS unit and head out into the Carolinian Forest where you will collect caches and receive a certificate at the end of your adventure.
Canoeing and Kayaking: As two thirds of the park is covered with marshes, canoeing and kayaking is the best way to explore the park. Look for beavers, basking turtles, muskrats and other amphibians that call the freshwater marshes of Point Pelee home. Canoes are available for rent at the Marsh Boardwalk from May to Thanskgiving but you can also choose to bring your own and explore the enchanted marshes.
If you do not want to go on your own, join for a guided Freighter Canoe Tour to learn about the flora and fauna as you paddle along the marsh. There are multiple tours offered daily, from July 1st to Labour Day, and weekends during early fall.
Swimming: Point Pelee has the longest continuous natural beach in Essex County which means that there is more than enough water for everyone. The beaches are sandy and some of them have change rooms, washrooms and picnic areas. Northwest Beach has accessible parking. You are not allowed to swim at the tip due to strong and dangerous currents. There are no lifeguards on duty at any of the beaches. Lake Erie water quality information is available at the park entrance kiosk, or contact the Windsor Essex County Health Unit (519.258.2146 ext. 426).
The park holds many educational programs for the schools. Junior Naturalist Program held during summer teaches kids aged 7 to 11, about the park habitats through various activities. Commercial Group Tours are also available.
In addition to the guided Freighter Canoe Tour, Go for a Wildflower Walk during spring – an interpreter will walk with you through the Carolinian forest where you will have a whole hour to enjoy the beauty of blossoming wild flowers.
You can join other guest guests at the Visitor Centre shuttle stop for Family Migration Hike on weekends between Early September and October and stroll to the southernmost part of mainland Canada in search of fall migrants.
Dark Sky Nights: Point Pelee National Park is a designated Dark Sky Preserve. Experience the wonders of the night sky with Royal Astronomical Society during select days round the year. The park remains open until midnight during Dark Sky Nights. 2020: February 1, March 21, April 25, May 16, June 20, July 18, August 11, October 3, October 31, November 14, December 12
Special Events: Enhance you visit by joining for special events and activities held round the year. Participate in Owl Prowl to learn about the visitors of the night, join for a moonlight paddle through the marsh or take a hike around the Marsh Boardwalk during Marsh by Moonlight.
How to get to Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee National Park is situated in Essex County in southwestern Ontario.
Address: 1118 Point Pelee Drive, Leamington
Toronto: ~ 350 km ( 3.5 hrs)
Ottawa: ~800 kms
Windsor: ~6o kms (1 hr)
Niagara Falls: ~ 350 km ( 3.5 hrs)
London: ~ 180 kms (2 hrs)
When to go
Point Pelee National Park never sleeps, be it summer or winter, fall or spring, the park always has something new for you to discover. The Park might close for conservation activities for a week or so, if required. Visit during various seasons and show off your photography skills as you document the changes that are happening in the park.
The Park is open year round. It is open from from 06:00 a.m. (05:00 during Spring Migration) until 10:00 p.m from April to Labour Day and from 7 a.m. to sunset from Tuesday after Labour day to Mid April.
Winter: There are special events held during winter like Owl Prowl, scavenger hunt, and family programs during Family Day and March Break. Drive to the tip to see great ice formations and take a hike through the park to spot winter loving birds.
Spring: How many birds can you count during the time of annual spring migration time amongst the flowering forests? Festival of Birds is held in May.
Summer: From hiking to swimming to birdwatch to taking selfies, you have plenty to do!
Fall: Spot Monarch butterflies to a plethora of raptors and hawks, and other birds like buff-breasted sandpipers as you paddle along the wetlands of the Marsh.
How much to visit the Park
Park Entrance Fees – 2020 (HST included) (subject to change)
Adult (18 to 64): $ 7.90
Senior (65+): $ 6.90
Youth (under 17): free
Family/Group (Up to seven people arriving in a single vehicle in a national park) : $ 16
Amenities within the Park
The centre has accessible washrooms. Washrooms are also available at all picnic and beach areas in the park, Marsh Boardwalk and Tip Area.
Get souvenirs from Nature Nook Gift Shop at the visitor centre (open seasonally, May through to Thanksgiving)
Marsh Store and Canoe Rentals operated by Friends of Point Pelee (519-322-1654) offers gift items, snacks, and beverages in addition to bike rentals (by Farm Dog Cycles). You can rent bikes on weekends during summer for ~ $10/hour to $30/full day.(approximate cost, subject to change)
Wheel Chair Rental: An all terrain wheelchair is available for free reservation at the Visitor Centre and at the Marsh Boardwalk from June – September.
Where to Eat: During the annual festival of Birds, breakfast and lunch can be bought. You can get pre-packaged snacks, drinks and ice cream at the Marsh Store and Nature Nook Gift Shop. There are no other facilities within the park.
The park has a number of picnic areas that feature various amenities including grills, picnic tables, shelters, washrooms and vehicle access. Moreover, for larger gatherings you can hire the White Pine all-weather picnic facility for $63.70 per event. A reservation fee of $9.80 is also required.
Parking: Free Parking at all picnic and beach facilities and at designated parking areas across the National Park.
Where to Stay:
You can camp year round at oTENTiks, a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent, on a raised wooden floor. There are 24 oTENTiks, with a fee of $120 per night. The fee includes parking for a single vehicle in the designated camp parking area.