DURHAM CONSERVATION AREA
Durham Conservation Area offers much to entertain, including a campground, waterfalls and beaches
I could see my friend’s lips moving, but couldn’t hear a word he was saying over the rushing water. I mimed an “I don’t know” gesture with a confused look and he responded with a huge grin and flashed me the thumbs up. I grinned back, and knew what he meant.
We were standing on top of the bridge overlooking McGowan Falls at Durham Conservation Area, a property owned and operated by the Saugeen Valley Conservation Area. The falls are low but intense. Standing on the bridge, the water pours directly underneath your feet and cascades in graceful arches. Carrying momentum, it’s whisked powerfully down the Saugeen River where it swirls rapidly around rocks, then finally calms into still blue water downstream.
We had hiked along the Riverview Trail, which meanders along the Saugeen River, past one of the small sandy beaches to the falls. Crossing the bridge again, we stopped to stick our toes in the sand and watch the kids running around the playground and splashing in the water. The swimming area is just beside the falls, but on the other side of the dam in still, shallow water and clearly marked. The beach is unsupervised, so parents smiled nearby as their little ones tried to catch some darting minnows.
The beach is open to day users and to campers. Durham Conservation Area has 210 campsites divided between the Riverview Campground and the Pinewood Campground. There are 94 serviced campsites available with hydro and water hookups for trailers. We didn’t stay over, but the sites looked pleasant and shady, with picnic table and access to modern washroom and shower facilities. The campground is open from the last weekend in April until Thanksgiving weekend.
It didn’t look like anyone was having trouble entertaining themselves. We passed bikers and picnickers, some people out for casual strolls, and others hiking enthusiastically. The cool Saugeen River is a popular fishing spot, and there are places where you can you launch your boat or canoe. There are also badminton, horseshoe and volleyball facilities available. During the summer the campground organizes special events, like potluck suppers, Christmas in July, Country music nights, and a corn roast.
We continued our hike past the falls, looking at the cedar trees whose roots had wound stubbornly around the rocks below. The Riverview Trail is a manageable 2.7km, with, as you may guess, a view of the river plus a couple of playgrounds and beaches, and McGowan Falls, along the way. We also took a quick trek down the 0.7km Gunpit Trail, which is named from the drills that the Grey Militia preformed in the area up until 1913. Today there’s a placecard marking the firing rage, and the site of the gunpit is still visible from the trail. The Gunpit Trail will also lead you by rock boulders and an impressive 6m limestone bluff. We didn’t have time to hike the Cedar Ridge Trail, but I expect that the views along the trail are just as lovely as in the quiet cedar forests we passed through on the other trails.
By the time we were ready to leave, I was beginning to wonder if we could construct a makeshift tent using supplies from the emergency kit in the back of the car. My friend wisely vetoed this idea, and we resolved to come back and spend a weekend camping at Durham Conservation Area soon.
Melissa Rodgers is a student at Carleton University. Her passions include history, cooking, reading, and the great outdoors.