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The Trout Ponds Trails Review
UPDATE – August 18, 2020 – These trails have changed so much in the last six years that I’ve decided to re-write this entire review. In the meantime, this review is correct, but is missing major new trails. I’ll re-issue as quickly as I can.
UPDATE – August 3, 2020 – We’ve just heard of an extension of this trail that connects it to the Ganaraska Forest trail system. However, it was on a mountain biking site, and so may be unsuitable for us. We’ll look into it and get back to you.
What we call the Trout Ponds is a place just south of Millbrook, in fact it’s part of the Millbrook Valley Trail System. It’s just that it tends to stop at the Provincial Gov’t stocked trout ponds on Zion Line (to the West off Cnty Rd 10 from Port Hope about 30 meters past the 4th Line Theatre).
While searching for an elusive railroad underpass (the trail in red), Ranger introduced me to a trail which seemed to have been forgotten (the trail in yellow), and provoked the drive to explore further (the trail in green). My Father-in-Law took me fishing at the ponds back in the 80’s, but I had no idea of the trail system (nor likely would’ve cared) back then. Ranger and I eventually did find his Elusive Railroad Bridge click on the link to read Ranger’s story of his discovery of the bridge.
Since then the wife and I have walked the trails on numerous occasions. You can walk beyond the green trail on the map above, but eventually, you’ll hit an impasse that wasn’t there when Ranger first followed the trail to its end many years before. The trails have all the criteria the wife requires to give her “good trail seal of approval”. There’s water (both pond and flowing streams), boardwalks, wooden bridges, viewing vistas, ample parking, rare plants, and seclusion. What more could one ask for ? Unusual and rarely seen fungi you might ask? Why yes, there’s those too.
To find the place, drive North on County Rd 10 from Port Hope to the Zion Line (aka the 4th Line – hence the Theater’s name). Turn Left on Zion Line and drive a short way ‘til you see the sign for the 4th Line theater on the left, then just drive a few meters past it to :
Leave your car in the parking lot (this link will open Google Maps at the parking lot: https://goo.gl/maps/iK4p9YCHQPGbSj5k6) and walk back to the Zion line, turning left (West) and walk up the road crossing the bridge over Baxter’s Creek.
This is where the wife and I rescued 3 snapping turtle hatchlings in the posting Snapping Turtle Rescue.
Atop the hill, just past Carveth Rd. look to the left and you’ll see :
Just go around the gate and start walking. You’re on an old railway berm that was once a very high and long trestle. The trestle was filled in long ago to avoid the need to maintain the huge wooden superstructure. Watch you don’t trip on these :
They look like old tree roots but are actually the remnants of 160 year old railway ties. The view from up there is quite impressive, especially when you consider, it started as just a scaffolding of wood supporting a train track. I always find it marvelous that what I’m walking on is man-made, and over a century and a half old.
As you walk, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the water rushing through the tunnel (Ranger’s Elusive Railroad Bridge) to the left side. There’s a narrow and EXTREMELY steep path going down to the tunnel entrance if you’re brave (or …) enough. As you walk, the ground which has been so far below you will begin to rise up and meet you on the same level as the berm. The walk turns into mixed forest at that point. In time, you’ll see 2 boardwalked trails about 20 feet apart, both heading off to the left.
They run into each other about 20 feet back off the trail and take a single route down to the Southernmost trout pond. Why 2 boardwalked trails that almost immediately combine to become one trail ?? HellifIknow, they just do. These 2 trails are less than rewarding to the walker. Your best bet is to continue walking past them, continuing through the forest.
You’ll come to an obvious crossroads. Straight ahead, will bring you up against a formidable fence/gate with a request to stop. To the right from the crossroads is someone’s residence … eventually. *** See Update of Oct 14 2015 above *** Either direction will only provide more of the same mixed forest, and the need to double back.
To continue making a loop, take the left trail. As you head down the hill to the boardwalk, you’ll see an unmarked trail off to the right. This is where the illegal bike trail mentioned above imposes on the Millbrook Valley Trail system.
It will continue through mixed forest for awhile, before opening up to a bright wetland complete with a boardwalk to an old bridge with a year-round flowing stream running under it.
Once over the bridge, you’ll pass through a spooky dead cedar forest for a short time.
From the dead cedar forest you’ll enter what I like to call “fake forest”. There are a lot of these in Northumberland County. Back in 1920s, the settlers realized that they’d pretty-much looted and pillaged the forests of Northumberland County until they were virtually gone. Combined with the fear of serious erosion and flooding, the “Resforestation Act” was initiated. About 4 million pine trees were planted over 40 years, in perfectly straight rows. In most areas, the County’s culling trees to allow the re-introduction of natural mixed forests (‘cause, quite frankly, they’re uglier ‘n Hell, to me anyway). However, the County’s starting to harvest the pines and allowing mixed forests to hopefully return. Some, like the one you’ll be walking through here, are so old and unused, that they’re starting to regenerate on their own. The trees are still pretty mono-cultural, but the mushroom varieties are a sight.
From the fake forest, you’ll emerge atop a big hill with a lovely vista of the rolling hills to the North.
As you descend the hill, in season, you’ll be wading through bottle gentians.
The trail ends as you burst through the undergrowth into the recreational area with a trail leading – to the right, your car, to the left, the trout ponds. If you had the foresight to bring a lunch, just turn right and walk 2 minutes to your car, then walk 4 minutes back to the observation deck of the first (Northernmost) pond. That deck is suitable for even Ranger’s family reunion. It’s huge and beautiful.
Of course, if you so desire, you could try your luck with a rod and reel as well. There are some huge trout in there. Last Winter the wife and I saw a mess of them through the ice from the observation deck. By the way, the trails are perfectly good walking in the Winter as well. The Southern pond doesn’t have a deck but it’s where you find the trail to Ranger’s elusive railroad bridge and will spot any number of the 7 different genera of butterflies I’ve seen fluttering about here.
To make the wander complete, you could take the boardwalk trail from the North end of the Northern pond to Zion Line (you’ll recognize where it comes out from your walk up Zion Line to Carveth Rd and the gate where it all began). This is where I saw my first complete circle of “fairy ring mushrooms”. You can’t see the whole ring in the picture ‘cause it was about 30 feet in diameter and I had to chase around trees to follow the circle. This is as many as I could get into a still shot.
When you were walking up Zion Line to the gate from the start, you likely noticed a trail to the North between the Road to the parking lot and the bridge. That trail will take you all the way up to Millbrook, alongside Baxter`s Creek for the most part. A lovely walk as well. But that`ll be for another time.
Jan 18/ 2015 And that time is now. Here’s the link Trout Ponds to Millbrook Review.
UPDATE September 1st 2017 – just returned from this trail and upon reviewing … my review, I realized this was one of my earliest trail reviews and it had no summarizing “take”. So …
The Final Take
This approximately 2.5 km loop trail is one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen. A >150 year old railway berm, over a filled- in trestle that was (in it’s day) the longest wooden railroad trestle in the Western Hemisphere. Berry picking opportunities. Rarely sighted wildflowers and rare mushrooms, a boardwalk over a wetland to a bridge spanning a mid forest stream. Mixed deciduous highlands and terminating in two trout ponds full of fish, turtles, herons, and amphibians. Both ponds are stocked by the MNRF but you’ll need to get up pretty early in the morning to catch any. There’s even a trail to an old tunnel built when the railroad filled – in the trestle. The trails are mostly wide enough for two to walk together at the shoulder. There are a few side trails which can abbreviate the walk if you wish.
The parking facilities can accommodate up to a dozen cars though there’s rarely more than three (if any) anytime we’ve been here. Something new this year is a portable washroom in the parking lot UPDATE May 9 2018– which was missing when we visited today. While there are no picnic facilities, there is a lovely viewing platform at the Northern pond. There are no tables or even benches, but it’s a nice, raised area where you could have a trail snack of sorts while looking over the pond. Bringing a snack is recommended though, as there are no towns or villages nearby to provide you with a take-out lunch. There are no rest benches anywhere on the trail nor at the ponds. There is no charge for parking, nor trail use.