***Please click on this link Map Locations of ALL Trails on this Site to view a map with the location of every trail “2oldguyswalking” has written a review on.***
The Carden Alvar Part 2 of 3 – Prairie Smoke, Little Bluestem, & Grassland Loop Trails Review
The trail map below includes all three trails as they’re interconnected.
OK, I studied the Carden Alvar for quite some time, in search of trails. There was alot of confusion for me because it seems no one loves the alvar more than birders … and birders don’t care about trails, unless there are birds on them. Birds can fly, so they don’t care about trails either. But I could see trails from satellite views, so we swung by the alvar on our return from exploring the Muskoka region one afternoon. We found enough trails to spend three days with our “feet on the ground, lookin’ around”.
Prairie Smoke Trail (7.0 kms return)
This perfectly linear trail (actually a road allowance) has ample parking just off Lake Dalrymple Rd. From Kirkfield, take Kirkfield Rd (6) North for 16.5 kms to Lake Dalrymple Rd. Turn right onto Lake Dalrymple Rd. and 350 meters along, you’ll find a parking lot on the right. This link will open Google Maps at the parking lot : https://goo.gl/maps/A9SxidRJy73UsorN9
After a quick stroll across an open meadow, you’ll be plunged into a stretch of treed canopy. Something I really liked about this trail was the base. You can clearly see what’s under all the vegetation to both sides of you. It’s hard to imagine those trees can grow between the limestone slabs, and how everything else grows on that thin layer of soil on it. It almost looks like a deliberately laid road or pathway of huge flagstones.
Some other interesting stuff on this trail was an old ramshackle windmill which an osprey had made use of. Also, I spotted a huge coral fossil right on the trail.
When we walked here in mid June, the trail was flooded out at about the halfway mark. However, just before the flooded section, we passed the Southernmost termination of the Little Blue Stem Trail (trailheaded about 2.2 kms North on Lake Dalrymple Rd.). It appeared that a cross trail further up the Little Blue Stem Trail might allow us access to the rest of the Prairie Smoke Trail. It was getting late in the day, so we decided to come back for a third day and approach from the trailhead of :
The Little Bluestem Trail (3 kms from trailhead to Prairie Smoke Trail)
This trail is cleverly hidden behind the Carden Recreational Centre just off Lake Dalrymple Rd. with more than ample parking. From Kirkfield take Kirkfield Rd (6) North 16.5 kms to Lake Dalrymple Rd. Turn right on Dalrymple Rd and 2.6 kms along you’ll find the Rec. Centre on your right. This link will open Google Maps at the trailhead : https://goo.gl/maps/FwCJuNcRLUGfFFD76
Unlike every other trail in the Carden Alvar, there’s no fanfare, no fuss, no kiosk, not even a sign saying the trail is even there. So it’s really easy to miss the trailhead. As you pull into the parking lot, on the right, you’ll see a chimney swift structure, and four-sided signage with info about … everything except the trail. While standing at the info sign, place the Rec. Centre behind you, and to your left will be the public washrooms, then an open field. If you look closely, just to the right of the open field, you’ll see an unmarked trail heading off behind the residences on Lake Dalrymple Rd. Continue walking past the backyards and you’ll come across a big red gate with a pedestrian only passable access. Just beyond that, behind a tree, you’ll see the sign welcoming you to the trail.
There are alot of trails mown through the grass once past the gate, and they run off all over the place. We explored enough of them to be able to make the following recommendation. Just stay to the LEFT on any crosstrails or branches you see after the gate. You’ll know you’re on your way, when the mown grass base becomes bare limestone.
As we walked a rather linear trail across the (recently very wet) grasslands, we came across a sign saying “Little Bluestem Alvar”. If you look at the map on the sign, you’ll notice the two tire tracks wandering off past the left side of the sign. This is actually the start of the :
Grassland Loop Trail (1.8 kms)
It juts out to the East from the Little Bluestem and returns to a short side trail between Little Bluestem and Prairie Smoke trails. That side trail was how we thought we’d see the rest of the Prairie Smoke trail, past the flooded spot from the day before. Well, the side trail was flooded too ! Damn ! We never did see the Prairie Smoke trail to it’s end. The Grassland Loop was typical of the alvar but was high-lighted by numerous patches of Cypripedium Orchids, which we were sadly about a week or two late to see them at their best.
After the loop trail, we continued on the Bluestem trail toward it’s termination at the Prairie Smoke Trail. It got kinda wet too, so we didn’t quite get there, but we did see something I hadn’t seen since childhood. Yes, we know how to tell the difference between white tailed deer tracks, and moose tracks … and those were moose tracks. Of course, to return to the Recreation Centre, just keep to the RIGHT once you get to the mown grass trail.
The Final Take
Other than ample parking at both trailheads, and public washrooms at the Recreation Centre, there are no facilities (except a picnic table and a bench on the Prairie Smoke Trail alone). The trailbeds are compacted soil and pretty-much wide enough for two to walk side by side, for their entirety. I didn’t notice any restrictions on dog walking, but with ground nesting birds and Birders around, a dog charging about might make you unpopular with other users. These trails are mostly under wide open sky and sunshine. Sun protection and water, would be recommended. There are no charges for parking, nor use of the trails.
These three interconnected trails will provide an entire day of exploring. They wander all about the alvar displaying it’s complex base, it’s wildlife, and it’s botanical diversity. Silence and solitude, what a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day.
Have a nice walk,