Cheltenham Badlands

Visiting Cheltenham Badlands

On my final day of work in the UK, I spent a long car journey picking the brains of my Canadian colleague as we drove to a meeting. She talked with passion about the GTA (that’s Greater Toronto Area to you non locals) and it got me even more excited to visit.

At that point I thought we would only be in Toronto for a handful of days so I never expected to visit even half of the places she recommended. Fast forward 18 months and here we were on our way to the Cheltenham Badlands in Caledon, Ontario.

We visited Cheltenham Badlands on the same last minute trip that took us to the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, and continued the theme of visiting places which are closed to the public.

Cheltenham Badlands Fence
The badlands are now fenced off and public access is prohibited

Located under an hour’s drive from Toronto, the Cheltenham Badlands are said to be one of the best examples of badland topography in Ontario. The removal of vegetation during land clearing and livestock grazing in the early 1900s led to erosion of the red shale bedrock, producing the badland’s distinctive appearance. The relatively soft shale is easily eroded by water and feet!

Unfortunately due to us stupid humans trampling all over it, the site has now been completely closed off. There are fences up all around and plenty of signs telling you not to traverse the sensitive area. The closure is said to be temporary while work to conserve the area is completed. It is expected this will take several years however. If you’re interested, you can read more about the Master Plan to protect this rare landscape.

Cheltenham Badlands
The lighter bands are due to the change of red iron oxide to green iron oxide due to ground water circulation

Despite the closure, the Ontario Trails website seemed to suggest there are parking and viewing areas, so we drove around a bit trying to find them before coming to the conclusion that the ‘viewing area’ was just the side of the Olde Base Line Road. Despite the no stopping signs, we pulled over on the side of Olde Base Line Road to get a closer look.

Our first impression was just how small the area was, a classic example of how much bigger things look in photos than in real life. Even so the badlands are a spectacular site and not something you expect to see in the GTA. You can see why it’s popular with photographers and tourists alike.

Cheltenham Badlands Ontario
A little bit of Mars in southern Ontario

Once we had taken the obligatory photos and cursed the sun for disappearing behind the clouds, we got back in the car and continued on our Sunday roadtrip.

If you are in the area, I’d definitely recommend a side trip to see the Cheltenham Badlands. Hopefully in years to come it will be opened up again for everyone to enjoy.


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