Thornton Bales Conservation Area: Hiking the “99 Steps” in King Township

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Check Out Thornton Bales Conservation Area For A Nice Hike!

Are you in the York Region and looking for a bit of a hike? Why not check out Thornton Bales Conservation Area! Located just a short drive from Newmarket or Aurora, Ontario, this tiny area caught us by surprise with its beauty and difficulty!

The area is part of the Oak Ridges Moraine, a beautiful (and protected) ecosystem that stretches far across southern Ontario as part of the GreenBelt. This makes it great for exploring if you want a taste of Canadian nature.

Of the conservation areas and hiking trails close to Aurora, Thornton Bales is definitely one of the most strenuous loops – but it’s also very beautiful. York Region – in general – is full of hiking trails in conversation areas that make for a nice place to visit in Ontario any season!

That said, if you want to learn more about planning a visit to Thornton Bales, read on and/or watch the video of our visit below!

How to Get To Thornton Bales

Navigation Address: 19th Sideroad, King, ON (Google Maps for 99-Steps Parking Lot)

signs for hiking trail entrance in winter with forest behind.
The entrance – the parking lot is right behind us!

Thornton Bales Conservation Area is located in the Township of King, Ontario. It’s just outside of Aurora and Newmarket – depending on who you ask.

To get there, head for the intersection of Yonge Street and Mulock Drive in the south end of Newmarket.

Head west on Mulock until you go through a final set of lights and it turns into 19th Sideroad – a winding, forested road. It’s nice, actually. About 4 minutes in, you’ll round a corner and see the parking lot on the right.

You can’t miss it. We thought we did and then we saw the signs and parking lot. It’s pretty clear and you’ll feel silly for thinking you went too far!

Need to Knows for Visiting

wooden steps on hillside trail in snowy forest with trees around.
Some of the famous “99 Steps”!

Before you plan your visit, there are a few things you should know about Thornton Bales:

Nicknamed “The 99 Steps”, Thornton Bales is known to be a moderate hike. The terrain is pretty steep. From the entrance at the parking lot to the lowest point, it’s said that the elevation change is greater than that of Niagara Falls.

Let that sink in for a second. Pretty big change in elevation!

Walking in is simple – but it can be a good hill climb back out to the car. It’s best to wear good shoes/boots with a tread! Speaking of parking, parking is free – and the lot is right along 19th Sideroad close to the entrance signs in the photo above.

Others mentioned that the bugs are pretty bad in the warm months. We can definitely see that being true given how thick the brush would get. Bring bug spray or wear long clothing in the summer for sure.

There is signage for ticks – and while that’s more of a summer issue, they can be active in winter months if it thaws enough. So if you take a dog in the warm months be sure to give it a good check before you get in the car.

Speaking of doggos, dogs are supposed to be on a leash. We only crossed paths with a jogger and one person with their dog so it wasn’t heavily trafficked – but this was the wintertime.

You can learn more about Thornton Bales on the official LSRCA website.

The Trails at Thornton Bales

man in winter coat walking on snowy forest trail.
The trail “split” is at the top of that small hill – once across this small bridge.

We visited in the wintertime so we can imagine the experience to be very different in the summer.

That said, we found the trails to be nice and wide and fairly well marked. We read a few reviews that the trails are confusing and we can absolutely see why that may be in the other months when the leaves are grown in full. It would be pretty thick in there.

If you look at a trail map here, you can see that the area is actually part of a larger trail system that uses the Koffler-Bales trail to get to the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Joker’s Hill.

This “science reserve” with trails is accessible from a parking lot on Bathurst Street but is technically not located in Thornton Bales anymore.

Apparently, there is a 4-kilometre loop that you can take from the Thornton Bales side. The trail split after a small wooden bridge over a (frozen for us) bog.

We went left (see the above photo), carried on for quite some time, then turned back when we weren’t too sure exactly which way the trail went.

Apparently the deeper you go into the canopy, there is a pond/lake and more trails but we didn’t get that far! Having said that, we had a really nice walk. It’s a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of the town or city just a few kilometres away.

The Facilities at Thornton Bales

As for facilities at Thornton Bales, there are none. After the parking lot and main signage, there’s nothing.

No fountains – so expect to bring all the water you need. There are no washrooms on the trails so plan for that. There are also no garbages along the way so bring your snacks in and out, please!

Our Verdict

girl with orange backpack walking on trail in snowy forest.
Lisa enjoyed the wintery nature. It really was lovely.

So, should you visit Thornton Bales Conservation Area? We’d go with sure – but only if you are in the area already.

While the forest area is beautiful, it’s pretty small, doesn’t offer as many varied paths as other areas close by (like Scanlon Creek), and doesn’t have the best facilities. However, it is great for a hike, some good exercise, a de-stress, and/or for a stretch of the legs, if you are passing through.

Related Articles

If you are looking for other Parks and Conservation areas located in the area (Ontario’s Green Belt) check out these posts:

And there you have it – our experience at Thornton Bales Conservation Area. In the end, we had a really nice hike and would recommend it – but don’t go out of your way.

There are other well-developed hiking areas if you need more stimulation for kids or pets. Stop in and let us know what you think!

As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
– E&L

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photo of woman hiking on winter forest trail with text overlay Hiking In Thornton Bales Conservation Area Ontario.
Eric Wychopen is a Canadian content writer who loves to share his passion for Ontario. Originally from a small town in Simcoe County, he has almost 50 countries under his belt - but Ontario will always be home. Having travelled thousands of kilometres across the province for work and play, Eric has a wealth of knowledge about the province and is always looking for new experiences in Ontario.