Located in Muskoka cottage country north of Toronto near Gravenhurst, the Torrance Barrens Conservation Area is 4,700 acres of exposed granite bedrock and wetlands, with bushes and trees that are stunted in growth. In 1999 the area was designated the world’s first permanent Dark Sky Reserve, being an ideal place to observe 360 degrees of night sky away from any light pollution of surrounding cities. In the early spring or late fall, you might even be lucky enough to see the northern lights.
Hoping to do some good hiking and star gazing, I headed up to the barrens with a group of friends last weekend, planning to camp overnight. However, those plans quickly changed once we arrived – as soon as we got out of our cars we were immediately swarmed by deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. Throughout our 4-hour hike on the trails, we were attacked relentlessly by all manner of insects. We all decided that staying for any extended period was a pretty bad idea, even with our bug nets on. Probably the recent wet weather made the situation worse than usual. In addition to the bugs, it was also going to be overcast at night, so any sky viewing would have been disappointing anyway.
It’s an interesting area, though. The landscape is characterized by ridges and troughs in the bedrock, filled with wetlands and swamps and a fair amount of animal wildlife around the ponds (including a sighting of the rare Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake). I’ll definitely be returning in the fall for some night photography when the skies are clearer, the temperature lower, and the insects have gone to sleep.