What is Recreational Geology?

Underground at the Bonnechere Caves.

For an activity that really rocks, try recreational geology, where you can search for fossils, gems, and minerals as you learn about the rich geological heritage that makes this region unique. Recreational geology can take you from a gem and mineral museum, to a guided tour in the great outdoors where you can unearth your own treasures.




What is Recreational Geology?

Geology is a detective story – a reading of the rocks to learn the secret history of the Earth. Our region features one of the most unusual, rich and diverse geological environments in the whole country, making the Highlands an important part of that story. But Recreational Geology is also about how it affects our past and present way of life – our Geoheritage. From the unique taste of Ontario’s best maple syrup, to the exhilarating curves and scenic vistas along some of the Provinces best touring routes, our geology influences every aspect of how we live, work, and play here in the Highlands.

Just one look at the bedrock map below and you can see that there is something special about Ontario’s Highlands (highlighted in red). Each colour represents a different type of rock, but you don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the tale they tell as you come to know the story of our Earth through our land and our people. Many artists claim this is why they seek their inspiration here, and this is why there is such a great diversity of plant and animal species found in the Highlands – our unique geology:


Come to know the story of our Earth

Brigitte Gall collecting at the Bear Lake Diggings

Dig for buried treasure in Canada’s Mineral Capital.
Immerse yourself in the historic waters of the Ottawa Valley.
Learn geology’s role in the Highlands’ industrial revolution.
Experience the Mica Festival and live geoheritage in Lanark.
Come to know Ontario’s Highlands’ undiscovered country.


This part of the world might seem very quiet and stable at the moment, but the map above speaks to a violent past: erupting volcanoes, rising seas, and advancing glaciers – just like your favourite Hollywood disaster movie, a billion years in the making…


Long ago, all of the world’s continents came together to form one vast landmass called Rodinia. At the centre of this enormous super-continent was a towering, spiny ridge known as the Grenville Mountains. They were pushed up by forces deep within the Earth to heights that would have rivaled today’s Himalayas (nearly nine kilometres above sea level). But just as trees put down roots to support their weight, so too do mountains. This is where the rocks of Ontario’s Highlands were formed – as much as fifty kilometres below the Earth’s surface. Subject to the intense heat and pressure at this depth, solid rock becomes like toothpaste, and new minerals are formed (to date, nearly three hundred species have been identified in the Highlands).

Over time, convection currents in the mantle shifted, and Rodinia began to tear apart again. This started the process that would form the Ottawa Valley, and left the forces of erosion to level the once-mighty backbone of Rodinia. Eventually, Ontario’s Highlands would have looked much like the prairies. The oceans rose and fell, and as the weight of kilometres of solid rock was literally washed out to sea, the roots of the ancient mountain range and seafloor deposits began to rise up from the depths. Then came the glaciers: a series of ice-sheets up to two kilometres thick that scoured the land down to the rocky outcrops and hilly terrain we see today.

More than just shaping our landscape though, our billion-year history has left us a small window into the inner workings of our planet (all those colours in the centre of the map). This is something that can be seen in only a few places in the world. But being just a short drive from either Toronto or Ottawa, boasting some of the best roads in the Province for easy interior access, and featuring vast tracts of public wilderness to explore, Ontario’s Highlands is the best place on Earth to experience it!


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