Top 5 Parks in Cambridge
No time for an introduction this time (other than this brief one) – let’s take a look at the Top 5 Parks in Cambridge!
5. Shade’s Mills Conservation Area
If you read up on our history of Cambridge, in which we discuss the city itself and its pre-amalgamation components (click here to do so), you’ll see that mills loom large in the history of the area (indeed, Preston was named Cambridge Mills back in the early nineteenth century).
Thus, many parks in the area bear the mill moniker – a nice slice of history! As for Shade’s Mills, this is a beautiful, lush natural area perfect for swimming, fishing, and canoeing in the large reservoir; wandering the 12 kilometer of trails winding through mature forests; and simply enjoying the scenery.
4. Churchill Park
Many of the best parks combine elements of different outdoor activities, aimed at different age groups, in order to offer the best experience for the largest number of visitors. Churchill Park does this to great effect.
It’s got a splash pad during the summer; extensive playground equipment; an enclosure with peacocks, deer, and other critters; sports facilities; nature trails; and even a charming little pond with a functioning mill.
There is also an area designated for camping (it can accommodate trailers) with washroom and shower facilities, which operates on a first-come, first-serve basis (3 night maximum).
Churchill Park is located at the extreme south end of Cambridge, but no matter where you live in the city, it’s worth a visit!
3. Mill Race Park
We weren’t kidding when we said the legacy of mills looms large in Cambridge – we could likely even have a ‘Top 5 Parks in Cambridge with Mill in Their Name’ in the future (that way Hespeler Mill Pond could get its due).
But for now, Mill Race Park is the one we’re recognizing. It’s a small park, but one that offers stunning views of both the Grand River and a rather pretty, historic section of downtown Galt (southern Cambridge).
One of Mill Race Park’s most famous features is the ruins of an old textile mill that stand right along the river; the front portion of the ruins has been converted into a stage. Every summer, the Mill Race Folk Festival is held here, which is free of charge.
Mill Race Park is lovely to visit year-round – even if you’re just looking to mill about – but the Folk Festival is especially enjoyable, with plenty of music and dancing, crafts, and tasty refreshments.
You can learn more about the festival on the Mill Race Folk Society website.
2. Dumfries Conservation Area
For a place so large, and so centrally located, it’s somewhat surprising that Dumfries Conservation Area is a bit of a hidden gem. But regardless of how many people know about it, it really is something special.
The story of Dumfries Conservation Area is tied up in the story of Percy R. Hilborn, an inductee of the illustrious Waterloo Region Hall of Fame who lived in the area for most of his life (he was born in Berlin [Kitchener] in 1886 and died in Galt [Cambridge] in 1974).
Percy Hilborn was a prominent businessman, and he involved himself quite heavily in the wider community (for example, he was president of the Preston Planning Board and the Rotary Club of Preston-Hespeler, and active in many other organizations).
One of Hilborn’s passions and lifelong goals was acquiring farmland and untapped expanses of nature, and preserving them for future generations. All told, Hilborn gathered together 75 contiguous hectares of beautiful forests, wetlands, and varied terrain, which he donated to the Province of Ontario in 1967.
The land’s been under the care of the Grand River Conservation Authority since the 1970s, and to this day it’s a beautiful place to explore and enjoy – which is what Hilborn intended. Anyone looking for a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of modern life can come here for an escape into the serenity of nature.
Indeed, the Dumfries Conservation Area lies right between the undeniably hustling and bustling intersection of Hespeler Road and Coronation Boulevard, yet while wandering through the park it’s as if you’re miles and miles away.
There are hiking trails, areas set aside for camping and swimming, and a wide variety of local wildlife to observe.
Cambridge boasts many more parks than we were able to honour in this, our latest Top 5 list, so I’d like to reiterate the caveat that the best way to discover the perfect park for you is to go out and explore.
No matter where you live, whether it’s in downtown Galt, near the rivers in Preston, or in the heart of Hespeler, you’re never more than a few minutes away (by foot, by bus, or by car) from at least a small park (and often one with ‘mill’ in the name).
Two worthy areas to check out that didn’t quite fit our criteria as parks are the Cambridge Sculpture Garden, which is a small trail on the west side of the Grand River in Galt with some interesting sculptures and a nice view; and the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail, an 18 kilometer trail that follows the Grand River from Cambridge through Glen Morris all the way to Paris.
It’s perfect for hikes, bikes, and in the winter, snowshoes and skis.
1. Riverside Park
Riverside Park has it all: beautiful views, facilities for a wide range of activities, diverse and varied terrain and wildlife, and nearly a century of history in the region. The distinctive, historic gates that stand at Riverside Park’s front entrance were erected in 1922 by veterans of the First World War, making them Preston’s very first war memorial (Preston is now the northwest section of Cambridge).
The park itself began as 20 acres of parkland on the northwest shore of the Speed River. This parkland was planned out by a team of Preston locals, including Preston’s 1969 Citizen of the Year, Oliver A. Kummer (who ensured the letters PHS, for Preston Horticultural Society, adorned the bridge – you can see them to this day).
Indeed, Riverside Park is a fine place for horticultural enthusiasts, and it boasts lovely gardens and seemingly boundless fields of local flora, as well as boardwalks that offer both wonderful views and sturdy footing.
Riverside Park is the largest park in all of Cambridge, and it has over 250 acres of space to explore and enjoy.
To give you an idea of some of the facilities available here: it’s got lighted soccer fields, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, a concession stand, and even a grandstand. It’s an incredible place for picnics – it has four picnic shelters – and just about any other outdoor activity you could think of.
Whether you enjoy birdwatching (or birding, if you’re watching your syllabic intake); going for a run or a stroll along its numerous trails (one leads all the way to Hespeler); or enjoying the Speed River itself (it is, after all, Riverside Park) – Riverside Park has everything a park-goer could want.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s meticulously maintained and quite close to downtown Preston, for all your shopping needs. On Canada Day, Riverside Park is arguably the best place to be in all of Cambridge, with family-friendly festivities, an impressive fireworks display, and tens of thousands of attendees.
The massive, annual Canada Day Parade has started on King Street, trekked north through downtown Preston, and ended in Riverside Park for over 40 years now, which is just another reason why the Cambridge community is so fond of this precious park.
Most natives of Preston (and many throughout Cambridge) have their fair share of fond memories at Riverside Park; why not come make some of your own? You can find Riverside Park in northern Cambridge, along the northern bank of the Speed River.
Written by Will Kummer