Bruce Trail, Hamilton, Ontario

stats box

While researching additional things to do during my recent trip to the 2015 World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton, Ontario, I was startled and delighted to discover that there is a long-distance hiking trail right in the area. The Bruce Trail is nearly 900 km (560 mi) long and mostly follows a geological feature called the Niagara Escarpment from the Niagara Falls area to Tobermory, at the northwest end of Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula.

As soon as I learned about the Bruce Trail I resolved to designate a day of my trip for a hike. After some research I got in touch with someone in the local Bruce Trail Conservancy chapter. I was then put in touch with a true trail angel who agreed to meet me at the end point of my planned hike and drop me off at the beginning. This way I was able to do a point-to-point hike and experience twice as much of the trail, all in the Hamilton area. It was a fantastic experience!

The day I had pre-selected weeks in advance turned out to be a perfect day for a hike: in fact, it was the first nice hiking day of the 2015 season. The trees and other plant life were still essentially winter-like, but the trail was clear of snow and the afternoon high temperature approached 70F.

The section I decided to hike was in a primarily greenbelt area west of downtown Hamilton, where the Bruce Trail follows the Niagara Escarpment along a big U-shape around the Dundas Valley. I chose my start and end points based on the distance I wanted to hike, access points to the trail, and the locations of waterfalls. It turns out that there are over 100 waterfalls just in the Hamilton area, and I was excited to see as many of the larger ones as I could. On the GPS track, I started at the lower right and ended at the top, where the blue carat points.

GPS track

GPS track

I hiked 15 miles in all, just under 9 miles on the main Bruce Trail and nearly 13 trail miles including official, marked side trails. The elevation profile shows that the elevation ranged between 300 and 750 feet, a rather modest range, with ups and downs accumulating to 1900 feet of elevation gain. At numerous places where the trail is steep, for example in a gorge along a creek, steps have been built to ease the climb/descent.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Armed with a map and other hiking info downloaded from the Bruce Trail web site, I started my hike at the end of the Filman Rd side trail. Following the trail is straightforward, as blazes have been put in place, either on sign posts or on trees, at frequent intervals and at junctions. (See the example in the stats box for this post.) The Filman Rd side trail is about 0.3 miles long, and after just another 0.6 mile on the Bruce Trail I came to the Tiffany Falls side trail that leads to Tiffany Falls (0.6 mile round trip). Tiffany Falls is on the Tiffany Creek and is called a ribbon falls, since it is taller than the width at the crest. Remnants of the winter’s ice accumulation from the mist are visible on both sides of the falls.

photo of Tiffany Falls

Tiffany Falls

About 0.7 mile past the Tiffany Falls side trail, the Bruce Trail passes Sherman Falls, where the Ancaster Creek comes over the Niagara Escarpment; note the layering in the rock. This falls is actually privately owned, and the Bruce Trail crosses the property on an easement. It is a terraced ribbon falls; note the terrace between the upper and lower sections.

picture of Sherman Falls

Sherman Falls

Only another 0.5 mile along the Bruce Trail I came to Canterbury Falls. This falls is somewhat lesser-known and is rated only a “B,” so when I encountered another hiker I asked about its location. I was told “you can’t miss it; the trail passes right by” – and it does! The falls is a terraced ribbon cascade with upper and lower sections and is on a tributary of the Sulphur Creek.

image of Canterbury Falls

Canterbury Falls

The trail passes into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, continuing to go through the forest and passing mossy rocks and the occasional downy woodpecker in a tree. Suddenly I noticed a large group of hikers coming down the trail and realized that it was probably the guided hike that my trail angel was participating in. Sure enough: there had been such a large turnout (44 people) that they split into two groups. As I approached and greeted them, I was asked several times if I was the lady from California; my hosts had apparently mentioned my visit to the group. I said Yes, and that I was glad to be there.

photo of hiking group on the Bruce Trail in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area

Hiking group on the Bruce Trail in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area

Within the Conservation Area there is a loop trail called the Main Loop; I followed the Bruce Trail around the western part of the loop. This branch of the trail passes the Hermitage Cascade, a so-called complex classical cascade on the Hermitage Creek with a lovely shaded picnic table nearby.

picture of Hermitage Cascade

Hermitage Cascade

A short distance from the Hermitage Cascade is The Hermitage, once a grand residence. It burned almost completely in 1934.  After the fire, the youngest daughter of the family that owned the property and house apparently built a small house within the ruins and lived there alone until her death in 1942.

image of The Hermitage

The Hermitage

Within the Dundas Valley Conservation Area is a specially designated area called the Dundas Valley Environmentally Significant Area. According to signage, this area is near the northern boundary of the Carolinian Life Zone; certain types of trees, birds, and other wildlife do not occur farther north.

About 0.8 mile past The Hermitage is the Trail Centre, a main access point for the Dundas Valley Conservation Area with parking, rest rooms, a small snack area, and picnic tables. This was about 5.2 miles into my hike. The Bruce Trail crosses the Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail, a regional paved multi-use trail. I had decided to take a short exploratory detour on the rail trail to a nearby road crossing (0.7 mile round trip).

photo of Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail

Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail

Along this short section of paved trail I noticed some trees with distinctive red plume-like clusters. It turns out that they are staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina).

picture of brilliant red plume on a staghorn sumac plant

Brilliant red plume on a staghorn sumac plant

The trail continues almost due north for the next 1.6 miles, crossing Governor’s Rd, and then turns right near a railway. After passing the Davidson Blvd side trail, the Bruce Trail passes closer to a residential area. Along this section I noticed the only flowers that I’d call a wildflower. They looked similar to fleabane, which I’ve seen at home, but actually are coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara); both are in the sunflower family.

image of coltsfoot


About 8.9 miles into my hike the trail emerged onto a street and descended about 150 feet over the next 1.1 mile. I decided to follow the marked Bruce Trail route even though there were several social trails that cut up the hillside to the trail I would follow up the escarpment. The street-side route passes through a residential neighborhood in Dundas over to Sydenham St, at the lowest elevation of the hike. Along this section there were a few signs that spring was finally arriving in the area. One sign was clusters of crocuses (Crocus sp.) in front yards of houses.

photo of pretty cluster of crocuses in a front yard

Pretty cluster of crocuses in a front yard

There were also a few snowdrops (galanthus).

picture of snowdrops in another front yard

Snowdrops in another front yard

At the left turn at Sydenham St the road and Bruce Trail begin to climb up the escarpment. About 0.4 mile later I left the main Bruce Trail to follow the Webster’s Falls side trail. This trail climbs steadily, gaining about 320 feet in 1 mile. Along the way there were emerging views of Dundas as well as the steep upper part of the escarpment ahead and several turkey vultures soaring overhead. At about 750 feet elevation the trail reaches the top, or brow, of the escarpment and follows along to the west. There is a very short side trail to Dundas Lookout, a very popular place. From the lookout there was a great view along the escarpment.

image of Niagara Escarpment from Dundas Lookout

Niagara Escarpment from Dundas Lookout

The steep overhang attracted some people to the edge to enjoy the views.

photo of overhang near Dundas Lookout

Overhang near Dundas Lookout

The views extended over about 180 degrees and included the cities of Dundas and Hamilton.

picture of view from Dundas Lookout across Dundas toward Hamilton

View from Dundas Lookout across Dundas toward Hamilton

After enjoying the views I continued along the Webster’s Falls side trail into the Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area. I have to say that, compared to California’s wilderness areas, the designation has a different meaning. At least one additional side trail and two large parking areas service this wilderness area and barely a mile of trail.

Roughly 0.6 mile after leaving the lookout I arrived at Tew’s Falls. This is an overhang ribbon falls, at 41 meters in height just a few meters shorter than Niagara Falls. Note the significant remnant of the mist ice buildup at the base of the falls. The striations that denote different types of rock layers are particularly evident here.

image of Tew’s Falls

Tew’s Falls

Continuing another 0.7 mile past Tew’s Falls I arrived at Webster’s Falls, where Spencer Creek flows over the edge of the escarpment. Although only about half the height of Tew’s Falls, Webster’s Falls has quite a bit more water flow and is quite impressive.

photo of Webster’s Falls

Webster’s Falls

I spent some time exploring the visitor’s area, crossing the foot bridge in the background of the picture. Near the visitor’s area there are stairs leading to the base of the falls. Due to trail erosion and other issues, however, the stairs path is indefinitely closed to public access. Unfortunately, prominent signage and fences did not deter some visitors from trespassing by climbing over the fences and going down the trail that is in poor repair. It was disappointing to see so many (young-adult) visitors ignore the fences and signage. From the viewing area on the far side you could look down into Spencer Gorge and enjoy the mist billowing up from the base of the falls. A youngster excitedly pointed out a rainbow that grew and waned as the mist changed.

After exploring the visitor’s area above the falls I returned to the Tew’s Falls parking area, where I had parked in the morning before being transported to the start of my hike. What a wonderful way to spend a beautiful hiking day! I had more waterfall explorations planned for the next day. And I would welcome a future opportunity to hike on this beautiful trail.

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3 Responses to Bruce Trail, Hamilton, Ontario

  1. Pingback: Hamilton Sightseeing and Waterfall Walks | trailhiker

  2. Pingback: Military Ridge Trail – Pikes Peak Rd to Dodgeville | trailhiker

  3. Pingback: 2015 Summary – numbers and experiences | trailhiker

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