Hamilton Sightseeing and Waterfall Walks

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While I was in Hamilton, Ontario to watch the 2015 World Synchronized Skating Championships I took several short walks to explore: one walk near the competition arena, several to visit waterfalls, one to explore part of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and one in the Kelso Conservation Area. This post is a summary of these walks.

The first walk was on my first day in Hamilton. I’d taken a red-eye flight to Toronto and arrived early in the morning to pick up my rental car and get oriented. I headed to the FirstOntario Centre, the competition venue, to watch a few of the official practice sessions. During the break before the competition began late in the afternoon I went out for a walk. I simply walked up York Blvd from the arena, passing the Hamilton Cemetery and enjoying views across Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour before turning around. In this picture Hamilton is in the background at the right, and the skyway rises above the opening between Hamilton Harbour and Lake Ontario at the left.

image of view of Hamilton Harbour from York Blvd

View of Hamilton Harbour from York Blvd

On my way back to the arena I spent a few minutes walking around the grounds of Dundern Castle, a mansion built in the early 1830s.

photo of Dundern Castle

Dundern Castle

The following morning I had a few hours for exploration before the competition resumed. I decided to try to visit four waterfalls on the east side of Hamilton, in the area called Stoney Creek. The waterfalls cascade down the Niagara Escarpment. It is worth noting that the Niagara Escarpment area, which runs from Niagara Falls to Tobermory, at the north end of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, has been designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. There are over 100 waterfalls in the Hamilton area. These four falls – and others – are accessible via short walks from parking areas for conservation areas, or parks.

This GPS track shows the location of four short waterfall walks, totaling just 2 miles.

GPS track

GPS track

I started at the easternmost track, in blue, at Devil’s Punchbowl. It is in the Devil’s Punchbowl Conservation Area and is a 37-meter high overhang ribbon type of waterfall on Stoney Creek. The guardrail in the background shows just how close this waterfall is to a road. Basically the creek passes under the road and spills over the Niagara Escarpment. Many layers of different types of rock are easily visible. There are remnants of the winter’s ice buildup from freezing spray. The horseshoe shape of the escarpment edge is typical of many of the waterfalls I visited.

picture of Devil’s Punchbowl

Devil’s Punchbowl

Next I visited Felker’s Falls, the green track, a 10-15 minute drive from Devil’s Punchbowl. Felker’s Falls is in the Felker’s Falls Conservation area and is on Red Hill Creek. It is a terraced ribbon falls (note more spray ice at the left). I think the falls are less obstructed by trees when viewed from the Bruce Trail.

image of Felker’s Falls

Felker’s Falls

I continued west to Albion Falls, the red track, perhaps 10 minutes from Felker’s Falls. It is a complex classical cascade, and I thought it was especially pretty. It was possible to hike down either side of the waterfall via social trails.

photo of Albion Falls

Albion Falls

Just a few minutes’ drive from Albion Falls is Buttermilk Falls, the yellow GPS track. It is a terraced ribbon falls. This is another waterfall that is right next to a road; the culvert over which the road passes is just out of the picture at the top.

picture of Buttermilk Falls

Buttermilk Falls

The next group of short walks was north of Hamilton, and the GPS tracks are shown here.

GPS track

GPS track

First, after I completed a day-long hike on the Bruce Trail, I had remaining daylight and energy to visit one more waterfall: Darnley Cascade, denoted by the blue track. The cascade is on Spencer Creek in an area known as Crooks’ Hollow, site of a grist mill (later a paper mill) in the mid-1800s. You can actually see the cascade upstream from the road crossing – that’s where this picture was taken – but I walked along an informal path to get closer. The cascade is 4 meters tall and, at about 725 feet elevation, the highest in the Hamilton area.

image of Darnley Cascade

Darnley Cascade

My next visit was to Great Falls, in the town of Waterdown on the Grindstone Creek and denoted by the green GPS track. During the 1800s there were many sawmills and other mills along creeks in the area, and the resulting smoke gave the name Smokey Hollow. Like many other waterfalls that I visited, Great Falls is right next to a road – that is, the road was built near the falls. It is a terraced ribbon falls about 10 meters high, here viewed from a short distance down the Bruce Trail.

photo of Great Falls

Great Falls

I had decided to walk about 1 km along the trail to see if I could find a bridge across Grindstone Creek and an overhang that was noted as an interesting landmark in some trail information. Not far from the road crossing was a distinctive overhang, where the trail (lower right) was built between this section of the escarpment and the creek below. It was interesting to see the rock layers up close.

picture of Grindstone overhang

Grindstone overhang

I continued down the trail – always descending, yet still at creek level – and, about 1.2 miles from the trailhead, I arrived at the bridge I was looking for. I turned around and returned up the gorge. Along the way the creek spilled down the gorge. I knew there was an area designated as the Grindstone Cascade, and this seemed to be the steepest part of the creek’s descent. Whether or not I’ve correctly identified the cascade, it was quite picturesque!

image of Grindstone Cascade

Grindstone Cascade

On my way to my next stop I passed an intersection known as Clappison’s Corners, at the junction of Highways 5 and 6. Leaving the intersection I was startled to see this highway sign, since I was sure I wasn’t in France!

photo of mileage to Paris and London

Mileage to Paris and London

My next stop was Borer’s Falls, the red GPS track and located in the Borer’s Falls Conservation Area. The Rock Chapel trailhead provides immediate access to the Bruce Trail, co-designated locally as the Escarpment Trail. From the parking area I essentially turned left to follow Borer’s Creek about 0.25 mile to the falls, which is a 15-meter high plunge ribbon falls. Although by this point I had seen at least a dozen waterfalls, I continued to be fascinated by each one’s individuality.

picture of Borer’s Falls

Borer’s Falls

After visiting the falls I turned around and walked nearly 1 mile past the parking area, just exploring the trail along the top, or brow, of the Niagara Escarpment. There were some views over the city of Hamilton, though they were a bit hazy. I heard several northern flickers (Colaptes auratus), calling and making holes in trees looking for insects. Eventually one paused on a tree branch just long enough for me to capture a picture that shows its distinctive coloring.

image of flicker


After my brief hike along the top of the escarpment, I headed to the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary area of the Royal Botanical Gardens, located “down the hill” in local parlance, below the escarpment at the bottom of the Grindstone Creek watershed.  The yellow GPS track is almost hidden under its label near the lower right of the map. I was planning to walk along a marsh trail, and I hoped to see some skunk cabbage, the only wildflower that was expected to be in bloom, in the damp or seep areas. There were numerous young families walking along the path, and as I approached one family a youngster was excitedly pointing out a gaily striped garter snake. Though I didn’t see any wildflowers, there were several bird species, including red-winged blackbirds, black-capped chickadees, sparrows, and a pair of tagged tundra swans. On several occasions a downy woodpecker landed on the dirt path and seemed to be eating something: I’m not sure if it was mini-gravel or tiny insects. Toward the end of my walk I noticed a hawk on the opposite bank of the creek, apparently guarding a recent catch. The bird that had been caught was still moving intermittently.

photo of hawk with a recent catch

Hawk with a recent catch

After these adventures it was time to make my way to the airport to return home. I had picked out one more stop along the way: Kelso, a conservation area in the Conservation Halton jurisdiction near Miton. Every time I’ve traveled near a city, road, valley, or park called Kelso I’ve tried to visit! This Kelso-named park has multi-season recreation: it is a ski area in the winter and a hiking and mountain biking park in the summer. (And it is on Kelso Road in the town of Kelso.) I hadn’t seen any snow on the ground so far during my visit, but as I approached the area I could clearly see where the ski area is located, with its slopes facing northwest and the ski season just recently completed.

picture of Kelso ski area

Kelso ski area

I only had time for a brief hike, accessing yet another short section of the Bruce Trail. The parking area and green slopes denoting the lower ski area are clear on the Google Earth map.

GPS track

GPS track

After passing the tube park the trail begins to climb up the hill toward the steep upper part of the escarpment, with several cross-country ski trails running through the area. The trail passes an old lime kiln and goes through pretty forest with white birch trees scattered among the darker trunks.

image of Niagara Escarpment at Kelso

Niagara Escarpment at Kelso

After a little less than 1 mile I reluctantly turned around and returned to the parking area. It was a pleasant conclusion to a brief but amazing visit to the Hamilton area.

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One Response to Hamilton Sightseeing and Waterfall Walks

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

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