Chasing waterfalls: Your summer ‘hike and seek’ guide
Escape to the cooling mists and thundering roars of Ontario’s waterfalls with this comprehensive hiking guide from our own Vicky Qiao.
Vicky Qiao, Co-Editor-In-Chief
When it comes to exploring Canadian nature, Ontario isn’t always at the top of people’s agenda. Vacationers favour Alberta for the dazzling peaks of the Rockies and breathtaking sceneries of Banff and ski enthusiasts seek thrills on the slopes of Whistler in British Columbia.
But Ontario has plenty to offer, especially in its short but sweet summer months. The key features of the province’s landscape include plateaus and low, rounded hills. With natural wonders like the Niagara Escarpment, it’s a great playground for recreational hikers. Also abundant with freshwater, Ontario is home to hundreds of rivers, lakes and waterfalls.
Niagara Falls may be the most striking waterfall in Ontario, but it’s certainly not the only one worth checking out. In fact, there are hundreds of waterfalls just a two-hour drive from Toronto. These misty waterscapes will make your hike all the more memorable.
Whether you have a passion for hiking or waterfalls, Hamilton is the perfect city to start your exploration. With more than 100 waterfalls in the region, it's been nicknamed the City of Waterfalls. Hamilton isn’t just famous in Ontario, but it’s known as the waterfall capital of the world. The region is also home to the Bruce Trail, Canada's oldest and longest marked footpath stretching from Niagara to Tobermory. The different sections of the 900-kilometre Bruce Trail will lead you to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Ontario.
Smokey Hollow Waterfall via Waterdown Trail
Smokey Hollow Waterfall, also known as the Great Fall, is a 10-metre-tall ribbon waterfall flowing from Grindstone Creek in Waterdown, Ontario. The picturesque fall can be spotted on Hamilton postcards. Smokey Hollow was named during the Industrial Revolution when mills created smoke that rose from the hollow of the valley. The waterfall is the force that powered these mills.
Smokey Hollow Waterfall marks the beginning of the Waterdown Trail (or endpoint, depending on which direction you start from). A 10.3-kilometre out-and-back trail just north of Burlington, this trail winds and twists as it descends into the Grindstone Creek Valley. In the summer, you can immerse yourself in this beautiful, forested area while enjoying an easy, scenic hike. It’s a popular trail for hikers as well as bird watchers. Keep in mind it can be quite busy in the warmer months, so get there early to avoid the crowd. The trail is also dog-friendly, as long as you keep your dog on leash.
Webster’s Falls & Tews Falls via Dundas Peak
Webster’s Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Hamilton area. The Webster’s Falls Conservation Area is also an excellent destination for a day trip. The park offers charming forest views, as well as picnic tables and washroom facilities.
A great way to explore the area is to take the hiking trail to Dundas Peak, which overlooks the cities of Hamilton and Dundas. Besides leading you to the top of the peak, the trail also gives you access to Webster’s Falls and Tews Falls.
If you’re driving there, the best way to hike this trail and admire the waterfalls is to park at Webster’s Falls and hike upwards from there. The trail starts on the opposite side of the parking lot entrance. After glimpsing the views from the top of Webster’s Falls, you can hike toward Tews Falls. It takes around 30 minutes, and you’ll hike past several lookouts where you can spot this 41-metre waterfall. From there, follow the trail to Dundas Peak.
Devil’s Punch Bowl via Dofasco 2000 Trail
Despite its ominous name, Devil’s Punchbowl is one of the Niagara Escarpment’s most intriguing wonders. The “Punch Bowl”, as it’s locally known, was carved by huge melt-water rivers that flooded over the Stoney Creek Escarpment at the end of the last ice age. If you’re a geology geek, the Punch Bowl offers sightings of large, vertical displays of stratified rocks. From the lookout, you can glimpse a spectacular view of Stoney Creek and Hamilton Harbour, as well as peer downwards into the deep, mysterious gorge. Within the conservation area, you can visit two separate waterfalls—the Upper and Lower Punchbowl Falls.
The stunning site also leads to an 11.5-kilometre trail through upper Stoney Creek called the Dofasco 2000 Trail. This trail features a long boardwalk through Vinemount Swamp Forest, allowing hikers a delightful view of the prosperous forest and conservation area. Its roads and paths also make it accessible for cyclers.
While Hamilton is arguably Ontario’s most well-known destination for waterfall seekers, you can still find great waterfall trails in other regions around Ontario.
Eugenia Falls Trail
Eugenia Falls—located in the tiny village of Eugenia, whose name sounds like something out of a storybook—is one of the most impressive waterfalls along the Niagara Escarpment. It’s part of the Eugenia Falls Conservation Area, which encompasses 23 hectares of land in the Escarpment, river valley and upland forests. Winding along the edge of Cuckoo Valley, the trail boasts impressive views of this 30-metre waterfall.
Access to the base of the waterfall is strictly prohibited, and some of the land in the conservation area is privately owned. In recent years, visitors engaging in dangerous behaviour, such as taking pictures from atop the waterfall, have been a point of controversy in the area’s tourism. Instead of breaking the rules, enjoy the view of Eugenia Falls safely along its well-marked hiking trail. If you’re an experienced hiker, you can take the more challenging trek and go further down the trail—just remember to wear good shoes.
Hilton Falls Trail
Hilton Falls Conservation Area is another conservation area known for its waterfall and hiking trails. Located near Milton, it’s a natural treat perfect for a day trip from the city. With a picnic area as well as a fire pit near the ten-metre waterfall, you’ll be able to roast some hotdogs or s’mores to stay energized for the hike ahead!
There are different trails ranging from three to 9.5 kilometres, providing options for beginner, intermediate and advanced hikers. The Hilton Falls Trail also intersects with two other loop trails within the area. For those seeking a more adventurous experience, the massive conservation area offers mountain biking in the summers and cross-country skiing during the snow season.
With a guide to Ontario’s prettiest waterfalls, you should be all set to go for your summer ‘hike and seek’ adventures, full of scenic views that will make up for the time spent indoors over the spring. Every waterfall has its unique feature, so go explore the waterfall trails near you.