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Hiking Ontario’s Bruce Trail

500 miles From Niagara to Tobermory

Step by step, hill by valley, rocky outcrop to fertile plain, the Bruce Trail takes you through some diverse wilderness changes while unveiling the rocky wonders of Ice Age glacial effects dating more than 10,000 years ago. From wild pine, cedar and mixed hardwood forests (creating colorful vistas in the fall) following the rocky precipice of the hiking the Bruce Trail (click any pic to enlarge)Niagara Escarpment - designated by the UNESCO as one of eighteen Canadian World Biospheres Reserves – south to the fertile Niagara Escarpment growing region, a diversity of hiking scenescapes will treat your progress.

In league with the Appalachian Trail along the eastern US (from Maine to Georgia - 2200 miles long) and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail running a parallel span of the Pacific Ocean coastline (from California to Washington State – 2650 miles), Ontario’s Bruce trail runs 560 miles north-south along the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara to the tip of Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula.

What is the Niagara Escarpment, anyways?

12,000+ years ago, Ontario was deep under a 1.5 mi thick sheet of ice (Wisconsin Glacier). Imagine the glaciers weight and pressure downwards and the slow, thorough scraping effect as it advanced southward inch by inch. Northern areas had its topsoil scooped up as the glacier grew it’s way southward exposing much of the rock face. Over time, as the glaciers melted and retreated, that topsoil was deposited creating fertile agricultural lands towards the southern edge of the glaciers reach.

creating the Niagara Escarpment (courtesy CGEN)The Niagara escarpment is made up of a dolostone cap (hard, dense rock, less prone to erosion) with a softer underlayer of shale (more fragmented, layered and susceptible to erosion effects). This creates amazing formations (flower pots, caves) and cliff effects (overhangs, sheer cliff faces, waterfalls), the most famous being Niagara Falls and its example of the erosion effects from the Niagara River’s amazing power during that period of glacial melt easily eroding back the escarpment face 8 mi from it’s current position.

What makes the Niagara Escarpment worthy of a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve designation?

ancient cedars find a footholdWithin the rocky geology of the Niagara escarpment live a number of rare and special ecosystems with unique plants – like 37 varieties of orchid that many of which grow nowhere else in the world, the oldest living entity in Eastern North America being the ancient cedar over 1300 years old among many other special ferns and plants – and animals – like the Jefferson Salamander, the Massassauga rattlesnake, turkey vultures, unique flying squirrels, bats and many other amphibians, reptiles and birds.

rare "Alvar" ecosystem is found in the natural rock crevicesA special “Alvar” ecosystems exists within the northern stretch of the Bruce Peninsula – an exceedingly rare ecological treat.  Because the glaciers advancing effect exposed the spine of bedrock with its naturally occurring cracks and crevices, these natural rock havens provide a vibrant ecosystem environment home to rare plant species, lichens, insects, and snakes. Plant roots go deep into the crevices seeing food and trapped water while mosses and lichens cling to the exposed surfaces providing ample protection for small animals and rare species seeking natural protections. Caves and larger crevices house bats, migratory birds, snakes and reptiles while smaller vertical crevices house mosses, small plants and craggly, rock-clinging ancient cedars 500-1000 years old.

The natural geology of the Niagara Escarpment produces some unique cliffside features that treat your eyes and create stunning landscapes. From vantages hundreds of feet high, or from below, exposed bedrock shores, cobble beaches, cliffs faces, rock falls and rich farming plains offer insights into the glacial effects that shaped the area thousands of years prior.

Did someone say waterfalls?

Eugenia Falls in the Blue Mountain section (courtesy acetransportation)Yes, lots! With a higher concentration of waterfalls in the Iroquoia section (near Hamilton/Ancaster) of the Bruce Trail system … like over 100 … if waterfall hikes are your interest, take in a few days to explore the main 20 miles of trails here and enjoy the likes of Albion Falls, Websters Falls, Devil’s Punchbowl and Chedoke Falls … just to name a few.

Outside of the main Iroquoia section, consider Smokey Hollow waterfalls, Eugenia Falls, Inglis Falls, Walters Falls, or Hoggs Falls for some creatively named, yet beautiful, waterfalls along the Bruce Trail system.

… and you’ve heard of the mother of all these falls, Niagara Falls, right?

The texture of the Bruce Trail

The topography of the trail varies considerably along it’s 500 mi stretch. Elevation pitches along the escarpment range between 100 - 600ft offering towering views of the surrounding area. Partner with the visual land use changes offering greenscapes of farming and vineyards of the Niagara Region to hardwood and mixed forests of the Bruce Trails middling stretch to waterside views from towering cliffs along the Bruce Peninsula. An amazing diversity to keep the trail exciting at every turn.

Cliffside views of Georgian Bay from the Peninsula section of the Bruce Trail

I don’t have 30 days to hike the Bruce Trail, how do I best explore it?

Most of us can’t (and don’t want to) hike the 550 miles in one stretch. The GoGirlfriend team has planned to conquer the trail over the next 10 years in weekend stretches and Balls Falls (in fall) along the Niagara section of the Bruce Trail planned one day hiking escapes. A weekend Airbnb here, a historic country inn there to a short commute to a trail section we can enjoy in a day, eventually we will complete the full trail.

Best resources to find your way:

shoreline of Georgian BayThis year to date, we’ve hiked just over 10% of the Bruce Trail on our quest for end-to-end completion, mostly these last few months due to the Covid travel restrictions and our #ExploreLocal efforts. What amazing parts of the province we have seen in our hiking adventures and what stunning scenery. We can’t wait to see how the landscape adventure unfolds.

Check back often to see our posted hiking progress.

Have you embarked on any epic hiking quests or adventures? Have you hiked parts of Ontario’s Bruce Trail? We’d love to know your favorite trail sections. Drop a comment below and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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