I decided to get back on the trail quite quickly, two days after my last visit, so that I could get in a little more progress before impending rainstorms arrive in the area over the forthcoming days. What better welcome to Spring than potential thunder and lightning!
I parked exactly where I left off last time, at the 35.2km mark in “Parking Lot C” at Short Hills Provincial Park and began today’s hike by heading due-south for a while. Short Hills Provincial Park is unattended and free to use (including parking). The park is occasionally closed during November/December while the First Nations people hunt deer. Birds were quite active as soon as I began. Once again, Song Sparrows were in full tune. Chickadees flitted amongst the bare trees. A pair of Robins fought territorially. Let me get the mud-moaning out of the way. The mud was terrible! My footwear is just about wrecked and it was quite hazardous in steeper areas – I was having to grab trees and shrubs just to be able to stay upright on the more challenging terrain.
The advantage of all this extra water run-off from melted snow and rainfall is that there is greater flow over waterfalls. Thanks to the way the land was formed in Southern Ontario, there are a great many waterfalls to be seen and The Bruce Trail offers views of some of them. Due to re-routes, I missed DeCew Falls (more on that later), but I came across Terrance Falls and was certainly not disappointed. Ideally, waterfall photography makes use of special tools including a tripod, but I can’t be lugging all that stuff around with me…. I still managed to get a pretty nice shot thanks to the overcast weather which lends a hand to these kinds of technical shots.
The other advantage to mud is that it reveals who has passed through ahead of your arrival. Continuing through the woodland, I saw canid prints and coyote scat as well as very small deer prints – probably a fawn. Later I would see beaver prints and a couple of dams, though I don’t think the prints were recent and the dams seemed a little worse for wear. Research later showed me that beavers were active here at least last year.
Soon the trail climbed into a meadow where there was much bird activity. Dark-eyed Juncos bickered in the trees, Robins searched for grubs in the grass, the unusual call of a Field Sparrow which increases in rapidity, and a Northern Flicker “wik-a wik-a” call could be heard as he clung to a tree in the distance. A beautiful Eastern Bluebird landed on a branch nearby just long enough for me to steal a shot.
At the 40.5km mark, I came across Swayze Falls, the largest of the waterfalls in Short Hills Provincial Park. Access to get a good photograph would have been challenging and time-consuming, so I snapped one from a viewing platform and continued on my way until I came upon a bridge where I paused to eat a sandwich and a snack of some nuts. I would like to have finished Map 03 today, but I couldn’t financially justify another Uber and I didn’t want to hike back through all that mud. I was getting tired from the exertion. Checking a couple of different maps, I realised that I had a couple of options. I could stop right here and turn back. I wasn’t too far from some parking off on a side-trail so that I could pick up the trail again next time. The other option was to continue a little further until I came upon Effingham Street. A little way up the street, my progress on The Bruce would be done for the day, but a turning would take me back towards my car performing a kind-of loop around the park, skipping most of the mud.
I decided to continue and climbed a ridge where I enjoyed watching three Red-bellied Woodpeckers quarrelling over the ownership of an attractive tree cavity. Agreement between the birds seemed increasingly unlikely, so I made my way onwards past a couple of culverts channelling water into creeks that disappeared into the body of the park. I eventually came upon the street. I turned right and after a short distance, I came to a bend in the road. The trail continued to the left. This is where I was finished for the day, at 41.9km, as my car lay some distance to the right first along a stretch of backroads and then back into the park for a while. Today I completed 6.7km. I am 4.68% of the way through the whole trail.
Addendum: DeCew Falls
In my previous visit to The Bruce Trail, I noticed that I came close to DeCew Falls without ever actually passing them. Since I was nearby again, I decided to drive there on the way home. There is a picturesque mill and a lovely waterfall. Unfortunately, there is never a particularly good view of the falls. There is a wire fence for safety, but it is ugly and blocks the chance to get a photograph. It is possible but pretty dangerous (and not permitted), especially in the muddy conditions present, to get down to the bottom of the falls, a little further away along a trail – there is even a rope that someone has placed which you would be able to use to essentially rappel down the steep drop. I considered it, but time was getting on and I didn’t fancy an injury. I took an inadequate photo from atop the ridge instead.
I left off where there is no parking, so on my next visit, I will need to figure that out – either parking further along the trail and walking backwards, or parking further back along the trail and repeating some. I will certainly have to finish Map 03. It will involve hiking through a couple of conservation areas. Until then, there is a patch of bad weather to get through as we get closer to some nice weather, wildflowers, birds and all the good stuff!
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I woke up early on one of those grey overcast days where you’re not quite sure whether to prepare for a wet and cold day or for the sun to burst through, such is the weather in the approach to an Ontario spring. I have to admit that I have underestimated this challenge so far – in particular, the need to hike back to my car each time I progress, doubling the distance I have to walk. So today I decided that I would push myself much further than I had been, and then take an Uber back to my car! This was a big help psychologically and I managed to complete as much today as I had in the three previous hikes combined.
I parked near the Welland Canal at kilometre 18.2 on the edge of Map 02 of The Bruce Trail and crossed the bridge before turning south following the west side of the canal. It is not active at this time of the year and I wouldn’t mind coming back here sometime to see a ship make its way through this channel and under this raising bridge that allows vehicle and pedestrian traffic to cross. American Robins were plentiful, Song Sparrow melody filled the air. A nearby House Finch sang. He sounds similar to the Gold Finch, but the pitch of his note puts me in mind of the tone of someone asking questions. Anyone old enough and British enough to remember The Clangers and how their whistling communication sounded like questions might vaguely perceive that which I somehow floridly yet spectacularly fail to describe.
Near Welland Canal Lock Number 4, I walked under Canadian National Railway Tracks, hung a right into some brush and crossed over a spur line. More brush continued and the ground became muddy. In fact, throughout the day, the trail was exceedingly muddy in parts. This isn’t a criticism of the trail. It’s a criticism of (near) Spring in this part of the world. The snow and ice has all melted, there’s a little rain… there were times when my footwear was almost completely sucked from off my feet.
Around the back of some houses, the trail exited onto Merritt Street in the community of Merritton, named after William Hamilton Merritt who founded The Welland Canal Company. I crossed to Ball Avenue West, over a small concrete bridge, past half-a-dozen large residential lots until entering Mountain Locks Park. A steel bridge conveyed me over a stretch of the abandoned Second Welland Canal near to an old lock.
On The Road
Curving around the edge of the park, I met the busy Glendale Avenue. A main road through Merritton, a suburb of St. Catharines, lined with typical restaurants and businesses. Today, Ontario declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 virus and, though there was vehicular traffic, there were no pedestrians and parking lots were mostly empty. I was keen to get through this noisy urban stretch as I made my way under the bridge of Highway-406, a short 26km highway running north/south across the Niagara Peninsular.
After a gas station, I turned left onto Tremont Drive passing apartment buildings and houses before the road climbed a quite steep bank. I heard a bird call I didn’t immediately recognise, followed by the same call in reply some distance away. It sounded like a woodpecker, of which there are several species in this area, and after listening to a few more moments of their back-and-forth, and doing a little on-the-fly research, I realised it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker of which I am quite fond. I would hear these several more times throughout the day. At the end of the street, the trail entered and weaved through a fairly mature wood. Near here, I was surprised to see a very small number of violets growing as it is early in the season. Small violets are tough to identify, but these were likely Viola odorata (Eurasian Sweet Violet amongst many other common names).
The trail briefly travels through Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site, a recreation site that started life as a quarry, became a landfill, before being rejuvenated in 2004. On the one hand, I had considered stopping here when I planned my route. Maybe spending some time exploring what was on offer, since the trail only skirts the edge of the site. On the other hand, my optimistic goal was to make it as far as Short Hills Provincial Park. I pushed on. I could always come back here another time.
I climbed Sanatorium Hill and then found myself on the campus of Brock University. I was around 25.3km along The Bruce Trail in total, having walked 7km so far today. I was back high up on the escarpment for a while before being met with a long slow stretch, due to deep mud, which continued alongside a hydro-electric canal that is fed by the man-made Lakes Moodie and Gibson. These lakes are fed by Lake Erie via The Welland Canal. The trail teased me, getting tantalisingly close to a view of the lake, before turning away a couple of times, until eventually crossing the edge of it via a short boardwalk. Shortly I would cross a channel via DeCew Road where a couple of Mute Swans swam idyllically by.
I was feeling good about my progress but was beginning to tire by this point. There was an opportunity to stop here as the trail passed through DeCew House Heritage Park at the 29.8km mark, where there is also a First Nations Friendship Monument. I really wanted to push on and get to Short Hills Provincial Park, though. In retrospect, I should have stopped. I was tracking my progress with GPS and know for sure that I never lost track of the white blazes, but when I examine the map of the route I took (shown at the end of this post), it varies quite widely and is a fair bit longer than the map in my Official Bruce Guide (and there are no re-routes listed on their website). Still, on I went, climbing the incline of a gravel pathway that traced the edge of the lake that many gulls seemed to be enjoying.
Reaching a hydro-electric dam, I turned and followed the edge of the escarpment that provided good views over farmland and houses between the breaks in trees, as well as a potentially dangerous fall for anyone straying too close to the edge! My progress at this point diverged quite a bit during this stretch of trail, adding some distance and not-at-all following the description provided in my guide, but I eventually exited woodland onto 1st Louth Street, which I crossed into a field and then coniferous woodland with tall pines.
My journey diverged a little more, but again, I was following the white markings of the trail. Despite this, I was treated to the sight and sound of a screaming Red-tailed hawk overheard carrying what appeared to be a large snake in its talons. Up a bank, I discovered a large fossil on the path with long root-like impressions. This is an example of a “trace fossil” which shows indirect evidence of an organism. Bioturbation is a process by which an organism disturbs the earth, for example by burrowing, and this disturbance is then fossilised. Pretty cool.
Since it is still mid-march and a couple of days until we are still officially in Spring, the fauna is still mostly bare and the environment has quite the beigeness about it. Interestingly, this stretch of trail, much more than the rest of the ground I had covered today, was much greener. A great deal of different mosses growing on rocks, grass-like reeds and fronds of different ferns just beginning to show. In just a few more weeks, Ontario will welcome back the return of migrating birds including the multi-colours of warblers that the keenest birders travel to our province to catch a glimpse of.
And so, at 35.2km, I reached a parking area on the edge of Short Hills Provincial Park and concluded today’s hike. I completed 17km according to The Bruce Trail Guide maps, though 18.9km according to my GPS tracking (which includes wandering off a bit to look at views and stuff). I was pleased with my progress but should likely have brought more snacks with me, as I wasn’t feeling so great with a migraine. I called an Uber, the driver somewhat bewildered with me for the pick-up location, the drop off location next to my car, the purpose of my day, and the fact that I took my very, very muddy shoes off to avoid dirtying his car. For this, he was very grateful.
Next time I will hike through Short Hills Provincial Park – the first Provincial Park of several I will traverse, along with many other conservation areas. The aim will be to complete Map 03 of The Bruce Trail. There are 42 maps in total. The Niagara Section ends and the Iroquia Section begins part-way through Map 05. I’m just under halfway through The Niagara Section and 3.9% of the way through the entire trail at time of writing. Phew!
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Similar to The Vista Trail, parking is possible on the side of Zoo Road – but not on weekends from May to September. Between these months you’ll have to pay to park at the nearby zoo. Or you can do this trail in the opposite direction to me and read this article backwards, by parking in the lot on Twyn Rivers Road. Expect the lot to be busy on summer weekends.
I parked on Zoo Road and then continued on foot past the metal gates down the paved decline. It was early morning and I was surprised to see half-a-dozen Turkey Vultures roosting up in the trees beside the trail. They pretty much just turned their backs to me in disgust, so I continued on my way (after taking a couple of shots of them).
Staghorn Sumac grows either side of the paved walkway. It is one of the first plant leaves to begin changing colour in the fall, eventually becoming a bright red colour. I was walking during spring and what was lacking in a little leaf colour was made up for by an Eastern Newt in its Red Eft (juvenile) stage basking on the path. These newts begin life hatching from eggs in the water. Their limbs grow, their gills shrink and their tail loses its fin qualities, until they become an Eft. They remain on the land for 2-3 years in order to leave their birthplace and find a new pond to breed in. As adults in their new home, they will redevelop a more fin-like tail and typically never leave the water again during their usual 15-year life-span.
The trail climbed back up until it reached a crossroad. There is no access straight ahead and left takes you to The Cedar Trail. Our good old Orchard Trail continued to the right, so that is where I went! There is a large pond to the left where you can often find waterfowl such as Trumpeter Swans, ducks, and Canada Geese. During warmer months, Midland Painted Turtles often bask on the logs here.
Into The Woods
After the pond, the trail turned from gravel to dirt and made a steep decline through deciduous woodland where birdsong filled the air. To the right, I could just about spy a swampy area that hosted many more of the turtles for which The Rouge is an important breeding area. Shortly, on the other side of a wooded fence, I was afforded a view down towards the meandering Little Rouge Creek.
The trail gently declined further until I was level with the creek and as I continued, there were several opportunities via well-trodden paths, to get close to the bank. Although I didn’t see it, I heard the distinct call of a Kingfisher. Further along, near a short boardwalk, there was evidence of a muskrat – trodden vegetation, chewed trees, and a potential nest.
Heading away from the creek, the trail began to climb. At the fork, be sure to continue right to stay on the trail and don’t waste your time climbing the huge hill (it leads out of the park… eventually). Once more declining through forest, the trail can get a little muddy during wetter periods, though boardwalk helps to deal with the worst of it. At a steep section with bare roots and a handrail through coniferous trees, there is another good lookout over Little Rouge Creek.
The fauna alternated between deciduous and coniferous woodland, as well as some small open meadows while remaining mostly flat for some distance before ending at Twyn Rivers Road. Congratulations, you can turn back at this point. Alternately, The Mast Trail is a little down the road on the opposite side (you will have to turn back eventually) or further down the road just after the bridge and on the left is The Vista Trail, which will loop you back to where we started today.
Type: Point-to-Point (But you can loop via a separate trail)
Views: Good for this close to the city
Nature/Wildlife: Wide variety of flora and fauna. Probably the best Rouge Trail for wildlife, but Vista is also good.
Overall: If you want a bigger terrain challenge, take The Mast Trail . If you want the best view, take The Vista Trail (mainly for the observation deck). For something in-between, this trail is for you and probably offers the better chance of a wildlife encounter.
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As you might guess from the name of this trail, there’s a nice lookout platform that affords a view down towards the valley through which Little Rouge Creek flows.
Bear with me. Let’s get the parking nonsense out of the way. I like to park at the north trailhead, but the parking is a little restrictive because of the nearby zoo. You head north along Meadowvale Rd past Sheppard Ave, turn right onto Zoo Road and make sure you keep going right. Park on the side of the road. You are good to do this from October to April. Outside of these months, you can only park here on weekdays. Weekends you’ll have to pay to park at the zoo. Or take the southern trailhead and park at Twyn Rivers road. This is likely to be rammed on summer weekend days.
I survived the parking and turned right near the visitor’s centre to begin The Vista Trail. There is a Common Lilac tree outside the visitor’s centre which flowers in mid-to-late spring. It’s an introduced species, but not terribly aggressive, so I think it is probably okay for us to enjoy the scent the flowers give off. Go on, give it a sniff! There are some bird feeders beside the visitor’s centre, so it is often a good spot to have a look for some feathered friends.
Pushing on, the trail follows the edge of a ridge through trees. Listen out for the call of Killdeer I’ve often seen and heard them spend their time in the open field to the right. Around a bend and I approached the viewing platform located beside an open meadow. From the platform, you can see down to the Little Rouge Creek and during fall the view of the changing leaf colours on the many trees is very pretty. There is also good birding in this area. I have seen many warblers in the trees, including my favourite – the Black-and-white Warbler, Eastern Towhees and many more. Near the hydro poles I have seen Eastern Bluebirds. Outside of the colder months, this area is often filled with Tree Swallows. On this particular morning, I saw half-a-dozen White-tailed Deer grazing and keeping half-an-eye on me.
Sticking to the left trail and back into tree coverage, I continued to make my way along the ridge. Dappled sunlight and tree coverage make for good habitat fort Ontario’s Provincial Flower, the Great White Trillium which can also be seen flowering in mid-to-late springtime and I was pleased to see some here.
A couple of steeper climbs with tree roots underfoot make the trail slightly more challenging, though it is less difficult than The Mast Trail. Likely due to the way the sunlight lands, along the ridge are conifers to the left and deciduous trees, mostly maples, to the right. Expect to hear the calls and drummings of woodpeckers through much of the year.
The Vista Trail reaches its conclusion after a gradual decline down towards Twyn Rivers Road. You have three options now! You can turn back the way you came, or you can pick up either The Orchard Trail or The Mast trail. The Orchard Trail will take you back to where you started out. The Mast Trail will mean you’ll have to eventually turn back. These two trails can be found by turning left onto the road. Be careful, the road can be a little dicey, there are no sidewalks and drivers aren’t always as generous as they ought to be. After a short walk you will find signs for The Orchard Trail on your left and The Mast Trail on your right.
Type: Point-to-Point (But you can loop via a separate trail)
Views: Good – has an observation deck offering views down into valley
Nature/Wildlife: Good – I’ve seen numerous birds and deer in particular. I think The Orchard Trail might be a touch better.
Overall: One of the shorter trails (though you do have to walk back again). The observation deck is a highlight. Around the deck is also good for birding, especially during spring migration (April to June, peaking in May).
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I like to begin this trail at the northern trailhead located near the parking at Twyn Rivers Road. At the east of the Twyn Rivers parking lot, near the creek, there is a sign for The Orchard Trail. Take this trail initially, cross the bridge, and then The Mast Trail is on your left.
I began by walking along a stretch of an old logging trail where White Pine trees were cut down en masse a couple of hundred years ago. The trees grow tall and straight and so they provided ideal timber for ship masts in Europe. There are no longer many mature White Pines remaining.
As the trail turns I saw large concrete slabs washed over by The Little Rouge Creek. These are the remains of a dam, once used to create an opportunity for visitors to swim when this location was a popular resort. Shortly before entering a wooded area, the trail skirts alongside the base of a hill. This was a popular skiing destination during the 1950s through to the 1970s. There was even a chalet here and a ski-lift.
During the summer, this meadow area can throw up some nice birds. On a previous hike, I was fortunate enough to see a Scarlet Tanager. Less common than the Northern Cardinal, but the males are as brilliantly red. I smiled to myself at this encounter before spotting a bright blue coloured bird hopping around before flying away a short distance. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few shots with my 450mm lens… then I zoomed in on the picture. I had never seen an Indigo Bunting up until this point – as the name suggests, a rich, deep blue little bird. Many butterflies and dragonflies can also be seen here.
The Hog’s Back
The trail then leads into woodland and it is not unusual to hear the deep drumming sound of woodpeckers within the trees. As I climbed the ridge, nicknamed “The Hog’s back” I turned back and saw a Hairy Woodpecker clinging to a maple tree. They use their long tongue to forage for insects hiding beneath the bark and are great fun to watch. The terrain is moderately challenging during this stretch of the trail, especially if you are still working on your fitness and hiking experience.
Through the woodland, I walked along the ridge. Steep declines either side of me, valleys cut into the land by glacial retreat. Squirrels frolicked and fought, chasing each other around-and-around tree trunks vying for territory. I spotted movement beside a fallen log and amongst what remained of last year’s fallen leaves was an American Toad. Surprisingly, Ontario is home to only two species of toad, the other being the Fowler’s Toad which is considered an endangered species in Canada.
After a stretch of mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland, with many maple trees that make this walk quite colourful during the fall, “The Staircase” leads partway back down the ridge followed by another smaller descent. After opening up for a while, I crossed a bridge over The Rouge River before reaching the Southern Trail Head at Glen Rouge Campground. Time to head back!
Views: Not bad, but a fair bit of tree cover.
Nature/Wildlife: Lots of Sugar maples which look great in the fall. Fair birding, especially woodpeckers.
Overall: If you’re looking to work your heart rate, this is a more challenging trail and you’ll enjoy a couple of the climbs. If you are looking for nice panoramic views, some nature, or you just want something more leisurely, I’d recommend The Vista Trail or The Orchard Trail (or both together which creates a loop).
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