The Bruce Trail is a marked, pedestrian footpath in Ontario. The Bruce Trail runs 904 km along the Niagara Escarpment, which is like walking from Milan to Paris, and then doing an extra lap around the Boulevard Périphérique for good measure.
The trail spans the distance between Tobermory and Queenston near Niagara Falls. There are over 400 km of associated side trails. The trail is open to walkers and hikers primarily and some other uses on a more restricted basis, e.g., horseback riders and bicyclists.
It takes advantage of the features and terrain of the Niagara Escarpment, designated by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Reserve, a prominent uprising of the sedimentary rock in the lower Great Lakes.
The land the trail traverses is owned by the Government of Ontario, local municipalities, local conservation authorities, private landowners, and the Bruce Trail Conservancy. The Bruce Trail is the oldest and longest marked hiking trail in Canada. The trail is named after Bruce County, which was named after James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin who was Governor General of the Province of Canada from 1847 to 1854.
There are many waterfalls along the Bruce Trail, where streams or rivers flow over the Niagara Escarpment. Niagara Falls, by far the most famous water feature in the area, can be reached by a side trail of the Bruce Trail proper. There is also a wide range of plant and wildlife along the trail, including slow-growing centuries-old coniferous trees right on the limestone lip of the escarpment. The Cheltenham Badlands is a natural feature exposed by human activity, namely farming.
The Bruce Trail and the escarpment run through some of the most populated areas of Ontario, with an estimated 7 million people living within 100 km (62 mi).
- Bruce Trail Conservancy, ☏ . A trail association and a land trust dedicated to establishing a conservation corridor along the Bruce Trail.
It passes through parks operated by various levels of government, including Woodend Conservation Area in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Battlefield Park in Stoney Creek, Dundas Valley Conservation Area in Dundas, the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail, Mount Nemo Conservation Area, Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, Crawford Lake Conservation Area, Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, and the Bruce Peninsula National Park, which is located between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron near the northern tip of Bruce Peninsula. Its northern terminus is in Tobermory, the jumping-off point for Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Approximately half of the trail runs through public land. In order to make a complete connection the trail runs partly on private property and partly on road allowances. When going through private property, the conservancy has made agreements with landowners to allow trail users to pass through.
The main trail is marked with the Bruce Trail Conservancy logo, a white lozenge with black text and drawings for the Bruce Trail and an upward pointing arrow, which does not act as a part of a navigational marker. The blazes for the main trail are white markings, approximately 3 cm (1 in) wide by 8 cm (3 in) high, with turns indicated by stacking two blazes off centre to indicate the direction to take. The blazes for the 300 km (190 mi) of associated side trails are similar, except they are blue.
The record for completing the Bruce Trail solo is 8 days, 22 hours, 15 minutes, set in 2021. It is more typical for anyone completing the trail end-to-end to do so in sections, over months or years, at a somewhat more comfortable pace. Overnight trips require careful planning; there are only limited opportunities for camping directly along the trail, so travel time between the trail and each night's campground, hotel or B&B will add considerable time and distance to a hike.
The main trail is 904 km long, and its side trails add another 462 km, so there are many access points through a huge region. Parking is available on local streets, in small lots, or at parks and conservation areas. Parking fees or reservations are increasingly common in popular lots. When parking on-street, always pay attention to local signage and be careful to avoid parking on private property.
Transit, taxi, and ride-share services vary by region. If you're planning a one-way hike, make sure you can arrange transport near the trail where you plan on ending the day.
The trail begins in the Niagara Peninsula in Queenston, on the Niagara River, not far from Niagara Falls. It ends to the north in Tobermory, on the Bruce Peninsula. However, there is no official direction on the trail; hikers can start or finish at either end, or join the trail at many points along the route.
The 1 Southern Terminus Cairn, is in Queenston Heights Park, Niagara-on-the-Lake. From there, the General Brock Side Trail follows the Niagara Parkway north from the cairn to the 2 Fort George National Historic Site near Niagara-on-the-Lake's downtown. Accomodations and visitor information are available in town. Heading west from the cairn, the Upper Canada Heritage Trail passes through vineyards and countryside to re-join the main trail at the Laura Secord Heritage Trail.
The trail follows the northern edge of the City of 3 Niagara Falls, and meanders west to the Wetland Ridge and Niagara College Side Trails lead to the Niagara College Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus (served by GO Transit bus).
The trail enters 4 St. Catharines near the Welland Canal. The 5 Morningstar Mill and Decew Falls is a preserved mill surrounded by several picturesque waterfalls. St. Catharines is well connected to the Greater Toronto Area and beyond by bus and train.
A side trail connects to 6 Thorold. The Bert Lowe Side Trail and Welland Canals Pathway lead to the 7 Allanburg Bridge over the Welland Canal. Continuing west, the main trail passes through 8 Short Hills Provincial Park which provides additional hiking routes and parking, but no other facilities or services.
The trail crosses over Thirty Mile Creek entering 11 Grimsby. Further west, a small lookout platform at 12 Grimsby Point offers a panoramic view over Grimsby and Lake Ontario. The Forty Mile Creek provides a connection north to Lake Ontario and Grimsby's downtown. A short side trail heading south leads to 13 Beamer's Falls.
In the 14 Stoney Creek part of Hamilton, the 15 Devil's Punch Bowl Conservation Area] provides a lookout platform and views of a 34 m (112 ft) waterfall. The conservation authority provides paid parking.
In 16 Central Hamilton, 17 Albion Falls is a 22 m (72 ft) cascade waterfall, with several viewpoints from the creek. Several side trails, parking and local transit are available nearby. The Sanitorium Falls and the Westcliff and Mountview waterfalls are connected by side trails and the Chedoke Radial Rail Trail. Parking and local transit are nearby.
In 18 Dundas, the trail bends around the westernmost point of Lake Ontario. A short side trail leads to 19 Tiffany Falls, part of a conservation area that connects the escarpment to the Dundas Valley. A unique part of the trail passes through the downtown area of Dundas. Shops and restaurants are a short detour south from the trail on King St. Side trails around the 20 Spencer Gorge Conservation Area loop around Sydenham, Tew's, and Webster's Falls, while the lookout at the Dundas Peak provides a view over the valley.
From Burlington, the trail heads northwest through the rural parts of 23 Milton. The trail passes through 24 Crawford Lake Conservation Area, which provides additional hiking, a lakeside boardwalk, and a reconstructed Iroquoian village. In spring, the park celebrates maple syrup season.
A 5 km (3.1 mi) side trail heading east, the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, connects Crawford Lake to 25 Rattlesnake Point, which offers a small number of tent campsites, as well as several cliffside lookouts, and climbing opportunities. Heading north from Crawford lake, the trail passes through 26 Kelso Conservation Area, known as a small ski hill in winter which offers swimming and camping in the warmer months.
Near Acton, the trail passes through limestone caves, rock fissures, and abandoned remnants of the lime industry from the late 1800s in the 27 Limehouse Conservation Area. Further north, Silver Creek Conservation Area provides several challenging side trails, and parking.
An out-and-back side trail - the Credit Valley Footpath - leads to 28 Glen Williams and 29 Georgetown along the Credit River. Georgetown provides accommodations and train and bus services that connect to Sarnia, Kitchener, Brampton, and Toronto.
30 Terra Cotta Conservation Area is on the border of 31 Caledon, offering a more developed conservation area with side trails and visitor services such as a park store and picnic area. A short side trail as the trail leads to the popular 32 Cheltenham Badlands. Further north-west, another side trail leads to the small village of Belfountain, before the trail loops through the 33 Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, with ruins of old railway and hydroelectric infrastructure around the Cataract Falls.
A side trail leads east to Palgrave, a small rural community near 34 Albion Hills Conservation Area, which provides camping, swimming, and hiking in the summer months.
In 35 Mono (near Orangeville), the trail winds through the 36 Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, which protects the habitat of several rare and endangered species. No visitor facilities are located in the reserve, but the Hockley Valley Resort nearby provides recreation, dining and accommodations. In 37 Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, the trail and numerous side trails provide access to cliff-top lookouts. Forest boardwalks and stairs provide access along the bottom of the rocky cliff faces.
Mulmur and Clearview
Entering Dufferin, toward Grey County, the trail passes through 38 Boyne Valley Provincial Park, providing hiking, fishing and a scenic lookout, but no other services. In the 39 Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area, the trail travels along several steep cliffs, while side trails access crevices, wetlands and an old stagecoach road.
Town of the Blue Mountains
Approaching the north part of Grey County, the trail passes through the large 40 Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, which protects sensitive plant species and unique geologic formations at some of the highest elevations of the escarpment.
In the Town of the Blue Mountains, the trail passes along the 41 Village at Blue Mountain resort area, looping around the Scenic Caves. The resort village is at the bottom of the escarpment, providing year-round recreation, dining, and accommodations.
Grey Highlands and Meaford
43 Duncan Escarpment Provincial Park contains a provincial nature reserve, and deep crevices, and crevice caves. 44 Old Baldy Conservation Area provides a lookout point 150 m (490 ft) over the Beaver Valley; parking is available. The 45 Bognor Marsh takes the trail through forests and marshes, with an observation tower. Before turning back west, the trail loops through the 46 Bayview Escarpment Provincial Nature Reserve, which protects a landscape of birch swamp and maple bedrock forest.
The trail circles to the south and west of the downtown of 47 Owen Sound. On the way, it passes through 48 Inglis Falls Conservation Area, with views of the 20 m (66 ft) waterfall on the Sydenham River, and unique glacial potholes. Owen Sound is a popular base for exploring the Bruce Peninsula, and offers a range of amenities and accommodation. Some limited regional transit is also available.
After leaving Owen Sound, the trail turns north, passing Jones Falls in 49 Pottawatomi Conservation Area. The conservation area provides parking lots in several locations, and offers lookouts from the escarpment. From 50 Skinner's Bluff, the view over the bay looks towards the next segment of the trail after bending through Wiarton.
The trail meets the water of Colpoy's Bay in the downtown of 51 Wiarton, a small town known best for its annual Groundhog Day festival and forecast. Some small accommodations are available in town, in addition to some shops and services on Highway 6. In 52 Spirit Rock Conservation Area a staircase takes hikers from the main trail along the water's edge to the top of the escarpment, with side trails looping through forest set around the ruins of an old stone mansion. After passing above several bays and coves along the shoreline, the trail forms a look around 53 Lion's Head Provincial Park, which protects a large white cedar cliff ecosystem and uniquely shaped rock formations. In the small town of 54 Lion's Head, the trail passes along a beach and small campground. Some limited shopping and accommodation is available in town.
Bruce Peninsula National Park
In 55 Bruce Peninsula National Park, backcountry campsites provide several tent platforms for camping along the trail, by reservation. Developed campsites are also available in the park. The trail follows the Georgian Bay coast, and overs views over the rugged shoreline, including cliffs, coves, and stony beaches. Away from the cold, rough waters of Gerogian Bay, swimming is safer at the beach on Cyprus Lake.
The 56 Northern Terminus Cairn is in Tobermory's downtown, near Little Tub Harbour. Although it's a small town, it's a busy travel destination in summer, serving visitors to the Bruce Peninsula National Park, boaters and divers exploring the Fathom Five National Marine Park, and anyone catching the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry to and from Manitoulin Island. Limited bus service is available from the town to Toronto during summer. During peak months, accommodations and transportation here should be made well in advance.
Hiking along the Bruce Trail is, generally, not dangerous or difficult. Some sections in the north are wild, rocky and remote, but most of the trail is suitable for moderately active, healthy people.
Animal hazards include coyotes, Black bears, rattlesnakes, Ticks and Lyme Disease, bees, mosquitoes, other stinging insects.
Plant hazards include poison ivy, which can give you a very nasty allergic reaction and rash, giant hogweed, which can result in severe and painful burning and blistering, and wild parsnip, which causes similar but less severe reactions than hogweed.
During hunting season, the dates of which vary by region, wear bright orange or another bright colour.