Where the Speed Meets the Grand River

13 km cycling on Cambridge Trails

Click here for a map of trails along the Speed River

Our mission:  to explore trails along the Speed River, a major tributary of the Grand River.  Using the City of Cambridge’s Trail Map, we were able to find a series of multi-use trails that lead through Cambridge from the end of the Speed River Trail to the confluence of the Speed River with the Grand, with only a few short on-road gaps.

After a sweltering heat wave, the sky was blue, the air was a little cooler and there was a slight breeze–the perfect day for a bike ride.  We started at the end of the Speed River Trail (which starts in Guelph) on Blackbridge Rd where it passes over a historical bridge over the Speed.  A group of kayakers were paddling on the placid river and a fisherman was trying his luck under the bridge.


We cycled up Blackbridge Rd to a small subdivision in Hespeler.  Using GPS and the trails map we were able to find the start of a community trail that leads to the Hespeler Millpond and a view of the spires of the historical village of Hespeler.  Here, a large sign with a map marks the start of the Mill Run Trail, which is a well-maintained multi-use trail that runs along the banks of the river.  Many people were out enjoying Sunday morning,  walking their dogs, jogging or biking along the trail.

The trail continues through some woods with numerous viewpoints of the river and the industrial heritage of Hespeler.  We saw two herons intently fishing.

At Beaverdale Rd, someone had kindly put up a handmade sign, showing the way across the river to the next section of trail.  The trail passes under Highway 401, with the traffic thundering overhead, oblivious of the river and the trail beneath.

Finally we reached Riverside Park, which was busy with family barbecues and children running excitedly around the splash pad.

After a short ride along King St, which is very busy, we connected with the Bob McMullen Linear Trail.  This trail runs beside the river, which here seems in no hurry to meet its larger sibling.  There is a plan to eventually build a pedestrian bridge over the Speed River, which would connect these trails to the Great Trail, which runs through rare Charitable Research Reserve on the opposite side of the Grand River.  Finally we reached a great viewpoint overlooking a broad flood plain at the meeting point of the Speed River and the Grand River.


First Annual Grand Watershed Trails Family Day

Join us at Brant Park for the First Annual Grand Watershed Trails Network Family Day on Sunday, September 15, 2019.  Participants will canoe/kayak/raft from Paris to Brant Park.  The event will finish with a barbecue lunch.

8785 View of Grand River

Participants will meet at the Outfitters’ Launch at Brant Park at 9 am to sign in. Grand Experiences will transport everyone to the starting point in Paris and provide canoes, kayaks and rafts, as well as life jackets. Grand Experiences will also transport canoes and kayaks for participants who choose to bring their own boat. Everyone will paddle back to Brant Park (about 2 1/2 hours) for a celebratory barbecue lunch (included).

Participants may use their own canoe or kayak if they prefer.

The cost is $60 per participant age 13 and up, including lunch.

Children age 4-12 are free, with up to 2 children in a canoe with two adults. Participants under the age of 19 will require a waiver signed by a parent/guardian.

The event will go ahead rain or shine.

To register go to Eventbrite: Grand Watershed Trails Family Day

Another Tributary: The Speed River Trail

8.8 km hiking on Section 1 and 2 of the Speed River Trail

Click here for a map of trails along the Speed River

The Speed River is one of the main tributaries of the Grand River.  It flows from its source near Orton through Guelph, where it is joined by another major tributary, the Eramosa.  It enters the Grand River in Cambridge.  The Guelph Hiking Trail Club maintains the Speed River Trail, a hiking trail which runs from Guelph to Cambridge along the banks of the river.  The club publishes a guide book with instructions and maps of their trails, which is very helpful and can be purchased on their website.  The club also supports the Radial Line Trail, some sections of which follow the Eramosa River.  There are also a number of municipal trails associated with the rivers.

Today we decided to hike the first 2 of 3 sections of the Speed River Trail, which is marked by orange blazes on the main trail and blue blazes on side trails.  The trail starts at the Guelph Humane Society.  After passing behind the Guelph Water Treatment Plant, the trail wandered through a meadow.   Anemones, normally a spring flower, were still in bloom.

We crossed a rickety bridge and entered a mature woodlot.  Fortunately a gentle breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.

The well-marked and well-used trail ends at a small parking lot at Niska Road.  It then re-enters the wood.  This section of the trail is less maintained and there were a lot of dead branches on the trail, making it difficult to find at times.  We had to clamber over a dead tree at one point.  The trail is supposed to  run through a hedgerow along the edge of the road but it was very overgrown, so at this point we walked along Niska Road to Whitelaw Road.


Beware of mosquitoes, stinging nettles, swamps . . . and hunters!

The second section of the Speed River Trail takes a closed road allowance through an old gravel pit to a woodlot.  This section is closed from September 1 to January 20 during hunting season.  Initially the trail followed an old logging road but it soon headed into thick brush.  Fortunately someone had hiked the trail recently and we were able to follow the trampled vegetation when we lost sight of the orange blazes.  Spring was very wet this year and the marshy ground was still saturated.  In places makeshift bridges made of logs and old planks crossed tiny streams, but at times we sank into the mud.  The trail follows the edge of the river offering excellent views, but with the warm weather, the mosquitoes were out in full force so we didn’t linger.  At one point, we lost the trail amidst the thicket of fallen branches and had to retrace our steps.

Finally, the trail emerged along the edge of some fields and the wind swept the bugs away.  Milkweed plants were growing along the edge of the field and we spotted some monarch butterflies and some well-fed monarch caterpillars.


According to the guidebook, the third and final section of the Speed River Trail is extremely swampy.  Perhaps we will leave this section until next spring, when we will wear our waterproof boots and hike it before the mosquitoes emerge!

Exploring the Watershed: The Conestogo River

6.8 km hike one way along the Health Valley Trail/Avon Trail and Great Trail

The Conestogo River is one of the four main tributaries of the Grand River.  From the source, west of Arthur, it flows through Drayton to Conestoga Lake, formed where the river has been dammed for flood control and recreation.  It then traverses the little villages of Glen Allen and Hawkesville, finally passing through St. Jacobs, before joining the Grand River just south of the village of Conestogo.


A well-maintained hiking trail runs beside the Conestogo River from Bridge St in Waterloo to the old mill in St Jacobs.  From there another trail runs along the mill race which was built to supply water to power the mill.  The hike takes about 1 1/2 hours each way.  However, allow extra time as the day would not be complete without a stop in St Jacobs for a coffee, lunch or shopping.

The Health Valley Trail starts at Bridge St in Waterloo, running beside a farmer’s field directly to the river.  It follows an old trail which ran along the river between Conestogo and St. Jacobs.  (This is also the final section of the Avon Trail, which runs from St. Marys, through Stratford, to Conestogo).  Shortly after reaching the river, the trail passes a spectacular carving, made from the remaining trunk of a dead tree.


Following the river, it crosses underneath Highway 85 and arrives in St Jacobs at the St Jacobs Mill.  We hiked the trail on a warm, sunny day, after weeks of cold rainy weather.  The trail was slightly muddy but passable, despite all the rain.  Turtles were sunning themselves in a little pond and the may apple was blooming.

At the back of the mill property,  the trail continues beside the old mill race, to Three Bridges Road.  This section is part of the Great Trail through Waterloo Region.

On your return to St. Jacobs, stop at the mill to have a coffee at the EcoCafe.  Then visit the Conestoga River Pottery also situated in the old mill, where you can watch the potter at work.  Also, be sure to visit The Mennonite Story, which explains local Mennonite history and culture.  Then treat yourself to a home-style lunch at the Stone Crock Restaurant.  Finally, relax with a craft beer at Block 3 Brewing Company.

30039 Peter, Block 3 Brewing

On the Trails Again: Laurel Creek Loop

We laced up our hiking shoes today on behalf of “Loops and Lattes”.  They will soon be publishing a new hiking guide for Waterloo Wellington and Guelph, which is our own backyard.  One of the featured hikes is a 5 km loop around the trails at the Laurel Creek Conservation Area and our job was to make sure that the map and instructions are accurate.  After a long hard winter, this project was just what we needed to get us out on the trails again.

Laurel Creek is a tributary of the Grand River which flows through the centre of the city of Waterloo.  The Grand River Conservation Authority maintains a dam and reservoir and operates a campground, beach and trails in the park.  The park rents canoes in the summer and cross country skis in the winter.

As we followed the simple green, blue and red trail signs, we found the occasional patch of ice along the now abandoned cross country ski trails.  The skies threatened to rain, but apart from a few minutes of drizzle, we stayed dry and were able to navigate some swampy patches of trail without getting our feet wet.

A continuous shrill shrieking noise as we passed through the swamp indicated a healthy population of lovesick spring peepers eager to get an early start on the mating season.  We could hear some songbirds in the trees and saw a solitary vulture high above us patrolling the urban skies of Waterloo.

We are pleased to report that the hike documentation is accurate and look forward to trying out some of the other hikes featured in the book, once it is released.

This is a busy year, but we hope to explore more of the trails in the watershed, starting with the Speed River Trail from Guelph to Cambridge.




TCT to Lake Ontario: Downhill Both Ways!

64 km along the THB, Escarpment and Chippewa Rail Trails, over 2 days.

Click here for a map of the Trans Canada Trail from the Forks of the Credit to the Great Lakes

From Brantford, the Trans Canada Trail turns away from the Grand River, taking mainly rail trails through Hamilton, returning to the Grand River at Caledonia.  Both sections cross the Niagara Escarpment.  While it is possible to ride from Brantford to Caledonia via Hamilton in a day, this would be a long day and would necessitate cycling up the escarpment.  The alternative was to cycle from Caledonia to Hamilton one day and from Brantford to Hamilton another, enabling us to have the fun of cycling down the escarpment twice … an easy decision.

The Chippewa Rail Trail follows an old rail line from Caledonia to the outskirts of Hamilton.  The first section is currently closed for renovation, so we started where the trail crosses Highway 66, just outside Caledonia.  The trail is in good condition with excellent signage, including markers at each kilometer point and signs identifying each road crossing.

After passing through a quiet rural area, the trail ends on the outskirts of Hamilton, just before Highway 403.  After a short section on a busy road, there is a multi-use trail leading to a pedestrian bridge over Highway 403 (I have lost track of how many pedestrian overpasses we have crossed over this highway!)

From here it joins the Escarpment Rail Trail and the fun begins.  The railway blasted the track into the side of the escarpment, so there is a steep bank on one side and a very steep drop on the other.  The railroad company wanted to minimize fuel costs going uphill and risks going downhill, so the track descends gently and steadily. The trail is wide and the precipice is covered in trees, so it feels very safe to glide down at full tilt.  Every once in a while, the trees open up to a view over the city of Hamilton.  After a long summer of hiking and biking up and down steep hills, this felt like a fair reward.

The Escarpment Trail ends in the middle of the city of Hamilton, which is blessed with great bike infrastructure.  Most streets had bike lanes, some of which were protected by a parking lane.  The only exception came when we had to bike a couple of blocks of Aberdeen Ave which is a very busy 4 lane road with no bike lane.  Fortunately we soon turned off onto a quiet street and met up with the end of the Hamilton Brantford Rail Trail finishing up close to McMaster University at the conveniently located Fairweather Brewing Company.

The following week, we set off on the second section of this route, from Brantford back to Hamilton.  This time we were on the Hamilton Brantford Rail Trail (formerly the Toronto Hamilton Buffalo Railway) all the way back to the Brewing Company.  This route was more interesting, passing the Mohawk Chapel, the oldest existing church in Ontario.  We then passed an old canal and some rotting lock machinery and rode through a railway tunnel.

The trail passes the Dundas Valley Conservation Authority Trail Centre, situated in a renovated old train station, with an historic train parked on the tracks in front of it.

After gliding down the escarpment one more time, we stopped at the Fairweather Brewing Company to pick up a few bottles of their craft beer to take home.  Shortly thereafter, my partner blew a tire.  So he headed back to the brewery to drown his sorrows while I rode on through Hamilton back to our vehicle at the Hamilton Botanical Gardens.  The Trans Canada Trail joins the Waterfront Trail and heads past Cootes Paradise where a couple of people and a number of cormorants were patiently fishing.  Then the trail joins York Boulevard.  Which was a shock because the street is far above the trail.  It was necessary to climb six double flights of stairs, hauling my bicycle (and the beer!) along a narrow gutter at the edge of the stairs.

There was one final historic moment–a plaque memorializing the War of 1812.


York Road and Plains Road are busy roads with inconsistent bike lanes.  Fortunately on a Sunday, the traffic was fairly light and I made it back to Botanical Gardens.  There was no time to enjoy the greenhouses, as I had to rescue my partner from the Brewery!

It has been an amazing summer.  We have explored our own backyard and discovered the delights of our own area.  We have seen nature in abundance, experienced culture and history and enjoyed excellent meals–all within a 2 hour drive of home.  Now it is time to plan for next year.  Stay tuned for our next adventure–after spending a summer weaving a track across and beside the Grand River, I think it is time to get out our canoe and see what there is to see from between its banks.