GVT Day 12: Hugging the Grand

Map 10 Kitchener and Map 11 Conestogo (8 km)

Early in the morning we parked on Victoria St next to the Grand River.  The trail crosses the Victoria St bridge over the river, offering beautiful views if you can ignore the traffic thundering by.  Then it heads into a cool and shady woodlot along the river.  The trail is generally well worn and well marked with blazes.  After threading its way through the woods, the trail heads to Bridge St, crossing the planned new highway 7.  The Grand Valley Trail Association has been assured there will be provision for a highway crossing for the trail.  So far there are no signs of highway construction.

Victoria St Bridge

From Bridge St, the trail dives back into a woodlot alongside a tiny burbling Carisbrooke Creek and then up through the woods to Ebycrest Rd, where we had left our escape vehicle.  Fortunately, by pure coincidence today’s chosen hiking route passed close to our dentist’s office in Kitchener, so we took a break for an appointment, and were able to finish the hike after a quick lunch.

Carisbrooke Creek

We set out from Ebydale Dr through Natchez Woods, heading towards the Ottawa St road allowance and down to the Kolb Greenway.  The woods are full of mature trees, and the forest feels very open and spacious.  Adding further pleasure to the afternoon, the mosquitoes seemed to be taking a midday siesta.  At this point, the trail joins the Walter Bean Grand River Trail (more on this trail later).   The trail heads through a subdivision and then along a road in an industrial area, before entering Kolb Park.   Here the Grand Valley/Walter Bean Trail is a wide, stone-dust multi-use trail right beside the Grand River, with a reclaimed gravel pit pond on the other side of the trail.  The trail goes through an underpass under Victoria St to the Stanley Park Optimist Natural Area and back to the parking lot, beside a pond full of water lilies.


Grand Opening of Wilsons Flats River Access Point

A bagpiper led a parade of dignitaries to the newly upgraded access point to the Grand River at Wilsons Flats, near Elora.  A pair of osprey presided over the proceedings from their nest at the top of a tall pole.  Then the guests enjoyed chicken and ribs, from the Lancaster Smokehouse, sitting on the newly installed benches and picnic tables.  The access point has improved parking, a port-a-potty, canoe rack and signage.

This is the first in a series of projects to upgrade all 33 access points along the length of the Grand River.  The project was supported by Friends of the Grand River, Grand River Raceway, Pearle Hospitality, The Township of Centre Wellington, RTO4, Grand River Conservation Authority, Ministry of Natural Resources,  Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and local contractors.  The improved amenities will encourage local residents and tourists to enjoy the spectacular scenery from the river.


Cottontail Road Trail/Trans Canada Trail (14 km on road)

Click here for progress on the Trans Canada Trail.

I took the opportunity to continue mapping the Trans Canada Trail, parking in Elora near where we finished our ride a few weeks ago.  From Elora, the trail follows the Cottontail Road Trail, connecting the Elora Cataract Trailway to the Kissing Bridge Trailway, which is part of the Guelph to Goderich (G2G) Rail Trail.  The trail starts on busy Highway 21, but quickly turns onto a gravel laneway.  From there, it takes quiet country backroads through Wellington County farm country to the G2G.

I collected another quirky sign–“Free Range Chickens Ahead”!

The trail meets the G2G Rail Trail at a simple Mennonite Meeting House.

From there, I rode to the Grand Opening of Access Point #4 and then back to Elora.  After that, I needed to cool off and could not resist an artisanal ice cream at Sweet Distractions on the main street in Elora.  Try the lemon ginger sorbet or the dark chocolate gelato (or both!)


GVT Day 10,11: To Snyders Flats or Not?

Map 11 Conestogo (17.7 km Hike and Bike)

Click here for our progress on the Grand Valley Trail to date.

Apart from a short detour through Snyders Flats, the Conestogo section of the Grand Valley Trail goes along high speed rural roads from Winterbourne past Bloomingdale.  Traffic speeds are high.  Rather than hike beside busy roads, we decided to hike the Snyders Flats section first and then bike along the roads early on Sunday morning, when hopefully most drivers would either be at church or still snoozing in bed.


Snyders Flats is an area of former gravel pits.  Part of the area is still owned by extraction companies and the rest has been restored and turned into a Grand River Conservation Area natural area with several ponds, meadows and young forest.  After a short hike through woods behind the village of Bloomingdale the trail offers a view over the Grand River.  We could hear the noise of swimmers enjoying Kiwanis Park on the other side of the river.  Then, to our disappointment, we found that the trail had been detoured along an old side trail at the request of the extraction company that owns the land.

It heads to Bloomingdale Mennonite Church and back to the main road without reaching the flats.  We decided to detour off the Grand Valley Trail to reach the GRCA natural area, which is well worth a visit.  There were many other people, most of whom had come with a large friendly dog or two, which were cooling off in the ponds.  Above the entire scene were a pair of osprey nesting on a hydro pole, taking turns to feed their squawking baby.  A group of young Mennonite men were returning from a picnic.

We hiked through the conservation area, past the ponds and alongside the Grand River, with good views of the RIM park golf course in Waterloo.  This is the closest the Grand Valley Trail gets to Waterloo.  Then it was back up Snyders Flats Rd to rejoin the official trail and return to Sawmill Rd.


On Sunday morning we set out along Katherine St in Winterbourne.  This is a popular rural cycling route and we saw several other small groups of cyclists.  Sawmill Rd passes close to the river allowing frequent glimpses through the trees.  Then it climbs a hill and gives a great view across the Grand River flood plain to the skylines of both Kitchener and Waterloo, visible in the distance.  We finished on Ebycrest Rd where the trail heads off beside a cornfield.

GVT Day 9: A Covered Bridge and a Castle

Map 11-12:  Conestogo and West Montrose (11.4 km)

Click here for our progress on the Grand Valley Trail to date.

A young coyote skittered across the field as we parked the car in Winterbourne.  The trail runs beside tiny Cox Creek as it runs into the Grand.  A gnarled centuries old tree stands guard over the creek.  Here the trail is well-worn and well marked with blazes.  We gave thanks to the many local landowners who not only let strangers hike across their land but welcome them by mowing a trail through their meadows and beside their fields.  There was no need to bushwhack through nettles and thistles today.

The trail follows close by the Grand River alongside fields and through woodlots to Letson Drive at Buggy Lane (presumably referencing local Mennonite transportation rather than the ever present mosquitoes!)

From Letson Drive it traverses another woodlot.  The main trail bypasses the covered bridge (there is a side trail to the West Montrose Kissing Bridge).  However as we crossed the Highway 86 bridge we had a great view downstream to the bridge.

Once across Highway 86, we crossed the Guelph to Goderich Trail and passed the old railway bridge abutments.  The bridge has been removed, creating a gap in the trail, which is bypassed via the covered bridge.

Teasels and Bridge Remnants

Now we were clearly in Mennonite farming territory.  Signs offered maple syrup and quilts (No Sunday Sales!)  Horse drawn buggies and carts plied the quiet roads.  The trail moved between fields and woodlots, including a working sugar maple grove, a derelict sugar shack and old orchards.  (Did you know that Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees to make alcoholic cider, which explains why most of the apples are so sour–although they make great applesauce.)

Curious cows clearly thought we were the most interesting thing they had seen all day.  A couple of horses were tending their foals in a field.

Milkweed flourished in the meadows beside the river attracting various butterflies.  We surprised a wild turkey with her solitary offspring.


Turkey and Baby

Finally, the trail returned to Middlebrook Road in front of this remarkable “castle”.  There must be a story behind this extraordinary edifice, but for once the internet comes up blank.




GVT Day 8: Following the Elora Gorge

Map 12:  West Montrose (11 km hike)

Total completed:  Pinnacle Section 65.5 km of Grand Valley Trail

Click here for our progress on the Grand Valley Trail.  We have now hiked/biked the entire Pinnacle Section of the trail, which is close to a quarter of the total distance.

The heat wave continued, so we set out early in the morning, tackling the section south of Elora.  The day started auspiciously with a sighting of a mink, running across an old bridge which is closed to traffic.  Initially the trail was well used and well marked, winding its way through a forested area.  Then it skirted a field of corn, which is now almost as tall as an adult.  After a short section along Eighth Line W to Wilson Flats, the trail headed past a Grand River Conservation Authority tree nursery and along a snowmobile trail.


Thankfully today we remembered the mosquito repellent as the bugs were out in force.  For some reason, numerous spiders had strung their webs across the forested trail, making for a spooky hike.  Next time I will bring a hiking pole!  The trail follows closely to the river, offering numerous glimpses of the rushing water.  Although the river is navigable here, it is very shallow, so canoeists should bring a sturdy, flat bottom canoe and be prepared to get out and push at times.


Then the trail headed into a meadow and things got interesting.  The blazes were few and far between.  The vegetation was almost over our heads.  We were pleased to see a many milkweed plants and some butterflies, including a couple of monarchs.  A stand of willow trees extended their trunks over the water, reminding us that the indigenous name of the river is O:se Kenhionhata:tie or Willow River.

We were less than pleased to have to bushwhack through thickets of nettles and giant hogweed.  I regretted choosing to wear shorts and sandals because of the heat.  Thankfully, despite the lack of trail markers, the trail follows the edge of the river so it is impossible to get lost.  Finally we made it to the Pines Campground of the Elora Conservation Area.  We took the scenic route through the campground along the edge of the Elora Gorge, high above the river and the young people tubing down the ravine, back to the Elora Community Centre.


GVT Day 7: Drink Lots of Fluids

Map 13 Elora Fergus (8.5 km + 7.7 km return on Elora Cataract Trailway/Trans Canada Trail)

Click here for our progress on the Grand Valley Trail and here for the complete Elora Cataract Trailway.

Despite the blast furnace heat (35ºC or over 40ºC with the humidex) the Elora Fergus section was definitely the best day’s hike so far.  The hike takes in the exquisite Victoria villages of Elora and Fergus, and criss-crosses the Grand River multiple times in between.  Most of the time, the trail follows wooded hiking trails or a rail trail, close to the Grand, offering glimpses of the river here and there through the trees.

We got up early intending to start hiking before the heat built up.  However, our son wanted to take his girlfriend canoeing on the Grand River (how could we object to an expedition on the Grand?) which delayed our start.  We dropped them off with the canoe, paddles and life jackets, near Conestogo on our way to drop our bikes off in Fergus.

We parked at the Elora Community Centre and headed over the David Street bridge, which offers views up and down the Irvine Creek, a large tributary of the Grand.  Then the trail meanders along the edge of the Elora Gorge, through a wooded park and along quiet streets into the town.  We stopped to admire the Church Street Clock and then headed over a pedestrian bridge to the other side of the Grand.

The trail heads along the Elora Guelph Rail Trail and then again crosses the Grand River, offering views of the river (including a great blue heron) and the Wellington County Museum high on the hill.   From the rail trail, it descends into a wooded park and follows a community trail to the outskirts of Fergus.  After a short walk along a tidy suburban street, we were amazed to find the Grand River Arburetum–a beautiful shady park with neatly labeled trees.  The trail takes you back to the river, through a little riverside rock garden to another pedestrian bridge in the centre of Fergus.

A busker (appropriately playing the bagpipes) serenaded us near the Fergus Market.  After that we were glad to cool down for a while in the air conditioning at the Fergus Tim Hortons. Having revived ourselves, it was back to the Fergus Market.   Shortly thereafter, the trail goes into Confederation Park, through the woods and back over the river.  We headed up to the Elora Cataract Trailway and picked up our bikes for the ride back to Elora.  The rail trail is missing a section between Gzowski Street and Beatty Line, but detours along quiet city streets.  The ECT officially ends at Gerrie Road, but the off-road trail continues as the Trans Canada Trail into Elora, where we continued through the town back to our starting point.

We have now completed more than 50 km of the Grand Valley Trail, as well as biking the entire  Elora Cataract Trailway from Forks of the Credit to Elora!  From here as we complete our Grand Valley Trail expedition, we will also be following the rest of the Trans Canada Trail through the Grand River Watershed.



GVT Day 5,6: Where the Blazes are the Blazes?

Map 14 Belwood (12 km + 14 km return on the Elora Cataract Trailway)

Click here for our progress on the Grand Valley Trail and here for the Elora Cataract Trailway/Trans Canada Trail

Two friends joined us in circumnavigating Belwood Lake on a cloudy Saturday morning.  Unfortunately our GPS unit failed, so we had to repeat the trek the following day to collect GPS data. The trail started on the Elora Cataract Trailway, just south of the lake.  Soon it headed down a steep embankment and rounded a field of corn.  We walked along the edge of neat rows of suddenly thigh-high stalks.  From there, the trail heads along a cottage road and then into a woodlot.  The trail is marked by white blazes, but unfortunately at critical intersections we were unable to find the blazes.  On our second try, we found a little trail of flattened vegetation leading into the woods, and lo and behold, it led to a blazed tree.  Using our old girl guide and boy scout tracking skills, we followed the trail through the woodlot.  The trail-maker was obviously familiar with the Grand Valley Trail, as blazes appeared at intervals, confirming we were on the right track.

From the end of the woodlot, the trail has a short section on busy Wellington Rd 19, before heading into the woods again and across a beautiful little bridge over a trickling creek.  Again, the first time, we were unable to find the critical blaze heading into the woods, but on our second try we found a very well-marked and well-used trail, which skirts the municipal dump and heads into the village of Belwood.  Much of the historic village lies under the waters of Belwood Lake, but there are still a few magnificent examples of local stone-work and brick-work houses.

After reviving ourselves at Belwood Super Snax we walked across the bridge over Belwood Lake to the Elora Cataract Trailway.  The well-maintained and signed multi-use trail sweeps around the eastern edge of Belwood Lake and crosses the Shand Dam.  From the massive height of the dam, the view sweeps downstream over the Grand River.  On our second day we kept going to the outskirts of the town of Fergus, along a combined section of the GVT and ECT.

To reward ourselves for another good day’s hike, we stopped in Elora for beautifully prepared prime rib at the Riverside Restaurant.  The patio overlooks the Grand River, making it the perfect spot for a rest on our Grand River Trails expedition.