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.



Trans Canada Trail: Brantford to Lake Erie

From Cambridge to Brantford, the Grand Valley Trail and the Trans Canada Trail both take the Cambridge to Paris and SC Johnson Rail Trails.  However, after Brantford, the Grand Valley Trail continues along the Grand River, while the Trans Canada Trail splits into two.  One part of the TCT heads to Simcoe and the shores of Lake Erie, while the other goes to Hamilton, where it meets the Waterfront Trail on Lake Ontario.  Having finished the Grand Valley Trail, we had the rest of the TCT in the watershed in our sight.

On a beautiful early fall day, we decided it was the perfect day for a late summer trip to the beach, cycling from Brantford to Port Dover.  The Trans Canada Trail normally takes the TH&B (Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo) Rail Trail out of Brantford to Mount Pleasant where it meets the LE&N (Lake Erie and Norfolk), which runs all the way to Port Dover.  Because the TH&B was closed for reconstruction we rode the LE&N out of Brantford.  (The TCT turns off at Simcoe, eventually meeting the Waterfront Trail at Port Burwell).

The entire trail is a well-maintained and well-signed stone dust rail trail. The trail is shaded by the trees that have grown on either side, with farmer’s fields and market gardens visible through the foliage.  There are a few remaining tobacco fields, and many derelict tobacco tobacco drying sheds, a reminder of the days when tobacco was king in this region.

In Waterford, the trail crosses a magnificent old rail bridge over the Waterford Ponds.

Shortly thereafter we made a short detour to the Bonnieheath Estate Lavender Winery.  The winery also produces cider and various lavender-infused products, from soap to lemonade.  We cooled off as we sampled some cider and lavender lemonade and then hopped back on the bikes.

In Simcoe, the sight of the Indulge Ice Cream red double decker bus reminded us again that we were hot and tired.  An ice cream was the perfect fuel for the last stretch of the ride into Port Dover.Ice Cream Bus.


As the sun set over the palm trees on the Port Dover beach, we enjoyed fried lake pickerel and a view of the boats returning to the harbour past the lighthouse.



GVT Day 23: Across the Finish Line!

Muddied but Unbowed!

Map 1 Dunnville:  10.6 km mostly on our bicycles

Click here for a map of our journey along the Grand Valley Trail.

Most of the trail from Dunnville to Lake Erie is along the towpath beside the old Feeder Canal, built to take water from the Grand River to the Welland Canal system.  We assumed that this would be bike-able.  After leaving Dunnville along the busy main road, the GVT soon moved onto the towpath.  Part of the towpath consists of coarse gravel private lanes leading to houses.  The rest is a dirt track that has been badly chewed up by ATVs.  Some of the mud-holes were so deep that they had become little frog ponds and the trail was barely passable on foot.  However, we managed to ride parts of it and drag our bikes across the worst sections.

Along the way we passed remnants of the old canal, including a rusting lock.

The trail finishes in Port Maitland, where the Feeder Canal enters the Grand River.  This was formerly a busy fishing port but is now a derelict industrial shipping terminal.  Here again are reminders of the area’s rich history.  The original massive lock is still in place, without the lock mechanism.  A cairn explains that this was the site of the first naval depot on Lake Erie, built in 1814 to protect from the risk of invasion from the United States.

The southern terminus of the Grand Valley Trail is an unimposing cairn in a small park beside the Grand River.  Unfortunately, access to the lake is blocked by a private cottage development.  We had to settle for a view of the lighthouses and Lake Erie in the distance.

Fortunately, there is a side trail of the GVT through nearby Rock Point Provincial Park, which is on the shores of Lake Erie.  We were able to complete our journey at the lake.

Lake Erie

Mission Accomplished!  We have hiked or biked the entire Grand Valley Trail from Alton to Lake Erie, all 279 km.  What is next?  There are many other trails in the Grand River watershed.  We are currently mapping the entire Trans Canada Trail as it passes through the watershed and connects us with the Waterfront Trail.  Next year we plan to start canoeing downstream from Elora.

We are a lot fitter than we were in April when we started our journey.  We have learned a lot about the history, geography and ecology of the area in which we live.  By moving at a human pace we have become more connected to the land under our feet.  We have developed an appreciation for well-maintained and well-marked hiking and biking trails and better understand the challenges of trail development.  We hope to bring many other people back to the Grand River in the coming years as we develop the Grand Watershed Trails Network.

GVT Day 22: A Canadian History Lesson

Map 3 Cayuga to Map 1 Dunnville (5.1 km hiking and 29.9 km biking)

After a good night’s sleep at Jay’s Motel (a basic but clean, quiet and comfortable motel in the middle of the countryside between Jarvis and Cayuga) we started hiking from Townline Rd to Ruthven.  The trail starts beside a field and then enters a woodlot.  In places the trail was blocked by fallen trees and at times it was obscured by meandering side trails.  However each time we thought we were lost, we spied a blaze in the distance and were back on track.  At one point the trail circumnavigated a field, which is often a challenge as there is nowhere to put blazes, but we spotted a little boardwalk over a wetland and found the blaze leading back into the woodlot.  After a very short walk along Highway 54, the trail enters Ruthven Park.

David Thompson was a prominent local businessman who became a politician when Upper and Lower Canada united into Canada in 1841.  The Thompson family lived in his mansion until the 1990’s, when it was deeded to the Lower Grand River Land Trust, who have opened the house to the public.  There are now walking trails through the wooded estate, which sits on the banks of the Grand River.  In the spring and fall, bird enthusiasts come here to band migrating birds.  We stopped at the old family cemetery and pondered the side-by-side gravestones for two young sons of the original owner, David Thompson, who died 4 days apart in 1836.  Not even great wealth could spare families tragic epidemics.

Leaving Ruthven Park, we returned to Caledonia for lunch and started out by bicycle towards Cayuga, along the Trans Canada Trail on the opposite side of the river.  At Cayuga, the TCT and the GVT cross the bridge over the Grand River in opposite directions.  We continued across the river and back up Highway 54 on the GVT to the start of our morning’s expedition at Townline Rd.   Back in Cayuga, we noticed an historic plaque to the Haldimand Tract, the land that the Crown granted to the Six Nations recognizing that they had fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution and had lost their land in the US.  Almost all of the land we have been traversing is part of that original land grant, which extended 10 km on either side of the length of the river.  Later we passed the Young Memorial Plaque, which recognizes the land grant given to the Young family, who were United Empire Loyalists who fought with the Six Nations.  John Young, the eldest son, married the daughter of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader and settled in this area.  The consequences of this history are still reverberating today.

From Cayuga we again crossed the Grand River, returning to the west bank to follow the Grand River downstream along River Rd.  This is a very quiet back road that follows the edge of the river, past tidy old farms, such as the one below dating from the late 1700s.

We had a pleasant ride for almost 20 km, with frequent views across the flood plain to the river.  After River Rd there was a short ride on busier roads, before we crossed the river one last time and entered Dunnville, finishing the ride beside a tiny public garden with a statue of a goose sitting on a mooring post.


GVT Day 21: In the Home Stretch

Map 4 Caledonia Middleport to Map 3 Cayuga (16.2 km cycling)

As the days are getting shorter and the temperature has finally dropped, we decided to finish the rest of the trail in one weekend.  We booked a motel, put the bikes on the back of the car and headed for Caledonia.

We set off from Ruthven Park.  The trail initially follows Highway 54 which is a busy road, with no hard shoulder.  We attempted without success to get off the road onto the official trail.  The first time, we headed down a cottage road which dead-ended in impenetrable bush with nary a sign of a blaze.  Back to the highway.  The second time, an obliging homeowner had mowed a trail across the back of his property, but again the trail dead-ended at the edge of the next property.

We resigned ourselves to braving traffic on Highway 54 until the little village of York, where we struck the Rotary Riverside Trail (also part of the Trans Canada Trail).  This trail was built by the local Rotary Club with support from Haldimand County, Six Nations Council, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Trans Canada Trail.  It runs beside the river.  Although rough in spots, it was ride-able along its entire length.

On the outskirts of Caledonia, there is a short section back on Highway 54.  We were amused to be caught by a speed display walking at 7 km/hr along the edge of the road.

Then the Grand Valley Trail meanders along back streets and parks in Caledonia, before taking to the Riverwalk.  Across from the entrance to Riverwalk, right on the edge of the bridge over the Grand, there is a rather run-down but beautiful example of a brick Victorian house, complete with elaborate chimneys.

The Riverwalk runs a short way along beside the Grand, passing the dam and the old train bridge.  Then it was back onto Highway 54, but thankfully there was a multi-use trail on one side of the road all the way to Mines Rd, where we completed our ride.  Then we drove back to Caledonia for supper at Victor’s Cornerstone Restaurant.  When we returned to the car park behind the Riverwalk after nightfall, we were treated to a beautiful view of the bridge, lit at night.


GVT Day 20: Lost in the Woods

Map 5 Caledonia Middleport (17.6 km hiking and biking)

Carolinian Crest Section Completed

The trail started just outside Caledonia, off Mines Rd.  There were few blazes visible, but the landowner had helpfully mowed a wide trail through a meadow and around a pond, leading to a massive hydro corridor running straight from Niagara Falls.  From here to Onondaga Townline Road the trail followed a rough maintenance road under the hydro lines.  The next section took the road to a short section Highway 54, which runs beside the river.  The road is narrow and busy, so we ignored the river views and pedalled hard to County Road 22, past Grand River Dinner Cruises and on to Big Creek Rd.

After a short ride on Big Creek Rd, the trail goes off road through a woodlot beside the eponymous creek, which is very muddy and sluggish.  We then hiked past a small private pond and some delightfully decorated beehives.

As we made our way past a tiny impromptu pond formed in some tractor tracks, a group of green frogs leapt from the trail into the pond.

Green Frog

At Mulligan Rd, the trail follows the railway line and then veers off into a woodlot.  Unfortunately, we lost the blazes, but followed the railway line to Middleport Rd, where we were able to find the next section of the trail.  The meadows were full of late blooming flowers, including some purple-stemmed asters, contrasting nicely with fields of goldenrod.  Toadstools peeped up from the leaf litter in the woods.

The meadows were full of goldenrod which was attracting numerous monarch butterflies.  Although monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed, the adults thrive on the nectar from goldenrod (which unfortunately blooms at the same time as ragweed and is often inaccurately blamed for causing hayfever)

From Mulligan Rd, the trail follows the edge of the Six Nations Reserve through dense meadows, woods and swamps.  We lost and found the trail blazes and then lost them completely on the edge of a woodlot.  Using the Grand Valley Trail map and our cell phone GPS we navigated our way around a swamp and a creek, and somewhat to our surprise emerged at Painter Rd right beside the GVT blazes.

This marks the completion of the third of four sections of the Grand Valley Trail.  We are 218 km towards our goal of completing the trail this year.  We celebrated by stopping at Stillwaters restaurant in Paris on our way home.  We had fresh great lakes pickerel on the patio, watching a great blue heron fish for his supper in the Grand River as the sun went down.

Paris River


GVT Day 19: The Power of the River

Map 6 Brantford to Map 5 Onondaga  (30.5 km mostly by bicycle)

From Hardy Rd, in Brantford, the Grand Valley Trail follows the S.C. Johnson Rail Trail (also part of the Trans Canada Trail) along the high banks of the Grand River into the city.  The S. C. Johnson Trail ends at the Wilkes Dam, where we paused for a few minutes to watch a group of fishermen below the dam and several cormorants fishing above the dam.  After the dam, the Trans Canada Trail continues on a City of Brantford trail.  Meanwhile, the Grand Valley Trail meanders along a narrow pathway through a forested area beside the TCT, eventually rejoining it along a flood protection dike that runs through downtown Brantford.

The Grand Valley Trail and a branch of the Trans Canada Trail are supposed to cross the Grand River on an old railway bridge that has been converted to a pedestrian bridge.  Although the river today runs placidly between its banks, an ice jam formed as the river was melting last spring, creating a raging torrent that flooded low-lying areas and washed out the bridge and the network of trails on the Gilkison Flats on the other side of the river.  Looking at the bridge today, high above the river, it is hard to believe that the flood reached the level of the bridge deck.

Pedestrian Bridge

Fortunately there is a second, intact pedestrian bridge, a little below the old railway bridge, so we were able to avoid crossing the river on a busy road bridge.  We detoured the washed out trails of Gilkison Flats on a pleasant multi-use trail along Gilkison Rd, before returning to the official trail which follows Tutela Heights to the Bell Homestead (now a museum).  This is where Alexander Graham Bell lived with his parents and invented the telephone.

After the museum, the trail shifts to a narrow up-and-down path through a forested area beside very steep banks which overlook the Grand River.  Thereafter there is a short section which crosses the river on the Brant County Highway 18 bridge.  The bridge has no pedestrian or cycling facility and the road is very busy, with no hard shoulder.  It was a relief to get onto Salt Springs Church Road, which is a very quiet paved road.  There is an historic church and cemetery beside the river.  At the end of the road, the trail takes a closed road allowance between McLellan Rd and Van Sickle Rd.  Unfortunately, at the end of a farmer’s access track, the trail ended in dense overgrown bush which was impenetrable.  We had to retrace our steps to McLellan Rd and head up to Highway 54.  Again, we were riding on a very busy road without a hard shoulder, until we reached the little village of Onondaga and headed to our car parked on Painter Rd.