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.