There was just a dusting of snow on the ground – more in some places than others. Snow makes everything look a bit more magical, but even with very little of it, our first time winter hiking at Dundas Valley Conservation Area, just outside of Hamilton, Ontario were absolutely enchanting.
We had never visited this conservation area in the past, despite driving by it a few times. We noted how busy it was in the summer time and avoided it (we like our trails quiet and not so busy – see my previous post about Island Lake Conservation Area in Orangeville).
Inspired by the great photos and stories of Cam Goode, Dundas Valley Conservation Area’s biggest champion, I suggested we do a Christmas break hike here. We ended up going on the shortest day of the year – the Winter Equinox.
Since the sun was barely hitting over the horizon, the light was diffused. A light mist hung over the treeline and Niagara Escarpment, making for some great conditions for photography. With our Nikon DSLRs in hand, and with me keeping my iPhone busy, we captured our first time on the Main Loop Trail – a 3.5 km hike that takes you up and down hills.
It’s an easy trail to walk on, with fine gravel and packed earth. No roots or stones to trip on here! You do get a workout – there are several hills that get your heart and lungs going.
This trail also gives you a taste of the landscape at Dundas Valley Conservation Area – from valleys with streams, hemlock groves, old apple orchards, fields and deciduous forest. In the winter, you will spot squirrels and occasionally deer, feeding on roots and plants. Look up and you find chickadees and other birds – we saw a blue jay protecting its nest in an old apple tree.
Starting at the Dundas Valley Trail Centre, the first thing you see is a reproduction of a Victorian train station. It serves as a meeting point, interpretative centre and place to fuel up with snacks and take a bathroom break. Heading towards the Main Loop Trail, you cross train tracks and the Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail (a 32 km trail that’s part of the Trans Canada Trail).
Heading on the Main Loop Trail, starting clockwise, the first key point of interest is the Sulphur Springs. Sulphur Springs Creek runs through this area. We didn’t head to the fountain, which is located on the opposite side of Sulphur Springs Road. Supposedly you can smell a bit of the sulphur in the air at times, but we didn’t smell anything during our visit. This was the site of a mineral spa in the 1800s, with the Sulphur Springs Hotel – it burned down in 1910 and was never rebuilt. A private home now stands on its ruins.
We stopped by the creek, which was slightly iced over… the sound of the water over the ice crystals was so pleasing to the ear. Meandering, the creek makes for a very pleasing sight and worthy of a few photos.
Moving further on the trail, you find yourself at the Hermitage ruins. A mansion, it was built in 1855 and destroyed by fire in 1934. In recent years the ruins have become increasingly dangerous, requiring supports. As you continue along the path, you notice the mossy stones and the valley below with a small, inaccessible lake. There is a private residence located here – imagine having the trail right outside your door!
Continuing on, you head into a valley where there is little sound except for the cascade and stream. Taking a seat for a moment, this is the perfect spot for the rest – it’s the halfway point of your visit.
The trail continues on through an old apple orchard. Several old apple trees remain, gnarled and not pruned for many years. A bit further on is a large, old oak tree, over 150 years old. Its trunk is wide, with limbs reaching for the sky. A bench under the tree is a great spot for another quick break and a good reason to look up at its height. I can imagine how lovely it is in the summer, providing you with shade and protection from the sun.
The final area you pass through is the Hemlock Grove. This is a playground for various animals, including bossy squirrels who squeak at you as you disturb their peace and quiet.
By the end of this hike, you are tired. It may be only 3.5 km but you’ve gone up at least 5 big hills. For anybody who is out of shape, this is a workout. We saw several people belonging to a hiking club walking along the trail for exercise. For runners, this is also a fantastic trail to push yourself.
Will we visit again? Most definitely. There’s more to explore and definitely at different times of the year. The bare trees, brown and golden carpet of leaves and occasional mossy stone make for a pretty scene in the winter. I can only imagine how beautiful this place is in the spring, summer and fall. We’ll be back!
Dundas Valley Conservation Area
650 Governors Rd (Hwy 99)
Admission: $9/vehicle – it’s open daily during the winter season, weekdays 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Have you experienced hiking at Dundas Valley Conservation Area? What is your favourite part of the main trail?