Chasing Hamilton’s waterfalls an all-season sport
Published January 4, 2024 at 12:19 pm
With more than 100 waterfalls and cascades scattered around Hamilton, chasing waterfalls is a must-do for residents and visitors alike.
But the fun doesn’t stop in winter; many of those same waterfalls are accessible in the cold months when the falls themselves are frozen or partially frozen, transitioning to spectacular icy landscapes that make the chase an all-season sport.
Hamilton’s unique geography, with the waterfalls tucked behind the trails of the Niagara Escarpment that cut through the city, make it a nature lovers paradise.
The city is unquestionably the waterfall capital of the GTA and if we’re talking sheer numbers, there are few cities in the world that can match Hamilton’s variety.
The big bonus is the scenery is located close to other beautiful natural landmarks and within minutes of Hamilton’s downtown core, filled with restaurants, breweries, historic architecture, first-rate shopping and all the other amenities that make the city a popular destination for visitors.
Some of the city’s waterfalls are so popular, in fact, that a little pre-planning (and in some cases, an online registration during the summer and fall) is helpful to ensure you get the full experience.
Here (with thanks to Hamilton Tourism) are ten waterfalls that are well worth the visit, starting with a few especially awesome in the winter months.
One of the most stunning natural formations along the Niagara Escarpment, this deep multi-coloured gorge is a history lesson in geology and perhaps Hamilton’s most famous waterfall. A nearby lookout offers spectacular views of Stoney Creek and Hamilton Harbour and on a clear day you can see the Toronto skyline from the observation tower.
The waterfall and the surrounding conservation area in the city’s east end offers visitors two separate falls: Upper Falls, a 33.8 metre ribbon waterfall and Lower falls, a 5.5 metre classical waterfall.
The Devil’s Punchbowl Falls can ebb to a trickle when it hasn’t rained in a while, but the million year-old gorge, resplendent with colourful layers of rock that encircles the falls, is photo-worthy all by itself.
In winter, when the flow sometimes freezes to a giant clump, the vistas can be epic.
This hidden gem is nestled in the Felker’s Falls Conservation Area in east end Stoney Creek. Felker’s Falls, a terraced 22-metre ribbon waterfall, flows over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment revealing significant geological rock formations in the bedrock gorge. It’s also close to other nearby waterfalls such as Devil’s Punchbowl and Albion Falls that are all well worth exploring.
Felker’s Falls is also quite impressive when frozen.
Albion Falls is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the region and one of Hamilton’s most popular. The Red Hill Creek (in the regally named King’s Forest) tumbles over rock that’s been formed over time into steps and shelves, fanning outwards, as Hamilton Tourism described it, “into a beautiful cascade of rushing water.”
Classified as a cascade waterfall, Albion Falls is a stepped jewel that is almost as wide (18 metres) as it is tall (19 metres) and is visible from two viewing platforms.
Visitors used to be able to hike to the bottom but after a man ignored warning signs and safety fences and died at the bottom of the falls in 2016 the area was closed to hikers for safety reasons.
Albion Falls is considered one the city’s most beautiful falls in winter.
NOTE: Rocks from around the falls were used in the construction of Hamilton’s famous Rock Garden, a National Historic Site at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The short walk to this cascade waterfall is worth the trek in all seasons as the trail takes visitors through a forested trail and over bridges that crisscross a stream. It’s also an easy hike from the parking lot on Wilson Street – making it a great spot for kids and families. There’s also a connection to the Bruce Trail if you’re up for a longer hike.
This 21-metre waterfall is quite the sight in spring when it’s roaring from the spring melt but also in the winter when it’s frozen in place.
Ice-climbing is allowed here and when temperatures are cold enough there are ice-climbing classes available to “Game of Thrones wildling wannabes.”
The waterfall tumbles from a broad valley above the escarpment into a V-shaped ravine below and is surrounded by cliffs on either side, creating a memorable visual experience for visitors.
The surrounding forest and bedrock is considered to be a “significant” natural area, with a canopy that consists of Eastern hemlock, sugar maple, red oak, American beech and many more species.
This is an extremely popular waterfall – especially in the summer months and during the autumn peak colour season when visitors will require an online registration to take in the splendour.
But during the winter the 22-metre tall Webster’s Falls is quieter and a visit here – especially mid-week – can be a peaceful (but no less awe-inspiring) experience.
Webster Falls is the largest waterfall in the region and this classical curtain waterfall is also one of the city’s most iconic. Its wide expanse of waterfall spills over a tiered drop, not far from where the shuttle drops off visitors.
Located in the historic village of Dundas, the falls is close to hiking trails, beautiful green space and great amenities and restaurants in town.
Part of the Spencer Gorge/Webster Falls Conservation Area, one of Upper Canada’s earliest industrial communities, the area around the falls is easy to navigate and quite photogenic – especially the beautifully restored cobblestone bridge that crosses Spencer Creek. It is, however, another waterfall where it is no longer possible to hike down to the base for safety reasons.
As blogger Lauren Yakiwchuk (who grew up in Dundas) noted, the waterfall is a “frozen beauty in the winter, and it’s not to be missed.”
A visit to Webster Falls is also not complete with a stop at nearby Tew’s Falls, the tallest waterfall in Hamilton, as well as Dundas Peak.
Both spots require an online reservation if visiting during a long weekend between May and September and daily during the fall colour season.
Tew falls may be known as a package deal with nearby Webster Falls, but it’s a stunner all by itself, towering above the escarpment at 41 metres high – only a few metres shorter than Niagara Falls.
This slender ribbon waterfall happens also marks the beginning of an uphill forested hike towards Hamilton’s famous Dundas Peak with stunning valley views.
Fed by Logie’s Creek, the water tumbles down the rock face into the valley below, with a couple of viewing platforms giving visitors vantage points – with views and colours that change with the seasons.
Smokey Hollow Falls
Also known as Grindstone, Waterdown or Great Falls, this beautiful ribbon waterfall flows from Grindstone Creek in Waterdown.
At 10 metres tall, this isn’t the area’s biggest waterfall, but this short and fast-flowing waterfall is surrounded by a great section of the Bruce Trail, with a rugged footpath tracing its way up and down the ravine formed by Niagara Escarpment.
Smokey Hollow Falls used to power a local sawmill.
Fairy or Angel Falls are two romantic nicknames for this captivating waterfall that happens to lie on private property along a popular hike route on the Bruce Trail at the western edge of the city.
The 17 metre-high curtain waterfall surges from Ancaster Creek between two other local falls, Tiffany Falls and Canterbury Falls, and has excellent year-round flow and good trail access.
This 15-metre curtain waterfall – like Smokey Hollow it used to power a sawmill – lies at the top of the escarpment on Royal Botanical Garden land. When the vegetation grows thick in the summer the waterfalls have a bit of a mystical quality to them and can be tricky to spot. Also called Rock Chapel falls, you can get to it from the bottom of the escarpment or the top.
A stone bridge dating back to 1868 provides a great view of the top of the falls. On the east side of the ravine, a lookout offers equally spectacular views.
Tucked into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, the Hermitage Cascade is just four metres high and boasts a gentle flow from Sulphur Creek.
This cascade waterfall is easy to access and also easy to find, right beside the Hermitage Gatehouse that once marked the entrance to the property when it was privately owned.
Safety Tips for visiting waterfalls
Waterfalls are located in environmentally sensitive areas. Stay on marked designated trails and obey closure signs; there are many rare plants that can be easily damaged or destroyed
- Park in designated parking areas only
- Don’t cross rail tracks to access waterfall areas and vistas.
- Stay well back from slopes, edges and other fall or slipping hazards.
- Keep children and pets close, and do not climb or otherwise bypass fencing.
What to Pack for a Winter Hiking Trip
It’s best to stay prepared in more difficult weather conditions to stay safe and happy on the trails.
Remember to dress warm (in layers, depending on the weather) with a warm hat and gloves or mittens.
Crampons and snowshoes are options and flashlights (the sun goes down quicker in winter) are necessities for late afternoon hikes.
Snacks, a waterproof day pack, water bottles or insulated bottles, neck gaiters and waterproof hiking or winter boots are excellent ideas as well.
Hamilton’s waterfalls are wonders of nature not found anywhere else and are unique experiences in the winter.
With files from Hamilton Tourism
inthehammer's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising