The Grand River is an iconic part of the County of Brant, Waterloo Region and more. This beautiful waterway has so much to offer and serves as an important element of the natural ecosystem of Ontario. What better way to explore and enjoy this natural beauty than by hiking along it? Check out these top Grand River trails that are perfect for exploring the Grand River Watershed.
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What Exactly is the Grand River Watershed?
The Grand River Watershed is a 6,800 square kilometre area that represents the largest inland river system found in Southern Ontario. In the heart of it is its namesake, the Grand River, which is approximately 300 kilometres long. This Canadian Heritage River has played an important role for humans since time immemorial as a main route of transportation for Indigenous Peoples and later early settlers. While it’s mainly used for recreational purposes now, the Grand River and its tributaries are still very important to the local ecosystems.
Throughout this swatch of land, you’ll find the Grand Watershed Trails Network. This not-for-profit organization is looking to bring people back to the Grand River. Whether you bike, hike or paddle it, there is so much to discover along these routes from wildlife sightings to the various heritage and cultural centres throughout. Read more about their mission and goals for the future here.
Top 5+ Grand River Trails to Check Out
While some time has passed since I left Waterloo Region, I’m always thrilled to come back and explore the beauty of the Grand River. Here are 5 amazing hiking trails where you can soak up the beauty of this heritage river.
Brantford to Hamilton Rail Trail
Connecting the two cities, the Brantford to Hamilton Rail Trail is the province’s first interurban hiking and biking trail that’s entirely off-road. It follows the former route of the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway. As with many rail trails, the terrain is flat though there is some elevation. For more details about the full route, click here.
This is a popular trail, especially in the summer and fall so expect it to be busy on weekends. It’s a fantastic route as there’s quite a bit of tree cover and offers plenty of beautiful views. For anyone interested in learning more about the Indigenous history of these lands, the trail takes you right by the Mohawk Chapel as well as the Woodland Cultural Centre. Both of which are not to be missed when in Brantford!
What was once part of the land owned by Brooks Farm has since been purchased by the Grand River Conservation Authority and transformed into a public green space in Brantford. The trail runs along a small section of the Grand River, offering both paved and gravel terrain. As you explore, you’ll also find interpretive signage talking more about the area.
FUN FACT: People once believed that the “dead pond” found in Gilkison Flats would swallow children and grazing cattle!
While the area is quite lush with vegetation, as the river jams in the winter months, it tends to rip out much of the plant life during the spring thaw. Because of this, most plants that thrive in the area are not native to Ontario as they were brought over from Europe during colonization. Some species you’ll spot include garlic mustard, purple loosestrife and Manitoba maple. Despite this, the area is quite pretty – especially in the fall as the colours change!
If you combine the Gilkison Flats trail with the neighbouring Fordview Trail, it makes a 5.5 kilometre loop and a great hour-ish long hike. Click here to see the full route.
Gordon Glaves Memorial Pathway
It’s no secret that Brantford has an intricate trail system but what you may not know is that a lot of the original pathways were developed along the dikes built to protect the city from flooding. A lot of this work was done by Gordon Glaves who was a dedicated volunteer and a driving force in the formation of these trails. In 1993, it was named after him to honour all the hard work he put into creating this pathway system.
This is often done as a 19-kilometre-long loop in conjunction with the SC Johnson Trail. It traverses both sides of the Grand River, crossing at the Old Lorne Bridge in downtown Brantford and the pedestrian bridge by Brant Conservation Area. If you’re on a bike, it’s easy to do in an afternoon though if you’re looking to do this on foot, you’ll need the full day. However, you can always stick just to the pathway which begins at the Brantford Bike Park. Click here to see a map of the full loop.
Grand Valley Trail
Connecting Belwood to Port Maitland, the Grand Valley Trail is 250 kilometres in length and offers plenty of hiking opportunities! It’s divided into four sections – Pinnacle, Black Walnut, Carolinian Crest and Towpath. The section that follows the Grand River is part of the ~69 kilometre long Carolinian Crest section.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: If you’ve hiked the Bruce Trail, you might be wondering why you’re seeing white blazes when we’re nowhere near the Niagara Escarpment. The Grand Valley Trail uses the same marking system which makes this path easy to follow!
Beginning in Brant near Waterloo Road, the Grand Valley Trail follows much of the Grand River from Glen Morris through Paris and Brantford, finishing at LaFortune Conservation Area in Caledonia. Along the way, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the Grand River as it closely follows the shoreline.
However, 69 kilometres is quite the stretch to tackle so if you’re looking for a smaller section, there is a great ~6 kilometre stretch that leads right into downtown Brantford. Click here to see the map!
SC Johnson Trail
Connecting Paris to Brantford, the SC Johnson Trail is a 14-kilometre-long route that follows what was once part of the Lake Erie and Northern Railway line. Named after Brantford’s SC Johnson and Son Ltd, the trail was completed in 1998 thanks to their generous donation to the Grand River Conservation Foundation.
There are a number of scenic views along the SC Johnson Trail. If you park at the lot by St James Anglican Church Cemetery, head southeast along the trail and you’ll come to a lookout that offers brilliant views of the town of Paris. A few kilometres further, you’ll cross a former railway bridge as you cross over Highway 403. The trail will also take you right by the Glenhyrst Art Gallery, ending at Brantford’s Wilkes Dam. Click here for more details about the route.
Walter Bean Grand River Trail
During my years in Waterloo Region, I spent plenty of time exploring the Walter Bean Grand River Trail. It began as a dream by the trail’s namesake, the late Walter Bean, a local businessman and community leader who wanted to establish a pathway throughout the region that followed the shores of the Grand River. The project began in 1999 and by 2004, it was approximately 70% complete.
Locals and visitors alike utilize the Walter Bean Trail in all seasons. At over 70 kilometres in length, there is plenty to explore along the way! The trail begins at the border of the Township of Woolwich and the City of Waterloo, largely following the Grand River through Kitchener until its end at Blair Road in Cambridge. As you hike the trail, you’ll see interpretive signage that shares some information on both the cultural and natural history of the area. Some signage will share more about the Grand River watershed along with important information as to its significance for the region.
While the majority of the trails on this list are great for cyclists as well as hikers, the Walter Bean Trail is not bicycle friendly. There are a number of sections where the terrain can make it hazardous so I’d recommend sticking to your two feet for this one! If you’re wondering where to go for a hike along the Walter Bean Trail, I absolutely love the stretch that runs through the rare Charitable Research Reserve. This whole area is absolutely beautiful and there are off-shoot trails that make it easy to create a loop within the reserve.
Additional Grand River Hiking Trails Close By
There are a number of options to get out for a hike and bike in the Grand River Watershed, especially since it encompasses so much land! While these trails don’t follow the Grand River specifically, they either cross or meet up with this it. So once you’ve completed the Grand River trails listed above, here are a few more ideas to get out and enjoy some quality nature time!
Guelph to Goderich Rail Trail – This 132 kilometre long trail is a popular multi-day route for cyclists. The trail is wide and flat, making it a nice leisurely adventure as you pass through prime Ontario farmland to the brilliant shores of Lake Huron. You’ll see signs for this route as the Kissing Bridge Trail as that’s how it’s referred to throughout the Grand River Watershed.
T H & B Rail Trail – Following the route of the former Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo rail line, this 14-kilometre-long trail was completed in 2010 and is now a part of the Trans Canada Trail. It connects to the 46-kilometre-long L E & N Trail (aka the Lake Erie and Norfolk Trail) that connects Brantford to Port Dover.
Elora Cataract Trailway – The original route of the Credit Valley Railway has been transformed into a 47-kilometre-long hiking and biking trail. It connects the Credit River Watershed to the Grand River Watershed as it passes through communities such as Fergus, Belwood and Erin.
Grand River Trail Trip Ideas
As you can see, this trail network covers a lot of ground. If you’re wondering about how to spend a day or two exploring, here are some suggestions on how to enjoy these Grand River trails!
Known as the prettiest town in Canada, Paris is the perfect spot to hit the trails and enjoy some small town fun. Start with a stroll through the heart of town and grab some caffeine at The Dog Eared Cafe before heading out for a hike or bike ride. Pop over to the Wincey Mills to pick up some snacks or if you like to plan ahead, grab a charcuterie box from Cheesecake on the go. Pop by Penman’s Dam and then set off for your adventure! The SC Johnson Trail is a fantastic option and there are also some great hiking trails along the Nith River.
For an overnight stay, the Arlington Hotel is the best place to rest your head in Paris. Its prime location in the heart of town plus its uniquely decorated rooms will ensure your experience is next level. Take a look at these reviews or click here to book your stay! With your extra day, you can explore even more of the area and eat at a number of the fantastic restaurants in town. For more ideas of things to do in town, check out my guide to Paris!
Another great option is to spend some quality time with the telephone city, Brantford. Rich in history and culture, you can spend some time learning at a number of sites like the aforementioned Woodland Cultural Centre and the Alexander Graham Bell Homestead. Brantford is also the hub of Ontario’s trails with so many interconnecting, making it the perfect spot to call home base for a weekend of hiking and biking. For more details, take a peek at my guide to Brantford.
If you’d like to spend more than just a day in Brantford, the Best Western Hotel and Conference Centre is a great spot to stay for the night. While it is a little outside the downtown core, they have fantastic amenities such as a pool, a fantastic on-site restaurant and suites with jacuzzi tubs – perfect to rest those aching muscles after a fun day of hiking and biking. Check out these reviews or book your stay now!
Of course, there’s also the option of combining the two for a multi-city adventure! That’s one of the big perks of Paris and Brantford being so close together, especially since a number of trails link the two.
Ready to Hit These Grand River Trails?
As you can see, the Grand River Watershed has so much to offer for hikers and cyclists. Of course, hiking and biking aren’t the only ways to explore the Grand River Watershed, but I’ll have to save that for a future post!
While the trails aren’t maintained in the winter months, they can still be great options for getting some fresh air once the snow falls! As with any outdoor activity, make sure to be prepared with plenty of water and take note of places where you can refill to stay hydrated – especially on those scorching hot summer days.
Have you explored any of the trails on this list? If so, which one is your favourite? If you haven’t, which of these Grand River trails do you want to check out first? Let’s hear it in a comment below!
This post is brought to you in partnership with the Grand Watershed Trails Network. However, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience as always!