We’re so fortunate to have a number of amazing hiking trails in Niagara. While it’s hard to choose which one is the best, this local has to give the crown to the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve. These trails are full of incredible views that will take your breath away. If you’re looking to get your nature on when visiting Niagara Falls then you need to check out this epic Niagara Glen hike!
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Experience the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve
If you’re looking to get away from the tourism hubbabaloo that is Clifton Hill and the surrounding area, the Niagara Glen is for you. An absolute jewel in Niagara Falls Canada, it was designated as a nature reserve in 1992. The Niagara Glen now boasts 4km of hiking trails with plenty to see and explore. Just a few kilometres north along the Niagara Parkway from the Whirlpool Aero Car, it’s the perfect spot to spend a few hours or even a full day in the heart of nature.
What makes the Niagara Glen so amazing is that it’s home to one of Canada’s last pristine expanses of Carolinian Forest. This unique forest is characterized by the presence of broad-leaved trees and plants that are typically found in warmer, more southern environments. Why here? This is thanks to the Great Lakes as they create a warm and humid climate unlike most in Canada.
FUN FACT: During the Silurian Period (over 400 million years ago), the Niagara Region was much closer to the equator which allowed for a number of tropical species to live in the area. Due to continental drift (landmasses slowly moving over time) this is no longer the case, however it ties into the presence of the Carolinian Forest!
Not only are these trees incredible, but you’ll also find a number of amazing natural formations. The Pleistocene Epoch, which started 2.6 million years ago, is characterized by the formation of massive glaciers – aka the “Ice Age”. When it ended 12,000 years ago due to a warming climate, it melted the glaciers and formed our Great Lakes. As a result, water flowing north from Lake Erie over the Niagara Escarpment and into Lake Ontario would create the infamous Niagara Falls.
Between then and now, it slowly carved away at the rock and created the Niagara Gorge as we see it now. Take the time to appreciate the huge cliff faces, boulders and relics created from the sheer force of water. It only took over 10,000 years to make them after all!
FUN FACT: Niagara Falls has moved back over 11km in 12,500 years. This means they arguably the fastest moving waterfalls in the world! However this also means that in 50,000 years, there may not be a Niagara Falls at all as the rock will have completely eroded.
While this is all incredible, the highlight for me is the incredible views of the Niagara River’s gorgeous turquoise water. It may look like the waters you’d find in the Caribbean, but I swear it’s much colder. The vibrancy of the Niagara River is a testament to the sheer power of its flow as the dissolved salts are lifted from the limestone bed. An estimated 60 tonnes of these dissolved minerals are swept over Niagara Falls each minute!
Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate how the contrast with the oranges and reds of fall makes it look EXTRA beautiful? Like, this Niagara Falls hiking is hands down GORGE-ous. Yeah, I went there.
Hiking the Niagara Glen
As I mentioned, there are 4 kilometres of Niagara Glen hiking trails at your disposal. Before you get started though, these trails are not a walk in the park. All of them are ranked at a moderate level of difficulty or higher. Please wear proper footwear as the trails are rugged with uneven terrain. While there are staircases and stone stairs in some spots to help, many of the rocks are rough and can be slippery especially after any rain. Be prepared and tackle these hiking trails at your own risk!
The Niagara Glen offers 8 hiking trails and one bouldering trail. To tackle all of the trails would take a full day, but it’s easy to make a loop trail out of your options and enjoy a few hours along the trails. If you’re unsure of what trails to tackle, take a look at the Niagara Glen trail map or visit the Niagara Glen Nature Centre and some of the lovely Niagara Parks staff can help!
You can access the Niagara Glen all year round, but extra precautions must be taken in the winter months as ice and snow can make the trails even tougher to tackle.
FRIENDLY SAFETY REMINDER: If you EVER feel as though you’re in over your head, turn around. Don’t keep pressing ahead for the sake of that selfie or just to say you did it, especially if the weather turns sour. Safety first always and if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, call 911 and emergency responders will be on their way.
The Epic Niagara Glen Hike
For my adventure, I took Niagara Parks’ suggestion and hit up the outskirts of the park. This will give you a good taste of the area.
I started by taking a left after descending the 80ish stairs into the Niagara Gorge – yes, I counted. The base of the stairs lies towards the end of the Cliffside Trail. While I didn’t realize the beauty of this trail until I was almost finished my loop, you’ll be amazed by the towering limestone cliffs. It’ll give you something to look forward to… not that you need it!
At the end of the Cliffside Trail, you’ll come upon a fork. One side leads to the Cobblestone Trail and another to the Terrace Trail. Take a left and this will take you along the most northeastern area of the Niagara Glen. This trail is incredible as you wander through crevices and past monstrous boulders. I swear I felt a bit like Indiana Jones squeezing into small fissures to continue along the trail. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little, I clearly need to get out more. ANYWAY. The Terrace Trail also gives you access to the area’s only bouldering trail but more on that later.
Mesmerized by the tall trees and their gorgeous leaves, my ears picked up on a familiar sound. It almost sounded like rushing water… oh yes. Before you know it, your eyes will be feasting on the beauty of the Niagara River.
Aptly named, you’ll then come to the River Trail which runs parallel to the Niagara River. In order to do the full trail from end to end, you’ll have to take a left here which leads to a dead end where you’ll have to backtrack. I mean, it’s certainly worth it for the views along this Niagara gorge trail, but I decided to turn right to continue my hike.
Along the River Trail you’ll notice turn-offs for a number of other trails. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can take a right at the Cobblestone Trail and this will lead you back to where the Terrace and Cliffside Trails meet. That way you can get back to the stairs and on your merry way. The Cobblestone Trail splits into a fork so if you don’t take the first turn, there’s a second one a few metres later.
FUN FACT: The Cobblestone Trail is the oldest surviving trail in the Niagara Glen. It was built by hand to transport lumber in the late 19th Century!
Next, you’ll come upon the Trillium Trail which is the shortest of all the Niagara Glen’s trails at just 110m. I’m unsure why it’s called the Trillium Trail, but I’m hoping it’s because Trilliums are prominent in the spring months! I’ll have to test that theory on a return visit.
After that is the opposite end to the aforementioned Cliffside Trail so you can choose to do this trail in its entirety, or you can also use it to connect with the start of the Terrace Trail. Taking the Terrace Trail here will allow you to see the Leaning Rock and Devil’s Arch areas.
Lastly, you’ll find two turn-offs to the Woodland Trail but at this point, you’re almost at the end of the River Trail. If you’d like to do the Woodland Trail I suggest backtracking afterwards as it’s only 204m long and continue to the end of the River Trail. If you don’t you’ll kick yourself as this is where you’ll enjoy some of the best views within the Niagara Glen.
Pat yourself on the back, despite all of those temptations to head inwards and explore the heart of the Niagara Glen, you made it to the end of the River Trail. Yahoo! As someone who wants to see and do all of the things, this really is a feat for me. Give me this, please. From here, ascend the Eddy Trail and admire the beautiful limestone outcrops as you meet up with the Cliffside Trail. Take a left and follow it along the Wilson Terrace to reach the stairs and back to where your adventure began!
There’s more to see and explore within the middle of the Niagara Glen but I’ll have to save that for the next trip!
Don’t Miss the Niagara Glen River Trail
Okay I’m backtracking a little because the Niagara Glen’s River Trail is seriously incredible. Not only does it offer amazing landscapes with trees that seem to hang over the water’s edge, but the views of the American side of the Niagara Gorge are incredible. You’ll be mesmerized the entire trail, and it also offers great shelter if Mother Nature decides to rain (or hail – true story) on your parade.
At 1.6 kilometres in length, you can do the full trail in about 20 minutes or so, depending on how fast you hike. If you’re like me and need to capture all of the pretty places, it’ll take you an hour. #SorryNotSorry.
The best part of the River Trail? At the end, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the Cripps Eddy, a beautifully tranquil inlet. It blew me away how calm it was compared to the Niagara River’s raging waters. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a lost fish flopping about trying to find his way.
Seriously though, I could have stayed here all day. These views are absolutely incredible and probably some of the best you’ll find hiking in Niagara Falls.
Niagara Glen Bouldering
Bouldering has become more popular and the Niagara Glen is proud to offer its Bouldering Trail for those who love the sport. If you don’t know, bouldering is a type of rock climbing. It is performed on smaller rock formations and doesn’t use ropes or harnesses. I’ve never tried it myself, but have a few friends who really love it!
In order to tackle the Bouldering Trail, you must hold a valid NPC permit as this is a protected natural area. You can get a permit from the Niagara Glen Nature Centre during operating hours or the Butterfly Conservatory’s gift shop. There is a fee and you must sign a waiver to obtain the permit. Be sure to carry it with you the entire time you’re bouldering!
You are also required to exercise appropriate safety precautions as your safety is your responsibility. You must also be properly trained and have the necessary equipment to boulder safely. As well, bouldering is secondary to the protection of the geological, biological and cultural heritage of the area. With any natural area, it is imperative to adhere to the “leave no trace” principle so others can enjoy it for years to come.
Planning Your Niagara Glen Visit
Who’s ready for some amazing Niagara Falls hiking? Here’s what you need to know for planning your visit to the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve.
How to Get to the Niagara Glen
The best way to get to the Niagara Glen is with a car. The Niagara Glen Nature Reserve is located along the picturesque Niagara River Parkway at 3050 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Click here for the Google Maps location.
If you’re coming from St Catharines, it’s just a short 20 minute drive. Just follow the Queen Elizabeth Way and take a left at the fork along the General Brock Parkway. You’ll want to take the last exit before the US Border, Stanley Avenue. Do not miss this exit or you’ll have to deal with border security! Merge onto Stanley Avenue and then hang a left onto Whirlpool Road. Turn left onto the Niagara Parkway and the Niagara Glen will be on your right in 1.7 kilometres.
Heading to Niagara Falls from Toronto, Hamilton or elsewhere? Make your way to the Queen Elizabeth Way and then follow the directions above. If driving all the way to Niagara Falls just for the Niagara Glen hike seems like a bit much, there is plenty to do in Niagara to make your trip worthwhile!
Spend a Weekend in Niagara
Planning to spend a day or two in Niagara Falls? The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory is just up the street along with the Floral Clock and the infamous Bruce Trail’s Southern Terminus. There’s also the aforementioned Whirlpool Aero Car which offers amazing aerial views and the White Water Walk where you can get up close to the Niagara Rapids. Both of these are fantastic ways to experience the Niagara Gorge! Keep going and you’ll come across the tourism mecca that is the Horseshoe Falls and Clifton Hill. Whatever you do, don’t miss my insider’s guide full of tips and tricks for your trip!
Not really feeling Niagara Falls? Not to worry – there’s always Niagara-on-the-Lake! Spend some time in picturesque wine country. Enjoy the quaint town with a stroll through the heritage district, grab a bite at some of the amazing restaurants, indulge in a wine tasting or two, and much more! I highly recommend a spring visit so you can enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms as they bloom across the region. Check out my full guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake to make the most of your visit.
If you’re looking to stay overnight in the region, you have a few options. There are a number of great Niagara Falls hotels you can stay at and it’s really easy to find a great deal in the off-season. I have personally stayed at a number of the hotels in Clifton Hill and have yet to have a bad experience. However, you’ll need to keep an eye out for additional parking fees not included in your hotel rate. There are a few hotels (like the River Rapids Inn) that offer free parking, but they’re a little further away from the main drag.
Not a fan of the touristy areas? I completely get it and while Niagara-on-the-Lake is definitely a tourism hotspot, it’s pretty easy to find a beautiful bed and breakfast fit for a king and queen. The only caveat is that you’ll need to plan ahead as they tend to book up quickly! Take a look at this map of Niagara below to see what hotel deals you can find for your stay.
Additional Niagara Falls Hiking Trails
While the Niagara Glen is the top choice, it’s not the only game in town. There are a number of other great hikes you should check out if you’re looking for even more adventure! I have the full details in my guide to the top hiking trails in the Niagara Region.
If you’re looking for some hiking trails in Niagara Falls, head to the Niagara Parks’ White Water Walk. It isn’t so much of a recreation trail as it is a boardwalk, but it runs you right past some of the largest whitewater rapids in Canada. The whirlpool rapids are definitely a sight to see and I recommend checking them out as it’s one of the best ways to experience the Niagara Falls Gorge.
Of course, I’d be amiss not to mention hiking to some of the amazing waterfalls in the Niagara Region! We’re so fortunate to have over 10 thanks to the Niagara Escarpment – and no, that’s not including the Horseshoe Falls. If you’re up for a challenge, you can even see them all in one day!
Here’s a rundown of some of the other Niagara hiking trails to check out in the region:
- Woodend Conservation Area on the border of St Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake
- DeCew Falls along the Bruce Trail in St Catharines
- St Johns Conservation Area in Pelham
- Rockway Falls Conservation Area in Lincoln
- Beamer Memorial Conservation Area in Grimsby
- Laura Secord Heritage Trail, one of St Catharines’ top hiking trails
I’m sure there are even more great trails that I have yet to explore, so keep your eyes peeled for future updates. Do you know a Niagara hiking trail you think I should check out? Leave a comment about it at the end of this post!
Frequently Asked Questions About the Niagara Glen
If you’ve gotten this far, chances are you’re ready to tackle the Niagara Glen yourself! Here are some common questions folks have about this Niagara Glen hike.
Is the Niagara Glen Open?
It sure is! The Niagara Glen is open all year round, though the trails are not maintained in the winter months. As for the Niagara Glen Nature Centre, it is currently closed but the washrooms are still available. You can access them from the back of the building.
Is the Niagara Glen Free?
The Niagara Glen is free to hike but there is a fee to park. Niagara Glen parking is metered at a rate of $2.50 per hour for a maximum of $10 for the day. If you plan to visit a number of times, you may want to look into a yearly pass for the Niagara Glen. It costs $15 and is valid from May to October. If you plan to visit multiple Niagara Parks sites, it might be worth looking into their yearly pass for $60 as it allows you to park in any and all of their lots!
While there used to be free parking along the Niagara Parkway across from the Whirlpool Restaurant, this is no longer the case. I still recommend hiking the Whirlpool Trail, you just won’t be rewarded with free parking!
How Long Does it Take to Walk the Niagara Glen?
The Niagara Glen takes at least two hours to walk through, if not longer. If you want to truly enjoy the area, I recommend budgeting at least three hours of time. This way you can take your time and that should give you long enough to not only do the loop around the area but explore the inner trails as well.
When is the Best Time to Hike the Niagara Glen?
While most people visit in the summer, the best time to hike the Niagara Glen is in the fall. The contrast between the beautiful autumn colours and the turquoise water is absolutely breathtaking. I think the photos in this post speak for themselves!
Are the Views as Good as Dundas Peak?
Dare I say it? Yes, I do because it’s true – these views are better! C’mon now Lindsay, Dundas Peak is the holy grail of beautiful lookouts and fall hikes in Southern Ontario… there’s a place better than that?! I swear I’m not lying. While the drive may be longer if you’re coming from Toronto, you’ll have access to more trails, beautiful trees, unique rock formations, and more!
Ready to Hike the Niagara Glen?
It may not be the first place that comes to mind when looking for somewhere to hike, but these are some seriously beautiful Niagara Falls hiking trails. It’s the perfect activity to include on an itinerary for an Ontario road trip to Niagara Falls! It’s also a lesser-known gem and just one of the many insider tips for Niagara Falls this local has to share with you about the area.
Seriously though, if you’re looking for a Southern Ontario trail to hunt for some autumn colours, forget about Dundas Peak and head for some hiking in the Niagara Glen. The views are spectacular, the foliage is incredible and you won’t have to contend with hordes of people. Nature is meant to be admired in a gentle, peaceful state which is what you’ll find here in the Niagara Glen. It’s the piece of Niagara Falls nature you didn’t realize you needed in your life!