Don’t let the name fool you into thinking this is going to be a walk in the park! Well… I guess it actually is that, but you get what I mean. Short Hills Provincial Park offers some of the best hiking in Niagara and is the perfect place to spend a few hours, an afternoon or even a full day exploring the trails. This guide has all the details you’ll need to make the most of your Niagara hiking adventure.
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About Short Hills Provincial Park
Say hello to the only provincial park in the Niagara Region! Short Hills Park is 660 hectares (approximately 1630 acres) and was established in 1985. It is classified as one of the non-operating Ontario provincial parks. This means there are no facilities available and camping is not permitted – it’s meant for passive use only. However, this also means that it’s free to visit! It’s just one of the many reasons why Short Hills Provincial Park is a popular spot to hike in St Catharines.
Hiking isn’t the only activity you can enjoy at Short Hills Provincial Park. It’s also a popular destination for mountain biking and even horseback riding! You can also go fishing at Short Hills Provincial Park, but as this is a Brook Trout habitat site, it’s catch and release only. No finding your dinner here!
You might be wondering why the name short hills? Don’t worry – I was too! During the last ice age, what is now the Twelve Mile Creek cut through the sedimentary and glacial deposits once found here, creating the “short hills” you see today! This, along with the natural features like the Carolinian forest found within the park’s borders, are provincially significant which is why it became a provincial park.
Short Hills Provincial Park Trails
Chances are the reason you’re visiting is to get your hike on, so let’s hop to it! Short Hills Provincial Park is a fantastic destination for hikers of all skill levels. It’s easy to take a leisurely stroll with the whole family, challenge yourself with an epic loop or find something in the middle. You’ll wander through thriving forests, meandering between trees, crossing wooden bridges and walking past open fields. It’s actually stunning just how much the terrain can vary in this one park!
You’ll find seven hiking trails at Short Hills Provincial Park, all varying in length and terrain. The trails in Short Hills Provincial Park are divided by multi-use and hiking-only. The Swayze Falls Trail, Very Berry Trail and Black Walnut Trail are all marked with yellow blazes which signify a multi-use trail where you can hike, bike and horseback ride. The Terrace Creek Trail, Scarlet Tanager Trail and Hemlock Valley Trail are all marked with blue blazes meaning only hiking is permitted.
The final trail is the Palaeozoic Path, an 800 metre long fully accessible trail with flat gravel terrain. It was created as a path suitable for wheelchairs and baby strollers as well as offering beginner hikers a non-intimidating way to experience the park. Along the Palaeozoic Path, you’ll find interpretive signage speaking to the history of the area. At the end of the trail, you’ll find a beautiful lookout offering views of the park’s crown jewel – Swayze Falls. The Swayze Falls Trail connects with the Palaeozoic Path or it can be accessed directly from Parking Lot B.
There’s also Ontario’s famous Bruce Trail which runs through the park, sharing some of the trail routes mentioned above. If you’re not familiar with the Bruce Trail, this ~900 kilometre trail follows the Niagara Escarpment from Queenston to Tobermory. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking sporadic sections of it and the Bruce pretty much guarantees an epic adventure! Though what many don’t realize is that the Bruce Trail actually connects Short Hills Provincial Park to DeCew Falls, another popular Niagara hiking destination. In case the trails in the park aren’t enough for you, you might want to check this out!
While exploring Short Hills, you might notice signs for the Rim of Africa Friendship Trail. In 2014, the Bruce Trail Conservancy twinned a section of the trail at Short Hills with the Rim of Africa trail! This conservation initiative and unique mountain passage is located in the Cape Mountains along the southern edge of Africa. To hike the entirety of the Rim of Africa trail would take over 50 days. It sure sounds like an epic adventure! While the section found at Short Hills is much smaller in scale, both the BTC and the Rim of Africa work to protect ecosystems that are important to their respective areas.
Hiking to Waterfalls in Short Hills
Yes, you read that correctly. There are not one but TWO waterfalls in Short Hills Provincial Park! The aforementioned Swayze Falls is arguably the park’s biggest draw. Watch as the tributary of Twelve Mile Creek cascades 14 metres down the Niagara Escarpment, creating this gorgeous ramp waterfall. Beware though, she does have the nickname “dry falls” as she’s often barely a trickle in the summer months! Swayze Falls is just one of the many beautiful waterfalls you can see in Niagara.
Now this second waterfall can be tricky to find as she eluded me for months, but I’ll spill the beans so that you know exactly where to go to find Terrace Creek Falls. Coming from Swayze Falls, follow the Bruce Trail until you pass the trailheads for the Scarlet Tanger, Black Walnut and Terrace Creek trails. You might be tempted to follow the Terrace Creek Trail but don’t be led astray! You want to stay the course on the Bruce Trail and approximately 400 metres from where the trail forks at the Black Walnut Trail, you’ll spot her.
Terrace Creek Falls is similar to Swayze Falls in that she will have little to no flow in the summer months. If it’s been a very dry summer, you might just think you’re walking by a rock ledge! For the best views of these beautiful waterfalls, I highly recommend visiting Short Hills Provincial Park in the winter. If you do wish to visit in the summer, you’ll want to come shortly after significant rainfall in order to have the best chance of seeing them.
Things to Know About Visiting Short Hills Provincial Park
Ready to visit Short Hills Provincial Park? That’s what I like to hear! These are some of the more frequently asked questions to help plan your visit.
Is Short Hills Provincial Park open?
As this is a non-operating park with no official hours, chances are it is open. If it has been raining and the trails are muddy, visitors are discouraged from visiting the park. Hiking, biking and horseback riding can contribute to erosion and will deteriorate the trails. Please refrain from exploring the Short Hills hiking trails in wet weather to prevent environmental damage!
However, on specific days in the fall and early winter, Short Hills Provincial Park will be closed. This is in respect to Indigenous treaty rights as illustrated under the Constitution Act of 1982 to allow for the yearly deer hunt. It’s one small step towards meeting the province and country’s treaty obligations for the Indigenous Peoples of what is now Canada.
For the 2020-2021 season, the park will be closed for the Short Hills Provincial Park deer hunt November 3, November 26, December 10, December 17, January 7 and January 27, as well as the morning after each of these days. It can be expected that there will be similar park closures for the 2021-2022 season.
Please refer to the Ontario Parks website before visiting for any new alerts or closures.
Where Can I Find Short Hills Provincial Park Parking?
There are three official parking lots at Short Hills Provincial Park. Parking Lot A is the furthest north and is just off of Pelham Road in St Catharines. As it’s the closest lot to the city, it tends to fill up quickly. Parking Lot B is the furthest south and is located at 193 Roland Rd in Ridgeville. This is the closest parking lot to Swayze Falls and is almost guaranteed to be full, especially on weekends. The last lot is Parking Lot C which can be found at the end of Wiley Road in Thorold.
Lot C is my go-to as it is the largest of the lots and tends to be the least busy. While it’s not uncommon to see cars parked along both sides of the road leading to the lot, there’s typically lots of room still to park. If they reach all the way to the bend in the road, I recommend trying again another time.
What is the Short Hills Provincial Park Fee?
There is no fee to enjoy Short Hills Provincial Park! There is no entrance fee and no parking fee making it a great Niagara hiking destination that’s easier to access.
Can I Hike At Short Hills in the Winter?
You sure can – in fact, it wasn’t until recently that I enjoyed these Niagara hikes in a season outside of winter! The majority of these trails do have uneven terrain so winter does add an extra level of difficulty. If you’ve never hiked in the snow before, check out my beginner’s guide to winter hiking as well as what winter hiking gear you’ll need to ensure you’re prepared!
Are There a Lot of Ticks at Short Hills Provincial Park?
Unfortunately, ticks are becoming more and more prevalent in Ontario and the park is no different. However, despite all of the hiking I’ve done across the province, I have yet to encounter a tick! (Of course, now that I’ve said it…) My go-to Short Hills Provincial Park tick deterrent is a bug spray with a high DEET concentration like this one. While the smell is terrible, I’ll take that over a chance of being infected with Lyme disease, anytime!
Is There a Short Hills Provincial Park Map I Can Reference?
You betcha! You’ll find a few maps scattered throughout the park, typically at points where multiple trails converge. The majority of the trails are also marked on Google Maps, though the trails are occasionally diverted for regeneration purposes – like the Terrace Creek trail currently. Just in case though, here’s a photo of the Short Hills map.
Looking for More Hikes in Niagara?
While this is the only provincial park near Niagara Falls, it’s certainly not the only place to hike! We are so fortunate in Niagara to have a number of trails and destinations for hiking opportunities. Be sure to check out my guide to the top Niagara hiking trails to really get a taste of the region. Here are a few more recommendations for additional trails in Niagara to check out:
- Beamer Memorial Conservation Area in Grimsby
- DeCew Falls in St Catharines
- Green Ribbon Trail in St Catharines
- Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls
- Niagara Glen Nature Reserve in Niagara Falls
- Rockway Falls Conservation Area in Lincoln
- St Johns Conservation Area in Fonthill
- Woodend Conservation Area in Niagara-on-the-Lake
If you’ve already hit up these trails, good on ya! There’s plenty more where that came from though so take a peek at my guide to the best St Catharines hiking trails for more gems in the city. If you’re popping by Short Hills on your way to see the Horseshoe Falls, check out the top spots to hike in Niagara Falls! Of course, there’s always the option to chase some waterfalls across Niagara which always makes for a fantastic adventure in the region. Whatever Niagara hikes you choose to enjoy, I guarantee it will make you fall more in love with the region.
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