About 20 minutes south of St Catharines, you’ll find an area called Fonthill in the town of Pelham. Within it lies a fantastic natural getaway: the St Johns Conservation Area. While the area itself isn’t very large, it’s most certainly worth making the trip for! Here’s what you need to know about visiting the St Johns Conservation Area.
About the St Johns Conservation Area
Before European colonization, these lands belonged to the Indigenous people who originally called these lands home. With the influx of British and French settlers, the Anishinaabe, Attiwonderonk (Neutral), Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas of the Credit were forcibly removed from their lands. These First Nations People still live in the area though they can no longer live off the land in this area as they once did.
The St Johns Conservation Area was established in 1963 and is one of the 34 Niagara conservation areas under the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. It was created to protect the water source at the headwaters of the Twelve Mile Creek and other natural resources in the area. Nestled in the Twelve Mile Creek Valley, the landscape you see was formed by glaciers that once covered this entire area. As the glaciers moved, they eroded the soil to create the hills and valleys you see today! Some parts of the Twelve Mile Creek Valley are filled with over 76 metres (250 feet) of glacial material!
This conservation area is also part of the Carolinian Forest zone. It contains many broadleaf plants and is home to old-growth trees – some of which are over 150 years old! These characteristics, combined with the marsh found near groundwater seeps, makes it a unique closed forest which is only found in a few places in the Niagara Region.
FUN FACT: The St Johns Conservation Area is home to the largest collection of tulip trees in the Niagara Region!
If you’re an avid birder, you’ll want to keep your eye out while exploring the area. This forest is home to a number of migratory songbirds and it’s not uncommon to see hooded warblers, scarlet tanagers and indigo buntings fluttering through the trees. Deer, brown bats and other small animals also call the St Johns Conservation Area home. Some of the species you might see are found only in the Carolinian forest!
In May 1996, a microburst twister tore through the St Johns Conservation Area. The aftermath resulted in uprooted trees and the destruction of many plants as it covered an area the size of 79 football fields. However, the twister left an opening in the forest which allowed for new trees to grow.
Hiking the St Johns Conservation Area
Overall the area is fairly small at 76 acres in size but it still houses five different trails. The Pond Trail is aptly named as this 500m long trail follows the outer edge of the pond within the conservation area. This route is great for families with small children as it’s flat and paved, making it easily accessible to everyone. I highly recommend bringing a blanket and packing a picnic so you can hang out with the ducks and geese that call the pond home!
PLEASE NOTE: The St Johns Conservation Area is home to a sensitive ecosystem. Disruptions can affect it much more than you think! Do not feed the wildlife nor take anything from this area home with you. Practice leave no trace, that way we can all continue to enjoy this beautiful spot.
Halfway through the trail, you’ll see signs for the Sassafrass Stroll Trail. This trail is approximately 1km long and creates a larger loop which connects back to the parking lot. From the Sassafrass Stroll Trail, you can access three other trails, the Horseshoe Trail, the Tulip Tree Trail and the St Johns Ridge Trail. These trails are 600m, 1.6km and 1.7km in length respectively. Here’s the St Johns Conservation Area trail map below for your reference.
While the Pond Trail and the Sassafrass Stroll Trail are both quite flat, the others have some fairly steep inclines. Let’s just say you’ll feel the burn as you explore! The most common route is taking the trails which follow along the outskirts of the conservation area.
To do this, follow the Pond Trail from the parking lot until it forks. Take a left and walk along it until you see the Sassafrass Trail. You’ll see signs for the Tulip Tree Trail shortly afterwards. Go left to take the Tulip Tree Trail and it will connect with the St Johns Ridge Trail. This is the largest loop and it will take you around the back of the conservation area until it reconnects you to the Sassafrass Trail which will take you back to the parking lot. You have the option of adding the Horseshoe Trail here but that’s entirely up to you!
As you can see, all of the trails are quite short but it can still make for a great afternoon outdoors. The St Johns Conservation Area is also said to be a popular spot for trout fishing between March and June. If you choose to visit to cast a line or two, be sure to check the Ontario Fish and Wildlife website to ensure the season is open for you to do so.
St Johns: Summarized
This spot in Fonthill Ontario is the perfect place to get your daily dose of nature. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you plan your visit to the St Johns Conservation Area.
How do I get to the St Johns Conservation Area?
The conservation area is located at 3101 Barron Road in Fonthill. You’ll drive along winding narrow roads as you pass by beautiful homes in a quaint area of Niagara. It’s a lovely drive and definitely a big change of pace from more popular destinations in the Niagara Region! Click here to open Google Maps for directions.
When is the St Johns Conservation Area open?
The conservation area is open year-round from 8:00am until 8:00pm, however it is open only on weekends from October 1st until December 31st.
How much time do I need to explore the St Johns Conservation Area?
I’d recommend planning to spend about two hours at the St Johns Conservation Area to truly enjoy all of the trails the area has to offer. However, you can probably see it all in about an hour if you’re a fast hiker.
Is there anything I should bring?
As the area is quite wooded, I recommend bringing some bug spray in the spring and summer months. While the trails aren’t as rugged as some of the others you’ll find in the Niagara Region, I still recommend a good pair of shoes or hiking boots. Of course, don’t forget a water bottle to stay hydrated!
Are dogs permitted at the St Johns Conservation Area?
This would be a great spot to bring your pooch for a stroll! I did not see any signage saying you couldn’t bring your dog so feel free to bring Fido along. Just please make sure you pick up after them as this is a sensitive ecosystem!
Are bikes permitted in the St Johns Conservation Area?
No, they are not! There is a bike rack at the entrance to the Pond Trail where you can lock up your bike while you explore.
If the hiking trails aren’t quite enough for you here, Short Hills Provincial Park is close by which offers a number of great trails including Ontario’s famous Bruce Trail. You can also check out the suggestions below for more outdoorsy fun in the Niagara Region!
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