Anyone from the Niagara Region has probably heard of Woodend Conservation Area. My first visit to the area dates back to my elementary school days as it’s a popular destination for school field trips. While I’ve changed a lot since those early formative years, I have to say that the Woodend Conservation Area still pretty much looks the same. If you’re looking for one of the best hikes in Niagara, this Niagara-on-the-Lake conservation area is a great choice.
History of Woodend Conservation Area
The Woodend Conservation Area is approximately 98 acres in size and is a great place to get some fresh air all year round. As part of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, you’ll find a forest full of hardwood trees along with some Carolinian species like Black Cherry and Sugar Maple sprinkled throughout. Woodend’s trails are thoroughly shaded, making it a great refuge on a hot summer day!
The land that we now call Canada originally belonged to the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. There are still Indigenous People in the area to this day, however it’s important to recognize that they lost most of their land due to colonization. Woodend Conservation Area is the land of the Anishinaabe, Attiwonderonk (Neutral), Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Peoples.
Sites have been discovered in the vicinity of Woodend where evidence of early agricultural technology, tools and weaponry have been discovered. These artifacts are evidence of Indigenous communities dating back from 500 BC to 500 AD. While items have not been found in recent years, there is still a reasonable chance that there could be more found throughout the conservation area!
European colonization brought three United Empire Loyalist families (those who followed the Royal Standard and settled in Canada during the American Revolution) towards the end of the 1700s. Part of the property Woodend now inhabits was the former homestead of these three families – Van Every, Lampman and McKinlay. They received their parcels of land from the Crown, though the history of Woodend truly begins with the Van Every family.
According to a research project called “Historic Woodend – A Social History of Woodend Conservation Area” conducted by Patricia M Orr in partnership with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, the original land grant was given to William Van Every in 1796 with Peter Lampman receiving his grant shortly afterward in 1798. The McKinlay family were the last to arrive as they received their parcel of land in 1803.
A number of the structures you see on the property today are built because of the Van Every family. The main house and gatehouse were built in 1932 and 1933 respectively by Joseph J.C. Thomson, William Van Every’s grandson. As you can imagine though, these three families became intertwined through the transfer of land and via marriage. Also, many of these original families have been laid to rest in Warner’s Burying Grounds, now known as the Warner Methodist Cemetery.
Fast forward to 1974 when the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority purchased the land with assistance from the Nature Conservancy of Canada as well as the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. This was done because of its significance both historically and geologically. While the main reason for the purchase was to preserve the land rather than the buildings, they have since become part of the District School Board of Niagara’s mandate for outdoor learning.
The DSBN Walker Living Campus is an outdoor education centre offering numerous programs aimed at conserving, developing, and managing the natural resources within the Niagara Peninsula. Orienteering, team building, outdoor survival skills and more are taught to students from kindergarten all the way up until grade 12. This aids in showing students how important it is that we think about the environment around us and that it’s necessary for the health of our planet.
Hiking in Woodend Conservation Area
Chances are if you’re visiting this conservation area in Niagara, you’re here to hike the Bruce Trail. Ontario’s famous trail creates a great loop that’s just over 3 kilometres as it follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. You’ll fall in love with the gorgeous forest as you follow the path around the property.
One of the things that makes Woodend Conservation Area so important is the wide range of plant and animal life. As such, you may notice some vegetation surrounded by snow fencing. This is part of the NPCA’s plan over the past few years to rehabilitate the understory of the forest. Unfortunately, a lot of these plants are unintentionally trampled due to visitors going off trail, so the NPCA has been making a strong effort to protect this vegetation as their roots are being established.
Another thing to make note of is that you may spot tipi-like structures around the property. While some may be created in conjunction with local Indigenous communities, the majority of the time this is not the case. After inquiring with the NPCA, I learned this is often due to visitors going off-trail and creating these structures for their own amusement. This is actually very damaging to the area (and the aforementioned efforts being put in place by the NPCA) so this is your reminder to please stay on trail and practice leave no trace when visiting Woodend.
SIDE NOTE: Online I’ve seen mentions of two other trails – the Hardwood Trail and the Silurian Trail – but in looking at maps, it looks like they’re just alternate names for this particular section of the Bruce Trail. If I’m wrong or you have more information about this, please let me know and I’ll be sure to update this post!
With its close proximity to the highway, you may notice some road noise from time to time. It will fade into the background as you become engrossed in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the white blazes as they aren’t always on the trees!
While the terrain is uneven, there isn’t a large difference in elevation making it a great spot to get out with the family. If you have a child in a stroller however, I wouldn’t recommend this area as it’s definitely a hiking trail versus a walking trail.
Depending on your walking pace, the main Bruce Trail loop should take you about an hour or so. If this isn’t quite long enough for you, there’s a way to add a few more kilometres to your trek!
As you’re heading to or from the parking lot off of Taylor Road, you’ll notice some blue blazes heading north. These mark the 1.1km long Wetland Ridge Side Trail. It will take you from the main Bruce Trail through a forested area to Niagara College’s Teaching Winery. If you’re looking to reward yourself with an adult beverage after your hike, take a peek inside one of the best wineries in Niagara!
You’ll also see markers for the Laura Secord Legacy Trail, a 32km long trail dedicated to Laura Secord herself. This route traces her path as she delivered the life-saving message of the American attack to the British and Canadian forces during the war of 1812. This is also a part of The Great Trail which is more commonly referred to as the Trans Canada Trail.
As you can see, this area is absolutely gorgeous for an autumn adventure. No matter what time of the year you visit this Niagara park, always leave yourself with plenty of time to get back to your car. You don’t want to be caught on the trails with no flashlight in the dark!
Ready to Visit Yourself?
Like many of the conservation areas in Niagara, Woodend is open all year round. This makes it a great spot for winter hiking and even some cross-country skiing! There are a few things you should know though before visiting:
- No entrance fees and no parking fees meaning it’s free to visit
- The main parking lot is located off of Taylor Road [map]
- There are no bathroom facilities at the Woodend Conservation Area so plan accordingly
- Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, especially on those hot summer days
- It is fairly wooded so I’d recommend bringing bug spray
- The terrain is uneven so I recommend a sturdy pair of shoes or hiking boots
- Trails are quite shaded which is great in the summer but can be chilly in the fall so I recommend bringing a windbreaker for those cooler fall days
- Parking is limited but this spot isn’t popular so you shouldn’t have trouble finding parking, though the earlier the better on weekends to ensure you can find a space
The Woodend Conservation Area is just one of the many great places to go in Ontario. I highly suggest checking it out when you have the chance! The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority oversees 34 parks in the Niagara Region and they all deserve a visit. If you’re interested in exploring a few more Niagara conservation areas, I recommend the Beamer Memorial Conservation Area, Rockway Conservation Area and the St Johns Conservation Area.
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