On the Trails
Nature Trails at Royal Botanical Gardens
RBG’s nature sanctuaries feature more than 27 km of nature trails in Burlington & Hamilton. There are four main trailheads, as well as two canoe launch sites.
Royal Botanical Gardens’ 1,100 hectares is dominated by 900 hectares of nature sanctuaries enveloping the western end of Lake Ontario. The properties and activities are regulated by the Royal Botanical Gardens Act and supporting bylaws.
These lands form a Nodal Park within the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO) and the heart of the Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark System. With more than 750 native plant species, 277 types of migratory birds, 37 mammal species, 14 reptile species, 9 amphibian species and 68 species of Lake Ontario fish, the area is an important contributor to ecosystems that span international borders.
Please note: Some of our trails and trailheads are narrow and we recommend you wear a mask when you are near other people. Please follow one-way signage as noted below.
Find your route and learn more about the three major nature sanctuaries with pdf trail guides.
Trail User Notes
Updated September 15, 2021
For Your Safety
- While our nature trails please note that all use is at your own risk. Most of our trails are hilly and the trail surfaces are natural soil. Consider your footwear as during winter surfaces can be icy or muddy depending on the weather.
- High numbers of visitors will be encountered at times and our trails are narrow; please wear a mask when you cannot physically distance from others.
- Please stay on the marked trails to avoid trampling regenerating shrubs and trees or buried roots of understory plants such as trilliums.
- The nature trail system is considered closed during extreme weather event notifications from Environment Canada.
- Cross country skiing and mountain bikes/fat bikes are not allowed as our trails are not designed to accommodate these activities.
- Skating is available at Princess Point when ice conditions of Cootes Paradise Marsh permit. Conditions can change rapidly and will be posted onsite and on social media. View latest update.
- Please be aware ticks, including those carrying Lyme Disease, are found throughout the Hamilton/Burlington area and are active at temperatures above 0°C. Protect yourself by staying on marked trails. RBG does not accept ticks for testing. For inquiries regarding ticks, please contact the Region of Halton or City of Hamilton Public Health.
Trail Closures and Interruptions
- The Ray Lowes side trail connection from Rock Chapel to Arboretum ends at York Rd and does not connect to Cootes Paradise. This relates to the Bruce Trail Conservancy head office having moved from the Arboretum, now located in Dundas via another side trail from the escarpment.
- The Armstrong Trail at Rock Chapel is closed indefinitely due to adjacent escarpment face hazards.
Admission & Parking
Trail users arriving by car are required to pay for parking by using the parking meters available at all trailhead parking lots. Day parking passes are available as part of your RBG General Admission.
Admission to the Arboretum is subject to general admission fee or a flat rate $10 parking fee between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Outside of these hours, metered parking fess apply at $5/hr to a maximum of $15.
RBG Members receive a year-long parking pass to be used at all RBG trailheads. Proceeds from the parking fees go directly toward the maintenance of these lots as well as stewardship of the natural areas.
Open Parking Lots:
- Arboretum – 16 Old Guelph Rd
- Laking Garden – 1249 Spring Garden Rd/Plains Rd
- Rock Garden – 1210 York Blvd
- Princess Point – 335 Longwood Rd
- Teaching Garden (Aviary) – 85 Oak Knoll
- Valley Inn – 1220 Spring Garden Rd
- Rock Chapel – 318 Rock Chapel Rd
- Cherry Hill – 1101 Plains Rd W.
- Unsworth Ave Burlington – 1171 Unsworth
Closed Parking Lots
Skating on Cootes Paradise
Princess Point provides access to a skating area across Cootes Paradise. Ice is measured each Friday (before end of day), and updated at the on-site signage, here, and on our Facebook page. Please note: weather changes quickly, and so upon arrival the ice may not be in the same condition as listed. Please use caution, take time to read the signage, and follow the listed guidelines.
View conditions and learn more at the link below.
Trail Celebrating Indigenous Plants
Native plants provided Indigenous peoples with almost all of life’s essentials. Starting in the Arboretum near the Nature Interpretive Centre, this new trail explores plants used by the Anishinaabe peoples, and their connections to culture, language, ecology and history.
Impacts of Wildlife Feeding on RBG Trails
Wildlife in RBG’s nature sanctuaries have a problem — and the problem is overfeeding. A recent study discovered that the frequency and amount of feeding wildlife in hotspot areas such as Hendrie Valley Nature Sanctuary is doing far more harm than good.
Hiking the trails is free, but maintaining them isn’t
Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) is the largest botanical garden in Canada, a National Historic Site, and registered charitable organization with a mandate to bring together people, plants and nature.
Plan Your Hike
Find interactive maps from GeoTrail! View trail lengths, terrain, lookout points, elevation, photos and more!
Featured Hiking Loops
Not sure where to start? Join Jackson for a virtual guided hike with our “Take a Hike” videos!
Trail User Etiquette
Trail User’s Code
Upon entering the nature trails you are making a pledge to respect the environment and fellow visitors. These lands are Canada’s biodiversity hotspot, set aside at the head of Lake Ontario for environmental protection, open for environmental education and passive recreation only. While walking our trails, it is important to remember that you are a visitor in someone else’s home, and that your impact will be multiplied over by 200,000 other visitors. Environmental protection bylaws are posted at each trailhead. Please follow them and play a role in protecting and restoring the area for future generations.
Special Protection Areas
While the property spans 900 hectares, urban encroachment has left few true sanctuary areas for sensitive wildlife and bird species. To ensure that all species have an opportunity to persist 20 percent of the property remains without trails. For the visitor, next to these areas there are observation points and interpretive signage to help you appreciate the significance of these unique spaces.
Royal Botanical Gardens assumes no responsibility for loss of, or damage to property, personal injury or mishap, all activities are at the risk of the participant. Trail structures and adjacent trees are inspected regularly for visitor safety. Parking lots are not monitored, please do not leave any valuables in your car.
Trail Use Bylaw Restrictions
The properties and activities are regulated by the Royal Botanical Gardens Act and supporting bylaws.
- Runners are not permitted.
- Pets must remain leashed at all times. Please clean up after your dogs and leave waste trailhead garbage receptacle.
- Bicycles are prohibited.
- Motorized vehicles are prohibited.
- Horseback riding is prohibited.
- Picking or collecting plants or wildlife is prohibited.
- Feeding the wildlife/birds is not permitted.
- Cross-country skiing is prohibited due to the hilly topography.
- Ice skating is restricted to Cootes Paradise in the area adjacent to Princess Point.
- Use of drones is prohibited under RBG bylaw and further regulated by NavCanada.
The 5 main trailheads provide access to a combination of wider walking trails and narrow earthen backwoods footpaths. Surfaces include packed earth, crushed stone, asphalt and boardwalks; many sections are steep and hilly. Ice builds up on hills and floodplains during winter and can make trails slippery, “icers” are recommended. During spring thaws and after rains earthen trails become muddy.
For Those Afloat
Experience the area by canoe or kayak on your own, or as part of our organized canoe tours. Princess Point is the best place from which to launch your craft. The east side as a dock to launch from, while the west side has a sand beach-like area that can also be used. Please remember that paddling is prohibited in posted areas during the nesting season (May and June) to protect vulnerable wildlife. Motorized boats are prohibited at all times, excluding for Gardens’ research purposes.
Trail Frequently Asked Questions
Are the trails free to access?
Trail access points are varied as are the costs. Many access points are walk in and accessible by bike or transit and as a result are free. Parking fees do apply at metered lots for those arriving by car. Single-day parking passes are available as part of your General Admission, or get a year-long parking pass issued with an RBG Membership. Proceeds from the memberships and parking fees go towards the maintenance of these access locations as well as stewardship of the natural areas.
NOTE: Time-ticketed parking applies to access the Arboretum during bloom season (May and June)
Though hiking the trails is free, maintaining them and the nature sanctuaries (home to over 1,000 species) requires significant investment. Please consider support RBG’s conservation efforts with a donation. Learn more at rbg.ca/donate
Can I bring my dog on the trails?
Dogs are welcome in the nature sanctuaries so long as they remain on-leash, on-trail, and are cleaned up after.
Keep the nature sanctuaries fun and safe for everyone, comply with local bylaws, and help with our conservation efforts by keeping your dog leashed. If you see someone with an off-leash dog on the trails or at the arboretum, call Animal Services to report the incident to the by-law enforcement branch.
- Hamilton: 905-574-3433
- Burlington: 905-335-3030
Are bikes permitted on the trails?
For safety, maintenance, and conservation reasons, biking is not permitted on RBG’s trail systems. Many of RBG’s main trailheads include bike racks for your convenience.
Which trails are the most accessible / stroller-friendly?
Each Trailhead includes a stroller friendly trail route as a subset of the individual areas nature trail system.
Do you have canoes available for rent?
RBG does not lease out the canoes used in our camps and programs. Check with your local outdoor equipment provider for rentals or sign up for our Paddling in Paradise programs available in the summer months. Learn more at rbg.ca/paddle
What do I do if I find a distressed animal?
As RBG is not a wildlife handling organization, should you find an injured or distressed animal in the nature sanctuaries, please contact the appropriate animal control authority (Hamilton: (905) 574-3433, Burlington: (905) 335-3030). They may request that you stay with the animal to keep eyes on its whereabouts until help arrives, and may contact RBG for access assistance.
Young animals such as Fawns (Young Deer): If you encounter a young animal such as a fawn alone in any natural space, rest assured they are likely not abandoned. Mothers leave their little ones hidden while in search of food. Give them space, its mother will be back within the next day ready to move to a new spot. If the fawn has not moved in several days and its ears are curled down due to dehydration, contact your local animal control authority.
Can I fish on RBG’s properties?
Fishing is permitted at trail access points to the water as well as by boat. However as the area largely used by spawning fish it is subject to seasons articulated in the OMNRF fishing regulations. Remember the lands along the water contain many sensitive plant species.
Is ice skating available in the winter?
Princess Point provides access to a skating area across Cootes Paradise. Ice is measured each Friday (before end of day), and updated at the on-site signage, here, and on our Facebook page. Please note: weather changes quickly, and so upon arrival the ice may not be in the same condition as listed. Please use caution, take time to read the signage, and follow the listed guidelines. Check the “Trail User Notes” section at rbg.ca/onthetrails in the winter for posted ice thickness / safety notes.
More Ways to Experience the Nature Sanctuaries
Royal Botanical Gardens provides easy access to some of the most diverse birding in Ontario.
See the marsh and its inhabitants from a new perspective as your guide leads you from one shore of Cootes Paradise to another.
Princess Point provides access to a natural skating area across Cootes Paradise.