Escarpment Property Trails
Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve is represented here by several properties forming a 110-hectare, three-kilometre ribbon along the Escarpment edge. RBG trails, and especially the Bruce Trail, link our local lands — collectively all these properties are a key part of the new Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark System.
km of trails
27 kilometres of trail include packed earth, crushed stone, asphalt and boardwalks; some sections are steep and hilly. Trails are not plowed or sandy during the winter. During spring thaws and after rains, earthen trails become muddy. Please take appropriate caution.
Current interruptions and Closures:
- Rock Chapel: The Bruce Trail roadside link to Borers Falls is currently being updated and as such for a period, trail visitors will need to climb over the roadside guard rail until modifications are completed to provide an access opening. This project is undertaken by Bruce Trail Conservancy and City of Hamilton.
Major Access Points
Located near spectacular Borer’s Falls, this is the main escarpment access point for this section of the Bruce Trail. The area is a collection of old field tablelands and forested, south-facing escarpment cliffs and talus slope. Numerous lookouts and views of Cootes Paradise dot the Bruce Trail as it tracks along the top edge of the Niagara Escarpment.
Valley Road, Berry Tract
Located at Valley Road and bisected by the Bruce Trail, the area forms the headwaters of Cootes Paradise’s Hickory Brook. Limited access to the Bruce Trail and Cartwright Sanctuary is through RBG’s Berry Tract property. Once pasture, the site includes old orchards and gullies cut through the clay soil by springs and runoff from the Escarpment.
Located at the western edge of Rock Chapel, the Sydenham Road pull-off is a City of Hamilton scenic view location.
RBG’s Escarpment Properties are home to lots of interesting trails and lookouts! Here are 5 key destinations marked by number on the pdf map.
1. Escarpment Edge Lookouts
Following along the Escarpment edge, the many lookouts along the Bruce Trail reveal the last unbroken natural connection between Lake Ontario and the Escarpment. Much of this open space is part of the Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark System.
2. Borer’s Creek Gorge and the Cedars
The impressive gorge has been carved by thousands of years of erosion. Old growth cedars were studied here in the 1980s/90s with the oldest being close to 400 years old.
3. Borer’s Falls
Located next to Rock Chapel Road, this 15-metre-high curtain waterfall is one of more than 120 waterfalls found in Hamilton. Borer’s Creek drains from Waterdown, winding its way to Cootes Paradise Marsh.
4. Geology Exhibit
Located 0.75 kilometre west of the parking lot on the Armstrong Trail, a 10-metre descent on a stair system takes you past labeled layers of escarpment rock formations.
5. The Disappearing Brook
At the end of Armstrong Trail a small brook emerges, or in fact reappears. It flows from the meadow above and disappears some 200 metres back from the Escarpment edge. This is a karst feature, formed when water dissolves limestone bedrock and creates underground passages.
6. The Orchards
At Berry Tract, a small orchard was planted in the 1930s. It is regenerating with native Ash, Hawthorne and Black Walnut trees. Deer frequent the area in autumn to eat the pears and apples, and use Red Cedar trees to rub the velvet off their antlers. Come take a hike in spring during blossom time!
Find Your Hike with Geotrail
Explore our Trails with an interactive map from Geotrail. View trail lengths, see lookouts, compare path elevation, and more.
Canada’s Biodiversity Hotspot
Royal Botanical Gardens’ 1,100 hectares is dominated by nature sanctuaries enveloping the western end of Lake Ontario. These 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.
About Rock Chapel
What’s in a Name?
Rock Chapel is named after a clapboard church built east of Borer’s Falls in 1822. The site was turned over to the Gardens in 1942, after originally being set aside in the 1920s as a potential gravel quarry. Berry Tract is named for Alfred Berry who bequeathed this former farmland to the Gardens for conservation purposes in 1965.
United Empire Loyalists settled Dundas and the first family to arrive, the Mordens, was granted land in the area. Morden House, located next to Borer’s Falls, was built in the 1790s next to the creek that powered their sawmill. The community of Rock Chapel sprang up along the road near the mill — it once included a buggy works, butcher, blacksmith, two general stores and its namesake church.
Vegetation and Microclimate
Its south-facing orientation gives Rock Chapel one of the warmest talus slopes along the Niagara Escarpment. Shallow soils, rock outcrops and numerous springs, create a diverse mixture of habitats that host a great variety of plants. Perhaps the best known are ancient White Cedars that cling to the face of the Borer’s Creek gorge. The oldest of these germinated in 1601!
Natural succession of old farmland has taken its course in the Berry Tract, led by trees like Hawthorne, Black Walnut and White Ash. Plantations of Black Locust and poplar were added in the 1970s.
Although best known for our display gardens and horticultural conservation work, Royal Botanical Gardens is working hard to preserve and restore the Nature Sanctuaries. Of particular importance is Project Paradise, the largest restoration project of its kind in North America, working to restore the aquatic habitats of Cootes Paradise and Grindstone Creek marshes.
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
Which trails are the most accessible / stroller-friendly?
Trail widths are about 1m with natural material surfaces.
Grades at Rock Chapel and Princess Point accesses areas are relatively flat at 1% grade, while the Arboretum and Hendrie Valley Trails have maximum grades of 25%. Most trails have elevation changes of 20m. Trail cross slope angles do not exceed 5%.
The Desjardins Trail accessed from Princess Point at Cootes Paradise is a flat multiuser paved trail, managed by the City of Hamilton on RBGs behalf and is part of the Trans Canada Trail network.
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.
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.