It’s amazing what you can discover within just a short distance from home! Before last week I had never even heard of Hilton Falls, and admittedly, knew very little about the Niagara Escarpment (Toronto acts as a bit of a schism between east and west — I’m from the east, the Escarpment’s in the west). Now that I’ve visited, I hope to return again this summer. It’s beautiful!
We arrived at the park just after one in the afternoon. The parking lot was nearly full and the place seemed busy. It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting as a first impression, but I was still excited nonetheless.
Hilton Falls offers visitors three trails to choose from, all of which can be done on foot, by bike, by horseback, or in the winter, on cross-country skis:
- the Red Oak Trail, a 3 kilometer path that encircles the Hilton Falls Reservoir;
- the Hilton Falls Trail, a 4 kilometer route that visits the falls;
- the Beaver Dam Trail, a 9.5 kilometer path that’s begun by taking the Hilton Falls Trail, but then breaks off on its own as it rounds out the northern end of the park.
On top of these hiking trails, the park also has three exclusive biking trails, ranging in length from 5 to 7 kilometers.
We decided to stay true to the purpose of this visit (which was to see the falls), and hike the Hilton Falls Trail. There’s a bit of an incline at the very beginning of the trail, but then it plateaus as you walk through a mixed forest. It was quite fairytale-like.
The sun was filtering through the maple leaves above, highlighting the small plants growing on the forest floor down below. It didn’t take long for me to notice all of the blossoming, wild strawberry plants, some patches within inches of the trail.
Although there were a number of people sharing the path with us, it never really seemed crowded while we were hiking. We had to move over to make way for mountain bikes here and there, but overall it was a nice, peaceful jaunt in the woods. That is, until we got to the falls themselves.
Approaching the site we passed some children with their mothers, who were on their return back to the parking lot. I was puzzled by the fact that the kids were both holding large sticks that were obviously used as fire pokers (the ends were charred and smoking — blatant giveaway). My boyfriend and I were both curious about this, as we’re not used to seeing campfires on designated hiking trails. Once we reached the end of the trail a short distance away however, all was made clear.
Looking over the falls is a picnic area, in the centre of which is a huge fire pit, upon which a family was having a full-blown BBQ. There’s even a woodpile nearby to fuel the fire. There had to have been around 30 to 40 people in and around the falls and picnic area. Here I was expecting a quiet visit to a small waterfall, but it was like entering an amusement park in the middle of the forest. I can only imagine how busy it is in the middle of summer.
The picnic area is situated to the left of the falls, which offers visitors a chance for a great view with an adjacent viewing platform. The part that I really wanted to get close to — the saw mill ruins — was on the opposite bank, however.
The falls are fed by one of the two tributaries of Sixteen Mile Creek that run through the area (the other feeds the beaver ponds and the reservoir that sits at the centre of the Red Oak Trail). To get to the ruins you have to cross this tributary. In some areas you can wade through (as we witnessed people doing), but within a quick hike away from the picnic grounds you reach a more shallow area of the creek where you can rock-hop across.
Once we were on the opposite bank, my boyfriend discovered the remains of a stone wall. Whether or not these were part of the mill ruins, we are still unsure. There are actually three sites of ruins within the park, the earliest of which was constructed in 1835 by the park’s namesake, Edward Hilton. The most prominent site is located right at the base of the falls, and is easily accessed by traversing down the embankment.
The falls are quite spectacular, but what adds to the scene is the rock formation that the tributary falls from.
Approaching the picnic site you see evidence of the rock escarpment in the forest. There’s an area where the rocks look like they’ve been stacked one upon the other, like stairs for the cedars to grow in between. The ledge that the water flows over is no different; it almost looks like brickwork, and the roots of the trees clinging to the edge are miraculously intertwined between the layers.
After spending some time at the water’s edge, we climbed back up to the top of the embankment where I spotted a trillium, the provincial flower of Ontario. I took it as a good omen for the beginning of this series 😉 .
I wanted to further explore the park past the picnic area, so we hiked on a bit through the trees. There’s a grove of cedars at this point, and it was interesting to see them growing up through the rocky ground (which in some places looked almost lunar).
I kept on noticing these blue slashes painted on the trees. Part of me knew what they were for but I didn’t pay much attention to them as I was so captivated by the landscape.
With a mental note to the paint, we carried on along the trail. It didn’t take long for us to stumble upon something I had previously read about but feared I missed.
I will be the first to admit that finding a perfectly formed, circular hole in the forest is a bit eerie. Once you read the plaque placed beside it however, you become amazed at just how awesome it really is.
Feeling content with our time spent in the park, we decided it was time to make our way back to the parking lot and head home. During the return walk my boyfriend pointed out what the blue slashes were for:
The blue paint marks a side trail of the Bruce Trail, which runs through the area. Over the years I’ve dabbled in research of the trail, playing with the idea of trying to complete it (alas, in stages). The trail is marked by these paint slashes all along the route, which I’ve read about and hence why it stirred some recollection when I first saw them. Realizing I was actually on the Bruce made me giddy (which I may or may not have squealed about, but conveniently, I cannot remember).
All in all we were within Hilton Falls Conservation Area for about two hours. Had it not been the middle of the afternoon on a gorgeous Sunday, it probably wouldn’t have been as busy. I’d like to complete that longer hike one day, so maybe next time we’d head out a bit earlier.
Hilton Falls is located at 4985 Campbellville Road, in Milton. Check it out!