Let’s face it, the Niagara Escarpment is just plain spectacular, which is why it is recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of only 12 World Biosphere Reserves in Canada. But do we realize how lucky we are to have 725 kilometres of it in Ontario, running from Queenston, just north of Niagara Falls, to Tobermory, at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula?
Most of us are probably familiar with the glimpse we get from Highway 401 as we drive by Milton, but the Niagara Escarpment actually begins in the state of New York, bisects southwestern Ontario and continues through the state of Wisconsin and into Illinois to form a giant arch. From the air, parts of the Niagara Escarpment resemble a long snaking fault line – with a huge expanse of land on a shelf above and the lower level spreading out from the bottom of the cliff. In actual fact, the Niagara Escarpment was formed through millions of years of unequal erosion, where the harder top layer of rock was undercut by water until the softer under layer gave way to form a dramatic cliff.
I’ve explored different parts of the Niagara Escarpment and have even hiked segments of the Bruce Trail on the Bruce Peninsula, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when we left the hustle and bustle of Highways 403 and 6 and quickly found ourselves surrounded by an oasis of lush forest and limestone cliffs. But the Spencer Gorge/Webster’s Falls Conservation Area took us all by surprise. Nestled in the quaint village of Greensville, just west of Hamilton, Spencer Gorge/Webster’s Falls Conservation Area is more than just a good photo opportunity.
Our first stop, after slathering on sunblock, was Webster’s Falls itself, which we glimpsed from a stonewall lookout just beyond the parking lot. One quick look was all it took and the four of us – myself, my kids and their grandmother - were on a mission to get up close and personal with that magnificent curtain of water. We picked up our walking pace and, of course, the kids jostled to be first. But when we found ourselves perched on a narrow slab of limestone at the top of the falls, the jostling definitely stopped. We were spellbound and more than a little nervous. From a distance, the drop over the edge of the falls looks impressive, but from just metres away, it’s heart-stopping.
Webster’s Falls is formed by Spencer Creek after it meanders through a wide, shaded picnic area, under a cobblestone bridge and then cascades over the edge of a limestone cliff to the gorge below, leaving behind a rainbow in the fine mist. While the kids explored the shallow creek, well away from the edge of the cliff, I creeped as close as I dared and snapped pictures until the camera battery went flat. Then we ventured together over the cobblestone bridge (the kids ran back and forth several times), along the creek and unpacked our picnic lunch in the shade of a huge maple.
After lunch we took a leisurely walk through a field of wild flowers, under giant Oak trees and along the edge of the gorge to Tews Falls. Although the kids were satisfied, having seen one magnificent waterfalls already that day, they stopped complaining about being dragged to yet another when they saw the water rushing over Tews Falls. They were mesmerized as the creek emerged from the forest and plummeted 41 metres to the rocks below. Almost too tall for my camera lens, Tews Falls is only a few metres shorter then Niagara Falls, but tucked away in a quiet forest setting.
With two majestic waterfalls, a forested gorge, two bridges crossing a tumbling creek and plenty of wide-reaching shade trees, Spencer Gorge/Webster’s Falls Conservation Area is a perfect place to bring the whole family, grandparents included, for a picnic, a pleasant walk and some breathtaking views. For more energetic hikers, the walking trails connect to the Bruce Trail in two directions, to Crook’s Hollow Conservation Area and to Dundas Peak for stunning views of Dundas and Hamilton.
Spencer Gorge/ Webster Falls is only one of many Conservation Areas in Ontario located along the Niagara Escarpment. To find other Conservation Areas along the Niagara Escarpment, go to www.ontarioconservationareas.ca and type Niagara Escarpment in the search box on the right-hand side of the page.
There are more than 250 conservation areas across Ontario offering a range of outdoor experiences. Many are close towns and cities and easy to access. To find a conservation area near you, go to www.ontarioconservationareas.ca
Christina Kilbourne is an avid outdoor enthusiast and writer. She is the author of four novels, including Dear Jo, winner of the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award , the 2010 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award in 2010 and the 2010 British Columbia Red Cedar Award. She lives in Bracebridge with her family and various four-legged creatures.
The Webster's Falls rainbow
Tews Falls plummets 41 metres
Under the cobblestone bridge above Webster's Falls
Hiking to Tews Falls