An excerpt from Day Hikes of Ontario, Vol. II, available on Apple iBooks.
Total distance about 10km.
Time; about 4 hours
I rated this “moderate” as on this particular hike we explored the Keyhole crevice caves and the ground was still slippery with ice in the deeper sections. Walking time varies with weather and trail conditions.
*The only picnic facilities we found were at the campsite (G).
**Walk in camping only. No vehicles. Limited spaces
The conservation area is some 160ha right on the Niagara Escarpment. It’s a fascinating area, if only for the numerous crevice caves and canyons that you can hike through and explore. Dark, cool, green and mossy these caves area a pleasure to explore and present fabulous photo opportunities. There may even be snow in some of the deeper canyons even into June. But the caves are only the beginning; there’s great views from the top of the escarpment and local settler history to explore. Lime kilns are still in evidence as is one of the original stagecoach roads that ran through the area 100 years ago, but now only making an appearance to the keen eye.
Our last visit to the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area was May of 2017. Myself and five co-workers made our way up in the venerable Honda Odyssey. It was an overcast day with temperatures ranging from 10C in the morning to 14C by 2pm. It had rained the previous day, and so there was quite a bit of groundwater on the trails and the streams were flowing happily. We arrived about 10am and were off the trails by 2pm.
Special caution; some sections of this hike are over very uneven ground, strewn with rocks. Good hiking boots are recommended, or you’ll have to be very careful with your footing to avoid twisting an ankle. Texting while hiking should be avoided.
From the parking area and trailhead, (A) we started out west along the white blazed Bruce Trail. The path winds its way down the face of the escarpment and you can see large rock outcroppings on your right as you descent the trail. Before long you’ll come to an area where the ground is white. This area used to be a lime kiln, in which limestone was heated to tremendous temperatures at which point a chemical reaction took place and the material calcinated. The resulting output was known as quicklime and was used extensively in mortar and cement production as well as basic steel making. In this area it was likely used as a stabilizing agent in the clay soil through which the roads passed, increasing their load-carrying ability.
Depending on the time of year and recent weather, you’ll pass a pond on your left. (B) This area was quite buggy on our most recent trip, so we didn’t spend too much time here, although there were some nice photos taken by the group.
Eventually the trail makes a turn to theleft (south) and descends down a short, grassy hill. At the bottom of this hill on the right, (C) are the ruins of one of the original settlement houses in this area.
Continue southward along the boardwalk, over the swampy area to eventually emerge onto an old road where the trail then veers left to head back east. After walking through the forest, you’ll eventually come to a field with a trail sign that indicates you are about to enter private property. (D) Continue along the white-blazed trail, respecting the land over which you are passing. Also reflect that much of the Bruce Trail only exists because of negotiated agreements with landowners over which the trail passes.
Before long, the trail dives back into the forest to the left and you’ll come to a direction kiosk with map. (E)The white-blazed Bruce Trail continues south, but we now turn onto the blue-blazed Nottawasaga Bluffs Lookout Side Trail.
Down the hill we went to a footbridge at the bottom of the vale. (F) We continued northward to a fork in the trail. To the right the Nottawasaga Bluffs Lookout Side Trail continued, but we went on the left fork towards the blue-blazed Keyhole Side Trail.
Before long we were clambering in and out of deep crevice caves, under low passageways that you could only get through by crouching and maybe removing your pack. These were great photo opportunities. This early in May, there were a number of places where slippery snow and ice were still on the ground, so we had to be careful of our footing. We could have followed the blue blazes of the trail, but we went on a few detours and explored a bit, before carrying on up the slope and out the top to another section of white-blazed Bruce Trail (G).
At this juncture we turned right (south) and followed the trail out to the main lookout.
Now this is where we got turned around. We (mostly me) were not paying attention to the trail blazes and started out down the blue-blazed trail. After about ten minutes, we checked the compass and it was revealed that we were heading SW, back towards the footbridge we had crossed earlier – something was wrong. We should have been going south. We retraced our steps back to (G), checked the map against the compass and started down the white-blazed trail, almost directly south. An important reminder to constantly check your orientation when hiking on unfamiliar trails.
Once we arrived at the lookout (H) we spent some time enjoying the view taking photos and exploring the rock caves and crevices.
Special Caution; Be careful around the cliff edge, especially with children and pets. There are no protective barriers and It’s quite a drop.
We continued eastward along the white-blazed trail, as it winds its way along the edge of the cliff.
Special Caution; Don’t venture too far off the trail at any given location, as there are numerous deep crevices along this route and fallinginto them is a real possibility.
Soon you’ll come to an old farm road that cuts across the trail and continues south, down the hill. Don’t follow this road, but continue across it and carry on along the fence line, keeping the fence on your right. The trail will turn northwards and take you along the eastern edge of a field.
Just after you enter the forest on the far side of the field you’ll come to a three way trail intersection at (I). The white-blazed Bruce Trail continues east and the blue-blazed Hamilton Bros. Side Trail continues northward. You don’t want either of those.
We turned left (westward) and followed the blue-blazed, Betty Carter Side Trail for about 1km back to the main white-blazed Bruce Trail at (J) on the map. Turn right (northward) at this point and it’s about 700m back to the parking lot.
How to Get There
44.3428° N, 80.2110° W
Take highway 410 north. Eventually it turns into highway 10. Continue north on 10, through Orangeville all the way to Primrose at highway 89. Turn left (west) onto 89 and travel about 4km to County Road 124. Turn right (north) onto 124 and follow all the way to Singhampton, about 30km. When you get to Singhampton, turn right (east) onto Mill Town Road. Follow Mill Town Rd. through town to where it swings left. Almost immediately after the left, turn right onto Ewing Road. Follow Ewing Rd. to the intersection of Nottawasaga Sideroad 17/18. Turn left and follow 17/18 until it swings right and becomes Sideroad 10. Follow 10 about 1.6km to the conservation area. There is a small pay parking area. Payment via smartphone at site or via computer before leaving home via MacKay Pay.
Other Attractions in the area
All distances are from the parking area at (A)
GIffen’s Country Market – 4.3km Distant
Situated in its own orchard, Giffen’s makes the best fruit pies I’ve ever had. Buy fresh or frozen. Wide variety of locally grown apples. Locally sourced meats, honey, cider, cheese and produce also available. Good spot for a dine-in lunch or breakfast. Lots of parking. Less than 1km east of Glen Huron. 55 Station Street. Call for off season hours. 705.466.3080
Creemore Springs Brewery – 10km Distant
Take a tour of this micro brewery and then enjoy tasting samples. Buy direct from the source. Be sure to try the uniquely coloured and rich tasting urBoch brew. 159 Mill Street, Creemore, ON. 705. 466.2240.
Affairs Bakery and Coffee House – 10km Distant
The butter tarts here are almost as good as the ones in Warsaw, ON. Warsaw had more variety, but these were pretty good. They also know how to make, and serve, a proper espresso. Nice little patio out front as well. 148 Mill St. Creemore, ON. 705.466.5621