So, you’re looking to visit a waterfall, but you’d like a short hike too, or perhaps you’re looking for a much longer trek to take in some sights and test your endurance? Maybe you’ve heard how great the Bruce Trail is, winding through the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere reserve? You love cycling and are looking for an awesome ride, and you’d like to experience some amazing wildlife while you put in your kms… well hey, if any of these sound like you, look no further for your next adventure!
Saltfleet Conservation Area, offers all these opportunities! The best part – it’s located only minutes away from downtown Stoney Creek & major highway routes.
Perched atop the Eramosa Escarpment outcrop, (yes, there is a second escarpment and it’s different than the bigger Niagara escarpment!) the parking lot sits on the ruins of an old farm house. You can even see the historic water-well on the left side of the driveway when you drive in.
Take in the View
Now that you’ve arrived, let’s observe your surroundings. To your south, you will see actively farmed fields. To your north, you will look down from the escarpment outcrop and see glimpses of fallow fields of blooming wildflowers. There’s wetlands filled with water loving plants and large forested areas. This is the direction you will be heading.
Saltfleet Side Trail
Taking the path at the end of the parking area, follow the signs down the escarpment outcrop and through the walnut grove, where you will then venture into a large meadow filled with wildflowers and pollinators. After the meadow, the gravel path turns into woodchips and takes you through a wetland area, which supplies water to Battlefield Creek. Passing through one last forested area, you will find yourself at an intersection with the Dofasco 2000 Trail.
Guess what? You’ve only been hiking for fifteen minutes, and you’ve passed through three different habitat types, and one really cool geographic feature – off to a good start!
Choose your adventure!
Now that you’ve reached the Dofasco 2000 Trail you have a choice:
- Option 1: Turn left and take a thirty-minute hike to reach the Devil’s Punchbowl Conservation Area
- Option 2: Turn right and take the longer journey towards the Vinemount Swamp and its epic 2 km boardwalk
This route is great if you don’t want to be out hiking all day. From the parking lot, the hike takes 30 to 45 minutes, one way. The trail is an easy walk as it is relatively level and most is a packed gravel surface.
After the trail crosses First Road East, bear right at the sign and follow the trail through the abandoned orchard and fields. You will come to an arch bridge as you cross Stoney Creek, and then stroll through walnuts, pines, and sumacs on the final stretch of the trail. The trail finishes at Ridge Road, directly across from Devil's Punchbowl Conservation Area.
Once you're here, take a moment to observe the maps and information signage at the parking lot before proceeding to one of the three lookouts.
The main lookout is a cantilevered platform that sticks out over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. It offers dramatic views into the gorge below of a flowing Stoney Creek, and you'll also be able to see Hamilton Harbour and Lake Ontario.
The smaller lookouts along the rim of the gorge offer amazing glimpses of the 37-meter-high ribbon waterfall as it plummets into the geographic feature called the 'punchbowl'. Carved out from the escarpment during the melting of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age (around 11,000 years ago), each layer of rock is composed of varying minerals. The formation of this sedimentary rock took place over eons of time.
After checking out the views, you can head back towards the Saltfleet Conservation Area if you’re tired…but if you are hankering for more adventure, follow the Bruce Trail route which begins at the information sign near the parking lot.
The Bruce Trail shares Ridge Road for several hundred meters before taking you below the escarpment, where you can continue hiking amongst the huge trees and amazing rock features of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve. You can also catch glimpses of the lower Devil's Punchbowl waterfall. Be sure you don't leave the marked footpath as there is no trespassing inside the creek bed or into the punchbowl feature from below.
On the eastern end of the Dofasco 2000 Trail, there are two main points of interest. About 3 km from the Saltfleet Side Trail, you will come to the start of the Vinemount Swamp. This vast deciduous hardwood swamp is the largest natural forest area (south of the Escarpment) in the Hamilton area. It is home to several endangered and important species, including Northern Harrier, Sedge Wren and Edward's Hairstreak Butterfly. There's also the amazing, lush, vegetation that is unique to this ecosystem and includes everything from towering Shagbark Hickories and Swamp White Oaks, to beautiful Michigan Lilies and Button Bush, that flower in the warmer months.
You will travel through the heart of the swamp on a 2 km boardwalk HCA recently constructed. You will truly feel like you have entered another realm, as the sounds of traffic are hushed by the thick vegetation while the bird song serenades you.
Geographically, the area is very important, as the water that collects here feeds both Stoney Creek (flowing towards Hamilton) and the Forty Mile Creek (flowing towards Grimsby). A visit in the early spring is sure to blow you away with massive choruses from the resident frogs.
Continuing past the boardwalk, you'll eventually come to another unique area, the Vinemount Meadows Sanctuary. This a 65-acre parcel of land, managed by the Hamilton Naturalists Club, provides important habitat for bird species such as Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Peregrine Falcons, and Short-eared Owls.
There you have it! The new Saltfleet Conservation Area and Side Trail is your key to a number of adventures on the Hamilton Mountain. For those planning a short family outing to get the kids outside, or those seeking an end to end trail experience, whether by bicycle or by foot, there is something for everyone. Come visit this new access point and take in the rolling meadows, lush wetlands, and breathtaking views.