As cars whiz by we’re walking for almost 10 minutes along a busy road. We’re separated from traffic by a metal guardrail extending along side a worn dirt path. Victor, my 10-year-old schnoodle, is in front pulling on the leash like he’s in charge of Santa’s sleigh. Sasha and her fur daddy are behind us.
You’d be forgiven if you think our car broke down and we’re hoofing it to safety. We’re not. But right now, it sure feels that way.
Where can you hike with the dog in Hamilton, Ontario?
We’re actually following the blue markers of the Bruce Trail hiking system that extends for kilometres through Southern Ontario. Supposedly, we’re here to commune with nature, exercise the mutts and take advantage of an unseasonably warm late fall day.
Unfortunately, ‘development’ has interrupted this Niagara Escarpment trail along Mountain Brow Road in Hamilton, Ontario and right now I’m trying to follow trial instructions convinced the conservation elves who wrote them are overselling the ‘scenic’ views and spectacular waterfalls we’re supposed to be encountering. We started at Buttermilk Falls, as instructed, and almost squinted to see the two-story trickle of water descending the semi-circular rock formation from a tunnel carved through rock.
Now we’re inhaling carbon dioxide emissions.
I’m questioning the wisdom of all those who told me Albion Falls, part of the Hamilton waterfall trail system, was something to behold … until things take a turn. An abrupt right takes us off the road and into the woods, down, down, down a narrow trail toward the stream below.
The walk is steep but the creek at the bottom deep enough for dogs to jump from the banks and swim for sticks in the water. We’re definitely not the only ones who thought this was a great idea. Several people are here, including one older man on a bike (yes, a bike) who parked it, amused by the swimming dog fun. No one is leashed. Awesome.
The trails are visible and easy to follow, although rocky and uneven in places. Victor runs through the brush with ease but struggles to scale a fallen tree across the path. Lab-cross Sasha leaps logs in a single bound, but ventures cautiously into the chill water.
After more than an hour of striding through fallen leaves, we find it: the vision of Albion Falls unfolds in front of us from between the curtain of dense trees like a coveted arc discovery in an Indiana Jones movie. Water pours from 19 metres (62 feet) above across an ancient pyramid-like width of 18 metres (59 feet). It is spectacular, and popular. Today, many people dot its edges.
The only thing is, they seemed to have started the trail from the opposite direction we did, and we are now on the wrong side of the water. The only way out – that we can see – is a graduated but craggy path straight up the side of a rock face.
Ok, we’re going up. Even fearless Victor is nervous and wants to turn back, twice. Each time, I hoist him onward and upward. A Kurgo Go-Tech Adventure harness (affliate link) with a handle helps.
Slowly and carefully, we somehow make it – our hearts swollen with accomplishment and passing panic.
Then, from the road at the top of the cliff, we see it: beside the falls is a human-made staircase that takes viewers (and dogs) easily top to bottom of the falls. If you do the Albion Falls trail in Hamilton, Ontario, start here – at the southernmost tip of King’s Forest Park. Leave the car across the street, and head down the stairs. No need to scale cliffs.
There’s less chance of losing a terrier to a wayward rock cropping and if you pass on seeing the smaller Buttermilk Falls, you’ll bypass a lot of traffic too. Bring a camera. You’ll be glad you did.
Dogs are supposed to be leashed, but frankly, that would have been dangerous. (And a lot less fun).
If you’re looking for beautiful dog-friendly hiking trails around Ontario, check out our list of favourites here.
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Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for 30 years and travel writer for the last 20. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America, and travels almost weekly with her canine companion.