Niagara Falls, Ontario is widely known for the spectacularly beautiful Niagara Falls and all the tourist trappings that accompany a world-renown natural wonder. However, Niagara Falls isn’t terribly economical, nor particularly dog-friendly, but there are a few secrets. One of these secrets is the Heartland Forest, a surprisingly family-friendly and – free – way to explore other natural wonders of the Niagara Region including acres of Niagara Forest.
Is Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls dog-friendly?
Yes, Heartland Forest is dog-friendly if you keep your pup on a leash (like most places that permit dogs on trails). In fact, the four kilometres of trails through wooded areas past turtle, frog, and duck ponds and even bat and dragonfly breeding areas are all dog-friendly – not only dog-friendly but family-friendly and wheelchair accessible.
Accessibility is a big part of why Heartland Forest exists – it was founded in 2004 by Dan Bouwman determined to create a place where his wheelchair-bound granddaughter could enjoy nature. Specifically, 200 acres of Carolinian Forest and wetlands were purchased in 1999, ultimately saving an important ecosystem from industrial development. Now Heartland Forest is a registered charity, receiving a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in 2021.
Niagara Dog Rescue
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of the Heartland Forest before I attended the Niagara Dog Rescue Little Hearts Market – a collection of local vendors including those selling dog collars, bandannas, and treats gathered on the grassy field at Heartland Forest. Niagara Dog Rescue is a volunteer-based registered charity helping homeless dogs. At the event was a litter of eight little puppies available for adoption who took an excited interest in my crazy spaniel.
Take Your Dog to Heartland Forest
Speaking of crazy Spaniels, despite July’s heated temperatures, my pup needs to run, and she loves the stimulation of a forest full of birds, smells, and distractions. Not only is Heartland Forest open from 10 am to 7:30 pm each all year, it is designed for easy access.
Wide trails allow strollers and wheelchairs to move confronting fewer obstacles than most trailed hikes. Boardwalks elevate walkers over marshy areas, and there’s a designated wide boardwalk specifically designed for bulkier electric wheelchairs with signs indicating the turnaround point where the boardwalk narrows. A Heartland trail map makes following the paths easy.
Wide well-marked trails also make it easy to take a high-energy dog through, and it’s easier to keep them out of the habitat zones off the trail. There are five trails in total, the longest taking about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace. None are a demanding trek, but that’s not the point.
Nature Learning Points
Learning about nature is the point – there’s a pollinator field with an elevated lookout, a turtle pond with a viewing dock (and binoculars), a dragonfly pond, and even a bat tower with preditor-prevention to encourage safe propagation of these nocturnal animals. Signs at each station help educate, and school trips are common here.
And if you tire of trekking, there’s a small minigolf course, a basketball court, nature centre, and cafe. Picnic tables are available and outdoor pavilions are available to rent for large groups. Enjoy the colourful carvings around the property and sit quietly on the deck by the duck pond – until your bird-dog notices the ducks, then you have to move on quickly. Well, I did.
Blackburn Brew House
Across the road from Heartland Forest, Blackburn Brew House is open Tuesday to Sunday. Full menu including nachos, pizza, and salads. Pints and flights are available and a large outdoor seasonal patio that – yes – permits pets.
If you go ….
Heartland Forest, 8215 Heartland Forest Road, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Free admission or by donation. Open all year. Monday to Sunday, 9 am to 7:30 pm. Be sure to check out the boardwalks and one of Canada’s largest tree houses.
Blackburn Brew Pub, 8001 Blackburn Parkway, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Dog-friendly seasonal patio and dog park; open Tuesday to Sunday.
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I’m Sherri Telenko, a professional writer for 30 years and travel writer for the last 20. I’m a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America. I’ve lived with cats, dogs, horses and guinea pigs all my life, and I travel almost weekly with my canine companion, Victoria.