Take a hike on the wild side

in Niagara

Words by Liz Guber, a freelance writer from Toronto. Article content was produced by Globe Content Studio

A good hike usually involves some type of ascent toward a peak or viewpoint: a challenging, upward trudge that reveals a rewarding vista. At the start of my hike through the Niagara Glen, I realize the script has been flipped.

After a bird’s-eye view of the Niagara river ribboning its way through a canyon of limestone walls, I head down a set of stairs, descending closer and closer to the river’s edge. This hike is not about seeking new heights, but that doesn’t mean the views are any less spectacular.

Once my hiking boots hit the rugged path winding further toward the water, I pass bouldering enthusiasts dangling overhead, with their literal crash pads scattered around them (aspiring boulderers take note: you’ll need a pass to be cleared to climb).


The network of trails here consists of about five kilometres of paths that wind their way through riverside forest, occasionally swerving deeper into the trees, until the sound of rushing water (almost) disappears. The difficulty ranges from leisurely flat ground to scaling steps of ancient limestone. All are well-marked with coloured blazes, making getting lost (nearly) impossible.

The landmark trail here is the Whirlpool Loop. True to its name, it leads hikers to the teal-hued whirlpool—the chaotic meeting of water rushing from the Horseshoe Falls toward the Niagara Gorge, where it is forced to change direction and creates a mesmerizing swirl of white water.

The whirlpool’s popularity as a tourist attraction dates all the way back to the 19th century, when an inclined railway took visitors from the top of the gorge down to rapids. A cable car appeared in 1913, with a modern version still gliding overhead today (even sliding into U.S. territory, with no passport required). An occasional jet boat zooms by like an aquatic roller coaster.

While there are plenty of compelling ways to see the whirlpool (did I mention the splurge option, a helicopter?), my preferred route remains the humble hike. It allows me to set my own pace, to stop and take all the photos I want, unhurried.

I’m also able to keep an eye out for Sea Lilly fossils—essentially small rings imprinted on ancient rock—to remind me of how ancient (think 400 million years) these natural formations are. A keen-eyed hiker might even spot mushrooms that start to spring up in greater abundance in autumn. Most of all, the sheer speed and dizzying rush of water is something a video could never properly capture.

So while the Horseshoe Falls gets its fair share of (deserved) attention, taking in the gorge gave this hiker a newfound appreciation for the mighty river that follows.

My Niagara Profiles

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