Who knew that so close to one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions you’d find quiet green space nuzzled up to a brilliant turquoise river.


  • Transit:  By bike or bus from Niagara Falls; by car.  If you felt like it you could even hike or jog along the Niagara Parkway.  There are lots of things to see along the way.
  • Cost:  None.
  • Crowds:  There were fewer than a dozen people on a Sunday morning in April.  See Environmental Impact note.
  • Attractions:  Some of Canada’s rarest old growth forest, hiking, panoramic views, photography.
  • Accessibility:  To get down in the Glen you have to be able to do lots of stairs and tolerate a somewhat dizzying stairway.  The hike below varies from flat to steep, but it’s mostly manicured.  Swimming would be a terrible, terrible mistake.
  • Environmental Impact:  The existence of the Glen as a conservation area preserves rare forest, but that forest is also in danger of being trampled by the people who come to see it.  Please don’t wander off the paths.

Originally posted 11 March, 2016.

After spending a day among the crowds at Niagara Falls I wanted to take a breather.  Though busy spaces have their own appeal, recharging afterwards helps keep things in balance for me.  I had read about a stand of rare forest, some of the only old-growth Carolinian forest left in Canada, a stone’s throw away from the falls on the Niagara Parkway.  It sounded like a great place to wander in the spring.

It had also been a brutal winter, and I was dying to see green things.  After hiking through Ball’s Falls Conservation Area a few days prior and not seeing a single ephemeral (the trilliums, Jack-in-the-pulpits, and others that grow in the forest before the leaves grow and choke out the sunlight), I wasn’t expecting much, though.

And at the edge of this spectacular sliver of old-growth forest, the impossible blue of the Niagara River, rushing by at an equally impossible speed, driven forward by the eternal deluge upstream.

The parking area for the Glen sits on the east side of the Niagara Parkway, and there’s a large manicured park there with exemplars of the many rare-in-Canada trees that grow below, like chinquapin oaks and tulip trees.  This is one of the most southerly places in Canada, at the same latitude as the north of Spain and the Mediterranean, so you can expect to see things here that you wouldn’t in the other 99% of the country.

As expected, nothing had leafed out yet by the highway.  There was also quite a breeze blowing across the top of the Niagara Gorge, so I was glad I’d worn layers.  But the view alone was worth the drive.

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The collected waters of four vast Great Lakes flows by, impossibly turquoise, after their 57 metre plummet over Niagara Falls.  On the other side is the USA and a smaller park echoing the Niagara Glen.

What a magnificent border.

At the edge of the escarpment is a stairwell that is mostly metal tubing and grating.  I get that they want to provide views and let the water and snow pour through, but for this acrophobe it was a bit terrifying.  Not utterly horrific, like the one on the mainland portion of Fathom Five Marine Park (also on the Niagara Escarpment and bordered by startlingly turquoise water, but many hundreds of kilometres north),but scary enough that I had to summon my courage.

I was glad I did.  Not just for the adventure at the bottom, but because I really believe any chance to (safely) test one’s limits a bit is a gift.  Those are the moments that expand our lives and make us stronger.

Yeah, it was just a stairway.  I wasn’t sky diving or going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  But I don’t think it’s in grand gestures that we broaden our horizons, but by one little step at a time.

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The stairwell stops where a path straddles the escarpment and the monumental pile of debris that has fallen from it over the past millennia.  From dust and dirt to boulders the size of houses, there’s still a long, uneven slope to follow.  But here, blasted by the morning sun and sheltered from the prevailing winds:  Green!  Green things growing at last, even right out of the rocks.

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It felt like the tenacious grip of that long, bitter winter of polar vortices and record-shattering cold had finally, at long last, slipped.

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We followed to path down and down and down, weaving between enormous boulders, mossy rocks, and skinny little hemlocks that, because of the poor soil on the slope and the massive green-season canopy overhead, can be over 100 years old.  And we emerged in one of the star attractions of the Niagara Glen, a grove of towering tulip trees, some over 40 metres high.

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Here is a prime example of one of the growing patterns of old-growth hardwood forest:  Graceful trees that have grown up instead of out, racing where once there were holes in the canopy of branches and leaves to fill out up high and stand taller than their neighbours.  (My zoom lens told me that the lowest branch on the massive tulip tree in the left of that photo was more than 17 metres in the air.)  Younger trees that can tolerate the shade grow tall and skinny, waiting for their chance to fill out a hole in the canopy.

And at the edge of this spectacular sliver of old-growth forest, the impossible blue of the Niagara River, rushing by at an equally impossible speed, driven forward by the eternal deluge upstream.

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As beautiful as the water looked, and as surprisingly warm as the Glen was that day, it was clear that swimming in the torrent would have been a monumentally terrible decision.  But a number of small paths down to the water and perches up above allowed for plenty of opportunities to appreciate the river’s beauty.

Indeed, in the spring, the tree canopy not yet unfolded, this was a sunny, warm place.  No wonder it was here that I was treated to my first show of spring flowers.  Bloodroots, large leaf unfolding, craning their single white flowers to the sun.

And the very first of the trilliums, just about to bloom.

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We followed the trails downriver, as the trail got rougher and rougher, and backtracked after a bit to follow another trail back into the forest.  Again I noticed the openness of old growth forest, of the generous sunlight and distance between the trees.  The ground was carpeted with rusty brown oak leaves of all kinds – layer upon layer of them slowly turning into soil for the same trees that grew them.

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Closer to the escarpment we wandered between enormous boulders, up and up and up, back toward the start.

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As with Ball’s Falls earlier in the week, I was stuck by how much I wanted to come back here in the summer, to see how the change of seasons would transform this forest wedged between rapids and a cliff.

Once again, I was not disappointed…

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