Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: February 2021
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park is situated along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario, which is a ridge of exposed bedrock that forms a great horseshoe that can be traced from Rochester, New York, northward through Ontario to northern Michigan, then down the west side of Lake Michigan and into Wisconsin and Illinois. It is one of 15 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada for its internationally significant ecosystem. Mono Cliffs is open year-round for day-use and features several trails that weave through the forest and provide great views of the cliff from above and below the Escarpment. Many of the trails are shared for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
We received a lot of snow over the week, including a major snowstorm Monday evening. So with nice weather on the forecast for the weekend, we figured what better way to enjoy all the snow than by going for a winter hike. We initially planned to visit Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, except by the time we arrived, the parking lot was completely full. There was even a park ranger at the main entrance who was turning cars away to prevent people from parking along the side of the road. Instead we drove to Mono Cliffs, which was also busy, but at least had some parking spots available.
There are a few parking options for Mono Cliffs. We parked at the main entrance along the 3rd Line EHS, however there are a couple of secondary parking lots on the western and northern edge of the park. From the parking lot we first hiked along the Carriage Trail (red trail), which winds through the forest and leads to a junction. There’s a map of the trail and a signpost to indicate the direction of the other trails that intersect with the Carriage Trail.
From the junction, we headed north along the Spillway Trail (purple trail), which passes a pond and crosses an open meadow.
The path is relatively flat and ends at the Walter Tovell Trail (blue trail) near the base of the cliff. We followed this for a short stretch to get to the Cliff-Top Side Trail (green trail), which overlaps with the larger Bruce Trail (marked with white blazes). From here it’s a steady ascent to the top of the cliff.
As a reward for our efforts, there’s a viewing platform at the top of the cliff that provides an excellent view of the valley below covered in snow. Even though the trails were busy, we had the viewing platform all to ourselves.
The Cliff-Top Side Trail continues along the top of the cliff and eventually meets back up with the Walter Tovell Trail. We followed this for a short stretch and passed a couple of signs that provide more information of the area, including about the early settlers. For thousands of years Mono Cliffs were visited by aboriginal people, but in the early 1800s British and European settlers arrived in this area shortly after the township of Mono was surveyed and used the land for farming. Even then Mono Cliffs were often used for recreational purposes, including picnics.
We took a detour at the set stairs to get back down into the valley and return to the main junction. It was a bit tricky getting down the stairs as many of the steps were covered in a thick layer of ice. We clung to the railings as best as we could and even shimmied down on our butts for a few of the smaller sets of stairs.
The trail continues to descend through the woods, which used to be a great icefield thousands of years ago. As it melted, large amounts of debris were released and some chunks of ice broke off, which formed kettle lakes, or depressions in the ground that were then filled with rainwater.
The stairs lead back to the Carriage Trail, which we followed back to the main junction. There are a few other trails within the park, some of which can be accessed from the main junction, but we headed back to the parking lot since we were getting hungry. And the trails were becoming even more crowded.
By the time we wrapped up our hike the parking lot was completely full. A good sign to head home.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here