Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: March 2021
Short Hills Provincial Park is located near St. Catharines along the Niagara Escarpment. It consists of several short hills and valleys created by the last ice age. It is a non-operating park so there are no visitor facilities or services, however, there are seven trails which are popular for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
We planned to hike along the Swayze Falls Trail (6.2km round trip, rated more difficult) which loops through the forest and open meadows and features a great view of the falls. We arrived just after 9a.m and parked at Parking Lot B at the western edge of the Short Hills just off of Roland Rd. It’s a relatively small parking lot and we managed to snag the last real parking spot. All other visitors would have to park along the side of the road.
From the parking lot, we walked down a short path to get to the trailhead. There’s a map here of all the various trails in the park and a sign to note that Trail #1 (Swayze Falls Trail, yellow) is to the left and Trail #3 (Paleozoic Path, red) is to the right. We veered left and planned to hike counter-clockwise along the Swayze Falls Trail.
We’ve had mild weather for the past couple of weeks and all the snow was now melted. Instead, much of the trail was a muddy mess. The first stretch wasn’t too bad as the ground was partially frozen. However, the sun was shining and quickly warming things up, including the mud. And oh was it muddy. It would only get worse.
The path is marked with yellow markers along the trees. Part of the trail overlaps with the larger Bruce Trail, so this section of the trail was also marked with white blazes.
The Swayze Falls Trail is a multi-use trail and is used to accommodate hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. While all we saw was other hikers on the trail, there were bike and horse tracks in the mud. There were even a couple of horse stands along the trail for riders to tie up their horses in case they wanted a break.
The mud situation significantly improved on the second half of the trail when the path crosses an open meadow. It was far easier to avoid the mud and walk along the grassy sides.
The path eventually leads to a viewpoint of the falls near the end of the trail. Swayze Falls is also known as Dry Falls. Over the past 200 years the removal of the surrounding forest has changed the runoff pattern of the stream. Runoff now occurs quickly after a rainstorm of when snow melts in the spring. Within a few days the stream flow decreases and may actually disappear. Despite the mud, I guess it was a good thing that we hiked this trail in the spring to enjoy the waterfall before the falls went dry.
From the viewing platform, the trail connects back up with Trail #3, the Paleozoic Path (0.8km round trip). We followed this back to the parking lot since the path looked less muddy. The path is relatively flat and weaves through the forest. There are a few storyboards along the way which provide more information about the landscape and how it was shaped over time.
Thousands of years ago there were several streams that flowed across the landscape. As the water flowed into the buried gorge it began to wash out the post-glacial deposits and carry them into Lake Ontario. Along the edges of the former gorge, waterfalls such as Swayze Falls developed. Remnants of these deposits formed the Short Hills.
Near the end of the trail there’s a sign that provides more information as to how the park was created. This land once belonged to the Swayze family and was used in a variety of ways, including for vineyards, pasture lands, apple orchards, and hay crops. The steep valleys were impractical to plough and left to reforest. Many trees in Short Hills were even used for shipbuilding. In the 1960s, the Government of Ontario started to purchase land for a park. A Park Advisory committee was formed and after extensive public meetings, Short Hills Provincial Park was formed and formally regulated in 1985.
By the time we looped back to the parking lot, there was a long line of cars parked along the side of the road. We made an attempt to get as much mud off our shoes with a stick, before climbing in the car to head out. Despite the mud, it was a beautiful day to go for a hike.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here