Hiking in Pretty River Valley Provincial Park

Length of stay1 day
April 2021

Pretty River Valley Provincial Park is located along the highest point of the Niagara Escarpment and contains a number of geological features. It is open for day-use and is a non-operating park, so besides offering a few trails for hiking and mountain biking, there are no other facilities, services or activities.

There are a few parking options at Pretty River Valley, but most people tend to park along the shoulder of Pretty River Road. There’s an access point here to the park and other hiking trails along the Pretty River Access Trail. It’s a short path that’s marked with blue blazes that connects with the larger Bruce Trail, which is marked with white blazes.

The first stretch of the path winds through a dense cedar grove. There were some muddy sections, but mostly near the start of the trail. At the junction we kept right and followed along the Bruce Trail for a few hundred metres. The path branches off again: the Bruce Trail continues to the right and the Pretty River Side Trail is to the left. We decided to hang a Larry and hiked left along the Pretty River Side Trail (1.4km one-way), which eventually meets back up with the Bruce Trail to form a longer loop.

From here it’s a steady ascent up the side of the Escarpment. The side trail is marked with blue blazes along the trees and weaves up through the forest. The path passes by Sundown Lake and crosses a stream, which involves hopping over rocks and stones to reach the other side.

It was an unusually warm day and the temperature was supposed to climb to 20°C this afternoon. We sure picked the worst day in the Spring to hike to the highest point along the Bruce Trail. Within the first 10 minutes of our hike we were down to our t-shirts and wishing we wore shorts. Pretty River Valley? More like “Pretty Challenging Hike up this River Valley”.

The Pretty River Valley Side Trail connects back with the main train. From here we continued our slow slog up the Escarpment. After a few hundred metres, the path branches off again. We turned left at the John Haigh Side Trail, which leads to the highest point along the Bruce Trail at 540m above sea level. After a few hundred metres of hiking up, we spotted a plaque on a tree which marked the spot.

We sat on a fallen log here and took a break and drank some water. We then turned around. Once we met back up with the main trail, we continued onwards and upwards to a scenic lookout overlooking the valley below.

We initially planned to hike a loop through the northern part of the park. However, there was a huge group of mountain bikers (at least 15 of them) that passed us earlier on the trail and were taking a break at the scenic lookout. Since we wanted to avoid having to pull over on the side of the trail every few minutes to let one or two pass by at a time, we decided to just turn around and hike back down the way that we came. As it happens, the mountain bikers decided to turn around too. So once again, every few minutes we had to step aside and wait for them to pass us. Mountain biking is only permitted in the northern section of the park, but apparently the bikers didn’t get the memo. They also didn’t get the memo about social distancing.

After a slow and steady descent down the Escarpment, which was filled with lots of stops for the gaggle of mountain bikers to pass, we reached the junction for the Pretty River Side Trail. However, this time we continued along the Bruce Trail for a change of scenery since it loops back to the access point near where we parked.

This portion of the trail follows along the river and is very scenic and. There are a few bridges and wooden planks that criss-cross the river, but for the most part, the trail runs parallel to the river. We had to be even more careful here as the sounds of rushing water made it harder to hear the sounds of the mountain bikers. Luckily we didn’t get run over.

Pretty River Valley offered a good cardio workout. However, it would have been better if the mountain bikers had their own designated trail as it was frustrating (and sometimes dangerous) to share the trail with them. We’ll have to come in the winter next time in the hopes that the snow and ice will deter those darn bikers.


My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here

35 thoughts on “Hiking in Pretty River Valley Provincial Park

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Hikers are supposed to have the right of way on a trail, but in reality, it’s usually the hiker that has to move out of the way to accommodate the bikers. If it was one or two mountain bikers, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but there was a whole group of them, all of which go at different speeds. They then meet up mid-way along the trail, which further blocks the flow of traffic. As you can tell, I was less than impressed!

  1. Rose Vettleson says:

    The trail that follows the river looked scenic, that’s the part I’d enjoy. Too bad about the mountain bikers not being aware of staying on their own path.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Walking alongside the river was easily the highlight of the trail. Glad we saved the best for last. The group of mountain bikers were very annoying. They just expected hikers to get out of their way for them and didn’t bother saying thank you when we did. As you can tell, I was not a fan of them!!

  2. kagould17 says:

    Yup, mountain bikers can be a nuisance. There are many who ride carefully, but a lot ride H-Bent-for Leather and you find yourself looking over your shoulder a lot. What I dislike most is that some carve so many new trails through the brush, eventually ruining the area. It does look like a challenging hike with a great view, though. Stay well. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ugh, they are the worst. I just don’t appreciate their attitude either. Some of them just expect us to just hear them coming and step aside and then they don’t even bother to say thank you. Not the best trail etiquette (although you can say the same for some hikers too). Then there’s the whole straying from their designated mountain biking trails and biking along the hiking trails. The trail itself was nice, but would have been much better without the bikers! Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      This hike definitely got our hearts pumping! It was definitely a good leg workout. The name is a bit deceiving, maybe it should be called the Pretty Challenging River Valley PP. Walking along the river was easily the highlight (and also because that portion of the path was flat!).

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Good point. I’ve heard that this park generally has a lot of trilliums along the trail in the Spring. We visited a bit too early in the season to see any flowers though. The nice thing about visiting early in the Spring is that we had good line of sight through the trees to help spot (and dodge) those pesky mountain bikers!

  3. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    I find it really annoying when bikers don’t obey the rules or come up behind you going so fast that you barely have a moment to get out of the way. Then there’s the hikers who won’t distance. Yikes.

    That does look like a very pretty park and a demanding hike. The view looks lovely.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Hikers are generally supposed to have the right of way on these trails, but from the way mountain bikers zoom by, it’s usually the hikers that have to yield to them. It’s not worth standing your ground as the risk of injury is much greater for us hikers. We had this issue the last time we hiked along this trail. Another hiker called the bikers out for biking along this trail and the bikers just shrugged it off and said there was nothing they could do about it now. It’s just frustrating how they ignore the rules. Both in terms of biking along the hiking trails and around social distancing. I was less than impressed. Besides that, the trail itself was quite lovely and gave us a much needed workout!

  4. Lookoom says:

    Another pre-bug season hike completed! This season, between the snow and the new shoots, gives a landscape as if waiting for something.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Yes!! We’re glad we made good progress on our challenge last month as who knows when the bugs will take over. This Spring has been a bit chilly, which has helped keep them at bay. But they should be waking up any day now. I’ll have to start bringing bug spray with me just in case.

  5. Ab says:

    That is indeed quite pretty. I love the little rivers and creeks and that view of the valley from the top looks really nice! And good thing you got to avoid the bikers too. 😊

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The walk along the river was easily the highlight of this trail. I love hearing the sounds of rushing water, it’s very soothing. Don’t even get me started on those mountain bikers. I clearly have a lot of rage towards them! Enjoy the rest of your week. Fingers crossed we’ll have nice weather for this weekend.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Woohoo! It can rain all it wants during the weekday, but it’s nice to have a dry weekend. Hopefully you’re able to get some fresh air and a break from dealing with remote learning this weekend. Take care.

  6. ourcrossings says:

    What a lovely forest trail 🙂 There is a network of purpose-built single-track trails and forest roads that are designed for use by mountain bikes in Sligo, and gladly they never mix with the ones for hikers. Mountain bikers often come at such speed, they can knock you out instantly. Thanks for sharing and have a good weekend. Aiva 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Sligo just keeps sounder better and better! Multi-use trails can be hit or miss. I much prefer to hike along a designated hiking trail with no bikes allowed. That way I don’t have to look over my shoulder every few minutes to see if someone is behind me. It can definitely be stressful, which defeats the purpose of trying to unwind in nature! Thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend as well.

  7. winteroseca says:

    I’m sorry those mountain bikers were so annoying! I used to do mountain biking when I was in Colorado and I learned to be respectful. My Dad still does it and he hates disrespectful bikers too. I agree they should have their own trail. That’s usually the case a lot of the time

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I think the bikers and the hikers would both be supportive of having their own designated trail! I’m sure it’s annoying for the mountain bikers just as much as it is for us hikers to share the trail. Prior to the pandemic I’m sure it was less of an issue as this isn’t a popular park, but now that everything is closed, everyone has turned to the trails for something to do. Mountain biking in Colorado sounds incredible and intense!!

      • winteroseca says:

        Having done mountain biking, I can verify the designated trail thing. Although, Colorado is really good at designing bike trails and pedestrian trails. It was intense! I haven’t lived anywhere where I could do that again… until now. So watch this space!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Ooo, I love the foreshadowing! Can’t wait to find out more about your experiences mountain biking in Alberta. I just love those views of the mountains. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The trails are already busier than usual because of the pandemic. Once you add bikers into the mix, it makes it even worse (and sometimes more dangerous). I’m all in favour of having separate hiking and biking trails or having separate biking/walking lanes. Jumping off the trail is never fun.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Hope you managed to go for that hike. Now that the weather has started to warm-up here, the mosquitoes are waking up. We managed to squeeze in a few hikes this weekend, but will likely take a break from the trails soon as the bugs are going to get out of control.

  8. usfman says:

    To avoid the possibility of running into so many hikers on trails , we often consider the theme of avoiding the familiar path in Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.’ Apparently, you tried to do the same here as well.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      These days it seems like every road, or rather path, is taken! All our hidden trails have become not so secret anymore. Our strategy has been to arrive at the trailhead as early as possible. By the time we wrap up our hike though the parking lot is usually full, which is a good sign to head home.

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