Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: 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