Dundas Valley Conservation Area: Hiking the Dundas Valley Trails

Dundas Valley Conservation Area

The Dundas Valley Conservation Area is one of my all time favourite places to go hiking. I am from the town of Dundas (now part of the city of Hamilton), and I used to live really close to these Dundas Valley trails. I have so many memories of hiking here when I was a kid. Back then, I visited with my family, friends, and even on school trips.

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We had middle school fun runs here where I disliked running but I always enjoyed being in nature. I’m always excited at the opportunity to return to the Dundas Valley Conservation Area for a day in the forest. I recently rated it as one of the top 10 places to go hiking in Hamilton.

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About the Dundas Valley Conservation Area

The Dundas Valley Conservation Area is a 1200 hectare conservation area featuring dense Carolinian forests, interesting rock formations, and a variety of plants and wildlife. As part of the Niagara Escarpment, it’s a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. While this conservation area is pretty in all seasons, I love visiting during the fall most of all. The leaves are such vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. All of the photos featured in this blog post are from the fall.

Fall at the Dundas Valley Trails
Fall at the Dundas Valley Trails
Fall at the Dundas Valley Trails

The Dundas Valley was once part of a vast deciduous forest between southern Ontario and the Carolinas, known as the Carolinian Forest. This area in Ontario is home to a third of Canada’s endangered species. The Dundas Valley is one of 10 nodal parks on the Niagara Escarpment, which is home to 585 species of flora and fauna (55 are endangered or threatened).

The Trail Centre

The Dundas Valley Trail Centre features a replica of a Victorian train station, complete with a train car on some old railroad tracks. It’s open daily in July and August and on weekends throughout the off-season (September to June). You’ll find displays, maps, brochures, restrooms, and a concession stand inside the trail centre. 

Dundas Valley Trail Centre
Dundas Valley Trail Centre
Dundas Valley Trail Centre

The Hermitage

The ruins of the Hermitage are one of the most interesting man-made structures at the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. You can wander around the crumbling buildings and structures that used to be a grand estate on 120 acres of property. In 1934, the Hermitage almost completely burned to the ground. The sole occupant, Mrs. Alma Dick-Lauder camped on the grounds and built a smaller house where she lived until her death in 1942. Ever since, the forest has started to reclaim the ruins.

There’s a really fascinating legend behind the Hermitage that I encourage you to read before your visit. I remember going to the Hermitage once at night with some friends in college because there’s rumoured to be a ghost that haunts the grounds (we didn’t have any ghostly encounters).

The Hermitage in Dundas (Hamilton) Ontario Canada
The Hermitage in Dundas (Hamilton) Ontario Canada
The Hermitage in Dundas (Hamilton) Ontario Canada

Dundas Valley Trails

There are many Dundas Valley hiking trails to discover. I haven’t even visited all of them yet, and I’ve gone there so many times! There are 40km of trails in total that are part of the conservation area. The Main Loop Trail is the hiking trail you must experience, especially if it’s your first time visiting. Here’s where you can view a copy of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area brochure and map.

Even though I’m listing several hiking trails below, this isn’t even all of the trails in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area! Browse the map if you’re looking to do even more hiking in this region beyond the ones I’ve listed below.

The Main Loop Trail

The Main Loop Trail starts at the Dundas Valley Trail Centre. It’s a 3.4km loop trail that takes about 90 minutes to walk. You’ll walk through old forests, meadows, an old apple orchard, and hemlock groves. You can check out the Hermitage Cascade (a really small waterfall), the Hermitage ruins, and the main trail centre from here. If you’ve never gone hiking at this conservation area before, I suggest tackling the main loop trail first and foremost.

Dundas Valley Conservation Area - Main Loop Trail
Dundas Valley Conservation Area - Main Loop Trail
Dundas Valley Conservation Area - Main Loop Trail
Hermitage Cascade Waterfall

Monarch Trail

The Monarch Trail is 5.1km one way, so be sure to give yourself 3.5 hours if you want to hike the whole thing and back. This out and back trail is attached to the main loop trail. You’ll hike through the Merrick orchard, deciduous forests, and up and down rolling hills. You can enjoy sweeping views of the Dundas Valley from the top of Groundhog Hill.

McCormack Trail

McCormack Trail, Dundas Valley hiking

From the main trail centre, head north and cross Governor’s Road to stay on the McCormack Trail. It’s one of the prettiest walks in Hamilton, and part of the McCormack Trail is also the Bruce Trail. You’ll hike through the lush hills of the Dundas valley while enjoying stunning scenery of the escarpment, the town, and Lake Ontario.

It’s 7.5km one way, although the hike loops back around to a portion of the Bruce Trail and doesn’t take as long to walk back to the trail centre. Allow at least 2.5 hours to get to the end of the trail (and then more to walk time to walk back).

Headwaters Trail

Dundas Valley Hiking Trails

The Headwaters Trail is 10.5km and it’s the longest Dundas Valley hiking trail. It departs from the Main Loop Trail and travels through many rolling hills, forests, meadows, valleys, and streams. You’ll pass the historic Griffin House Museum and eventually hit a loop trail where you will hike through a mature forest. Give yourself 4.5 hours to complete the whole trail.

Spring Creek Trail

I remember hiking around the Spring Creek Trail when I was in high school because I had friends living in the neighbourhoods around these trails. The trail extends from the Trail Centre through Dundas’ Sanctuary Park and eventually winds up in Warren Park. Allow 90 minutes to walk from one side to the other (3.3km one way).

Hiking trails in Dundas

Heritage Trail

The Heritage Trail connects the Main Loop Trail to the town of Ancaster. This trail was once used by early settlers in the spring when Sulphur Springs Road became too muddy and impassable. It’s also possible that nomadic aboriginals once used this trail, too. The Heritage Trail is 1.8km one way (allow 90 minutes from one side to the other).

The Bruce Trail

The Bruce Trail

The Bruce Trail is a massive 900km hiking trail from Niagara to Tobermory, right across southern Ontario from south to north. When you see white trail blazes, you know that you’re on the Bruce Trail. It’s all over southern Ontario, and the Bruce Trail even extends through the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The Bruce Trail doubles up on portions of the Monarch Trail, the Main Loop Trail, and the McCormack Trail.

Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail

The Rail Trail is an impressive 32km in length, and it runs right through the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. It’s a relatively flat path between the cities of Hamilton and Brantford. The surface of the trail is covered in stone dust, and you can both walk and cycle on the path. The trail connects with the Bruce Trail, the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, the City of Brantford Trails (and the SC Johnson Trail to Paris), and the City of Hamilton trail and bikeway network. It is also part of the Trans Canada trail network.

Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail

Some sections of the Rail Trail are relatively scenic and surrounded by forest, and other parts aren’t terribly exciting. It’s one of the best places to hike in Dundas because it can help you get to various areas of town faster than the city streets. It’s also connected to many other trails and places, and it’s a fabulous place to ride your bike. I used to live close to the Rail Trail, and I have many memories of riding my bike there.

Plan Your Visit to the Dundas Valley

There are several parking areas for the conservation area. While you don’t need to pay a fee to walk into the park, there are fees to park your car. At the main gate (650 Governors Road), the Hermitage parking lot (621 Sulphur Springs Road), and the Merrick Orchard parking lot (380 Lions Club Road), parking is $10.00 per vehicle per day.

There are a few other parking lots in the area where you can park for $5.00 per day. They include: Artaban Road Parking Lot (720 Artaban Road), Tiffany Falls Parking Lot (900 Wilson Street East), Monarch Trail Parking Lot (855 Old Dundas Road), and the Summit Bog Parking Lot (525 Highway #52, Jerseyville). Naturally, these parking lots are farther away from the Trail Centre and the Main Loop Trail than the $10.00 ones.

There are restroom facilities at the Trail Centre. The opening hours vary depending on whether it’s off season or not. During off season (September to June), the building is only open for washrooms on weekdays from 8:30am – 3:00pm and on weekends from 8:30am – 4:00pm. The concession stand is open on the weekends. In July and August, the opening hours are extended: 9:00am-5:00pm on weekdays and 9:00am-6:00pm on weekends.

Hiking in Hamilton Ontario

Dundas Valley Conservation Area Map

Want to see exactly where the Dundas Valley Conservation Area is located visually on a map? You can see where it’s located in southern Ontario and see how to get there.

More Hamilton Conservation Authority Parks

Looking for more conservation areas in the area? Here are more Hamilton Conservation Authority parks to visit:

  • Christie Lake
  • Confederation Beach Park
  • Devil’s Punchbowl
  • Dundas Valley
  • Eramosa Karst
  • Felkers’ Falls
  • Fifty Point
  • Fletcher Creek Ecological Preserve
  • Spencer Gorge (Dundas Peak, Webster’s Falls, Tews Falls)
  • Tiffany Falls
  • Valens Lake

If you’re looking for more attractions in Dundas, take a look at my article all about the top things to do in Dundas, Ontario. If you love hiking and nature, you won’t want to miss a visit to the Dundas Peak!

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2 thoughts on “Dundas Valley Conservation Area: Hiking the Dundas Valley Trails

  1. MB says:

    Always nice to see enthusiasm, but it is important to note that this precious natural resource is only sustained through membership fees, which are totally omitted from the above article. So here’s the conservation authority itself:

    “Becoming an HCA Member makes it easy for you and your family to enjoy our conservation areas and helps support the important work HCA undertakes. Every purchase of a pass helps keep our conservation areas open for the benefit of all. Many people believe conservation areas are paid for by their tax dollars, but that is not the case. Membership fees pay for trail construction and maintenance, emergency services, property taxes, insurance and all those little things we need to keep our conservation areas open. Just as important, purchasing your membership contribute directly to important conservation work throughout our watershed. Membership dollars help protect, preserve and restore ecosystems, and heritage sites on HCA lands. They also assist with education programs. Buy an HCA pass, and you’ll not only get a great deal on the Great Outdoors, but you’ll be protecting it for generations to come.”

    Annual Trail Access Pass will allow one individual walk-in or bike-in access to HCA conservation area for 12 months. Cost: $40+tax per individual.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks for this! I mentioned the parking fee ($10), which I imagine is what you’d pay to visit once if you weren’t a member. I can see if you were going to visit more than a couple of times a year that it would be a great value to purchase the annual trail pass.

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