Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph, Ontario, is one of the most interesting places that I’ve gone hiking in a long time. While it’s not the longest hiking trail in the world, this intriguing conservation area makes for a great outing for people of all ages, including families with kids. Rockwood Conservation Area is one of the best places to go hiking in Guelph.
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There are so many alluring features like multiple views of the Eramosa River (including a scenic lookout point), old mill ruins, caves and crevices, and rock formations that you don’t expect to find in southwestern Ontario. There are two main hiking trails that connect to one another, wrapping around the conservation area and across the river.
Rockwood Conservation Area Map
Here is a map of Rockwood Conservation Area, as taken from the Pothole Trail. As you can see there are two main trails: the Pothole Trail on the northwest side of the Eramosa River (in orange) and the Cedar Ridge Trail on the southeast side of the Eramosa River (in purple).
It’s really easy to find the other features of the park from this map: the Harris Woolen Mill Ruins, the dam, the caves, and other conservation area amenities (campsites, the beach, the pavilion, mini golf, a baseball diamond, picnic tables, and bathrooms).
Hiking at Rockwood Conservation Area
In total, the hiking trails at Rockwood Conservation Area amount to about 3km of hiking, including a short jaunt off the main loop trail to see some of the caves. It’s a pretty easy and enjoyable trail that’s great for beginner hikers and people of all ages.
Along the Pothole Trail, you’ll witness some of the most unique geological features and biologically diverse areas in Southern Ontario. The glacial bluffs at Rockwood Conservation Area formed during the last ice age, between 11,000 and 16,000 years ago.
Rockwood Conservation Area has 200 potholes, created by boulders and pebbles left behind by the Wisconsin glacier that got caught in the currents of rapidly flowing melt water. As there are cliffs and steep slopes around these lands, it’s best to be safe and stick to the trail.
We started our hike at the first parking lot just by the main gatehouse. From there, we took a short side trail that descended down to the Pothole Trail. It was amazing to witness the massive boulders and cliffs, some lined with trees on top of them. The views across the river are stunning. Then, hike along to see some of these potholes up close in the sides of the cliffs.
You’ll walk across a wooden boardwalk that traverses across wetlands. Eventually, there’s another small parking lot and the site of the Harris Woolen Mill Ruins.
Harris Woolen Mill Ruins
The Rockwood Woolen Mill, also known as the Harris Woolen Mill Ruins, was established in 1867 by brothers who created a thriving business. The mill was powered by the flowing waters of the Eramosa River, as well as steam and hydro eventually. The original mill caught fire and was replaced by a stone structure in 1884.
The woolen mill continued to operate into the 1900s. During World War I, it operated 24 hours a day to make blankets for the Canadian army. At the beginning of the Great Depression, the mill closed down. Decades later, the Harris family transferred ownership of the land and the mill to the Grand River Conservation Authority.
After many restorations of the Harris Woolen Mill Ruins in 2010, it became open to the public in 2011. Unfortunately, the ruins of the mill are no longer safe to explore. There is a big wire fence around the mill ruins. It’s possible to view the ruins from behind the fence. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see them up close without the fence at some point in the future.
Just after the Rockwood mill ruins, you’ll see a little dam with a small waterfall. It’s just another lovely feature to see when you visit Rockwood Conservation Area.
Caves at Rockwood Conservation Area
One of the most extensive network of caves in Ontario is right here at Rockwood Conservation Area. This cave system has a series of 12 caves. One of the most interesting features inside the caves is called flowstone, which are sheet-like deposits of calcite (a type of calcium carbonate) that are formed by flowing water over many years.
On my first visit to Rockwood Conservation Area, I took shelter in one of the caves when it started to pour rain! However, I’ve never been courageous or adventurous enough to bring a flashlight and wander inside the caves themselves. Have you ever explored these caves? Be sure to let me know in the comments section below!
If you do explore the caves, we recommend bringing a flashlight, a helmet, and appropriate clothing to keep you warm. You are not able to visit the caves from October 16th to March 31st to protect the colonies of hibernating bats that live there.
Cedar Ridge Trail
Once you’ve seen the caves, you’ll need to backtrack a little bit until you reach the Cedar Ridge Trail. The Cedar Ridge Trail continues the loop on the opposite side of the Eramosa River. You’ll hike a little bit uphill until you reach the top of the cliffs, but it isn’t too physically demanding.
The Cedar Ridge Trail is home to some of the oldest trees in southern Ontario. The cedar trees here are up to 300-500 years old! There are also lots of spruce and maple trees as well.
Scenic Lookout Over the Eramosa River
The scenic lookout off the Cedar Ridge Trail is one of the best surprises at Rockwood Conservation Area. At the end of this short detour off the main trail, you’ll witness one of the most epic viewpoints in southern Ontario. The panoramic views across the Eramosa River are astoundingly beautiful.
After your slight detour to the Cedar Ridge Trail Lookout, retrace your steps back to the Cedar Ridge Trail and continue hiking. You’ll continue walking down this wide forest path until you end up walking beside the roadway (still within the boundaries of the conservation area).
As you’ve slowly descended down from the top of the cliffs, you’ll be level once again with the Eramosa River. With the Eramosa River on your left, you’ll eventually come across the little beach at Rockwood Conservation Area. Continue back on the Pothole Trail until you reach your car.
Plan Your Visit to Rockwood Conservation Area
There are so many things to do at Rockwood Conservation Area. I might be biased, but going hiking is my favourite thing to do there. However, I’d love to go paddling on the Eramosa River here someday. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to paddle a canoe, kayak, or standup paddleboard past these geologic formations.
In the summer months, it’s also possible to go swimming at Rockwood Conservation Area at the small beach area. It’s also a great place to pack a picnic lunch or even spend the night at the campgrounds. For the little ones (or the young at heart!), there’s a little mini golf course near the main entrance.
Admission to Rockwood Conservation Area is $7.50 per person, and you can pay at the main gates. If you frequently visit Grand River Conservation Authority parks (there are 11 of them), you may want to consider an annual membership card. The park is open year round (only closed on December 24th-26th) from 7:00am to 9:00pm.
What to Bring on a Hike
A proper pair of hiking shoes is an absolute must. It’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen and lots of water, too. My water bottle of choice is the GRAYL Purifier because you can drink ANY water from any source, no matter what. Water from lakes, streams, rivers, public restrooms, you name it. It’s the world’s fastest portable purifier. Get your hands on one ASAP!
Don’t forget to pack some bug spray because there can be biting bugs depending on the time of year. Even if there aren’t any signs, it’s safe to assume that ticks are all over Ontario hiking trails. Protect yourself against ticks by reading our guide to avoiding ticks on the trails.
More Hiking Trails in Huron, Perth, Waterloo & Wellington Counties
Looking for more hikes southwest of Toronto? Here are some more great places to go hiking in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington Counties.
- Elora Gorge Conservation Area
- West Perth Thames Nature Trail
- Huron Natural Area (Kitchener)
- TJ Dolan Natural Area (Stratford)
More Hiking at Grand River Conservation Authority Trails
Here are all of the Grand River Conservation Authority properties, including their parks, conservation areas, and trails with links to the ones I’ve visited so far:
- Apps’ Mills
- Belwood Lake
- Brant Park
- Brantford to Hamilton Rail Trail
- Byng Island
- Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail
- Conestogo Lake Park
- Dumfries Conservation Area
- Elora Cataract Trailway
- Elora Gorge Conservation Area
- Elora Quarry
- FWR Dickson Wilderness Area
- Guelph Lake Park
- Hanlon Creek Trail
- Laurel Creek Conservation Area
- Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area
- Pinehurst Lake
- Rockwood Conservation Area
- SC Johnson Trail (Paris to Brantford)
- Shade’s Mills
- Snyder’s Flats
- Starkey Hill
- Taquanyah Conservation Area
- Woolwich Reservoir
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