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Blessed by the Bruce Trail

Hamilton is uniquely fortunate to have the 900 km world-class hiking route running right through the spine of the city. Autumn is the best time to explore it.

At last, it’s autumn. The one time of year when if someone tells you to “take a hike” they really do have your best interests at heart.

Nothing beats a long, leisurely ramble in a forest in the fall. The colours are changing in the trees, the air is cooler, and there are fewer biting insects, especially after we’ve had our first frost. Whether it’s the physical health benefits you’re looking for, the mental health boost, or just time to get a little more nature in your life, autumn is the best time for it.

In Hamilton, we are uniquely fortunate to have a world-class hiking trail that runs right through the spine of our city: the Bruce Trail.

If you’ve ever walked along a trail on the escarpment and wondered what the blue or white rectangles painted on the trees were, those are the blazes of the Bruce Trail. They are special markers that show you if you’re on the main trail (white), a side trail (blue) or which direction to turn (the blaze at the top to the left or right).

One of Canada’s best-known long-distance hiking trails, the Bruce Trail runs from Niagara Falls in the south up through the Bruce Peninsula to the tip of Tobermory in the north. The trail follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment through Ontario and is nearly 900 km long, with an extra 400 km of side trails to explore. The part of the trail that is the most heavily used takes hikers from Stoney Creek through the city and on to Dundas.

There is no better time than fall to take in the Bruce Trail. Bruce Trail Day is Oct. 1. Photo: Jason Allen

In Dundas, you find some of the most spectacular views of the trail, including Dundas Peak and Tews Falls. There are, however, plenty of other places to go along the trail that will afford you great views and a lovely stroll.

“The fall is fantastic,” says Laura Tuohy from the Bruce Trail Conservancy. “Everyone heads out to see the fall colours, and just immersing yourself in the colours of the changing, diverse deciduous canopy is wonderful.”

But there’s more to the forest than the leaves. “Pay attention to the smaller details of the forest,” says Tuohy. “This is a great time to look for mushrooms from decaying logs, or getting that last glimpse of a salamander before they head into hibernation for the winter.”

It’s also a great time to look for views of the landscape from some of the escarpment lookouts. “As some of the leaves start to fall later in the season we get a little more of a grander sweep …”

With all those things in mind, it makes perfect sense that the Bruce Trail Conservancy is celebrating Bruce Trail Day on Oct. 1. With a range of events put on by the different clubs that manage each section of the trail, you’ll be able to complete challenges and earn patches and bragging rights.

Hamilton’s section of the trail is run by the Iroquoia Bruce Trail Club and its events are being held at City View Park in Burlington from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Even if you can’t get out for Bruce Trail Day, there are still lots of great opportunities to explore but it’s important to be prepared.

Blazes along the Bruce Trail help hikers navigate the route. Photo: Bruce Trail Conservancy

One of the trail’s best features in Hamilton is how accessible it is to the public. In many places, trailheads lie along HSR routes as well as along mixed-use and cycling paths. You can download any of the section maps from the Bruce Trail Conservancy’s website or install an app on your phone to find your way. These will also give a good idea where to park if you’re starting your adventure in your driveway.

Take a look at the forecast before you go and be sure to be dressed for the weather. Pay special attention to the wind in the forecast. When you’re up on the top of the escarpment, a strong wind can make it quite a bit cooler than it is down at the bottom of the cliff.

Also make sure to bring plenty of water, and a snack for along the trail when you take a break and want to admire the view. I’m a big fan of bringing a small backpacking stove and a coffee maker and making coffee outside but any type of refreshment will do.

Take plenty of photos, too. The Moments of Wonder on the Bruce Trail photo contest is happening now through to Oct. 15. You can enter past or recent photos of wonderful moments on the Trail for a chance to win some great prizes. Details and contest entry are here.

Autumn really is the best time of year to explore the woods, and with so much nature right in our midst, it doesn’t require a big excursion. Just slip on a backpack and lace up a good pair of shoes and soon you’ll be in the wonder of the autumn forest. Happy hiking!

Jason Allen is the host of The Environmental Urbanist, Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m. on 93.3 CFMU, and has been encouraging Hamiltonians to explore the outdoors for almost two decades.