Ontario’s lucky when it comes to waterfalls—with the steep cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment and the rolling granite hills of the Canadian Shield, many parts of the province are spoiled for choice of waterfalls to explore.
A few safety tips to keep in mind while you’re heading out to a waterfall:
- With all waterfalls, stick to marked trails. Folks going off trails can damage fragile habitats or run into hazards like slippery rocks, unstable ground or sharp drop-offs. Many areas are now seriously enforcing trespassing laws—just ask anyone who’s gotten a ticket at Smokey Hollow along the Bruce Trail just east of Hamilton.
- Plan to wear good shoes with decent traction. Even easy paths can have loose rocks or slippery areas. For the most part, flip-flops aren’t great exploring shoes.
- Be especially careful when taking pictures—backing up for the perfect selfie can have disastrous consequences if you forget how close you are to a drop-off.
- Because COVID restrictions are changing rapidly, check the area you’re planning to visit. Many conservation areas in the province require reservations to be made in advance. Don’t try to use amenities (like stairs) that may be closed.
With safety in mind, here are some of the best waterfalls in Ontario for you to explore:
This 18-metre cascade is one of the (many) highlights of the 890-km Bruce Trail, which runs from Niagara to Tobermory and crosses through Inglis Falls Conservation Area in Owen Sound. Created where the Sydenham River meets the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, Inglis Falls has carved a deep gorge into the base of the falls. The conservation area provides a viewing platform, as well as a series of trails where you can explore other spots of interest, like glacial potholes. Be aware—the falls are very popular and can get crowded on weekends.
There’s a reason Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson was inspired to paint “Spring on the Onaping River” here—the Onaping Falls are spectacular, falling gently over 150 metres of red granite towards the Sudbury Basin, which is the second-largest impact crater in the world. There’s a lookout at the falls, as well as a plaque dedicated to A.Y. Jackson, but you can also get up-close views of the water by following the moderate-to-difficult trail along the river.
Aubrey Falls, located inside Aubrey Falls Provincial Park, is a long day trip from Sault Ste. Marie, but worth the scenic drive up Hwy. 129, winding along the Mississagi River. The park is non-operating, which means that you can get in, but facilities are minimal. You can get a good view of these best waterfalls with a two-kilometre round-trip trail. Because the volume of water over the falls is controlled by an upstream dam, the water level can vary—depending on the day, you may just get a good view of the dramatic rock-face.
A popular picnic stop for cottagers heading along Hwy 11, High Falls is one of the best waterfalls because of it’s dramatically steep cascade waterfall on the north branch of the Muskoka River. The riverside park offers lots of spots to picnic, as well as numerous vantage points to see the falls. Don’t be fooled—High Falls Road isn’t the best way to access views of the falls, despite its name. You can get to the park via Hwy 117/Cedar Road instead.
This dramatic 40-metre split plunge waterfall is called the “Niagara of the North,” and it’s a well-earned nickname. The falls, which are in Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, are easily accessible as a day trip from Thunder Bay, and include a viewing platform and a boardwalk trail that’s under 1 km and wheelchair accessible. Those who are looking for more challenging hikes can take their pick of trails in the park, including one that traces the portage early travellers used to avoid the falls.
In the summer, you can just barely see Duchesnay Falls peeking through the trees that line Hwy 17 just outside of North Bay. Parking can get crowded on the weekend, but if you can grab a spot, you can take the Duchesnay Trail to get a better view—it’s a short, challenging climb up the Laurentian Escarpment. If you feel like hiking a little more, connect with the Campus Trails, which wind behind Nipissing University and Canadore College and offer 16 paths to explore the landscape.
Located in the heart of Elora, the Elora Gorge Falls is the only significant waterfall in the Lake Erie watershed. There’s a good viewing spot at the end of Mill Street, past the Elora Mill (now an inn, spa, and restaurant). Once you’ve had a look at the falls, head to Elora Gorge Conservation Area for tubing along the Grand River, or drive the other way to the Elora Quarry, where you can swim in a 0.8-hectare limestone quarry surrounded by 12-metre cliffs. (Make sure to check the Grand River Conservation Authority for the most recent COVID updates.)
Go check out Sauble Falls if you feel like a break from your beach day. This is one of the best waterfalls since it’s located in Sauble Falls Provincial Park, and doesn’t have a dramatic drop—instead, the water flows down a series of gentle steps and, once upon a time, powered a timber mill and generating station. If you feel like exploring the Sauble River a little further, rent a canoe and paddle through farmland and steep sand dunes.
While Manitoulin is well-known for its must-hike Cup and Saucer trail, Bridal Veil Falls shouldn’t be missed either. Located in Kagawong off of Hwy 540, the falls are viewable from the top—and there’s a handy staircase that leads to the bottom, where you can walk behind the water. (Just wear shoes with good traction, as the rocks can be slippery.) If the stairs are closed (as they were during COVID restrictions) there’s also a trail that leads to the bottom.