By Lauren Yakiwchuk
The Bruce Trail is a 900km hiking trail that connects Niagara and Tobermory in Ontario, Canada. It’s the longest and oldest continuously marked trail in the country. Not only can you hike the main Bruce Trail, but there are numerous side trails that meander off the Bruce. The length of these side trails are approximately 400km in total. As you can expect, the Bruce Trail offers some of the best hikes in Ontario, whether it’s for a day trip or long-distance hiking.
The trail follows the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, between its Northern Terminus in Tobermory and its Southern Terminus in Queenston (Niagara Falls). The Bruce Trail, its side trails, and the surrounding green space is managed by The Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC). All in all, the BTC currently protects 17,600 acres and 68.9% of the Bruce Trail is safe and secure from development.
About the Bruce Trail
The Bruce Trail is one of the best places to go hiking in Canada, whether you hike small sections of the footpath or the trail in its entirety. The Bruce Trail Conservancy aims to preserve and protect this natural corridor of the Niagara Escarpment for everyone to enjoy.
Why is it called the “Bruce Trail”? Well, there isn’t anyone named Bruce. “Bruce” is named for the Bruce Peninsula, where you’ll find the most northern section of the trail. Originally, when the idea for the trail was conceived in 1960, the footpath was set to be a trail to the Bruce throughout southern Ontario, which was a popular holiday destination (and remains one to this date).
First, the Bruce Trail Conservancy acknowledges and honours these lands as the traditional territory of Indigenous Peoples, recognizing the Anishinaabek, Huron-Wendat, Tionontati, Attawandaron, Haudenosaunee, and Métis.
Not only is the BTC a trail association, but it’s also one of the largest land trusts in Ontario. There are nearly 13,000 members and 1450 volunteers that assist the BTC. It’s rated as one of Canada’s top environmental charities.
The Bruce Trail is rather unique in that it passes through both public and private land. It passes through about 670 sections of private property. The landowners are generous and have a handshake agreement with the BTC to allow hikers to pass through their land. However, these agreements can be revoked by the landowners at any time. In that regard, the path of the Bruce Trail changes from time to time. It might be rerouted due to a landowner revoking their agreement. Conversely, the BTC acquires new properties from time to time. While the goal is to keep the footpath in forested and natural spaces, it does follow city or country roads from time to time that isn’t the most scenic spots.
Becoming a Member of the Bruce Trail Conservancy
If you plan to hike the Bruce Trail often (or you admire the work they do), consider becoming a member of the Bruce Trail Conservancy. Your membership costs help the BTC fulfil their mission to provide environmentally responsible and safe public access to the Trail for many generations to come.
With your membership, you’ll receive a membership badge and card, a charitable tax receipt for the value of your membership, access to organized hikes, invitations to special events, and the Bruce Trail Conservancy Magazine (4 times a year), and other benefits.
You can also make a nominal donation to the trail organisation by clicking the button below.
Bruce Trail Clubs
The Bruce Trail is divided into nine sections called clubs. From south to north, the clubs are: Niagara, Iroquoia, Toronto, Caledon Hills, Dufferin Hi-Land, Blue Mountains, Beaver Valley, Sydenham, and Peninsula. When you become a member of the BTC, you join one of these clubs. Every club takes care of their own section of the trail, keeps relationships with the landowners, organizes group hikes and educational lectures, and more.
Each Bruce Trail Club has their own badges. You can request a badge when you finish hiking the trail in that particular section. In addition, the Bruce Trail also offers an end-to-end badge when you finish the entire 900km trail! You’ll need to keep your own trail logs and submit them when you’re applying for a club badge or an end-to-end badge. You also need to be a member of the BTC at the time you complete your end-to-end.
How to Hike the Trail
First, you’ll need to decide where to hike. Some hikers work away at an end-to-end of the Bruce Trail, starting in Niagara or Tobermory. Other hikers tackle sections of the Bruce Trail according to the club that’s closest to their home. You might also want to go hiking at a park or conservation area that prominently features the Bruce Trail.
I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Bruce Trail Reference Guide. It’s a printed mapbook to the trails that’s updated once every couple of years. Then, there are regular updates on the BTC website if there are changes to the book.
Of course, you can find the Bruce Trail map on HiiKER which is constantly updating trail information and you can download the map to your phone for offline use.
Many areas of the Bruce Trail are environmentally sensitive and some cross private lands. For this reason, please stick to the trail and never stray from the marked route. The majority of the trail is for pedestrian use only.
The Bruce Trail is marked with white blazes. These are white rectangles of paint, and you’ll find them all along the trail on trees, rocks, and fence posts. A single blaze means that you keep hiking straight ahead. When you come across two blazes, this demonstrates that you’ll need to veer left or veer right.
It’s important to pay attention to the blazes. Sometimes they’ll become obscured by overgrowth of foliage in the summer or snow in the winter. If you get lost, turn around and hike back to the last blaze that you remember spotting. You can reorient yourself and you’ll likely find the path once again.
Most importantly, all hikers on the Bruce Trail are asked to follow the Bruce Trail Users’ Code:
- Hike only along marked routes. Do not take shortcuts.
- Do not climb fences – use the stiles
- Respect the privacy of people living along the Trail
- Leave the Trail cleaner than you found it. Carry out all litter.
- No open fires are allowed on the Trail. Use a portable stove.
- Camp only at designated campsites.
- Leave flowers and plants for others to enjoy.
- Do not damage live trees or strip off the bark.
- Keep dogs on a leash and under control at all times.
- Do not disturb wildlife.
- Leave only your thanks and take nothing but photographs.
- Obey all signs.
Camping on the Bruce Trail
The Bruce Trail isn’t the same as other popular long-distance trails where the entire path is protected and you can camp anywhere. Camping is only allowed at designated campsites. These are really limited in number and you’ll mainly find them within conservation areas and provincial/national parks. Many of these campsites can be found on HiiKER.
For this reason, many hikers of the Bruce Trail will complete the trail in a series of day hikes. If you want to complete the trail as a thru-hike, it’s important to plan your journey in advance. While you might be able to book some campsites along the way, there will be large sections without camping areas. You will need to stay with friends or book a hotel/Airbnb.
Parking on the Bruce Trail
Parking on the Bruce Trail for day hikes can also be an issue. If you leave your car at the end of one section, you’ll need to hike back to your car at the end of the day. This essentially means that you’re hiking the Bruce Trail twice!
There are a couple of solutions to this problem. First, you can go hiking with a friend and leave a vehicle on either side of your journey. Next, if you’re hiking in a more populated area, you can call an Uber or taxi to bring you back to your car (don’t rely on this if you’re in a more rural area).
The Bruce Trail also has a Trail Angels program. Hikers can request Trail Angels in advance and this volunteer will pick you up and drive you back to your car. Right now, this program only exists in the Beaver Valley club. There are also unofficial Bruce Trail hiking groups (as well as my hiking group, Ontario Hiking) where you are welcome to request a Trail Angel and perhaps someone will help you out.
It’s really important that you only park in designated parking areas. The parking areas and rules change from time to time, so it’s best to make sure you have updated and correct information. You don’t want to return to your vehicle after a long hike to find an expensive ticket or even worse, find that your car has been towed.
Staying safe on your hikes is most important. For the most part, the Bruce Trail is not a difficult trek. Some areas in the Bruce Peninsula have slightly difficult terrain, but the majority of the Bruce Trail can be hiked by anyone who is relatively active.
Make sure that you prepare your route ahead of time. Wear proper footwear and clothing, depending on the weather conditions. Bring lots of water. If you decide to hike alone, let your loved ones know where you’ll be hiking and your schedule.
There are also certain times of the year when hunting is allowed near the Bruce Trail. At these times, it’s advised that the public stay away from these areas. You can find this information online.
Some hazards that you could find on the Bruce Trail include poison ivy and ticks. It’s best to stay on the trail to avoid both of these. However, ticks are a growing concern more and more each year. If it’s possible, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat. Don’t walk through long grass. Check yourself for ticks when you return from your hike and follow proper protocols should you need to remove any.
You won’t encounter too many hazardous creatures on the Bruce Trail. The Bruce Peninsula is home to the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. It’s not likely that you’ll spot one, and it typically isn’t aggressive towards humans. It may only strike in self-defence. If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, you should wash the bite with soap and water and send for medical help. The Bruce Trail Reference Guide lists local hospitals with antivenom serum.
It’s also possible that you may encounter a bear on the trail, primarily north of Owen Sound. It’s very uncommon that you’ll see a bear. If you do come across a bear on the Bruce Trail, stand quietly at a distance and do not approach the bear.
What to Pack for Hikes on the Bruce Trail
If you’re embarking on a day hike of the Bruce Trail, there are some important items to include in your day pack for a successful trip. Depending on the season, you’ll dress in layers, which could involve bringing a waterproof jacket or a sweater. Bring a hat for sun protection or warmth in the colder seasons.
Bring lots of water (1 litre per person and 3 litres in the summer). Pack a lunch and some snacks, like trail mix or energy bars. Other important essentials include sunscreen, insect repellent, a small flashlight, a portable charger for your phone (although don’t rely on your phone completely as you may lose cell signal), a small first aid kit, a Swiss Army knife, and your Bruce Trail guidebook or map. Don’t forget to download the Bruce Trail map on HiiKER, so you can use it even where you don’t have service.
I hope that you’re excited to discover the Bruce Trail this year! It’s such a beautiful place to hike and there’s always new terrain and landscapes to discover. You can admire scenic lookouts across vast forests, caves and intriguing rock formations, and turquoise blue waters that look straight out of the Caribbean. Happy hiking!
Lauren Yakiwchuk is a travel blogger and hiking blogger from Ontario, Canada. She is the owner and content creator behind Justin Plus Lauren and Ontario Hiking. Lauren loves travelling around the world, outdoor adventures, and exploring cities, small towns and nature. She also loves finding the best coffee, craft beer, and vegan food no matter where she goes.