Escarpment – Rail Trail

Hamilton to Caledonia
Posted on July 2, 2021 / 2559
Escarpment – Rail Trail
Listing Types : Rail Trail
Location : Central Ontario
Note : NEW Review
Total Trail Km : 34
Double track % : 90
Road % : 10
Rate Skill Levels : Easy, Intermediate
Terrain : smooth soil, paved, crushed gravel, large hills, gentle hills
Faclities : parking, food close by, toilet, outhouse, trailhead map, good signage, trails maintained
Trail Fee : Free

Length –  34 km (one way)

90% rail trail path
10% road crossings, detours

Elevation – Gradual slope up escarpment for 30 minutes, then it levels out

Terrain –  Sections of asphalt, crushed stone

Skill – Hill climb is Intermediate, the rest is easy

Maps – New map boards and signs posted

Traffic – Bicycles, joggers, hikers, dogs, X-country skiers in winter

Facilities – Parking on street, outhouse, benches

Highlights – Lookouts from the cliff, Albion Falls, Grand River

Trail Fee – Free

Phone – 905 546 2489

Website – City of Hamilton

Similar Trails – Hamilton Brantford RT,  

Local Clubs – Hamilton Cycling Club, HBMBA

Access –

  • Starts at Corktown Park (Ferguson Ave. S. and Young St.)
  • Albion Falls – on Arbour Rd.
  • Chippewa trailhead – at Stone Church Rd. E. and Dartnall Rd.
  • Gypsum Mine Tract trailhead – at Caledonia Soccer Complex, McClung Rd.

History – During the 19th century, many railway companies made efforts to build a track bed up the formidable Niagara Escarpment to reach Lake Erie. It took until 1881 for the Hamilton and North-Western Railway (H&NW) to lay track all the way to Port Dover, a project which was originally begun in 1834 by a company called the Hamilton and Port Dover Railway.

Hamilton and Toronto were competing to be the main rail shipping centres in the region, and this route now ran from Lake Erie to the Hamilton docks on Lake Ontario. Due to railway consolidations, the line changed hands many times. The Grand Trunk Railway ran it for a few decades, but in their haste to expand, they ran out of money and by 1928 the entire track became part of CN Rail.

By 1997 most of the track was decommissioned and repurpose for recreational trail use or turned into farm fields.

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The 34 km Escarpment Rail Trail starts from the base of the bluff (“mountain”) in Hamilton. It’s a long climb up a gradual slope that gets you to the top in about 40 minutes, with a few stops added in to check out the view. It was probably more of a challenge for trains years ago than it will be for you on your bicycle to climb the 95 metres.

This rail trail to Caledonia, on the Grand River, has three sections/names. The Escarpment Rail Trail (Iron Horse) segment takes you from the inner city across the escarpment to the top, where it flattens out considerably for the rest of the route. 

Starting at Corktown Park, the path is paved and level, running alongside a set of tracks. Maybe the kids will see a freight train chug by. As the path heads up across the stony bluff for 8 km, it leaves the other tracks behind at the bottom.

This is a well-treed path that has only a few ideal lookouts. Many of the original grand views of Hamilton are now overgrown, but the trees provide some welcome shade to cyclists. The rest of the route is more open once you get to the top.

It’s a popular trail for joggers, who test their stamina by climbing the access stairs that exist in a few locations along the way.

This moderate climb turns south and takes you through a limestone rock cut as it levels out close to Albion Fallsa must-see destination, and one of many waterfalls in the area. This is an ideal time to have a snack at a picnic bench.

You now have a few choices. U-turn and coast down the hill for the big payoff, or take the adventurous, steeper Red Hill Trail, beyond the falls, down to the base of the escarpment. (You will be walking down the steep gravel incline at the beginning if you do not have a MTB.)

A third option is  to continue on for 16 km south to Caledonia on the recently resurfaced Chippewa Rail Trail. First, there is a road detour you will need to do to get over the freeway. A pedestrian bridge makes that easy.

Once in Caledonia, a third 8 km section called the Gypsum Mine Tract Trail has just been added and newly resurfaced for you to extend your trip toward the southeast. It will be yet another straight-as-she-goes, pleasant-yet-uneventful ride through Ontario farm country. 

The Escarpment Rail Trail, combined with the other two sections, makes a pleasing escape from the concrete and noise of urban living in no time. And that hill climb is nothingnot a grind, nor even laborious, as I recallso if you are fit, give it a try.

Rail Trail map

Escarpment Rail trail map

Escarpment Rail trail map

Escarpment Rail trail map

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