Seven of the best waterfall hikes in Ontario
We’re drawn to waterfalls for their natural beauty. Waterfalls are a source of wonder, and in some cases, a great spot for swimming, especially if you have hiked in.
Here is a small sample of some of Ontario’s best hike-to waterfalls.
Inglis Falls, Grey County
The Niagara Escarpment is a geological wonder; this raised stretch of land slopes on one side but drops sharply on others. The term for this landform is a cuesta, and it’s responsible for the trail of waterfalls extending from Manitoulin to our country’s biggest falls in Niagara. On the northern end of the cuesta is some serious waterfall country.
Take the trip towards Owen Sound, a three-hour drive from Toronto. One of the eight waterfalls in the vicinity of the town is Inglis Falls. It’s located within a conservation area containing over seven kilometres of hiking trails, including ones which take you to platforms overlooking the 18-metre falls.
The trails also weave through wetlands with excellent bird-watching opportunities and alongside geological oddities like “potholes”—circular depressions carved into the rock from the glaciers.
There is a day rate to park at Grey Sauble Conservation Areas, which can be paid by debit or credit on arrival.
The Grey-Bruce region is also apple country. Make some of the stops on the self-guided Apple Pie Tour across the county. Experiences include:
Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin
Manitoulin Island is located at the top end of the Niagara Escarpment—the same geological formation stretching from the Golden Horseshoe area way up to the island (and essentially running the length of the Bruce Trail).
While this “veil” style falls may look familiar to others found in say, Dundas, the adventure to get to this one is what makes it worthwhile. Take the one-kilometre round trip hike to Bridal Veil Falls and enjoy swimming at the base before spending the day exploring Kagawong village.
Manitoulin is a quaint island dotted with waterfront villages and rolling hills. For that reason, it’s a cyclist’s dream. Rent a bike or bring your own to the island and incorporate a stop at Bridal Veil as part of a longer ride around Kagawong.
Getting to the island can either involve driving across the Highway 6 bridge from the town of Espanola or boarding the iconic MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry which runs from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island’s Baymouth port.
Here are some other experiences to fill out your getaway with:
- Plan a full bike tour, including e-bike rentals and luggage courier services, with the help of the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates.
- In the summer, attend one of the many powwows that happen across the island.
- Make time to visit the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M’Chigeeging, where you can experience past and present Anishnaabe culture through local art, interpretive information and workshops.
Onaping Falls, Sudbury
Just outside of Sudbury, the Onaping River descends in a series of thundering cascades which drop 55 metres and stretch out for nearly 200. This scene was a source of inspiration for Canadian painter A.Y. Jackson and was immortalized in his oil painting “Spring on the Onaping River”—which was stolen in 1974 and has been missing ever since.
Today, the A.Y. Jackson Lookout pays homage to the Group of Seven artist and provides spectacular views of the falls.
The hike to the falls is an easy one-kilometre trip on wide, flat terrain on crushed gravel and exposed bedrock. There’s an option to extend the hike beyond the falls via the two-kilometre forest loop on the way back—be sure to listen for the songs of some of Sudbury’s resident birds. Visit this site in September when the leaves change colour and transform the scene into a real-life painting.
Stop at the falls as part of a longer road trip, or as a short day trip from downtown Sudbury. While in the area:
- Explore the extensive trails throughout the city, seeing how determined efforts to rehabilitate damage from mining has given nature a chance to come back on the Jane Goodall Reclamation Trail or in Lake Laurentian Conservation Area.
- The Laughing Buddha and Tucos Tacos have excellent patios where you can catch some sun and enjoy excellent dishes.
Agawa Falls, Algoma
This one you’ve got to work for! Reaching the 25-metre Agawa Falls in Lake Superior Provincial Park requires hiking 12 kilometres through mixedwood forest and the Agawa Canyon along the Towab Trail—and then hiking 12 kilometres out again.
For the most enjoyment, make this an overnight backpacking trip. Avid hikers will enjoy the challenge of this rarely visited trail. The precarious terrain involves navigating roots and rocks, with some sections that might be slippery. Other stretches meander through old growth yellow birch and white pine forests that escaped the lumberjacks’ saws in years past. A day use permit is required for this hike, which can be purchased at the Agawa or Red Rock Visitor Centres.
To make the trip happen:
- Book your backcountry campsite on the Lake Superior Provincial Park website.
- Grab any gear you might need at Great Lakes Outfitters in Sault Ste. Marie.
- Post-hike, glamp it up at Rock Island Lodge or Forest the Canoe’s platform camping accommodations.
- Be sure to stop in at Voyageurs’ Lodge & Cookhouse to try one of their world-famous apple fritters—a can’t-miss delicacy in the area.
High Falls (Barron River), Algonquin
In the northern section of Ontario’s most popular provincial park, a thin layer of the Barron River spreads across angled rock, creating a natural slide on an otherwise calm river. Accessing these falls on foot is a 4.5-kilometre round trip hike from the High Falls parking area, or you can choose to paddle to it.
There are a few “High Falls” in Algonquin Park, but this one is easily accessed from Barron Canyon Road, with signage indicating the turnoffs and parking lots. It’s a lovely 8.5-kilometre canoe from the Achray campground as well.
A summer day is best spent in the water, and just upstream of High Falls, “Little” High Falls is a great place for swimming and sliding. There’s a natural chute with a low current for splashing around in. Like any moving water, wearing a personal flotation device and swimming with a friend are always good ideas. A day pass is required for parking at the trailhead, which can be paid for at the Sand Lake Gate or reserved up to five days beforehand through the Ontario Parks website.
If you have the time, explore Algonquin Park by canoe, enjoy more hikes and camp overnight:
- Algonquin Bound Outfitters will deliver canoe rentals to the Achray access point, or you can pick up your canoe from them on your way into the Park.
- Algonquin Portage, located in Pembroke, will also deliver canoes in the area.
- Take a guided trip with Algonquin Bound Outfitters.
- Hike to the rim of the nearby Barron Canyon, one of the Park’s most scenic vantage points.
- Frontcountry camp at the nearby Achray campground.
Go-Mar (Gorge Creek) Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in a very underappreciated part of the province. Greenstone, which is the area along the east side of Lake Nipigon, is mostly travelled by locals and sport fishermen chasing world-class pike and lake trout.
The rugged topography making it revered for ice climbing makes for some great hiking too. The rock here tends to erode in vertical chunks, creating steep-sided, flat-topped “mesas” across the landscape. The water flowing down these steep cliffs usually provides a show, as you’ll see at Go-Mar.
It’s a 2.5-kilometre hike into these falls, with half of it along the hydrocut with moderate gradient. Park along Highway 11 (making sure to get well off the road) near the natural gas station 35 kilometres north of Nipigon. You’ll see the trail on the east side of the road. Most of it is flagged and marked by local hikers, but at times the trail may be difficult to pick up.
These falls are just one example of the beauty in Superior Country—an area full of falls to explore. Pair this short outing with a longer hike at the Palisades Trail along the top of a mesa. This 10-kilometre out and back hike showcases stunning views and interesting carnivorous plants.
There’s a range of dining options in Nipigon, including:
Pigeon River, Thunder Bay
As far as waterfalls in Northwestern Ontario go, Kakabeka Falls steals the show. It’s the second-largest waterfall in the province and requires only an easy roadside pullover to see—it’s well worth the stop and photo.
Those looking for some additional waterfalls and longer hikes should be sure to head towards the Canada-USA border to Pigeon River Provincial Park. This park is less than an hour from Thunder Bay; the drive through the mesas and fields of Slate River Valley is beautiful. Depending on the time of year, you may see massive flocks of ducks and geese staging for migration or swallows buzzing over the farms.
This river forms the border between Ontario and Minnesota and has trails along its sides. You’ll get to see two waterfalls here: Middle and High Falls. The Middle Falls walk is an easy 700 metres from the parking lot—or take the two-kilometre hike to the larger High Falls. This walk is along a historic logging road and is nice and wide so larger groups can chat along the way.
The Park is open year-round and is a great snowshoeing location in the wintertime. There are longer hiking options in the Park for a full day of fun, including the 360-degree view of Lake Superior and the coastline on the five-kilometre-long Finger Point Trail. A day pass is required for parking at the trailhead, which can be paid onsite.
While in the area:
- On your way back to Thunder Bay, swing by Thunder Oak Cheese Farm and pick up one of their specialty goudas.
- The Courthouse Hotel is a boutique hotel in the heart of the city offering fantastic views of Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant.
- Enjoy the outdoors with a campsite at Kakabeka Falls, beside the “Niagara of the North.”
- Walk down the revitalized Prince Arthur’s Landing, where local events and activities take place throughout the summer.
Last updated: August 22, 2023