If the word “canyon” conjures images of red rock and juniper trees, you might be surprised to learn that there is a canyon right here in your backyard—and you can hike it.

The Nassagaweya Canyon is a deep gouge in the Niagara Escarpment that was made when a river cut through the rock formation, which created a section of escarpment that was separate from the rest of the rock formation. With the coming and going of four ice ages, water from melted snow and ice made its way through this cut in the escarpment—a process that deepened and widened the channel, turning it into the canyon that we know today.

Crossing right through this cut in the escarpment is an “out and back” trail starts that at the Nassagaweya Canyon Lookout at Rattlesnake Point and ends at Crawford Lake. The Nassagaweya Canyon Trail is around 4.7 kilometers and takes about two hours to hike, one way, or 9.4 kilometers and four hours, there and back. On this hike, you can see an abundance of rare plants, animals, formations and features, such as ancient cedars, limestone cliffs, glacial deposits, crevice caves, and a rare meromictic lake. Not only is the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail a longer trail, but the terrain tends to be quite rugged, full of rocks and roots, steep at times, which makes it perfect for hikers in search of a challenge.

One such hiker, Cherrie, recently hiked the entire Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, which she describes on her blog, Queen of Trails. Like most, she started at Rattlesnake Point at the Nassagaweya Canyon Lookout and then hiked through to the Buffalo Crag Lookout, where she stopped to admire the ancient cedars growing out from the side of the cliff. As she carried on down the trail, she counted the many kinds of trees that could be seen—Beech, Birch, Oak, Maple, White Spruce, White Pine, Red Pine and others. After descending into the canyon, she reached the boardwalk, where she crossed Limestone Creek.

She then came to an intersection where hikers can choose a challenging ascent up the canyon wall or take an easier route to the top. Cherrie chose the easier route, which took her to the Crawford Lake Side Trail. On the way into Crawford Lake, she walked past the lime kiln ruins, remnant stone walls, abandoned barn foundations and other bits of history. After finally reaching the Crawford Lake Visitor’s Centre, which is the end of the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, Cherrie decided to take a walk around the lake.

“There is a saying that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, and this is true for I don’t think I can find the words to describe this scene spread out before me,” she says. “The lush, green vegetation, the birds flying about, singing ever so sweetly to my mortal ear, the peacefulness and serenity of the meromictic lake—as I walked along the boardwalk, the most beautiful picture painted by God’s own hands lay before me.”

Cherrie then decided to visit the Iroquoian Village, where she toured the longhouses, learned about the families that would have lived in them and, through the artifacts on display, had a glimpse of the lives they would have lived.

After her visit to the Iroquoian Village, Cherrie had lunch at Crawford Lake and then headed back to the trail to return to Rattlesnake Point, going back the same way she came. Having already trekked more than five kilometers, the hike back was far from easy and climb back up the canyon wall was a challenge. To make the most of her efforts, she took short strides, deep breaths and a couple of breaks, when needed.

“I tried to maintain a rhythm between my breathing and my strides as the climb got steeper and steeper. This was hard. I stopped to catch my breath for the third time and wished to God that I was at the top already,” she says. “I continued on but this time I tried to focus on positive thoughts instead of how exhausted I felt. Trust me, this helped.”

After reaching the top of the canyon wall, the rest of the hike was a walk in the park. Cherrie says that Nassagaweya Canyon Trail was one of the longest, toughest hikes she has ever done but that it was worth every second.

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Last modified: October 11, 2018

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