"Your freedom to explore comes with responsibilities"
Waterfalls can be dangerous
No person shall use the information provided on this web site without first accepting all personal responsibility for their safety. Mark Harris does not give permission to any person to use the content of this website as way to ensure their safety. No person shall use the information on this web page to infer that there is a guarantee that the places featured herein are safe and/or legal to visit. No person shall use the information on this web site without first accepting that Mark Harris assumes no liability for any damages or injuries that may occur as a result of using this information.
Some waterfalls not accessible to the public
Some waterfalls are located on private property or be found in prohibited areas. Mark Harris does not give permission or recommendation to any person to use the content on this web site to access any property. Waterfalls located on private property or in prohibited areas are not knowingly listed on this website. Site conditions and land ownership can change, however, and mistakes are possible. No person shall use the information provided on this web site without first accepting all personal responsibility for their lawfulness.
Links can provide incorrect information
No person shall use the links provided on this web site without accepting that the links may lead to external sources with incorrect information. In particular, this includes, but is not necessarily limited to, erroneous driving or hiking directions provided by Google Maps. Mark Harris does not give permission to any person to rely on the links that reference third-party information sources for their safety and lawfulness. Mark Harris assumes no liability for any damages or injuries sustained through the use of third-party information linked from this web site.
Web site not associated with lands
The author of this web site claims no ownership, affiliation or association with any park, conservation area, private property or crown land on which a waterall is found. No person shall use the information on this website without accepting that Mark Harris has no liability for any injuries or damages resulting from access to any lands. All content on this web site is provided in good faith for general information purposes only. If you spot an error, please contact me at mark at waterfallsofontario.com
Risks Associated with Waterfalling
Swimming at Waterfalls
Tragic Loss of Life
Covid-19 makes things worse
Waterfall visits can be safe and fun excursions for the whole family. They can also be dangerous! People have DIED at many of Ontario's waterfalls.
Fortunately, it's not hard to keep you and your family and friends safe. The tips below mostly involve common sense.
Steep Slopes and Vertical Cliffs
Many waterfalls have no safety barriers or viewing platforms. You must stay back from steep slopes. People have fallen to their death
at Ontario's waterfalls.
Some waterfalls are on powerful rivers and currents can overcome even the strongest swimmer, so you must stay back from the water's edge and slippery rocks. People have drowned
at Ontario's waterfalls. This includes some surprisingly small falls.
Some waterfalls are found in more remote areas of the province that are out of cell service. You might be the only visitor that day. Cell service doesn't always work when you are the bottom of a narrow rocky gorge. It is recommended that you let someone know where you will be.
This web site relies heavily on driving directions provided by Google Maps. But Google maps can be wrong! You must respect any signs that may have been posted to correct errors.
*Recognize that this site uses coordinates that pinpoint the waterfall, not the parking lot or trailhead. So, in some cases you will need to figure out the last little bit of the journey yourself. (Parking coordinates are being added slowly). Be sure to remember how to get back to your car!
Google maps is trying to take you to the waterfall, not the parking lot at Price Conservation Area. This is being updated slowly. Please plan ahead to know where you are going.
Once you get out of southern Ontario, you are in bear territory. Bear encounters are very rare. Even if this happens, bears are likely to run off in the other direction. Still, you must take a few minutes to become Bear Wise.
Poison Ivy, Giant Hogweed, Ticks...
We only have one poisonous snake in Ontario - the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.
These are isolated to such a small part of the province, you are very, very, unlikely to come across one on your travels. If you are walking off-trail, you may encounter things like Poison Ivy
, Giant Hogweed
, or Ticks. The first two can cause severe itching and rash, while the latter can cause Lyme Disease
. Take a minute to learn about these items. If you stay on marked trails, it's very unlikely that you will have an issue.
Most waterfalls in Ontario are on public lands, but some are located on private property. You might be respectful of the land, but the land owner doesn't have to care.
Swimming at Waterfalls
Every summer people ask about swimming at waterfalls. The Waterfalls of Ontario project rarely gives any recommendations, because:
** Waterfalls are not waterparks! **
Seriously! Waterfalls are not engineered, designed or safety checked. They are wild places. Dangerous currents and undertows can be hidden to visitors. Rocks can be slippery and high cliffs can be really dangerous. Rock crevices hidden under water can snag and hold a foot. People have died
swimming at many of Ontario's waterfalls.
It is true that many waterfalls have been used safely as swimming holes for years. It can be done. But please know the risks and be careful, and get local advice. See the photo of Furnace Falls below? Even though it is one of the lowest, gentlest waterfalls on this web site, people drowned here. Another person drowned trying to retrieve a fallen sandal.
Thanks to Darcy Ste Marie for this photo
Also, keep in mind that many streams and rivers in southern Ontario are not suitable for swimming. Agricultural runoff and municipal sewage can bring real risk of illness. Several waterfalls in Hamilton are actually fed from storm sewers. A few sewers are the very old type that connect to overflowing sanitary sewers during big storms. This means that you could be wading in poop! Don't do it! People still do, and it just boggles the mind.
Private Property and Trespassing
Most waterfalls in Ontario are located on public lands. But there are a few that are found on private property. You must not try to access these sites without permission. You could be charged with trespassing, and this gives our hobby a bad name.
Despite what some people "feel", there is no law that prevents someone from owning a waterfall. You have no "right" to cross someone's property to get to a waterfall. Also, the laws around walking along a streambed through private property aren't as clear as you might think.
Would you want strangers accessing your land at any time for any purpose?
If they saw a rare bird, butterfly, or plant, would that make it OK?
Many landowners will grant permission if you ask. Others will refuse because they have seen their property mis-used for years. Most hikers are respectful people. But entering someone else's property just isn't your decision to make. Property owners can have you charged regardless of your opinion.
I found this site on another web site that provided directions to waterfalls. It's probably a good idea to avoid this one!
Unfortunately, there is no law that says that private property has to be fenced or signed. Please heed any signs that you see, even if this web site or the book says otherwise. Red dots on a sign post mean "No trespassing".
This sign means 'No trespassing'.
This web page does not knowingly include directions to waterfalls that are on private property. Mistakes happen:
If you see an error, please contact me. To be clear, there are a few cases where access to a waterfall on private property is generally known to be tolerated. But this could change with no notice.
Known Private Waterfalls
Some maps (even Google), other waterfall resources, and social media posts identify privately owned waterfalls. They are natural features afterall. But be warned, these won't keep you out of trouble. This is why this web site is useful.
To help to spread the word, here is a list of waterfalls that are off-limits due to private property.
- Canning Falls
- Dore Falls
- Fagan's Falls
- Fullers Falls
- Hayward Falls
- Hornings Mill Falls
- Keefer Falls
- Lavender Falls
- Little Canterbury Falls
- Opishing Falls
- Oxenden Falls
- Rosseau Falls, below the one-lane bridge
- Scott's Falls
- Stephanie Falls
- Three Brothers Falls
- Walters Falls - check with the Inn
- Washboard Falls
- Wasi Falls
- Yarker Falls (except from bridge and former tea room)
Recently, a number of popular waterfalls have had certain areas blocked off to public access. These are mainly in the Hamilton and Niagara area, but also around Peterborough and Northumberland.
It is the rulebreakers that put us in this situation in the first place. By posting photos from off-limits areas, it encourages others to do the same. 'The rules don't apply to me.' At some waterfalls, the fines are $750, and there are by-law officers actively out looking for people.
Deaths at Waterfalls
Waterfalls can be perfectly safe if you take normal precautions. But as a sad reminder of the risks, this growing list shows waterfalls where people have lost their lives. This includes deaths caused by "innocent" activities like swimming and photography.
After reading this list, it becomes more understandable why authorities are starting to close or restrict access.
- Albion Falls
- Bala Falls
- Balls Falls
- Barrett Chute
- Blakeney Rapids
- Bracebridge Falls
- Chutes Prov Park
- Decew Falls
- Devil's Punchbowl
- Eugenia Falls
- Healey Falls
- High Falls in Bracebridge
- The Hogsback
- Kakabeka Falls
- Moon Falls
- Niagara Falls
- Pakenham Falls
- Port Sydney Falls
- Ragged Falls (QE2 Park)
- Recollet Falls
- Red Rock Falls (Wolf River)
- Rushing River
- Silver Falls
- Stubbs Falls
- Talon Chute
- Three Brothers Falls
- Tiffany Falls
- Wasdell Falls
- White's Falls
- Wilsons Falls
- Albion Falls
- Borer's Falls
- Burleigh Falls
- Decew Falls
- Eugenia Falls
- Felkers Falls
- Hog's Back Falls
- Inglis Falls
- Inglis Falls
- Onaping Falls
- Princess Louise Falls
- Tews Falls
- Websters Falls
Covid made things worse
During the Covid Lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, our waterfalls really took a beating. Since many people were stuck at home and couldn't go anywhere else, they went outside. Many natural areas were swamped with visitors, in some cases far in excess of what the site could handle.
It was soon clear that many new visitors were not used to being in natural spaces: Litter increased dramatically, illegal parking became common, and people were actually defacating on neighbours' lawns
because there were no public bathrooms available. In one case, illegally parked cars had to be towed before fire trucks could respond to an injured visitor.
Due to over-use and mis-use, a number of waterfalls have been temporarily closed to the public. This includes waterfalls located in popular conservation areas. In some cases, waterfalls that had always been private property but still accessible to the public, ceased to be accessible in 2020 (eg. Walters Falls). Landowners had simply had enough.
Another issue that got worse is an increase in the number of waterfalls with restricted access. Several of the biggest, most-impressive waterfalls in Hamilton can only be viewed from above. Access to the riverbed, which was allowed with incident for decades, is now prohibited at Albion Falls, Websters Falls and Waterdown Falls.
Inexperienced hikers have been injured or trapped at these locations
. Rescues involving EMS are now common, and so municipalities are now taking steps to protect their liabilties. Unfortunately, many people continue to trespass
, which in turn leads to increased enforcement and stronger restrictions.
>If we don't behave properly, we will lose more access. It's our choice.