Waterfalls Of Ontario
Waterfall Safety and Privacy

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Safety and Your Responsibility

In recent years we have begun to see waterfalls be closed, or, be restricted to public access. This is a direct response to unsafe and irresponsible behaviour by visitors. Nervous authorities are worried about being sued. Since we fund those authorities with our taxes, this could cost us all.

When people disregard the rules and aren't considerate of their surroundings, it causes the rules to become stricter for everyone. Your freedom to explore Ontario comes with responsibilities.

Keeping Yourself Safe

Swimming at Waterfalls

Private Property

Prohibited Areas

Tragic Loss of Life

Covid-19 makes things worse

Waterfall Safety

Waterfall visits can be completely safe and fun excursions for the whole family! At any site, however, if you aren't careful your waterfall visit could turn dangerous or even deadly. Lots of people have DIED at Ontario's waterfalls.

You should be aware of the following risks:

Steep Slopes and Vertical Cliffs
Many less-busy sites have no safety barriers or viewing platforms. Please just stay back from the edge. People have fallen to their death at Ontario's waterfalls.

Water Hazards
Some waterfalls are powerful rivers. Currents can overcome even the strongest swimmer, so please stay back from the water's edge. People have drowned at Ontario's waterfalls. This includes some surprisingly small ones.

Some waterfalls are found in less populated parts of the province. You might be the only visitor that day. Also, cell phones don't always work when you are the bottom of a narrow rocky gorge. If you are heading somewhere remote, consider letting someone know where you will be.

Bad Directions
This web site relies on driving directions provided by Google Maps. *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. The chances of an encounter are very, very small. Even if this happens, bears are likely to run off in the other direction. Still, please 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, 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.

Angry Landowners
Most of the waterfalls in Ontario are on public lands. But there are a few that are located on private property. Some landowners have been fending off trespassers for years and may have run out of patience. You do dont have a natural right to visit a waterfall on private property This page does not knowingly list any waterfalls that are on private land. But REMEMBER... land ownership can change. If in doubt, please ask someone for clarification.

Swimming at Waterfalls

We frequently get asked for information on waterfalls where you can swim. I rarely give out advice. Why not?

**Waterfalls are not waterparks!**

Waterfalls are not engineered, designed or safety checked. Dangerous currents and undertows can be hidden to visitors. Rocks can be slippery and high cliffs can be really dangerous. Cracks hidden under water can snag and hold a foot. You should always get advice from a local resident before swimming at a waterfall. People have drowned at 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? It is one of the lowest, gentlest waterfalls in this web site. But people drowned here.

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... but these are the type of old storm sewer that connects to sanitary sewers during big storms. Yup... you could be swimming 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. Still, there are a few that can only be accessed by private property. These should be avoided unless you can obtain permission from the landowner. Many landowners will grant this if you ask nicely. I just avoid them; there are hundreds more to explore.

No matter what excuse or justification you think you have in your head, there is no 'law' or 'natural right' that allows you to cross someone's property to access a river. Yes, people are allowed to own the land around a waterfall. No, there is no universal law that gives you the ability to walk along a stream bed. It doesn't matter what someone else tells you or what you believe. If you cross private property, you are trespassing.

This web page does not knowingly include directions to waterfalls that are on private property. If you see an error, or know of a site that should be removed due to privacy concerns, please contact me.

Unfortunately, there is no law that says that private property has to be fenced or signed. Please heed any signs that you see, and use your common sense. We have hundreds of waterfalls to visit, so just move on to a public one.

Would you want someone walking through your property to see something they were inerested in? A special tree? Flower?

Some government (and Google) maps identify privately owned waterfalls. They are natural features afterall. But to help to spread the word, here is a list of waterfalls that can only be accessed by private property.
  1. Canning Falls
  2. Dore Falls
  3. Fagan's Falls
  4. Fullers Falls
  5. Hayward Falls
  6. Hornings Mill Falls
  7. Keefer Falls
  8. Lavender Falls
  9. Little Canterbury Falls
  10. Oxenden Falls
  11. Rosseau Falls, below the one-lane bridge
  12. Scott's Falls
  13. Stephanie Falls
  14. Three Brothers Falls
  15. Walters Falls
  16. Washboard Falls
  17. Wasi Falls
  18. Yarker Falls (except from bridge and former tea room)
Mark Harris hereby notifies you that the inclusion of waterfall in this guide does not guarantee that it is safe and/or legal to visit. He takes no responsibilty for your access of any private lands. You are responsible for your own decisions.

Prohibited Areas

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 the approach may spread. Again, local authorities are nervous about the risk of lawsuits, and are trying to protect their taxpayer base.

This project encourages you to follow the rules. 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 out looking for people.

Please do your part to keep our waterfalls open.

Tragic Loss of Life

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.

Please be safe
  1. Albion Falls
  2. Bala Falls
  3. Balls Falls
  4. Barrett Chute
  5. Bracebridge Falls
  6. Decew Falls
  7. Devil's Punchbowl
  8. Eugenia Falls
  9. Healey Falls
  10. High Falls in Bracebridge
  11. The Hogsback
  12. Kakabeka Falls
  13. Moon Falls
  14. Niagara Falls
  15. Pakenham Falls
  16. Port Sydney Falls
  17. Stubbs Falls
  18. Ragged Falls in QE2 Park
  19. Talon Chute
  20. Three Brothers Falls
  21. Tiffany Falls
  22. Wasdell Falls
  23. White's Falls
  24. Wilsons Falls

Near Misses

  1. Albion Falls
  2. Decew Falls
  3. Eugenia Falls
  4. Felkers Falls
  5. Hog's Back Falls
  6. Inglis Falls
  7. Inglis Falls
  8. Onaping Falls
  9. Princess Louise Falls
  10. Tews Falls
  11. Websters Falls
Mark Harris hereby notifies you that he takes no responsiblity for your safety. Inclusion of waterfall in this guide does not guarantee that it is safe and/or legal to visit.

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 clear that many 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 open 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.

This page uploaded August 17, 2021. It replaces the earlier version, which can be seen at Archive.org