Waterfalling Near Toronto
So... you live in Toronto and have started to hunt waterfalls. You quickly become frustrated when you can't find any nearby. The interactive Waterfall Map
doesn't show any, and nor do any other online resources.
This is no oversight... there are basically no natural waterfall attractions found in the City of Toronto (see clarification
below). You basically have three choices... most people will choose option No. 1:
- Drive out of town to find real waterfalls
- Find artificial waterfalls to enjoy
- Scour the western creek beds and valley walls for tiny rock falls
Waterfall Day Trips From Toronto
You can find some decent waterfalls in under an hour's drive from most of Toronto. If you are willing to drive for up to 2 hours or just bit more, your options increase significantly.
Here are some suggested "clusters" of waterfalls. If you are going to drive a long way, it makes sense to spend the day and see several different falls. If you just have an afternoon, focus on a couple of waterfalls near Hamilton or Halton-Peel.
The time taken to visit a waterfall varies dramatically.
It depends on the weather, bugs, crowds, and your interets. Some people spend the entire afternoon at one waterfall... others like to visit 4 or 5 in the same time period.
The Hamilton Cluster
Hamilton is a great destination for a first waterfall trip. The falls are close to one another, and well-developed with parking lots and good trails. Unfortunately, the popularity of the waterfalls
does mean that they could be busy, have parking fees, and some access restrictions. I recommend that you try to avoid visiting on summer weekends if at all possible. This really isn't the best time
to visit anyways.
This web site has a whole section dedicated to waterfalls in Hamilton
. Shown below are two groups of waterfalls. If you have a full afternoon, you could visit an entire group.
The Halton-Peel Cluster
Hamilton's waterfalls can be busy, and you may instead want to get out of the city. A small number of waterfalls in Halton-Peel allow for just this. While some aren't as impressive as the falls in Hamilton, the surroundings can be a little more tranquil. Desipte this, do expect crowds at Hilton Falls and the Cataract, although both are found in large natural areas. Belfountain can also be crowded with picnickers on nice weekends.
The Niagara Cluster
If you want to escape the city but still be civilized about it, drive just a little over an hour to the Niagara Peninsula. A number of great waterfalls are found here, most of which are in a natural setting along the Niagara Escarpment. Some can be busy, but others can be remarkably quiet. Do be warned that they can dry up in summer. If possible, try to go following a wetter period. If it's been hot and dry for several weeks, don't even bother!
There are four recommended falls for a first visit. You could spend the whole afternoon at Balls Falls. Or keep moving and visit each (in this order). There are other nice ones nearby, but this gets you started.
From East GTA, Go north!
If you live in the east end of the GTA, you may be hesitant to drive all the way across the city to get to Hamilton or Niagara. As you know, traffic could add an hour to your trip! Fortunately, you have easy options that the west-enders don't. Skip the crowds and traffic and head north.
Fenelon Falls is just over an hour north of Oshawa. It has limited hiking options, but is a nice town to visit. And extra 30 mins gets you to Elliott Falls. Continue a bit further to Furnace Falls and Buttermilk Falls. Alternatively, drive northwest to see Healey Falls or Cordova Falls, both of which are just 1.5 hrs from the east end of the GTA.
The Bracebridge Cluster
A day trip to Muskoka quickly gets you out of the typical southern Ontario landscape. From midtown Toronto, it takes about 2 hours to get to Bracebridge. There are enough falls in the town and right around it to keep you going for a day.
The Owen Sound cluster is a little ways from Toronto, but still doable for a day trip. Two falls (Hogg's and Eugenia) that are found on the way are less than 1.5 hrs from Brampton. The roads are less busy and the rural scenery is pleasant.
Do you have the book?
The 'Waterfalls of Ontario' website, book, and the Facebook Group won't be of much use to you if you are "stuck in the city
". These resources focus on natural waterfalls. These are only found where a river or creek flows over bedrock that is exposed at the ground surface.
Since there are very, very few exposures of bedrock in Toronto, there are no natural waterfalls here. (You can read more about the reasons for this in the short article called Why are there no waterfalls near me)
Despite the above, there are certainly artificial falls that you can enjoy. There are few scattered about that have been constructed for aesthetic purposes. More interesting (in my mind, at least) are artificial waterfalls that are formed by dams or weirs that have been constructed across rivers and streams. These might not be 'natural waterfalls', but they offer 'falling water' in a more natural setting. If you can't leave town, these are the next best thing!
Thanks to David Reid for this photo of one of the weirs on the Humber River.
Thanks to Alex Bonenfant for this photo of another one of the weirs on the Humber River.
The Humber River Recreational Trail, for example, leads to a number of weirs constructed across the Humber River. Weirs are low dams that can be used to help control river flow. They often result in a broad curtain of falling water, up to a metre in height. They sounds like a waterfall and look like one too... sort of! The first is 400 m upstream from Old Mill Rd, about 900 m from the Old Mill Subway Station. Five more weirs are found upstream about every 400-500 m, with the last one found just south of Dundas St.
Weirs are artificial, but this doesn't mean that you can't still enjoy nature! Thanks to David Reid for this photo of one of the weirs on the Humber River.
The Don River Valley may also have a few weirs that can also give you a waterfall fix without leaving the city.
Thanks to Jason Couper for this photo of a fish ladder on the Don River.
At the boundary with Mississauga, along Etobicoke Creek, there is a place that is locally known as "The Waterfall". A highly deteriorated concrete barrier forms a sort of "falls", less than one metre high. This can be reached from the Etobicoke Creek Trail, behind Enfield Park, which is accessed by Enfield Ave, just north of the Long Branch GO station.
If you can't travel to a real waterfall, you can still get a falling water fix from these artificial ones. And if you are really stuck, you can always look for rapids, which can also be found in areas without bedrock. These still let you enjoy the sound of rushing water. Creative photographers can turn these in to nice photographs. Even the long exposure technique
can be used to great effect at these locations.
Hardcore Urban Adventures: Looking for bedrock outcrops in western GTA river valleys.
I used to claim that there were no natural waterfalls in the urban parts of the GTA. I grew up in central York Region, and can say with almot 100% certainty that bedrock is not exposed at surface in York Region or Durham Region. This is because the glaciers dumped tens of metres of soil and sediment
on top of the local bedrock surface.
In contrast, there ARE bedrock exposures in Toronto, and a few more more in Mississauga. And contrary to my long-standing claims, there IS a natural waterfall in the city of Toronto!
Bluebank Falls is located near Kipling Rd and Albion Rd in northern Etobicoke. It's a very small waterfall on Masseygrove Creek, but there is a short trail to it from the east end of Lakeland Drive. It's amazing that this waterfall has flown under the radar for so long. This really isn't something that most waterfallers will seek out, as it has only limited interest for visiting. But it is a real waterfall nonetheless! A few members of our Facebook Group have kayaked down this rock-lined channel during high flow in spring.
Thanks to Cecilia King Findlay for this photo.
Some of the rivers and creeks in the western part of of Toronto and in Mississauga have eroded deep enough to expose thinly-bedded layers of easily eroded shale of the Georgian Bay Formation. You can find steep, narrow gullies cutting into the sides of broader river valleys. Drainage through these gullies probably only occurs following storms. But these are true washboard-style waterfalls, though quite small and of interest only to the most serious of waterfall seekers. (I haven't yet mapped these locations... maybe you can help out?)
In some areas, like along Mimico Creek, you can find slightly thicker beds of limestone or dolostone intermixed with shales. I've seen photos showing a rock channel from as far north as just south of Van Dusen Blvd. This isn't a waterfall! Further south, at Jeff Healey Park, however, it is possible that some small ledges of limestone cross the creek and form a small micro-falls. You can actually find Ordovician-era fossils here
... this is not a waterfall attraction; it's only something to check out if you are in the area.
Across the border into Mississauga, Etobicoke Creek has reached bedrock in a number of places. Cliffs of shale and thin limestone beds border the creek in places as far north as Eglinton Ave. It is highly unlikely that any waterfalls form ~in~ Etobicoke Creek, because the rock is so soft and has likely been eroded away by the river. However, small falls may occur (even temporarily) on small drainage channels that tumble over the side cliffs lining the main creek. Let me know if you find any.
In southern Mississauga, the overburden covering the bedrock decreases in thickness to just 3-4 m. Mapping by the Ontario Geologic Survey indicates some places where bedrock was reported at surface.
At least one larger waterfall, known as Wahoosh Falls, became a fan favourite in the 2010s. Unfortunately, it was closed to foot traffic c. 2020 by the installation of secure fencing. The falls is located on a small creek that drains into the Credit River. I have heard from several people that there were once many more very small waterfalls that formed in the same setting. It is believed that they have all been obliterated by urbanization. Or have they?
** To be clear, don't go looking for falls here unless you are a purist and up for a challenge, and not afraid of failure. By now, we would have heard of "hidden gem waterfalls" of 5-6 m in height. But might there be a small rock bump in a creek, or a small washboard type falls on the side of a river valley? While not spectacular, it might be a fun reward.