There was another pair of ropes to assist with the final bit of the descent to the bottom of the gorge, but this looked even dicier than the descent I just took to get to this point.
With my fast breathing due to the real sense of danger here, I thought of Julie and Tahia up on the trail looking at me struggle…
- Day 17: WHERE VEGAS MEETS A MEGA-WATERFALL
- Day 18: ONE PERSON’S PAIN, ANOTHER PERSON’S GAIN
- Day 19: THE RECURRING THEME OF HAMILTON WATERFALLS
- Day 20: THANKSGIVING DAY IN TORONTO
Day 17: WHERE VEGAS MEETS A MEGA-WATERFALL
When it was our turn to pull up into the border crossing station, the border officer asked the familiar questions about where we lived, what I did for a living, and what we were doing in Canada.
When I relayed to the officer our intentions of staying in Niagara Falls for a night, then Hamilton for a night, and finally Toronto for 2 nights, he gave me this quizzical look and said, “Hamilton? What are you guys doing in Hamilton?”
“We’re waterfall chasers, and we heard that it’s the City of Waterfalls,” I told him.
“Did you know it’s known as the Steel City?” he said.
“I had read about that,” I replied.
And with that, he gave us back our passports and told us, “Welcome.”
The familiar drive along River Road was exciting because it was Tahia’s first time here. Julie was stoked about witnessing the raw power of Niagara Falls. Plus, the mist rising at the Horseshoe Falls really seemed to rise really high up in the sky and create clouds of its own.
Somehow, there seemed to be a bit more water than what we recalled back in June 2007.
Eventually, we arrived at and parked inside the Fallsview Casino at 1:25pm. I recalled we stayed here before, and I also recalled that we exploited a loophole that allowed us to park for free (instead of $10) just by getting one of the Player Advantage Club (PAC) cards.
The lobby had a fancy-looking fountain with some kind of futuristic-looking contraption and color in it that somehow reminded me of a scene out of Tomb Raider. But whatever the case, Tahia was drawn to the fountain, and we had to make sure that she didn’t touch the water nor try to somehow ingest the dirty water by drinking it or by touching it then sucking on her thumb.
We were a little early to check into our room with a view of Horseshoe Falls so we grabbed a bite downstairs at one of the overpriced “mall”-like eateries in the Food Court.
By the time we were done with the short lunch, we were able to get into our room at 2:45pm.
Like last time, the view of the falls was spectacular. There was even a rainbow arcing across the American Falls from where we were looking out the window.
However, Tahia didn’t seem to be all that impressed with the falls. Instead, she was focused more on the “igloo” down below or in search of statues (as she seemed to have this love-hate relationship with them throughout this trip).
It wasn’t until about 3:30pm when we were finally starting to go downstairs to tour the falls.
With the afternoon light now taking over, the falls were getting the benefit of the somewhat soft glow of the sun instead of the harsh midday sheen we had seen earlier on the way in.
So as we walked Tahia down the Fallsview Road and then along the very busy walkway paralleling River Rd, we stopped to take the familiar photographs as well as attempts at some family portraits made possible because we took the trouble to lug the tripod down with us.
We’d go through this drill until we got right up to the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. But it was way too crowded to even entertain the notion of a family photo here via tripod so we just documented our experience and then headed back to the car park inside the Fallsview Casino (though I did make an attempt to play a game or two so it would register on the Player Advantage Club card to try to “earn” “free” parking.
Well, it turned out that I didn’t play enough to “earn” it and I was told that there was no specific dollar amount to get to that status. In fact, she said it would typically take around $10-$20 or so, and I didn’t feel like gambling more than the $5 CAD we had already wasted on their one-armed bandits.
So we just swallowed the $10 fee to get out of the car park in search of Julie’s crepe place, which was located somewhere on Queen Street, which was apparently not walking distance from where we were at. It was around 5:30pm or so when we drove off.
As we were driving in search of Julie’s crepe place for dinner, I was talking with Julie about how this experience reminded me of Las Vegas.
Actually, it was more like what happens when you mix Las Vegas with a mega waterfall. You get the Canadian side of Niagara Falls!
Indeed, it was certainly no Nature experience even though the spectacle was natural but definitely messed with by man. Last time we were here, I thought it was like an amusement park because of all the excursions we had done like Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Journey Behind the Falls, etc.
I guess we were glad we only spent the one night this time as it seemed like everything forced me to bleed money.
At a little before 6pm, we had finally found Queen St. It turned out to be in the historic Downtown Queen St District. It looked like a pretty charming little place, but it was also rather devoid of activity as it was clear that hardly any tourists would go this far from the action.
But we figured we’d at least get much better food than the overpriced crap around the falls itself.
The place was called the Paris Crepe Cafe, and the meal consisted of a duck confit, a delicious marguerite galette, escargot bourgignon, and some dessert crepes (Tutti Frutti and a custom nutella with chantilly and vanilla ice cream crepe).
We left the place pretty satisfied, and we returned to our room by 8pm. We were able to catch the falls from our room being floodlit by night though the colors didn’t seem to be interesting. But later in the night (somewhere around 9pm or 10pm), we heard some booming sounds outside, and it turned out that there was a fireworks show over the falls.
We weren’t sure what the occasion was (we’d eventually figure out after the trip that it was for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday), but in hindsight, I should’ve overcome my fatigue and try to take long exposure photos with the fireworks. Oh well.
And so ended this day. Tomorrow, we were headed to Hamilton to see if that place would live up to its self-proclaimed slogan of the Waterfall Capital of the World. I guess we’ll soon find out after we allow ourselves to sleep in a little bit to at least enjoy this spacious hotel room just a bit more…
Day 18: ONE PERSON’S PAIN, ANOTHER PERSON’S GAIN
It was 7:25am when I awoke. Both Julie and Tahia had already been up. I guess all those nights of 5 or 6 hours or less were finally catching up with me.
By this time, there was a glow in the room coming from the rising sun. I bet I could’ve caught another sunrise from this posh hotel room, but I probably missed the sunrise by 15 minutes or so.
It took us some time to get ready, and it wasn’t until about 8:50am when we finally left the Fallsview Casino Parking Lot. This time, I had to pay the ripoff rate of $15! So given all the expenditures intended for parking at this Niagara Falls accommodation, it turned out that we paid a total of $30 give or take (depending on exchange rates), especially with the wasted $5 CAD on gambling that was intended to enable the free parking (not).
So we took a combination of local highways and surface streets per GPS until we reached the Morningstar Mill at 9:25am. At first, the GPS had us keep going, but it turned out that the small car park for the mill was the place to be.
There were already a lot of cars here and we took probably one of two formal spots. I’m sure other people wishing to park here would have to make room parallel parking.
The lighting against the historical mills flanking the creek were ideal for this cool crisp morning. However, the day was heating up as we could feel the sun starting to beat down on us where the dewy air wasn’t in shadow.
Just a few paces from the mill, there was a pretty unsatisfactory view of DeCew Falls where we could barely see the top of it while the rest of it was blocked.
I knew that people have managed to get to the bottom to get better views of the falls, but when we walked the Laura Secord Trail, we then saw where there was a very steep, slippery, and overall dicey descent to access the bottom of the gorge.
After surveying the descent, I decided to try my luck at tentatively going down to see if the way forward looked worse than it really was.
But already, I was feeling a bit uneasy when I saw wet rocks and muddy spots on the descent. A slip and fall here could potentially be fatal. Even with the ropes tied to trees here, it looked pretty dicey and the butterflies in my stomach were prevalent as I was making my way down to a narrow bench marking in my mind (though I could be wrong about this) the half-way point of this sketchy descent.
There was another pair of ropes to assist with the final bit of the descent to the bottom of the gorge, but this looked even dicier than the descent I just took to get to this point.
With my fast breathing due to the real sense of danger here, I thought of Julie and Tahia up on the trail looking at me struggle. I realized that some things just weren’t worth the risk of death (and leaving Tahia fatherless) so I resisted the urge to push forward and just went back up.
Even the scramble back up wasn’t easy as it was wrought with slippery rocks and mud. I had to make sure that each place I planted my foot, there was enough of a support on a rock at the proper angles so would have the confidence to put my weight on it without slipping. And after a few more minutes of concentrating, sweating, and getting dirty, I was finally back on the trail to rejoin Julie and Tahia.
So we went back to the Morningstar Mill where a couple of buildings had open doors that appeared to welcome visitors to check out the history and contraptions here. Inside one of the buildings, there were some partial views of DeCew Falls through the glare of a window, but at least it was not as life threatening.
There were even old photos showing nice photographs of DeCew Falls, but clearly with the fences erected and all the overgrowth surrounding the rim of the gorge, there was no way those views would be possible on our visit.
There also appeared to be a picnic area across the gorge, but after I tried walking along the road to see if there was a way in, it turned out that there wasn’t.
All in all, it was a rather disappointing visit. The photos seen in the literature involved a lot of risk, and so they were misleading. I hate it when that happens!
So by 10am, we were all back at the car. And just as we were about to leave, we could clearly see that there were many more people here (some on what appeared to be tours) while others actually had tripod and camera in hand, and I wondered if they were going to try to find a way into the gorge (especially when one group involved a father and kid son).
As we drove off, we headed towards Balls Falls. And as we were getting closer to where the GPS said we were supposed to be, we noticed numerous (and helpful) Balls Falls Festival signs. At first we took advantage of those signs to help us navigate to where we were supposed to be, but as we got real close, it was clear that the most direct path to the car park for the waterfall was reserved for handicapped or authorized vehicles.
We were diverted towards a grassy area where many cars were to park. When I asked a staffer whether we had to go into the Balls Falls Festival to visit the waterfall, he said that this was the one time out of the year where Balls Falls was not free, and we’d have to pay for it. In any case, we were there at 10:40am.
The admission price was $6 per adult so our visit to the falls would be $12 total. Tahia was free.
And the first thing we noticed as we paid the admission and got our hands stamped was that we were walking into an old fashioned country fair. Indeed, we could see the plethora of tents (of people selling food, wares, having performances, etc.), lots of exhibits from barns to old machinery, and even live music.
It was a very festive atmosphere (as it was supposed to be), and it was pretty much like the Renaissance Fair or the Orange County Fair (something that we’d be more familiar with) except this revolved around a legitimate natural attraction instead of being set in a parking lot or out in the middle of nowhere.
In fact, I thought I saw some signage saying the proceeds from this fair would go towards some kind of Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority effort. I guess that was a pretty creative way to raise revenue to keep places like this preserved and available to the public.
One confusing thing about having this big festival was that it masked an otherwise easily accessible conservation area and park (or at least that was how the literature painted the picture in my head). Thus, what would’ve been straightforward parking and walking paths to the view of the falls all of the sudden became a bit of a maze to walk through a plethora of stalls and side streets to find the falls.
After asking someone at the info tent where the falls was (she said there were two of them, but pointed us in the correct direction once we showed her a picture of one of the brochures already in her tent), we headed towards the bridge crossing over creek responsible for Balls Falls.
We eventually crossed over that bridge then went onto the Bruce Trail with its white hashes. But I started to get a little confused when this trail didn’t seem to yield the views we were after and that it seemed to lead away from the waterfall itself. Were we missing something?
Did we have to go to the bottom for a better view of this waterfall?
Something didn’t seem right as it seemed like we were the only ones hunting for this waterfall. Out of all the people visiting the Balls Falls Fair, surely there must be quite a few people checking out this waterfall, right?
Anyways, when it became apparent that the trail to get to the bottom of the gorge was quite overgrown (with lots of poison ivy exposure), I told Julie to bring Tahia back up and wait for me somewhere near the bridge where I could find her. I was going to continue following this trail to see where it led to and whether it would improve the view of Balls Falls.
It turned out that a trail of use fronted by pairs of white hashes led me to a very overgrown and hard-to-see path where I doubted whether I could continue as there were a couple of signs saying to stay back from the steep escarpment.
And when I continued back on the main part of the Bruce Trail, it was clear that this wouldn’t lead me to a better view of Balls Falls. But when I was heading back and ready to declare defeat, I noticed there was a somewhat obvious unmarked path that I managed to follow towards the bottom of the gorge near the creek.
It was encouraging that there were some blue blazes this time on the descent, but once I was down at the bottom, it wasn’t obvious where I should go next. And as I surveyed the terrain, it was clear that I had to somehow scramble my way upstream, but the path was practically overgrown and invisible. Yet now that I took the trouble to get down here, I mind as well try to figure out a way to get to the base view of Balls Falls.
It was a bit of a struggle, and I kept thinking to myself that there was no way this was the way to do the falls. The literature never made it sound like it was difficult. Yet here I was brushing through lots of foliage (some of which I was sure was poison ivy), and I ultimately got a partial view of the base of the falls.
After some more searching to improve the viewing, I gave up as the trail just kept going through thick foliage, molded logs, and hidden moss-covered rocks concealing gaps that might be treacherous dropoffs underneath.
So I was just content to document the falls from my somewhat OK view from the base, but I kept thinking to myself that this much trouble for this view of the falls totally was not worth it. Plus, it took longer than expected to get here so Julie and Tahia must be bored waiting for me up there.
As I was scrambling back towards the tree trunks with blue blazes, I got confused as to where I was supposed to regain the trail and ascend back up to the top of the escarpment. The one tree I did find near the creek that had a blue blaze on it didn’t seem to have a follow up one within sight.
So I scrambled around hoping I might stumble into the correct trail, but after what seemed like an eternity of ascending then descending then ascending then descending without finding the right trail, I was getting worried that I was lost and that I might have to do some daring scrambling on this steep terrain to find my way back to the Bruce Trail.
Fortunately, reason won out enough for me to go back down to the bottom but scramble sideways (instead of up), and I eventually picked up on the trail that I had taken down in the first place. Probably 40 minutes or more had passed since I last left Julie and Tahia behind. But now I knew that I would at least get back to the Balls Falls Fair where the rest of the action was taking place on this day.
When I was back up at the top, I saw a couple of parking attendants and they told me that the folks I was looking for went behind them and towards the inflatable play things there. That was when I found Julie reading her Kindle while letting Tahia play alone in one of the inflatable things.
Julie was telling me how Tahia was quite the fearless daredevil as she quickly went up and down some large inflatable slides twice in a row. As I looked at the size of the drop of these slides, I wondered how someone not even three years old could do that.
It took us some time to try to convince Tahia that it was time to go. But she was just having way too much fun inside on of those caged bouncy inflatable play things where no adult was inside. It was just Tahia and one other kid with a staff person at the small entrance. I wasn’t sure adults could even fit in there, which was why no one else but those two kids were inside.
Tahia was very upset when she finally left the contraption.
Anyways, now that we were finally reunited, we headed towards the real lookout for Balls Falls, which actually turned out to be less than a couple minutes walk on the opposite side of the creek that we were at in the first place!
Sure enough, there were dozens of people crowding the stone wall keeping us back from the dropoff. But the view from here (although somewhat awkward and partially overgrown) was definitely as good if not better than the struggle I went through to even get a view of the falls from the bottom.
It was one of those things where if we had found this lookout first, I would’ve never tried the scramble to the base, and it would’ve saved us at least one hour or more. However, the flip side to my pain was that Tahia got to spend time playing on slides. So certainly she gained from my pain.
We’d have a lunch from one of the trucks where we ordered a pulled port slider as well as a pulled pork poutine (though they might’ve gotten our order wrong as our poutine was nothing more than gravy and cheese without any pulled pork).
It wasn’t much food, but it probably would hold us over until dinner time.
At 12:55pm, we were back at the car. Given how much time we spent here unexpectedly, I decided against finding Upper Balls Falls. Again, since the fair concealed what was where under normal circumstances, I completely forgot that we could’ve walked through the other side of the fair to get there in some 20 minutes or so. But now that we were back at the car, we weren’t going to bother.
Once again, the GPS had us go in directions that weren’t possible given the road closures. We ultimately followed a path that took us right back into traffic and the entrance of the Balls Falls Festival again, but we then went forward onto another highway, but that highwa passed through yet another festival in some town. And so there was even more traffic there.
After what seemed like forever, we ultimately made it to the QEW (I think it means Queens Expressway), which was ultimately some kind of freeway that connected Toronto with Niagara Falls.
We’d eventually get off at one of the exits in the suburbs of Hamilton, and we then followed a one-way street through several traffic lights until we eventually arrived at the Staybridge Inn in downtown Hamilton at 1:55pm.
Our impressions of driving through the city was that it seemed kind of run down in most of the places we walked through. It definitely lacked the charm we saw in Quebec’s cities. And I could see what the border patrol guard meant when he cynically told me Hamilton was known as the City of Steel.
We saw plenty of liquor stores at street corners (typically a sign of a rundown area), graffiti, and overall just a much grungier feel than the other Canadian cities we’ve visited on this trip.
Perhaps I was starting to be glad that Julie had mistakenly booked us for two nights in Toronto instead of three nights in Hamilton as originally planned. Sure it wasn’t strategic logistically, but at least we had read good things about Toronto and we’d at least have a shot at experiencing that city before heading back to New York.
After getting settled in our room (Julie swore that the receptionist reminded her of Claire Danes) at 2:10pm, it wasn’t until about 2:35pm when we finally headed back out to at least visit one or two waterfalls in the Hamilton area. After all, if Hamilton billed itself as the City of Waterfalls, surely we’d have to see for ourselves.
And with rain being predicted tomorrow, for sure we had to get in as much as we could this afternoon.
First up was Albion Falls. The GPS had us go on a bunch of surface streets. So even though it was less than 10km from where we were staying in downtown Hamilton to the falls, it still wasn’t until 2:55pm when we finally arrived at what we thought was the correct car park for Albion Falls.
When we got out of the car, we had to cross Mountain Brow Blvd (though our book said something about Mud Street) from its junction with Arbour Rd. There was a lot of fast moving traffic on this curvaceous road with potentially blind turns so we had to be patient before we could cross the road.
And once we finally made it across, we saw that there were trail closure signs and barricades immediately before us. I knew this was a bummer because it must’ve been the path leading to the base of Albion Falls. Yet even with this closure (which apparently started in August 2013; again, just our luck), we saw numerous people ignore the barricades and continue.
I took a mental note to join them after Julie, Tahia, and I followed the official trail some 220 yards to towards another car park for Albion Falls. However, there was a wedding party taking wedding photos here so we didn’t want to get in their way.
We eventually got to a pair of overlooks with a very substandard view of the falls through breaks in the foliage and somewhat against the sun. The falls were distant and in shadow, and it definitely left us wanting more.
When we had our fill of these views (and Tahia was done interacting with someone her size who was part of the wedding party), Julie and Tahia headed back to the car while I’d go get better views of Albion Falls.
The first thing I noticed when I returned to the closure area was that new trails were blazed that circumvented the barricade and stairs. So right off the bat, I could see that the closure didn’t have its intended effect. Moreover, there were easily dozens if not tens of dozens of people at the bottom. Certainly this trail wasn’t that bad, was it?
So I went down and I could see the terrain was somewhat steep and slippery (muddy), but it was in no way as difficult as the Balls Falls base scramble that I did earlier in the day.
Eventually, I got to the base and joined the dozens of other people that were already down here. There were many others armed with tripods so I knew we were all in the right place to take photographs as the falls was now completely in shadow though the very top was still getting the last of the afternoon sun.
As I was soaking in the atmosphere of this place on this busy Saturday, I could see that other people scrambled to seemingly crazy spots higher up on the waterfall. I overheard someone talking about whether the trail closure might have had something to do with injuries and/or fatalities here.
I probably spent another 45 minutes or so just trying to use the tripod that I brought to take long exposure photos of this very textured waterfall that just seemed very pleasing to the camera.
When I had my fill of Albion Falls from its base, I then returned to the top where I next followed the Bruce Trail towards a spur that led to a top down view of Albion Falls and road bridge from the opposite side of the gorge.
I got a few more shots of the falls from this unusual (and probably more sanctioned than the closed off path to the base) access, and then I returned to Julie and Tahia at 4:10pm.
With still enough daylight left to do one more waterfall, we targeted Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. So we followed the GPS towards the pre-trip waypoint of this waterfall, and eventually arrived there at 4:35pm.
This one also had a well-established car park with some self-help pay kiosk as people were supposed to pay for parking here.
I started off by getting out of the car while Julie and Tahia were getting ready. And it didn’t take long before I quickly saw and realized that Devil’s Punchbowl Falls wasn’t flowing very well (at least not well enough to see it in photographs clearly).
However, there was a viewing area that looked out over Hamilton and Lake Ontario. And from seeing the smoke stacks in the distance and a lot of industrial buildings within the city itself, that really gave me a greater appreciation for why the former moniker of the City of Steel was applied to the city of Hamilton.
We were aware that tourism officials were busy trying to re-brand Hamilton as the City of Waterfalls, but so far only Albion Falls was worth the trouble, and it involved going past a trail closure to get the satisfactory experience. The rest were pretty ho-hum and involved a lot of wild goose chases to improve views.
After all of us had our fill of the overlook (since the falls really wasn’t much to linger about) at 5:05pm, we returned to the Staybridge in Hamilton downtown at 5:45pm. And so there’d be no more waterfalling on this day knowing that we’d probably have to do some more waterfalling in Hamilton tomorrow under rainy weather before driving to Toronto to check in over there.
At 6:50pm, we walked from our room into town and checked out Hess Village under the recommendation of the receptionist. However, after strolling through there, we were surprised to see that just about all of the joints in this little square were dead, even for a Saturday night like today!
So we ultimately walked over to an Indian Buffet place just a few minutes walk from the Staybridge and stuffed ourselves silly will all sorts of curried meats, butter chicken, veggie curries, etc.
It was simple, pretty tasty, and it didn’t cost us an arm-and-a-leg unlike other dinners we’d been having on this trip.
We were back in the room before 8pm, and we called it a day as we had the remaining hours of this day left to unwind and perhaps sleep in a little bit tomorrow knowing that we might not have to hunt as many waterfalls tomorrow as anticipated going into this trip…
Day 19: THE RECURRING THEME OF HAMILTON WATERFALLS
It was 8am when I awoke. Julie and Tahia had gotten up well before I did. Actually, it was Tahia who recognized the 7am alarm from my watch when she said, “That’s an alarm!”
I guess all those consecutive nights of 5 or 6 hours of sleep or less continued to take their toll on me so the extra hour of sleep for me from the planned wake-up was certainly welcome. I figured we were light on activities today anyways when I recognized that we weren’t going to hunt down all of Hamilton’s main waterfalls given what we saw yesterday.
So after getting packed and taking a couple of trips to the garage downstairs to load up the car, we then had a nice breakfast that included some waffle maker, which made Julie happy. That along with bagels, eggs, bacon, fruits, and some pastries made this probably one of the better included breakfasts on this trip in a while.
So it wasn’t until 10am when we were finally leaving the Staybridge in downtown Hamilton. And we were leaving to some heavily overcast skies while the skies were on-and-off rain.
First up on our agenda today was to visit Felker’s Falls, which in hindsight, we probably should’ve visited yesterday given its proximity to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls as well as Albion Falls. But in any case, this time we took the Lincoln Alexander Highway east and then got off at the familiar Mud Street.
We then turned left on Paramount Drive which entered some suburban neighborhood where there were some local corner shops as well as a school. We took this street towards Acland Street which then led us to a neighborhood park in suburbia.
It was easy enough to find even though there were no Felker’s Falls signs until we got to the car park itself at 10:20am. Yet it was an instance where the GPS routing was on once we made it to Mud Street.
The rain had let up when we arrived at the car park so we went ahead and just started walking without bringing waterproof gear.
At first, we thought the views of the falls were straight ahead from the car park. However, when we managed to see the falls from there, the views were mostly overgrown and blocked so there were only pieces of the falls we could see. They were terrible for photographs.
However, I did notice some opening on the opposite side of the gorge, and I figured that there must be a way there, especially since I had seen plenty of photos from the literature showing the falls from that side of the gorge.
I figured it was yet another example of how the safer and more benign views of the falls ended up being subpar while the best views were either closed, dangerous, or not all that obvious (especially from the lack of signage). Thus, the temptation was great to look for a better view.
So we continued walking on a paved path which generally parallel the creek responsible for Felker’s Falls. Then, the paved path stopped being paved as we crossed over a bridge going above the creek we had been walking besides.
Then, we kept left at each of the other intersections we saw immediately after the bridge, and we then followed white blazes (part of the Bruce Trail) where we’d eventually get to the sought after overlook.
Unfortunately, there were no guardrails at this vantage point so we made sure to keep a tight grip on Tahia so she wouldn’t get anywhere near the dropoffs along the trail. In the mean time, we tried to take advantage of the much improved vantage point though the light flow of the falls compelled us to take long exposure photos even though we didn’t carry a tripod on this walk.
Once we had our fill of this falls, we walked back towards the car and got there at 11:05am. It was a fairly short and straightforward visit. And the weather still cooperated as we knew that the forecast called for rain all day long today.
Next, we drove towards Webster’s Falls. We went back on the Lincoln Alexander Highway, then took another freeway due north before getting off the freeway to get onto the Hwy 6, and then onto the Hwy 5.
From there, we followed the GPS, which put us on some local streets when we saw a sign for Tew’s Falls and its car park. There were a pair of ladies waiting at a kiosk ready to collect the parking fee of $10 per vehicle per day.
So we paid the money (which was also good for the Webster’s Falls car park), then parked in the adjacent lot at 11:40am. We figured that since Tew’s Falls was already here, we mind as well visit this waterfall before continuing on to Webster’s Falls.
It turned out that the walk to the vantage point for Tew’s Falls was very straightforward. From the car park, we followed a well-established path towards a junction before a footbridge. That junction involved a trail that came from the Webster’s Falls connecting trail, but we knew there was a separate car park for that waterfall so there was no need for us to walk this connecting trail.
Once we crossed the footbridge, there was another junction. This time the fork going left went towards Dundas Peak, which we weren’t going to do given the subpar weather. And just a few more paces of walking straight ahead, we were on a lookout platform with a direct view of Tew’s Falls.
This was one of the few instances in Hamilton where we were able to get a satisfactory viewing experience with the falls from the official and relatively safe paths instead of risking life and limb on an alternate view.
This tall plunging waterfall was also accompanied by some gorgeous Fall colors near the falls’ top. And so we took a few family shots while also trying to take long exposure photos of the falls.
We lingered here for quite some time until a larger Chinese group came up. That was our cue to leave. And so we headed back to the car and got there at 12:05pm.
Five minutes later, we had followed the Harvest Road to Short Road, which then curved to become Fallsview Road. It was on this road that we found the kiosk and large car park for Webster’s Falls.
After showing our already-paid-for pass, we then proceeded to park the car and immediately head towards the nearest views of Webster’s Falls, which we could already hear as soon as we had left the car.
As we walked the wide and well-established paved path, which followed some fences and was also flanked by a wide lawn area, we saw the Webster’s Falls from the Dobson-McKee Lookout.
The view from this spot was pretty nice, but it still left a bit to be desired. I would have given it a 4 or at least a 3.5, but this view was missing something so I’d probably give it a 3.
However, as we proceeded further along the paved path beyond the Dobson-McKee Lookout, we saw that all blue-blazed paths descending closer into the gorge or at least providing a better viewpoint were closed. In one instance, the fence blocked off the unprotected direct viewpoint of the falls, but we couldn’t get this view ourselves thanks to the closure infrastructure.
As we were about to head towards the bridge spanning the creek, there was a Hamilton cop who walked by us and continued walking into the bush area near where the blue blazes and trail blockades were noticed. He seemed to look into the gorge to see if anyone rebelled against the trail closures. So I took these acts and observations to mean that at least one place in Hamilton actually enforced the trail closures (unlike the Albion Falls).
Good thing I didn’t persist on rebelling at this place.
Anyways, we lingered a little while longer at the Dobson-McKee Lookout, but it was around this time that Tahia was running on the concrete path and fell forward and cut up her lip as well as bumped her forehead. I heard the thud and I knew it was a pretty bad fall, but I guess Tahia had to learn one way or another regarding her not running and being more careful.
Next, we walked in the other direction and crossed over a stone bridge over the top of Webster’s Falls. We could see from the bridge that further upstream were some lawns and picnic tables. Meanwhile on the other side of the bridge, there was another viewing area of a partial view of the brink of Webster’s Falls.
There was some fences blocking off access to the so-called Stairway Trail, which apparently would’ve led us down to the base of the gorge for a different look at Webster’s Falls. But this trail was also closed.
Indeed, it just reinforced the theme of Hamilton’s Waterfalls of subpar experiences due to closures or dangerous risks. So all those photos seen in the literature to lure us (or other would be visitors) to the so-called Waterfall Capital of the World were really misleading.
It kind of left a very unsatisfying taste in our mouths as we had our fill of what we were able to do at this place and headed back to the car.
I guess I could understand what the authorities here were trying to accomplish by slowing down the rate of erosion from visitation. However, there didn’t seem to be the infrastructure to improve the visitation experience that other more established places that charged admission fees have had. So that was also kind of a bummer and gave us the feeling of being shortchanged.
I had high hopes of seeing Webster’s Falls and wondering if it was like another Huangguoshu Waterfall, but the one in China was still way better than this one, and the subpar visitation experience further made it less than even some of the other waterfalls we had seen on this trip. Even the Tew’s Falls experience was probably better than the Webster’s Falls experience.
At 1pm, we were back at the car park. A Hamilton cop was driving in his squad car, and when he was trying to entertain Tahia with the siren lights, apparently Tahia was only paying attention to the cop and not so much the lights. Oh well, the cop tried.
It started to sprinkle when we got into the car, but as we drove back towards the intersection of the Hwy 5 and 6 where there was a Target, the rain was starting to come down harder. We made a stop at the Target at 1:20pm so Julie could pick up some stuff. And while she was doing that, I was seeing if there was another waterfall I could squeeze in before heading over to Toronto.
And as Julie finally got back to the car some 30 minutes later, I decided to make a short run to the nearby Borer’s Falls. By 2:10pm, we were at the Rock Chapel car park, and when I got out of the car, it was raining.
However, as I was about to start the hike solo with rain poncho on, the rain let up and I really didn’t need it anymore though I was still wearing it as I was on the Escarpment Trail.
The trail followed the Rock Chapel Road except in a couple of spots where the trail was on the road itself to get around road bridges or other spots where it was unsafe to continue parallel to the road (due to the proximity of the dropoffs).
The Escarpment Trail was narrow and a bit muddy thanks to the rain. I was in Chacos with socks off so I didn’t mind my feet getting a little dirty, but I did have to be a little cautious with the footing due to the slippery mud.
Eventually after the second road coincident section, the Escarpment Trail turned towards an opening flanking high shrubs and just a few paces further, I was at an established overlook with a nice view of Borer’s Falls.
The viewing experience for this falls was similar to Tew’s Falls and they were quite similar in shape. However, Borer’s Falls was a bit shorter and lighter flowing plus it had a bit more overgrowth whereas the Tew’s Falls view was quite wide open.
I did my best to take long exposure photos of Borer’s Falls thanks to its relatively light flow (probably revived by the rains of today) without a tripod. And then I headed back to Julie and Tahia who were waiting in the car (actually Tahia was napping).
And by 2:40pm, I was back at the car.
We made one last stop at a Wal-mart (almost across the Hwy 5 from Target) so we could pick up some groceries (perhaps our final run of this trip), and then we drove on the QEW towards Toronto.
The 45-minute drive was fairly fluid so sluggish in spots due to the heavy rains and the volume of traffic. Actually, the QEW going in the other direction was even more congested, and it made me wonder if two days from now, we should get as early a start as possible to minimize our exposure to delays from such traffic.
Speaking of delays, we also learned that much of the subway system downtown would be closed while we were there. That was a real bummer. Plus, we finally figured out from watching Canadian TV that this weekend happened to be their Thanksgiving weekend so Monday (tomorrow) would also be a holiday. We wondered if that might cause a lot of closures for tomorrow.
Nonetheless, it was about 4:10pm when we finally arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Toronto. It was raining quite hard at the time.
We found the parking structure beneath the hotel, and saw that we would have to pay some $27 for the day/evening parking max. After finding a spot in the mostly empty car park, we then lugged the luggage through the Convention Center and down into the entrance and lobby for the Intercontinental Hotel.
Julie managed to get us upgraded due to the Ambassador membership bought last December for the Tahiti trip, and we got into our room at 4:45pm, which looked right at the famous CN Tower.
For the rest of the evening, we got settled, just vegged for a bit while watching more Canadian TV, and made one dinner run at 7pm by walking quite a ways to a dumpling house in Chinatown (probably 20-30 minutes walk from downtown Toronto to Chinatown).
The night time walking made Julie uneasy, but we persevered and had the relatively cheap dinner (if you could call a $36 cash dinner cheap).
Julie then hailed a cab where we paid the $10 fare + tip back to the Intercontinental. And we were back in the room by 8:50pm. The top of the CN Tower was still covered in low clouds, but as it got past 10pm, it appeared the clouds were lifting and we could finally see its top from our room.
Hopefully the weather would let up for tomorrow where we expected to spend the better part of the day touring the best of Toronto (at least the best of what we could do that was still open; the St Lawrence Market was not), and that included going up the CN Tower as well as catching a ferry to an island on Lake Ontario with a view of the Toronto skyline.
Day 20: THANKSGIVING DAY IN TORONTO
It wasn’t until 7:50am when I awoke. Once again, I took the opportunity to sleep on since I had a feeling that we really didn’t have a set itinerary today. Besides, there were fewer things to see since Canada was celebrating its Thanksgiving on this day (and that included the closure of the St Lawrence Market).
The first thing I noticed when I awoke was that the weather outside was clear. Yes!
I was a bit late for sunrise, and the buildings were reflecting the morning sun.
Nonetheless, the clear weather allowed me to take a few morning photos of the CN Tower from right outside our hotel room. However, the tower was still tall enough that I had to point the camera way up in order to photograph the apex of it.
It wasn’t until about 9:30am when we finally started to go downstairs from our room to start touring the town. We were really taking our time to prepare for the day.
However, Julie was in the mood to catch a breakfast and she saw a Second Cup place as we were walking towards the CN Tower. So it wasn’t until about 9:50am when we were finally waiting in line to purchase the ticket for going up the skyscraper.
We knew from the TripAdvisor reviews that the experience would be a rip off, but we figured that since we were in Toronto, we mind as well do it, especially since the St Lawrence Market was closed.
We had feared long lines and sure enough, we had to spend at least 15-20 minutes just on waiting to purchase the tickets and another 10 minutes to go up the elevator. But once we were up there, the first thing we went for was the glass floor.
And when we got there, we noticed how many people were hesitant to walk on it. Even Tahia had limits to her fearlessness as she was gingerly taking steps on the glass. Actually, the glass floor was a very limited space, and it was nothing like the experience we had when we went up the tall tower in Shanghai (which I understood was actually based on improving on the CN Tower experience).
Next, we walked around the perimeter of the tower which was open-air except there were protective fences keeping people from falling over (while also getting in the way of taking photos through them).
So we didn’t linger here for too long.
We then walked up the stairs to the Belvedere where there were glass windows on about 60% of the circumference of the lookout area. The rest of it were either staff areas or the Horizon Restaurant, which we wanted no part of.
I recalled overhearing some staffer offering window photos that were edited. I guess this place was really opportunistic about ripping you off. And they weren’t bashful or shameful about doing it, either!
By 11:15am, we were done with the tower. And when we made it back to the bottom, we saw that the line to go up had gotten much longer.
Next, we walked in the direction of the Steam Whistle Brewing Company where there were a bunch of locomotive relics. While we were taking a few people shots there, Tahia then noticed there was a playground with slides. So of course she headed in that direction, and as we were there, we were far enough from the tower to start taking terrestrial photos of it as the massive tower was backed by clear blue skies.
After having our fill of Tahia playing at the playground, we started walking towards the ferry where we could go towards the Center Island of Toronto Island. However, we got a little sidetracked when Julie wanted to have lunch as it was lunch time.
We were drawn by the activity that was going on around the Harbourfront Centre where there was a live band playing a bunch of John Mayer songs while there were a lot of children running around on some kind of astroturf grassy thing (which was soft) surrounded by picnic tables.
Julie picked up a pair of pulled pork sandwiches (that turned out to be disgusting and overpriced), but at least we were soaking in the ambience of the scene, which we’d imagine was one of those Thanksgiving in Canada moments. Our short lunch took place at 12:05pm.
Then, we walked quite a ways from the West Quay towards the ferry station. It wasn’t until about 12:55pm when we purchased the tickets at $7 per adult and $3.50 for Tahia to go on the boat. We ended up boarding the 1pm ferry (though they were going back and forth every half-hour), and by about 1:25pm, we finally made it to Toronto Island.
During the ferry ride, we were getting the famous Toronto skyline photos fronted by Lake Ontario. However, by this time, clouds had shown up and so the color of the scene that was once so vibrant and well-contrasted were quite muted and shadowy at this time.
We managed to take the skyline photos from both the ferry as well as from the island itself near the ferry dock.
After that photo activity, we were then meandering aimlessly about the island through a closed-for-the-season amusement park (that would’ve been perfect for Tahia), then watching duck and geese looking for handouts from passerbys, and then walking to the beach on the far side of the island.
Then, we let Tahia play a little more in another children’s playground where we were playing on a see-saw as well as letting her do some more climbing and sliding.
Finally we caught the 3pm ferry where we managed to take a few more Toronto Skyline photos. At least at this time, the lighting was a bit more improved though the clouds still persisted.
When we landed, we then walked north on Bay St in search of Union Station since the welcome literature from the Intercontinental Hotel recommended it.
But when we got there at 3:30pm, the outside facade of the Union Station was covered up in flame retardant while the surrounding area was an ugly mess of construction work. It was kind of reminiscent of our experience in Shanghai when most of it was a construction mess as they were preparing for the Asia Expo the following year in 2010.
Inside the Union Station, the interior was grand in the sense that it had a very tall ceiling and was kind of a mini-representation of New York’s Central Station. However, it was an OK experience as we spent just a few minutes before we continued on Front Street back to the Intercontinental Hotel.
So with that, we got back to our room at 3:55pm. With all that did and didn’t happen, we couldn’t say it was the total Toronto experience, but we did feel like we got the general flavor of the city. Who knows when we’ll be back to perhaps do the very things that we missed on this trip.
At 5:20pm we headed back down for a dinner nearby the hotel. We ended up choosing the Canyon Creek Chophouse because it was the only place that was open while the Joe Badali’s place was closed (probably for Thanksgiving).
The experience reminded us of a Houston’s but not as good. It was as expensive, however. We probably spent most of the time trying to keep Tahia from causing trouble whether it was putting a rubber band in her mouth or trying to prevent her from spilling water and ice, or trying to get into the salt and pepper. Whatever the risk, you can bet she would’ve tested it.
At 7:05pm, we were back in our room to call it a day. We could see that the CN Tower was now lit up as the sun had already set behind the horizon and the night sky was in twilight. So we kept the room lights closed to try our shot at photographing the CN Tower from inside our room without a tripod.
And that was that as far as our Toronto experience was concerned. With this being our last full day in Canada, we’d be back on the road tomorrow. We’ll see if we would be able to fit in both Letchworth State Park and Watkins Glen tomorrow. It would all depend on how soon we could leave Toronto (perhaps beating the rush hour traffic), then getting through the border at Niagara Falls before we’d continue the roadie towards Watkins Glen…
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