Ontario is home to many beautiful and interesting sights – including several waterfalls! I never realized how many stunning hikes, viewpoints, and waterfalls we had in this province until the pandemic. You could call the past year and a half a bit of a blessing in disguise, learning about and visiting some local highlights (and a few hidden gems).
Grey County stretches from 2 hours north of Toronto in Mount Forest to just north of Owen Sound in Wiarton and Big Bay, and is a part of the Georgian Triangle in Southwestern Ontario. It’s a decent-sized stretch of land, and if you’re like me and like to putter around when exploring or stop at everything you see along the side of the road, I’d highly suggest taking a weekend to complete the Grey County Waterfall Tour. Heck, even if you’re not a slowpoke traveller, I’d still suggest taking a couple of days so that you can soak in all of the beautiful sights!
Below you’ll find all of the details I’ve compiled for you on the Grey County Waterfall Tour, with a surprise treat at the end for planning your own travels. Happy reading and happy adventuring!
1. Holstein Dam
Holstein Dam is located in a tiny family-friendly village that loves a celebration. They host several events known throughout Grey County, such as the Holstein Maplefest, Holstein Rodeo Expo, and Holstein Non-Motorized Santa Claus Parade. If you love maple syrup, then make sure to plan your trip for April when Maplefest is going on. You’ll be able to stock up on oodles of maple goodies while enjoying a variety of events, including a fire performer, a dog show, and a birds of prey show. Later in the year the Rodeo Expo features sheep shearing, weaving, and a spinning demonstration, along with other participatory activities. If you enjoy winter road trips, the wholesome Non-Motorized Santa Claus Parade takes place during the second week of December and is free and perfect for families.
To get to the historic Holstein Dam Falls, head to Jubilee Park downtown by the mill pond on Norman Reeves Creek. Parking is free and the lot is only a short walk from the waterfall. Jubilee Park is open for 3 seasons – spring, summer, and fall. Pets are welcome, as long as they’re on a leash, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy from families to couples to individuals. There are plenty of amenities, including picnic tables and a pavilion, a baseball diamond, kids’ playground, trails, the dam and mill pond, and viewing areas for the waterfall. Water lovers can access the water in canoes, kayaks, fishing boats, or along the banks. Fishing enthusiasts will also see that the pond is stocked with Bass, Perch, and Brook Trout.
The entrance to the park is the best place to enjoy the waterfall. If you like to leave the crowd behind, walk to the old railway trail bridge that crosses the dam and peek over the bridge for a different perspective.
If you’re wanting to spend a little time checking out the village of Holstein, I’d encourage you to seek out a few spots in particular. There’s the Live Iron Forge, which has a shop and a working studio. There’s also the Holstein General Store, and my personal favourite, the Old Schoolhouse Gallery where the interesting and friendly owner Bob will fill your ears with stories and your mind with thought-provoking photographs.
2. McGowan Falls
Along the Saugeen River in the Durham Conservation Area, the 3-metre-high and approximately 15-metre wide McGowan Falls steadily flows. It’s a dammed waterfall originating from the mid-1800s when the first sawmill, and later a flour mill and woolen mill, were built. The 200+ trailer and tent campsites, swimming beach, volleyball net, games of horseshoes, fishing and hiking, and a picnic area are a wonderful spot for families, pet owners, and nature lovers alike to enjoy. The conservation area is open each year between April and Thanksgiving, as well as for day-use visitors. The waterfall is fairly accessible since it’s quite close to the parking lot, which is free.
While the dam was originally created to function with the mills it powered, today it acts as a recreational dam and provides flood control for the conservation area. Frazil ice has proven very hazardous in Durham winters causing severe flooding and subsequent damage. Sticky ice fragments bind together, quickly building up in the bottom of the river, thus blocking the natural flow of the water. Unsurprisingly, it causes quite the wintry mess.
A unique feature of the woollen mill is that it produced electricity for Durham’s residents at the end of the 1800s. For $1 per light bulb per household, citizens could light their homes. It was the son of mill owner Robert McGowan who convinced his father and father’s business partner to produce electricity. What a bright idea! (Sorry, I had to!)
Hikers have a few trails to choose from, which range in difficulty and length. Up until 1913 the 0.7km Gunpit Trail loop soundscape was peppered musket shots from rifle drills along the river flats. The Riverview Trail is the longest at 2.7km, beginning at Pinewood Campground and following the Saugeen River into the Town of Durham. A third option is the Cedar Ridge Trail. It’s great for a leisurely stroll and during the winter is accessible with snowshoes and cross-country skis!
3. Eugenia Falls
A massive abandoned turbine tunnel, a gold rush, and a nose… What do these three seemingly unrelated things have in common? They can all be traced back to Eugenia Falls in Grey County’s Eugenia village. Let me rewind a little here.
William Hogg had grand plans to harness the power of Eugenia Falls in the late 1800s with an electrical plant. He had some success, sending power to a chopping mill and the villages of Eugenia and nearby Flesherton. Unfortunately he passed away at the turn of the century. In came the Georgian Bay Power Company who purchased the land and power rights to the falls. A massive 264 metre long by 2.5 metre wide turbine tunnel was constructed – no small feat, considering it ran through rock. Finally completed in 1907, it was almost immediately abandoned because the construction company had siphoned GBPC’s cashflow and they had to declare bankruptcy. Talk about a rocky start. (I’m on a roooooll!)
Speaking of rocks, prior to any abandoned turbines there was the infamous Eugenia gold rush in the mid-19th century. Apparently Famer Brownlee was out hunting one day and followed the sound of rushing water. Wild guess as to what he found? Surprise! It was the stunning Eugenia Falls. He shared the news and returned with some neighbours. While the group was taking in the scene, they noticed a glimmer on the rocks near the falls. Swearing each other to secrecy about the suspected treasure, they returned undercover to extract the gold. However, word got out and before they knew it, 200 other men had joined the gold fever rush. A mere 3 weeks later their hopes came crashing down. Their riches were worthless. It was all “fool’s gold”.
Today, Eugenia celebrates the Gold Rush Days with a festival by the same name each summer. There are fishing derby’s, community breakfasts, local merchants, children’s games, beverage tents, live music, and more. If only every major mistake was celebrated with a festival!
Eugenia Falls Conservation Area is 23 hectares of cliffs, rivers, and forest and also happens to be a part of the Niagara Escarpment. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the park year-round with all-season trails that are great for hiking, walking, and snow-shoeing.
The stunning 30-metre waterfall will captivate you from the moment you hear the rushing water. The falls are open from sun-up to sun-down and staff on-site to provide information and guidance until 6pm. In Google Maps, enter the address County Road 13, Eugenia, Ontario N0C 1E0, or simply open the Grey County Waterfall Tour map I’ve created for you below. Parking is $10 and payable by app, calling a phone number, or by visiting MackayPay and printing off the ticket. From the parking lot, there’s a short 5-10 minute leisurely walk to reach the lookout point. During the winter access is closed for safety, as is the base of the falls. Keep in mind that this is a very popular destination in Grey County and that it may be difficult to keep a 6-foot distance between visitors on the path. You’re going to absolutely love this stop!
4. Hoggs Falls
HOURS: Daily from dawn to dusk
Flesherton was such a treat to explore and I’ll be writing a blog post devoted solely to this artsy town in the near future. Sign up to my newsletter to get the heads up when it is published! The nearby Hoggs Falls is much smaller but still a pretty 7-metre waterfall. Similar to Eugenia Falls, it is also a part of the Niagara Escarpment. Flowing from the Boyne River a 2-minute walk from the town in Beaver Valley, it’s in a more secluded area. Hoggs Falls used to be known as “Little Falls” and is named after William Hogg (mentioned above). He built a sawmill upstream in the 1870s. The falls flow year-round and it could be neat to visit it once per season to see the difference. There is a short 3.7km loop trail of moderate difficulty to guide you through the woods as you hike or snowshoe your way around. Bruce Trail hikers will be happy to know it’s also a part of the renowned trail.
To get here, drive down Grey Road 4 until you reach East Back Line, then head north before quickly turning east onto Lower Valley Road. The Bruce Trail crosses the road a few times so be aware of hikers crossing the road. Parking is free and there’s a sign at the entrance. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to keep a 6-foot distance between visitors on the path. To get to the falls from the parking lot, walk about 5 minutes. Exercise caution however, because there are no fences or signs to guide you.
5. Indian Falls
This 15-metre high “bridal veil” horseshoe-shaped waterfall is perfect for a fun outing with family or friends, a romantic hike, or for solo adventurers. Though it’s much smaller, Indian Falls’ shape has led to it often being compared to Niagara Falls. Make sure you’ve got proper footwear for this “difficult” rated trail! Even though it’s only a quick 0.8km hike, the path is rocky and steep, and there is no barrier at the cliff edge. There are some stairs along the way, but not everywhere and they don’t all have railings. The trail begins under the sun and along the Indian River before heading up into the hilly forest. Follow the red tree markings to stay on the trail and enjoy the invigorating fresh air!
The flow of the falls tends to be lower in the late summer and early fall, but don’t let that dissuade you from venturing out there. It’s an excellent time to catch a glimpse of the unique shape left behind by the eroded Queenston shale. If there are any birders reading this, keep alert for downy woodpeckers that reside in the area. Parking is free and there are washrooms at the entrance to the trail. Due to covid, amenities may not be available so keep that in mind.
6. Jones Falls
Along the Pottawatomi River, the 12-metre Jones Falls waterfall leads to Owen Sound Bay. Head to the Pottawatomi Conservation area, a 116-hectares section of the Niagara Escarpment, to soak in this Grey County gem.
There’s a 4km walking and hiking loop trail along the Georgian Bluffs that is appropriate for all skill levels. It’s a great spot for families and you can bring your dog as long as it’s on a leash. Definitely bring bug spray, like you would for any hiking adventure, and wear proper footwear. Spring visitors will get to see all sorts of Ontario’s provincial flowers, the trillium, in bloom. There is a visitor centre, though it may not always be open during covid. Admission is free.
7. Inglis Falls
Unofficially dubbed the “best waterfall” in the Owen Sound area, Inglis Falls is a must-see in the Grey County Waterfall Tour. At 18-metres high it overlooks Owen Sound and on a clear day you can see the city and its harbour. The Sydenham River flows over the rocks and connects to the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve. Equally as satisfying as its geographical majesty is that it’s practically in downtown Owen Sound! Only 10 minutes away, it’s wild to think nature this rugged and beautiful is so close to a city centre. Early settlers referred to the roar of the rushing waters as the “northern Niagara”. Let me know what you think in the comments below after you visit!
To get to Inglis Falls, follow Highway 18 until you arrive at Inglis Falls Road, then turn right onto Falls Road. Open from sunrise to sunset, Inglis Falls is nestled in the massive 200-hectare Inglis Falls Conservation Area. There’s a small $10 entrance fee, which can be paid by app, phone, or with the on-site attendant. Dogs are also welcome, so long as they are on a leash. From the small parking lot it’s a very short and easy walk to the wavy stone walled viewing area. There are washrooms and a visitor centre, though I’d suggest checking the website during covid times to make sure everything is open. If you’re looking for a place to grab a bite or rest a little, there is a shaded picnic area opposite the falls and overlooking the peaceful river.
At the base of the falls there’s a deep gorge carved out by the crashing water. During drier months you might be able to catch a glimpse, but don’t bank on it.
Inglis Falls Conservation Area has over 7km of beautiful hiking and walking trails offering various levels of difficulty. It’s also popular with birdwatchers, and even has surprises for the history buffs! One of the area’s first settlers was Scotsman Peter Inglis. He helped establish Sydenham’s (today Owen Sound) beginning industries when he purchased 300 acres of Crown land and a small grist mill. In fact, you can visit the same grist mill today because it is the visitor centre. There are even a few of the original mill stones out front. Geologists will also love this area as they walk around the potholes left behind by ancient glaciers. Cool, eh!
Grey County Waterfall Tour Map
I’ve put together a map for you of the Grey County Waterfall Tour so that you can pull it up on your phone. Simply click on the …………….
Ontario 160 Adventures
If you love unusual sites, history, and nature, I think you’ll love the travel series I started in the summer of 2020. “Stuck” in Canada I quickly found a new travel project to keep me busy and learning much more than I anticipated. Visit the Unusual Ontario page to take a gander, and maybe you’ll end up adding a few new destinations to your bucket list!