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Adventures With B: Lion’s Head Loop via Bruce Trail Hike

One of the best and most scenic hiking trails in Ontario

Photo by: Brandon Pullan

Lion’s Head Loop via Bruce Trail is a 16-kilometre loop trail on Bruce Peninsula in Ontario that gets a lot of traffice during peak hiking season. It’s located in the Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Preserve.

After 20 years of visiting Lion’s Head for the world-class rock climbing on the limestone cliffs, I decided to leave the gear in the car and hike the full loop.

The Bruce Trail is the oldest and longest continuous marked hiking trail in Canada. It has 300 different birds, 90 fish, 55 mammals, 36 amphibians and reptiles, and 100 plants. There’s a lot to see.

Most sites suggested the hike takes 4.5 hours, but I was able to complete 16.1 kilometres in two hours and 42 minutes. I was surprised that there was a total of nearly 500 metres of elevation gain, which is the same as the trail from Yamnuska’s parking to the base of the rock climbs.

Lion’s Head loop trail

This is one of the best hikes in Ontario, as it offers great views of turquoise waters from the top of 60-metre cliffs. The forested trail takes you over exposed rocks and roots to viewpoints and down to a round-stone beach.

On a clear day, you can see Cape Dundas, Barrier Island, White Bluff, Cape Chin and Cabot Head.

To start your hike, park your car at the Bruce Trail Parking Lot on McCurdy Drive Parkette, if you can. Hiking trails in Ontario were crazy busy this summer and the Lion’s Head parking area was full by sunrise. Traffic control turned everyone around to park in town, which added a short hike along a road to the start of the trail.

I drove to the town of Lion’s Head on Sept. 29 under cloudy skies and parked at Moore and Helen Street; I opted to longboard to the trailhead, which saved a total of a few minutes.

The trails are marked with blue and white blazes, but having been to the cliffs for rock climbing in the past, I followed what would be the climber’s trail. From there, I continued around the loop.

What much of the trail looks like

For the first 30 minutes, near the cliff-tops, I passed dozens of hikers, but around McKay’s Harbour there were only a few. The autumn colours made for a memorable stroll along Georgian Bay’s shorelines.

In 1960, Raymond Lowes and Robert Bateman discussed the idea of the trail at a meeting of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists. The first meeting of the Bruce Trail Committee was in 1960.

From 1960 to today, Escarpment landowners have been key to the existence of the Bruce Trail. Respecting landowners is key to the trail’s success. Regional Clubs were established by 1963. Each Club was responsible for organization, landowner approvals, construction and maintenance. The trail opened in 1967.

Lion’s Head loop trail

The Bruce Trail stretches 900 kilometres from Niagara to Tobermory and provides the only continuous public access to the Niagara Escarpment, which is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and has the oldest forest ecosystem and trees in eastern North America.

The Niagara Escarpment is home to dozens of rock climbing crags, which take adveantage of the exposed limestone cliffs. Be sure to check out Mount Nemo and Rattlesnake Point if you’re around Toronto.

In 2016, the Wild Bruce Chase, a team of 18 women, set the women’s relay fastest known time on the Bruce Trail in an end-to-end run in four days, one hour and 39 minutes. The fastest supported solo trip was by John Harrison Pockler in September nine days and 17 hours.

Until the mid-19th century, the area known as the Bruce Peninsula was territory controlled by the Saugeen Ojibway Nations. Oral history from Saugeen and Nawash suggests their ancestors have been there as early as 7,500 years ago.

The Bruce of the Bruce Trail refers to the Bruce Peninsula through which the northern-most section of the trail passes. The Bruce Peninsula and Bruce County are named for James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, who was Governor General of the Province of Canada from 1847 to 1854.

Lion’s Head holds a special place in my heart, for the amazing rock climbing and now for the world-class loop trail that I’ll be sure to take a lap of everytime I’m around.

Climbers at Lion’s Head

Lion’s Head Loop Gear

Proper footwear and socks
Hat and sunglasses
Water bottle
Layers: sweater or a rain jacket
A whistle
A headlamp
Insect repellent

The Bruce Trail Users’ Code

1. Hike only along marked routes. Do not take short cuts.
2. Do not climb fences. Use the stiles.
3. Respect the privacy of people living along the trail.
4. Leave the Trail cleaner than you found it. Carry out all litter.
5. No open fires are allowed on the Trail. Use a portable stove.
6. Camp only at designated camp sites.
7. Leave flowers and plants for other to enjoy.
8. Do not damage live trees or strip off bark.
9. Keep dogs on a leash and under control at all times.
10. Do not disturb wildlife.
11. Leave only your thanks and take nothing but photographs.
12. Obey all signs.

Lion’s Head trail

Other Adventures

Hiking Mount Harvey North of Vancouver
Animikii-wajiw “Mount McKay” in Thunder Bay
Hike, SUP and Fishing on Boom Lake
Hermit Meadows in Rogers Pass
Northwestern Ontario Paddle and Fish
Paddleboarding Historic Toronto-area River
Musky Fishing in Northwestern Ontario

About Adventures with B: My late friend Anna Smith, who lost her life Himalayan climbing, once said to me after an epic we had in Chamonix, where we got away unscathed: “Adventures with B are messy and unplanned but always fun.” This column will focus on skiing, hiking, SUPing, paddling, fishing and other adventures. A new alpine climb in 2020 was named in Anna’s honour, read about it here.

Lion’s Head loop trail
Lead photo: Brandon Pullan