Hamilton Brantford Cambridge Trails
The Hamilton Brantford Cambridge Trails consist of four or five individual segments that are now connected and together make for a 77 km trail. In my opinion it is the best trail in Ontario because it is the longest having a quality riding surface. It also has varied and pleasant scenery.
I have cycled most of the sections more than once since my first time in 1996. In 2009 I cycled almost all of it over three days, retracing my steps each day. I had considered cycle touring from one end to the other, staying at a B&B in Paris each night, and also considered parking a car at each end to avoid doing the trail both directions. There are a few options, and I mention some towards the bottom of this page.
I have divided this into three sections.
Cambridge - Paris Rail Trail
The Cambridge - Paris Rail Trail is an excellent half-day ride. With a length of 19 km the seasoned cyclist should be able to ride from one end to the other in an hour to hour and a half, have a refreshment in either Paris or Cambridge, and cycle back for lunch or dinner.
Each time I have started my ride at the Cambridge end, which is the least scenic. It is mostly lined with trees, set well back from the trail, and there wasn't much to see but the trees. It passes a few industries and the sounds of nearby Highway 24 disturb the tranquillity. After seven or eight kilometres the highway noise disappears and glimpses of the Grand River appear. The trail was really quite easy to ride and I found myself making excellent time. Kilometre markers measure one's progress and benches are placed along the route in case you want to rest. The trail is well maintained except for a slightly rough section toward the Paris end.
At the Paris end the trail terminates with a parking area and kiosk, but cyclists can go into Paris or continue to Brantford along the S. C. Johnson trail.
Thanks to Maarten Heilbron there is a video of this trail.
How to Find
At the Cambridge end, head south on Highway 24, Water Street. Shortly after leaving the downtown the GTO gas bar is on the right. The parking area is the first driveway past the gas bar. There is a kiosk at this parking area with a map and some history.
At the Paris end the parking area is beside East River Road (County Road 14). It is located to the northeast of the town. There are a third parking area and kiosk at Glen Morris, along Road 14, at about the midpoint of the trail.
If you want to go into Paris, you will go under a railway bridge about 200 m south of the parking area, and just a bit further there is a steep, gravel roadway that leads to Nimmo St. Turn left and follow Nimmo down to William St, which will take you into Paris.
S. C. Johnson Trail & Gordon Glaves Memorial Pathway
The S. C. Johnson Trail is the continuation of the Cambridge Paris Trail. It follows the same rail line so you can just keep going if you don’t want to stop in Paris. It goes all the way to Brantford, but not all of the rail right-of-way was retained so there are detours onto both roads and cruder trails. Follow the signs and be prepared to ask strangers for the way. The signs do not always exist or are not always clear.
The first detour is a short distance south of the Paris cutoff, and takes you left to Curtis Avenue. Follow Curtis south, continue past busy Dundas St. (there is a stoplight) and pick up the trail a hundred metres further. The total length of detour is 300 - 400 m. The trail then continues on the railway alignment and a bridge carries you over Highway 403. Just past 403 it makes a sharp right turn and you follow it in a semi-circle until you come to roads, which you must now follow a short distance. It is too complicated for me to describe it now, but follow the signs. There will be a section of trail that is quite steep in places, but hopefully will get you eventually to the railway right-of-way. Do not cross the Grand River.
This section of trail is a bit “mickey mouse” but there is some interesting scenery. If you want to shorten the ride and avoid the hills you could cycle along Hardy Road for about two km, but you will have to watch carefully to be sure to re-join the trail.
Once you get back to the railway alignment you will be near Hardy Road. The trail from here to downtown Brantford is delightful. It is called the Gordon Glaves Memorial Pathway within the city. Much of it follows flood control berms and you get good river views. In downtown Brantford it is a short distance from the trail to shops and restaurants. There is parking here (behind the Civic Centre) if you want to start in Brantford.
How to Find
In Brantford, follow Icomm Drive south from Colborne St., turn right onto Market St., and park behind the Civic Centre. The trail is between the Civic Centra and the Grand River. Should you drive into Brantford along Brant Ave (Hwy 2), Brant leads directly into Icomm at Colborne St. You can download a map from the City of Brantford website.
Hamilton Brantford Rail Trail
This is actually two connecting trails, the West Hamilton - Jerseyville Trail maintained by the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority, and the Jerseyville - Brantford Trail of the Grand River Conservation Authority. They are both excellent and together make for a continuous ride of about 32 km. I am going to start from the Hamilton end for my trail description.
The West Hamilton - Jerseyville trail was the first to be constructed, in 1993. It begins on the west side of Hamilton, near McMaster University, following the Dundas Valley for 18 km to the community of Jerseyville. The surface is an excellent fine granular. Past Jerseyville the trail is newer, having been constructed in 1996. The surface is of similar construction. When I rode it in 1996 it temporarily ended just outside Brantford while they figured out a way to get across Highway 403, but it now crosses under the highway and goes into Brantford.
The trail leaves the railway alignment where it crosses under 403, but soon rejoins. In 2009 I followed it a few kilometres but not all the way into Brantford. It was a hot day, I had cycled 31 km from Hamilton, and I had to do a similar return distance. Therefore the Brantford section is the only part I have not cycled recently. In 2003 I cycled this Brantford section, it followed streets for part of the way, and it was confusing. I believe they have since constructed more trail and I would hope it is no longer confusing.
The trail is surprisingly scenic at the Hamilton end. The Dundas Valley is very pleasant, containing a major recreation area where Spring Creek descends the Niagara Escarpment. The famous Bruce (hiking) Trail crosses our trail here. Our trail makes a gradual climb almost immediately, then a long steady climb from kilometre 3.5 to kilometre 12, which means a similar descent on the return trip. I can imagine the steam locomotives struggling to haul their cargo up the grade.
Once out of the valley the trail is flat and the scenery is mostly farmland. It is pleasant none-the-less. Jerseyville is too small to have a store so carry plenty of water. I would recommend carrying a large bottle plus a second one.
How to Find
At the Hamilton end the trail starts near University Plaza on Main Street. Exit from Highway 403 at the Main Street West exit, follow Main Street westerly, you will pass the university on your right, then about one km later turn left (south) at Ewen Road. Drive a short block, turn right, and a short distance further you will find the trail parking lot under the Hydro lines. Ewen Road is just past the Burger King and Pizza Hut. If you arrive at University Plaza then you have gone a bit too far. The trail runs behind the plaza.
There is also a parking lot at Old 99 (but don't ask me how to find Old 99) and another at Highway 52. Otherwise, park along cross roads, unless prohibited.
Markers post each kilometre from the Hamilton end, and some benches are provided. Attractive plantings and signs have been installed at road crossings, and a few parking lots have been constructed. Water, toilets and a snack bar are available at The Trail Centre (located in an old train station) in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, about 6 km from the Hamilton end. The snack bar has limited hours, and the indoor washrooms may also be closed at times. The water is available at an outside faucet near the trail.
Along the Cambridge - Paris section there are benches and information kiosks. I do not recall distance markers, and there are no washrooms or water. Parking is available at each end and at Glen Morris.
There are benches, distance markers and kiosks along the Gordon Glaves Memorial Pathway within Brantford. There are washrooms in Brantford at the Civic Centre. There is not much after you leave the urban area of Brantford towards either Paris or Jerseyville.
Accessibility for Wheelchairs and Suitability for Children
Most of this is an excellent trail for both children and for the disabled, principally because the surface is generally excellent. There are road crossings at many locations and some may be busy, so parents with children must be prepared to supervise at these places. The Dundas Valley Conservation Area has many kilometres without traffic concerns, as well as the Paris end of the Cambridge - Paris trail and the Brantford end of the S.C. Johnson trail. The “mickey mouse” and road sections of the S.C. Johnson would be a poor choice for both children and wheelchairs.
The Cambridge - Paris Rail Trail and much of the S.C. Johnson Trail follow the right-of-way of the Lake Erie and Northern, which was one of the last electric interurban railways to be built in Ontario. Interurbans were similar to streetcars but ran between towns, villages and cities, on their own right-of-way, whereas streetcars are public transportation along municipal roads. Freight could also be hauled along the interurban lines, and many of the cars had both passenger and baggage sections. Ontario used to have many interurban lines, and they were also common in other parts of North America. For further information visit the Lake Erie & Northern Railway site.
The Hamilton - Brantford Rail Trail was originally the right-of-way of the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway. The TH&B was incorporated in 1891 and previously operated 110 miles of line in Ontario, providing passenger and freight service between Toronto and Buffalo. It was at one time jointly owned by the Canadian Pacific, New York Central, Michigan Central and Canada Southern Railways.
For more information see The Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway Society.
Options for cycling this trail
In 2009 I cycled from Cambridge to Paris and return one afternoon in June. In August a friend and I stayed in a motel in Brantford and cycled one day to Paris and return (52 km), the next day drove to Hamilton and cycled to eastern Brantford and return (61 km). This was part of a trip where we also stayed at a B&B in Belfountain and cycled one day on the Caledon Trailway and another on the Elora-Cataract Trailway. This was an excellent 4-day trip.
We considered parking in Hamilton, cycling one day to Paris (approx 60 km), the next to Cambridge and return (stay at the same B&B both nights, approx 40 km), then returning to Hamilton the third day. We never ascertained whether it would be legal to leave the car overnight at the Hamilton parking area.
Our third alternative was to leave a car at each end and cycle only one direction, over one or two days. Since the trail forms a semi-circle it is not that far between the ends of the trail, but bringing two cars from Toronto would have meant a lot of driving. It might be a viable option for people living close by.