Yes – I think McCormack Trail is the prettiest hiking trail in Hamilton. There I said it!
It may come as a huge surprise that the trail I picked is not only fairly short (2.5 KM – 7KM depending on where you start), but also missing one of the main features of hiking in Hamilton – no waterfalls.
While McCormack Trail may have no waterfalls on its footpath, this is certainly not a trail to be discounted. This trail contains some beautiful features in a relatively short and easy walk including:
- gentle footpaths through rolling meadows
- quiet forests
- cozy woodland pond filled with aquatic and avian life
Personally, I think McCormack Trail definitely deserves the title as the prettiest hiking trail in Hamilton. It deserves a lot more love based on what it brings in such a short period of time. You really need to visit this short trail the next time you’re in Hamilton.
Don’t believe me? Maybe I can change your mind with this quick preview of the photos you’ll see in today’s post!
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McCormack Trail Summary
About McCormack Trail
McCormack Trail is part of the Dundas Valley Conservation, a 1200 hectare conservation area located in Hamilton, Ontario. McCormack Trail is one of the 7 trails that belong within this area. Starting and ending at the Dundas Valley Conservation Trail Centre, this 2.5-hour walk will take you through the lush forest, soft rolling meadows filled with wildflowers and calming woodland ponds.
Stop by the McCormack Pond to listen to the Bullfrog’s or Pickerel Frog’s croaks or catch glimpses of basking turtles. Walk through the open meadows and watch the birds and butterflies flit through the tall grass and bountiful wildflowers. Who knows you might even see some deer on your walk here!
Note: If you’re starting from the Trail Centre, the McCormack trail is partially cut off by the main Governor’s road. This road does not have any pedestrian crossing. Governor’s road is a moderate traffic road so be sure to exercise caution before crossing and continuing the trail.
Is McCormack Trail Dog-Friendly?
Yes! McCormack Trail is dog-friendly. However, dogs must be kept on a 6ft leash and must also stay on the designated trail paths. If you’re looking for off-leash areas nearby, please check out our ‘Plan your Visit to McCormack Trail’ section for off-leash dog parks nearby.
Best Time to Visit McCormack Trail
McCormack Trail is open to the public year-round. While beautiful at any point of time, I’ve listed out 2 of the most mentioned times to visit McCormack Trail depending on the type of experience you are looking for:
1. For Wildflowers – Visit in the Late Spring
Like most other meadows, the best time to enjoy the wildflowers is in mid-May to early June. After perusing some of the Alltrails reviews, you may want to watch out for muddy paths that can make it more difficult to ascent the uphill portions of the paths and leave puddles in the valleys.
2. Wildlife Viewing – Dawn or Dusk on a Summer Day
If you’re looking to find the most amount of wildlife activity, your best bet may be to visit this trail during dawn or dusk. You’ll hear the most birdsong and likely see the most pond activity during this timeframe.
If you don’t mind the insects, summer is the best season to watch for wildlife as dawn and dusk temperatures are comfortable enough in minimal layers.
Before You Visit McCormack Trail (Allow 1 hour – 3 hours)
This trail has a lot of open and unshaded spaces. If you’re coming on a hot day, there will be little shade as you walk through the meadows. Make sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun and heat. Be sure to bring plenty of extra water. If you’re planning on starting the trail from the visitor’s centre, consider packing some snacks as well.
If you’re visiting in the spring and summer months, be sure to also bring:
- insect repellent (we like Natrapel – because it smells nice and is also dog-friendly!)
- a tick remover, or a pair of slim tweezers
The meadow and any side paths off the main trail contain ticks. Several hikers have found ticks on themselves and/or their dogs so be sure to watch for them.
Watch out for muddy patches or slippery ice patches during early spring, fall, or winter. Many other reviewers have ranked this trail as ‘easy-moderate’ instead of just ‘easy’ during these periods due to the uneven terrain and slippery environmental factors.
Nearby Off-leash Dog Parks
If you only walk the main loop north of Governor’s road, you may find the hike a bit too easy or quick for high-energy dogs. If that’s the case, there are also a couple of nearby off-leash parks that you can consider while you’re in the area including:
- Borer’s Falls Off Leash Dog Park (8 KM away / 11 min drive away) (fenced)
- Corporal Nathan Cirillo Free Run Area (8 KM away / 13 min away) (formerly known as Cinema Park) (partially fenced)
Other Hikes Nearby
As you’ve likely parked at the Dundas Valley Conservation area, why not consider hiking the trails? Dundas Valley offers an additional 7 trails and over 40 km of footpaths to enjoy including:
- Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail – 32 KM
- Main Loop – 3.4 KM
- Monarch Trail – 5.1 KM
- Headwaters Trail – 10.5 KM
- Spring Creek Trail – 3.3 KM one way
- Heritage Trail – 1.8 KM one way
A full description of each trail and its mapped paths can be found on Conservation Hamilton website here. The right navigation will contain the latest Area Brochure and Trail Map for your use.
I initially assumed that the trail was just an open field in Hamilton
Growing up I’ve come to associate Hamilton as the ‘place to go to when we want to see waterfalls and fall colours. So hopefully you can forgive me for taking so long to realize that Hamilton is more than just its waterfalls and Autumn colours. You can also enjoy its plentiful woodlots, ponds, and gentle meadows too.
We happened to discover this trail quite by accident. A couple of years back, Angelo had a photoshoot with a friend who lived in the area. Rather than taking him to the standard waterfall trails, she decided to show him the quieter sides of Hamilton.
When Angelo came back home, he casually mentioned that he went to a really beautiful open field. There was zero mention that the field was actually a trail. In my head, I just thought it was just a plain old field. You know the ones that conjure up images of empty flat, land with uniform tall grass behind a wooden fence? The kind that’s basically just farmland in disguise? He never really went on to correct my imagery and I took a close enough look at the backgrounds of his previous shoots to notice how wrong my assumptions were.
Because of this, we ignored this place for a few years. Whenever a friend from Hamilton would request a photoshoot, he’d likely take them to this field. Somehow though, whenever it came to just go somewhere as just the two of us, this place never came up.
Parking against my own recommendations
It wasn’t until a few Sundays back, that after feeling grossly uninspired by Sunday afternoon of taking Limone to Etobicoke Valley Dog Park and relaxing for the day, that I finally remembered that this ‘field’ existed. After deliberating a few moments, we finally decided, why not? Let’s cross this off our list and see this field that Angelo keeps doing photoshoots at.
Unfortunately, by the time we decided and drove to Hamilton, it was fairly late in the evening. As such, the recommended parking at the Dundas Conservation area was not available. After 7 PM the gatehouse to the Dundas Conservation Area on Governor’s road was closed.
Undeterred, we did the no-no and… parked off the side of Governor’s road close to the northern portion of the McCormack Trail.
Note: Since everything was closed when we visited, there really was no other choice for us but to park on the side of the road. Please note, however, that there are clear ‘no parking’ signs along the road so even if you park deep into the shoulder of the road, you will very *very* likely be ticketed for doing so. Expect to pay between $20-25. Is this coming from life experience? Maybe? Did we get a ticket? Maybe.
McCormack trail is mostly a flat and gentle footpath made mostly of grass and dirt. You’d probably have very little issues wearing sandals on this path on a dry summer day. However, because this path is also shared with bikers and horses, the footpath can get muddy or uneven on wetter days.
As soon as you enter the trail and head north from Governor’s Road, the view immediately to your right is of 10-20 horse grazing on the connecting (but gated) private property. I haven’t seen it myself but other online reviews have mentioned that on occasion, these horses will also come and enjoy the public trail as well! I’d love to eventually share a trail with a horse one day – but so far I haven’t had much luck!
Also nearby is a small post with the name of the trail – McCormack Trail printed in small font. At this point, I realized that this ‘secret field’ is actually a public trail. It’s a pretty standard-sized trail marker, but I guess if you’re not looking for one, it’s quite easy to miss! It’s crazy to think that Angelo would just drive here from memory to get us here and never really bothered to check if the trail had a name!
As you continue walking on the gentle footpath past the gated property, you’ll come across a small side trail to your left.
This path takes you through your first meadow. This side trail has a large enough footpath that is wide enough to allow opposite traffic to comfortably pass by on the same path. We didn’t linger on this path for long as Angelo was itching to show me his favourite meadow further into the trail.
We turned back from the side path and continued onto the main trail heading northwards. This short and straight northern path is also part of the Bruce Trail (Canada’s oldest and longest footpath that stretches from Niagara to Tobermory). This portion of McCormack trail features mature trees that almost seem to loom overtop of you in a comforting way.
Maybe it was the dimming light as the sun started to set, but on this trail, the tall trees felt like they were giving us a comforting hug.
Training with Limone at the the croaking pond
Then no more than 300 m later you’ll come across a small woodland pond to your left. It’s a great place to stop by and listen to the sounds of various aquatic life.
During our visit, we were treated to the croaks and ribbits from the Pickerel frog and bullfrogs. I’ve included some Youtube clips to help you hear the difference between the two frogs we heard that night 🙂
Since Limone has lived a very suburban life, the various sounds coming from the pond were highly unusual, stimulating, and engaging for her. Never one to miss a training opportunity, we spent a few minutes working on positive associations with the new sounds and rewarding Limone generously with treats and pets for her quiet sits and swivelling ears.
Our Favorite Part – A gentle ascent onto a rolling meadow
As you continue on your walk you’ll eventually come to a fork. Signs at the fork will indicate that continuing north will keep you on the Bruce Trail, whereas heading east will continue onto the McCormack Trail.
We turned right at this fork to keep on the McCormack Trail to finally arrive at our favourite part of this short walk – the open, rolling meadows.
If you visit during the late spring / early summer as we did, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an array of tall grasses, abundant wildflowers, and the chirping of various birds.
This was our favourite spot and we ended up spending most of our time enjoying the view of Hamilton atop a hill while the sun set.
About half an hour into our stay at these meadows, we had the very lucky opportunity to watch 2 deer bounce across the meadow, temporarily stopping in the middle of the field to watch us.
I’d like to think that when they stopped to stare, they probably had a short conversation that went something like this:
"Hey Carl, what do you think those people are doing?" "I don't know Hal... they're kind of weird. Look at them twirling and swinging their arms around wildly. Don't they know they're totally out in the open? Literally everyone can see them." "I know right!? They're so silly. Anyway, come one we've wasted enough time oogling at them. Let's just go find some raspberries and call it a night." "Sounds good to me Carl! Let's go."
A few moments later, we were then treated with another deer coming from the other side of the meadow. This time, this one stayed underneath a tree for about 5 minutes before it disappeared into the forest. By then the sun had set and dusk was settling in. Once the last deer finally disappeared from our view, we decided to call it a night and returned back to our car.
McCormack Trail – Summary
Overall despite traversing only about half of McCormack Trail that night, I might actually have to say that this is one of the prettiest and easiest trails that I have experienced in a while.
Even with the first 3-4 km, McCormack is packed with hiking experiences normally found on 10+km hikes.
- Forest bathing on the main footpath
- A mini concert featuring the natural and stimulating sounds of a woodland pond
- A visual feast to the eyes in the grass-filled, flower-abundant rolling meadows
Want to see more photos? Check out the full set here
How to Support Preservation Efforts and Maintenance of McCormack Trail
Disclaimer: I am not being paid or earning a commission for the below. I just really like supporting our local parks!
Hamilton Conservation Authority
The Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) is the largest environmental management agency for the western end of Lake Ontario. They are an agency dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of watershed lands and water resources.
Today, HCA protects more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of Dundas Valley (including the McCormack Trail) – one of Southern Ontario’s most spectacular natural areas. McCormack trail and the rest of the Dundas Valley Conservation area relies entirely on donations and fees to operate and maintain the area. These collections pay for trail construction and maintenance, emergency services, property taxes, and insurance. They also assist with education programs.
Here are some other links to help support and maintain the McCormack Trail:
- Donate to the Hamilton Conservation Authority
- Obtain an HCA Annual Membership Pass
- Members enjoy year-round access to HCA conservation areas for 12 months from the date of purchase
- Trail access (i.e. bike or walk-in access) are also available for a discounted rate
- Pass allows you and your vehicle (up to 6 people total) into HCA conservation areas including:
Bruce Trail Conservancy
The Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) is a member-driven, volunteer-based charitable organization, governed by a 19-member Board of Directors. It is both a trail association and one of Ontario’s largest land trusts, committed to caring for the Bruce Trail and to preserving land along its route – including part of the McCormack Trail.
Did you know that the Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath? It stretches 900 km from Niagara to Tobermory in Southern Ontario and provides the only continuous public access to the Niagara Escarpment.
However, what many people don’t realize is that the Bruce Trail is not permanently secure and that roughly one-third of the Bruce Trail corridor (that’s 300km of footpaths!) is vulnerable to development.
The BTC is working to fill in the gaps, to secure a home for the Bruce Trail and preserve a ribbon of wilderness along the Niagara Escarpment through the acquisition of land and the creation of BTC-managed protected natural areas.
You can support the Bruce Trail Conservancy by becoming a member of BTC, or volunteering your time with one of its 9 member chapters to maintain and preserve the thousands of acres of land owned by the conservancy.
Do you also think McCormack Trail is the prettiest trail in Dundas Valley? Let me know in the comments below!