The first few weeks of January have been some of the coldest weather Toronto has experienced in quite some time. Hamilton and the rest of Ontario were no exception to this. As a photographer, this cold weather brought new and exciting opportunities to shoot an interesting phenomenon, the frozen waterfalls in Hamilton, St. Catherines and Niagara.
Hamilton is known as the waterfall capital of the world, with over 100 waterfalls. While 30 of them are currently inaccessible due to the dangers of the landscape, or the waterfalls being on private property, there is no shortage of wonders to see along the Bruce Trail, and other locations.
As the weekend fast approached, and it was time to say goodbye to Toronto, I packed my bags and headed down to Mississauga to meet my friends, for our frozen waterfall adventure to Hamilton, St. Catharines and Niagara.
We hit the road around noon and landed at our first location no later than 1 pm.
Chasing Waterfalls in the Winter & How to
Chasing waterfalls in the winter can be dangerous, especially in the winter. You should do this at your own risk. I am not encouraging anyone to do anything dangerous.
I recommend planning your trip in such a way that makes sense to you so that you do not have to backtrack. This map shows you all of the waterfalls in the Greater Hamilton Area. There are many other interest hiking trails in Hamilton and the rest of Ontario.
Take the time to study the map and research each location to see if it interests you. Budget the appropriate time for travel distance and time spent at each location, and away you go.
Several words of caution and consideration if you attempt to do a similar trip in -20 degree weather, learn from our mistakes. I recommend packing and wearing the following things:
- Slip-resistant boots & waterproof
- Two layers of socks, or nice warm wool socks
- Water & plenty of snacks
- External chargers for your phones
- Two layers of pants (long johns or snow pants)
- Other winter accessories like gloves, hats and scarves
Now that you have an idea of how to plan your own trip, let us move onto the adventures that I went on!
Tews Falls, Hamilton, Ontario
Located on Harvest Rd, in Dundas, ON. At about a one hour drive from Toronto, Tews Falls was a relatively short commute.
After parking at the Webster’s Trail parking lot, and paying the $10 parking fee, it was a quick 2-minute walk over to the lookout point for Tews Falls.
Despite the short two minute walk, it was absolutely freezing to get from the car to the waterfall. This is where some of the earlier advice for dressing appropriately for the weather comes in.
Making sure you have 2 layers of pants and socks on. Hats and gloves are necessary as well, but those are more commonly thought of as proper preparation.
Without giving away too much from the rest of the trip, the frozen Tews Fall was one of the more lacklustre waterfalls during the winter. Since it doesn’t have as much water as the other ones, there wasn’t much to freeze over.
Being one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada, it still definitely a cool view to see in the wintertime and one that should be on your list of waterfalls to visit. One of the coolest things about this falls, that the other’s didn’t offer as much, were these bright blue icicles.
I am very curious to know how the icicles form in this colour, perhaps it’s one of the minerals found in the rock. Or perhaps it’s the explanation that Wikipedia suggests.
Normally in the summer, you are able to proceed to the next location, Webster Falls from this location, but the trail was closed for the season, presumably because of the weather.
Although one worthwhile thing to see while you are there is to check out Dundas Peak, which gives you a great view of all of Hamilton. In the interest of time, we did not go there on this adventure, as its a 40 min walk to the location, and another 40 minutes back.
After a couple of quick shots at the waterfall here, we hopped into the car and onto the next location!
Webster Falls, Hamilton, Ontario
Next on the list, as anticipated, was Webster Falls, another Hamilton frozen waterfall. Located off of Fallsview Road, a short 2-3 minute drive from Tews Falls. You will enter through and park at the Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area.
We used the same parking permit from the other location, assuming its part of the same conservation area. But don’t quote me on this, I am not entirely sure if that is allowed.
Webster Falls much like Tews Falls was a short minute walk south-west of the parking lot.
The frozen Webster Falls was far more scenic than the previous waterfall. With many great vantage points around the falls, you could get lots of great pictures. My favourite part was that the entire waterfall was frozen over, even the river portion leading up to it. We took this opportunity after seeing several other people doing the same, to walk across the ice to the edge of the waterfall.
I can’t stress enough about how important it is to stay safe, and not even consider getting close to the edge if you’re not on solid, non-icy ground. The slip-resistant shoes are really key here as the ice was quite slippery. One of my favourite parts of this location was that you could actually hear the running water under the ice.
It was almost surreal in a way that you were actually standing on top of a frozen waterfall.
I found a safe edge of solid ground to the side of the waterfall where I took several photos and conversed with a man down below the waterfall. He stepped inside the waterfall several times to explore.
We were not willing to take the risk to take the decommissioned path down to the bottom of the falls as we were on a tight schedule, and frankly, it wasn’t worth the risk to go down in the winter.
By this time we knew it was time for lunch and to go buy some warmer socks from a nearby Walmart. A few KM away we drove into Waterdown to the local Walmart to get some wool socks and stop for all-day breakfast at Sunset Grill.
La Grande Hermine, Jordan Habour, Ontario
On our way to the next waterfall, we decided to make pitstop at one of my favourite locations to shoot along the way to Niagara, the famous shipwreck at Jordan Habour. With no official address, it is located near 2793 N Service Road, beside the Don Cherry restaurant.
This ship is a replica of a 483-year-old shit which brought Jacques Cartier to Canada in 1535, to claim the land in the name of France. While the replica is only 51 years old, it still just as interesting to see, as these types of ships are usually only seen in movies or history books.
Lucky for us, the bay in which the ship is, was all frozen over with thick ice. We were able to walk in and around the ship and got some pictures which I haven’t been able to get before.
After building a bit of courage, we even walked over and climbed on top of the ship. The ship itself was not that impressive on the interior, but the view from the higher vantage point was definitely really cool, and icy.
As we were leaving we had two special surprises:
- We noticed we were able to see the Toronto skyline, all the way from there
- A stranger decided to perform “Recking ball by Miley Cyrus”
Decew Falls, St. Catherines, Ontario
Our next location was none other than the frozen Decew Falls. Located along the Bruce Trail at 2714 Decew Road in St. Catherines, Ontario.
Dewcew Falls is a very scenic and quaint little location, and one of the many frozen waterfalls in St. Catherines.
This waterfall was once the home of the Morningstar Mill from 1872, a restored water-powered mill, the only of its kind still existing in the entire Niagara Penninsula.
The 22-metre tall waterfall has several vantage points from the side of the property, and can also be viewed from the basin of the falls, after a 40-45 minute hike along the designated path. This waterfall was the least frozen of the ones we visited but was magical in its own way.
The property gave a very folk vibe, making it an ideal shooting location. I can see this place being an amazing location for some portrait photography.
While Decew Falls was not completely frozen, the environment around it was, and it stilled looked very magical, like a winter wonderland.
Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Located in Niagara Falls, Ontario at 6650 Niagara Parkway, Horseshoe Falls needs no introduction, as it is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the world.
We arrived on location a few minutes before the sunset and raced to find a parking spot. Surprisingly on a Sunday evening in -20 degree weather, the place was packed with visitors and tourists.
We were lucky to catch a bit more light before the daylight was fully gone. To make up for the lack of light I decided I should do a little bit of long-exposure photography of the frozen Niagara Falls since that’s something I am missing from my portfolio. And it was a great idea to do so.
The shot I took went a little viral on Instagram, getting over 3,000 likes and 200 comments on my page, and shared on 10 photography feature accounts, gaining more than 20,000 likes across those profiles.
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We didn’t spend too much time shooting here as we were all getting cold. Here are two other awesome long exposure shots I took before we left.
Is Niagara Falls still Frozen?
After the picture went viral I had a lot of people ask me if Niagara Falls is still frozen? Since the surge of warmer weather, I doubt that it still looks exactly the way it did from earlier in January. The waterfall is likely to never fully freeze over because of the sheer amount of water that flows down the falls. Even if Niagara Falls froze over, the water would still be able to flow underneath the ice, so there will never be a stoppage of water flowing.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments what you think and if you would like to see more blogging like this!
Tudor Stanescu is a professional photographer and videographer with almost 15 years of experience shooting urban cityscapes, portraiture, weddings, and much more. He has worked on many commercial projects with the likes of Ford, Scotia Bank and Format to name a few. Growing up in the 90s has also brought Tudor back to exploring film photography over the last 5 years as he rediscovers his passion for the art of photography.