The spectacular Niagara Escarpment encompasses farms, recreation areas, sweeping scenic views, 1675 foot cliffs, clear streams, wetlands, pebbled beaches, rolling hills, pristine waterfalls, wildlife habitats, historic sites, villages, towns and cities.
The Niagara Escarpment is one of the world's natural wonders - a masterpiece of living art that has been recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve because the residents of this region are working to balance conservation and preservation with surrounding development.
Biosphere Reserves like the Niagara Escarpment provide excellent examples of sustainable development, and are valuable reference sites for environmental research, monitoring and educational activities.
It is said that there has been more change to the Niagara Escarpment during the past 100 years than in the previous 9,000 years. As a result of the tremendous urban and recreational development of natural lands, people became motivated to ensure access to green space where they could walk and reflect. People came together and built the Bruce Trail.
The 725 kilometre long Niagara Escarpment began to take shape over 450 million years ago as the bed of a tropical sea. During the millions of years that followed, the sediments were compressed into rock, mainly magnesium-rich limestone (dolostone) and shale. The progressive action of glaciers, water flows and the elements caused the more resilient dolostone to weather at different rates than the shale, resulting in the very dramatic land forms that we see today: sea stacks, karst formation caves, deep valleys, scenic waterfalls, rugged hills, and perhaps most remarkable, the spectacular cliffs along the Niagara Escarpment itself.
Learn more about Niagara Escarpment geology:
- Escarpment Geology (Bruce Trail Magazine, Spring 2015) (.pdf, 702.2 KB)
- Geology Hikes on the Bruce Trail
- School of Hard Rocks (info & activities)
Flora and Fauna
The diverse natural landscape supports a variety of incredible ecosystems located in the heart of Canada's most densely populated region. In fact, biologists have said that the Escarpment is the most diverse region in the province. It is home to an outstanding assortment of flora and fauna including:
· 36 species of reptiles and amphibians
· 53 species of mammals
· 90 species of fish
· more than 350 species of birds
· Unusual plants abound, such as: the Walking Fern (this fern spreads by way of above ground runners, giving the appearance that it is walking)
Despite the UNESCO designation and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, currently 109 species are on the threatened or endangered list.
Learn more about Niagara Escarpment biology:
- Biodiversity & Me: A Bruce Trail guide to biodiversity of the Niagara Escarpment (.pdf, 5 MB)
- BTC's Escarpment Species of the Month
- BTC's field guide articles from Bruce Trail Magazine
Old Growth Forests
The stature of the ancient Eastern White Cedars found along the Escarpment bears little relationship to their age. A tree with circumference of a few centimetres could be hundreds of years old. Fantastically, the 400 to 1000 year-old trees can be found growing right out of the rock of the Escarpment. These harsh living conditions dwarf the trees and limited their growth and size. The stunted trees have uniquely adapted to their environment. They survive the fierce cold that can occur along the edge of the Escarpment and their tiny seeds can penetrate and grow even in the minute cracks in the rock.
Learn more about Niagara Escarpment forests:
Weather has shaped the Niagara Escarpment in many ways.
The Niagara Escarpment Plan
The Niagara Escarpment is one of the few world biosphere reserves to be protected by legislation. The Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act established a planning process to ensure that the area would be protected for future generations. The Niagara Escarpment Plan, approved in 1985 and revised in 1994, serves as a framework of objectives and policies that strike a balance between development, preservation and the enjoyment of this important natural area.