There is something special about a loop. Whether you are walking, biking, rollerblading or any activity for that matter, the experience seems to be always more memorable if you can get back to where you started without retracing your steps.
So when word got out that there is a new loop that circumnavigates Burlington Bay, I had to go and check it out for myself. The HamBur Loop is approximately a 50km roundabout that takes in some the best sights, views and paths that Burlington and Hamilton have to offer. Utilizing an existing extension of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail along the Burlington side of the bay as well as along Lake Ontario, the woodland paths through Red Hill Valley and the Niagara Escarpment, the HamBur Loop sure looks good on the map.
So where to start? Looking at the map available on the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail website there are number of locations along the route where you can park. I chose Spencer Smith Park in Burlington as my start/end point for a few reasons. Most obvious, it is the closest location for me coming from Toronto. Secondly, I am a fan of sunrises and this location being on the waterfront is spectacular first thing in the morning. Lastly it being mid May the stand of cherry trees in the park are putting on a show that’s not to be missed.
Decision number two, which way to roll. I opted to roll counter clockwise, a decision which was arrived at quite naturally. Still not ready to deal with navigation at this early stage of the day, I follow the path of least resistance, which is the paved and signed Great Lakes Waterfront Trail heading east along the lake. Crossing from Burlington to Hamilton, the steel beams of the bridge glowing golden in the the morning sun, offered a welcome to the steel city.
The lake, the sun, the quiet trail, it doesn’t take long to get into the rhythm of the ride. If you fancy yourself a morning person you understand the soul regenerating effect that a perfect morning along the lake provides. What a lovely and relaxing stretch of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail.
The HamBur loop turns north at Nash Rd N. A few turns in and you are treated with the sight of the clay-red slanted steel arch of the new pedestrian bridge spanning the QEW and Red Hill Creek. An impressive design that is meant to reflect the area’s steel history.
Past the bridge into the forest we go as the Red Hill trails meanders along a creek of the same name. A well packed path that over the next ten or so kilometres of up and downs gradually climbs to the top of the Niagara Escarpment. This stretch is definitely best suited for bikes with larger volume tires.
You can’t visit Hamilton without enjoying the sight and sounds of one of Hamilton’s many waterfalls. Albion Fall is the reward for completing the Red Hill section. Although you can see the falls from the trail, the better viewing platforms are a short detour across the valley.
It’s all downhill from here, as you traverse the Niagara escarpment and drop into the city of Hamilton. The downhill vibe continues through the city all the way to the shores of Burlington Bay.
The cruise through Hamilton marks, give or take, the mid point along the HamBur Loop which is perfect, as opportunities for a food or beverage stop are a plenty. Unfortunately for me, my early day ride means that I arrived too early in the day to experience some local fine art, next time.
This was a pleasant surprise. Coming upon the HMCS Haida National Historic Site made me wish I had more time on my hands. An opportunity to look around the Royal Canadian Navy’s most famous warship might just be reason enough to take on the HamBur loop and will definitely be a longer stop on my next go around.
The ride’s biggest challenge surprisingly did not come from the seat of my bike but from walking beside it. The staircase that takes you from the shore of Burlington Bay to York Boulevard above is a bit of a challenge. Thanks to clever design the the staircase has a very convenient channel along the edge of the stair that allows you to push your bike up instead of carrying it. From the top you are rewarded with an impressive view all the way back to Lake Ontario and your starting point.
Back on the Burlington side of the bay and in to the home stretch, there is one more stop that I would consider mandatory. The Easterbrook’s diner has been serving up food since 1930 and their foot long hot dog and awesome fries was just what my fuel tank need to finish strong.
The HamBur Loop offers exactly what you would expect from a day exploring by bike, a glimpse into communities that leaves you wanting to return for more. From the Lake Ontario shore to the forests of the Red Hill Valley, waterfalls, places to stop, and grand views of Burlington Bay, and of course the sunrise at Spencer Smith Park if you are morning inclined. There are a few up and down challenges but overall it’s a fairly easy ride and well suited for a variety of abilities and is definitely family adventure worthy.
Taking on the HamBur loop in one go will most likely require a bike, but there is more than one way to enjoy the experience, as many of the sections make for a great hike. Better yet with plenty accommodation options available both in Burlington and Hamilton, why not make a weekend adventure out of it.
Yes, there is something special about a loop and the HamBur Loop is a good one.