Ontario is home to Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, The Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail spans 900 kilometres across the Niagara Escarpment, beginning in Queenston and ending in the harbour village of Tobermory. Hikers can enjoy sections of the main trail or 450 kilometres of side trails. More than 400,000 visitors step foot along the Bruce Trail each year.

hiking the bruce trail ONKendra Slagter

The Bruce Trail is divided into nine sections, each with their own distinctive features. Hikers can expect to walk amongst dense cedar forests, across open windy plains, past gushing waterfalls, through eerie slot caves and atop jaw-dropping cliffs overlooking Georgian Bay.

Those who are looking for a grand adventure choose to hike the Bruce Trail End-to-End (E2E). An E2E is completed when a hiker has walked all nine sections of the trail. This challenge can be completed over time or all at once by attempting a thru-hike.

hiking on the trailKendra Slagter

In the Fall of 2020, my dad and I decided to thru-hike the Bruce Trail. With the early stages of Covid-19 forcing our lives to a standstill, my dad and I decided to trade our daily stresses for a four-week adventure along the Bruce. Before we knew it, we stood at the northern cairn in Tobermory ready to take on our very own E2E.

Our first day on the trail was a doozy. I’m an avid hiker and my dad is an ultra-marathon runner, so naturally, we thought we'd be able to crush 34 kilometres. Little did we know that the flat, well-travelled trails we hike and run along in our hometown of Hamilton were no match for the rocky scramble of the Bruce Trail. As we became acquainted with the weight of our packs, our ankles had to adjust to the constant rolls and twists they would endure from hiking along a trail littered with roots and rocks. The initial discomfort we experienced subsided each time we walked through fresh pine forests and stood in awe when arriving at a clifftop, rewarded with views of the Caribbean-like water of Georgian Bay below us.


Camping/Trail Accommodations

beautiful forest ontarioKendra Slagter

Some of our favourite memories of our thru-hike were setting up camp after a long day. The sound of the chipmunks scurrying amongst the crunching leaves and the wind blowing off the top of the escarpment often welcomed our arrival. Dad and I would plunk our packs down after a long day of hiking and empty the contents so we could retrieve our tents from the bottom. We would each set up our individual tents side-by-side, giving us enough space to enjoy our time alone, while also being close enough to still feel each other’s presence throughout the night.

walking through the woods stunning gorgeousKendra Slagter

Though camping was a major highlight of our Bruce Trail E2E, camping entirely on the trail is an impossible option, as camping outside of designated areas is strictly prohibited. Though camping proves to be a challenge, it should not deter someone from completing an E2E thru-hike. We camped whenever possible, either at nearby campgrounds, designated backcountry sites or in the backyards of peoples’ homes. When camping wasn’t an option, we were taken in by kind strangers who offered us a bed, a homecooked meal and a hot shower—strangers who are termed “trail angels.”

Trail angels are individuals who provide “trail magic” to long-distance hikers, most commonly in the form of rides to and from the trailhead, hosting hikers and feeding/sustaining hikers through on-trail meals and water drops. Anyone can become a trail angel, as it is a free act of kindness and generosity extended towards hikers. Connecting with trail angels along the Bruce Trail is easy—just join the Trail Angels of the Bruce Facebook page.


Food and Water Sources

hiking backpack packing inKendra Slagter

Like camping, food and water can be somewhat of a challenge to come by. It is important to plan daily mileage in relation to where your next food and water sources will be. One would think that water would be easily accessible, as much of the Bruce Trail follows the Bay for a large portion of the peninsula section. But don’t be fooled—though you can see the water, it is almost impossible to get to it. When water sources were scarce, we would load up whenever we came across a stream or a tap outside of someone’s home. Water carries were long and heavy but necessary to keep us hydrated and to cook our evening meals.

hiding in the forestKendra Slagter

The Bruce Trail passes through towns more regularly the closer you get to the south. The ability to stock up on necessities became increasingly easier once we reached the Iroquoia section. We felt spoiled by the convenient stores and ability to hike into town whenever we needed to resupply or wanted to stop for a quick Coca-Cola break. For the more remote sections, we sent resupply boxes to a handful of trail angels or dropped them off at local outdoor stores prior to starting our trek. It always felt a little like Christmas when we picked up our resupply boxes and unpackaged them to see what we gifted ourselves.

The first resupply box we picked up was in Owen Sound, just shy of 300 kilometers into our hike, at the Runner’s Den. The owner handed us our boxes and graciously offered to drive us to East Side Mario’s for a well-deserved meal. As we sat in a booth and waited for our food, we opened our boxes and spilled the contents all over the table. Chocolate-covered almonds, fruit bars, applesauce pouches, canned tuna, apple-cinnamon oatmeal packets, instant coffee and dried fruits were some of the contents we gifted ourselves. We were overjoyed to have some of our favourite snacks again and relieved we didn’t have to hobble through a grocery store that night to resupply.


Reflecting on the Journey with My Dad

hiking togetherKendra Slagter

Throughout our four weeks on the trail, Dad and I experienced more than we could have ever dreamed of. We walked across cliffs and through caves in the peninsula. We dodged cattle and conquered ski hills in the Beaver Valley. We sat next to waterfalls and soothed our aching feet in cold streams in the Iroquoia section. We hiked through twelve consecutive rain days, attempting to keep a positive attitude despite the cold chill seeping into our bones. We soaked in the joy of the sun reappearing, accepting the rays as a small victory and using it to fuel our steps forward. Most importantly, my dad and I began to understand each other on a completely new level.

Prior to hiking our E2E, my dad and I were distant. I was in my early 20s and constantly pursuing a life filled with travel, exploration and spontaneity—a life my dad couldn’t understand and had a hard time supporting. We began to operate our lives separately and became comfortable with the distance. It wasn’t until we hiked the Bruce Trail that everything changed. Our E2E forced us to spend 29 days together with nothing else to do but hike, talk, listen and think.

enjoying the adventure in natureKendra Slagter

We were halfway through our E2E when we reached a turning point in our relationship. Dad and I were talking about my hopes for the future and rather than doubting the probability of my dreams turning into a reality, he supported me. It was at that moment that I realized dad had finally seen me for the person I truly was—seemingly unrealistic to some, but more motivated and driven than most. It took us 450 kilometres to lay everything out on the table and to leave no conversation untouched. The next 450 kilometres were dedicated to setting aside our differences, making memories and appreciating each moment as it came.


Bittersweet Endings and New Beginnings

starting outKendra Slagter

Over 29 days, we hiked all 900 kilometres of the Bruce Trail. As first-time thru-hikers, we learned a lot about resilience, discomfort and most importantly, each other. We found that when we were stripped of all comforts of “normal life” back home, we were forced to take a deep look at ourselves. With everything we needed to survive strapped onto our backs, we felt an ease that came from living life along the trail. Though the blisters and swollen ankles begged for constant relief, we felt that we were exactly where we needed to be: immersed in an experience that entertained our deep love for nature paired with our desire to seek some sort of normalcy during the pandemic. We felt free. We felt alive. We felt growth.

spooky trailsKendra Slagter

Our last day on the trail was bittersweet. We were excited to snag our official titles as “thru-hikers,” though we were sad knowing we’d have to reacclimate to life back home. With a big 50-kilometre day ahead of us, we pushed forward towards the end with feelings of accomplishment, knowing we had done something big. It was wild to realize how a 50-kilometre day felt easy in comparison to our first day, when we completed 34 kilometres. It was clear that we grew stronger, tougher and more resilient throughout our time spent on the trails.

We emerged from the forest and into an open park knowing that once we walked across the parking lot towards the Niagara cairn, we’d be done. I looked back and saw that the forest had merely turned into a distant treeline. As we got closer to the end, we heard cheers from our family members waiting for us at the finish line. Dad and I high fived and ran towards the cairn, greeting our family with an immense amount of thankfulness and bittersweet finality.

end of the trailKendra Slagter

Nearly 30 uninterrupted days with my dad was an accomplishment in itself. I grew closer to my dad over the month we shared together on the Bruce Trail, and we collected memories that I will reflect on for a lifetime. As we raised plastic cups of champagne together in a cheer, I knew this wasn’t the end. It was simply the beginning of what would soon blossom into a stronger father-daughter relationship, brought together by a mutual love of long-distance hiking.


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