Tour the Wodehouse Karst Side Trail

Stew Hilts
Photos © Stew Hilts

From the entrance on the 7th Line just south of the hamlet of Wodehouse, a visitor will be able to walk past the old homestead and barn foundations, past the group of sinkholes where Wodehouse Creek disappears, and down the Niagara Escarpment slopes to the main Bruce Trail where the water reappears in the Kimberley Springs that feed Bill’s Creek.

It’s a fascinating geological site, certainly one of the most interesting examples of karst topography in Canada. The trail has been developed through collaboration of the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club, the Friends of the Kimberley Forest, the Grey-Sauble Conservation Authority (GSCA), and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF); it is marked and will be managed as a side trail of the Bruce Trail, with those familiar blue blazes.

From the entrance, the trail heads up onto a ridge and south, then turns an abrupt left to head east along an old fencerow of the former farm. As you descend to the low point, you pass the old barn foundation on your left, just where a major infestation of Garlic Mustard occurs! This barn was removed in the 1920s, and the lumber used elsewhere but the jumbled rocks of the foundation remain. Through the low point you head up hill again, and just where the trail turns sharply left on top of the hill, you can see the small depression on your right that is the cellar of the old log cabin. Just a bit of rock wall remains visible. Completely surrounded by an unusual cluster of Black Locust trees.

Strewn foundation rocks and a depression in the ground all that remain of a log cabin
The old log cabin foundation is a depression on top of the hill.

From here you head on east down to the valley of Wodehouse Creek. The creek is flowing from the left (north) to the right, into a blind valley where the water disappears into cracks in the Amabel dolostone – the sinkholes. In the early spring you may find that the trail is flooded at this point.

Wodehouse Creek disappears into sinkholes in this blind valley
The blind valley that contains the Wodehouse Karst sinkholes.

The rest of the year, the trail follows the valley south and turns east again, dipping through a low point and up again to head east. There is plenty of Poison Ivy along this stretch, so watch out! The sinkholes are down in the valley beside you, but there is Poison Ivy down there too, so watch where you step if you go exploring. Usually you can hear the water plunging into the sinkholes like a small waterfall.

At this point the trail may also be flooded in the Spring. Wodehouse Creek rises in an enormous spring several miles to the north, and flows east and south toward this point. It actually gets smaller as it flows downstream, as some water disappears into other sinkholes in the river bed. But in the spring the flow in the creek is so high that it can’t all fit down the sinkholes, so it floods the valley and flows overland to the south.

This can happen anytime from early March to late April, and last from a few days to 6 weeks, so there will be times where you cannot actually hike this trail. There is no dry route across!

Navigating the flooded valley by kayak
Paddling across the trail during the flood!
Bruce Trail deeply submerged under ice-covered lake at spring thaw
The trail crosses the middle of this picture.

Assuming it’s not flooded, you will then come to the perched pond. This pond is geologically separate from the sinkholes, formed in a patch of clay soil that holds the water. There appears to be no inflow; rather the pond is refilled every Spring during the spring flood, when the water level is so high that it extends directly from lake filling the much lower valley into the otherwise ‘perched’ pond.

Perched pond sitting higher than Wodehouse Creek is only filled at annual spring flood
The perched pond.

From this point the trail heads uphill over the Banks Moraine that crosses the property from north to south. You will be walking along the old fencerow that marks the property boundary. You might spot a stone pile that dates from the time this woodland was open pasture. It’s the Banks Moraine that prevents the creek from simply flowing east and over the slope. The creek is trapped behind the moraine, and in 10,000 years since the glaciers has developed the sinkholes into which it now disappears.

Old fencerow on the crest of Banks Moraine
The old fencerow on the crest of the Banks Moraine.

The trail turns left and then right again to continue to the edge of the Niagara Escarpment through mature deciduous forest. Our talented trail builders found a route downhill that doesn’t require climbing down the cliff, though it is a steep walk. Soon you arrive at the main Bruce Trail through Kimberley Forest. Turn left (north) and walk toward the springs. So far you’ve been on GSCA or MNRF land, but the old red gate you pass represents the south boundary of the Kimberley Springs property owned by the Bruce Trail Conservancy.

Water emerges from ground on hillside
The springs, easily seen in late fall after a light snowfall.

Shortly you’ll come to the springs, a little downhill on your right. The main trail extends downhill beside them on the north side. You’ve now seen both the sinkholes where the water disappears, and the springs where it reappears.

Water re-emerges from ground on hillside
Bill’s Creek, tumbling downhill beside the Bruce Trail.

You can make this hike a loop by bringing two vehicles and leaving one at the top of Talisman Hill. In that case you can hike north on the main trail to come out at the top of Talisman Hill. Otherwise you’ll have to retrace your steps on the side trail back to the 7th Line. Hope you enjoy the geological adventure!