The Niagara Escarpment: Overview

In 1990, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), recognized the Niagara Escarpment and the Province of Ontario plan to protect and preserve this natural treasure as a World Biosphere Reserve – an extraordinary honour for an extraordinary wonder.

Stretching 725 kilometres (450 miles) from Queenston on the Niagara River to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment is a natural wonder and one of Canada’s foremost scenic landforms. The Escarpment continues into New York State to the south and as well on Manitoulin Island to the north and Wisconsin to the west.


Visit the Ancient Seas

Nearly half a billion years ago, this whole region was covered by ancient shallow seas. The Niagara Escarpment contains the fossilized remains of the lifeforms which lived in those seas. It is a magnificent fossil record of some of the first life on our planet. It took more than 30 million years to form. To learn about these ancient sea creatures, visit our Ancient Seas section!

Since then the Niagara Escarpment has seen three ice ages, the last of which ended approximately 14,000 years ago. Erosion from ancient waters and glacial recession in this last ice age carved the Escarpment into what we see today. Melting glaciers flowed over the escarpment face in rivers much greater than the Niagara is today, carving out valleys and even splitting off entire sections such as the Milton Outlier (Rattlesnake Point/Kelso). The Escarpment will look much different at the end of the next ice age!

Today the Escarpment soars 540 metres (1772 ft.) above sea level at its highest point within Ontario in Clearview Township, Simcoe County along the north rim of the Pretty River Valley. It  is a varied tapestry of forests, farms, recreation areas, scenic panoramas, cliffs, streams, wetlands, rolling hills, waterfalls, mineral resources, wildlife habitats, historic sites, villages, towns and cities. Over 120,000 people live along the Niagara Escarpment and over 7 million live within 100 kilometers of the “Giant’s Rib”. The Niagara Escarpment is home to the Bruce Trail … established in 1967, the oldest and longest hiking trail in Canada that is enjoyed by nearly 500,000 people every year.

The Escarpment is an incredibly rich habitat for wildlife. In fact, in 1990 it was designated as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment is one of only 16 biosphere reserves in Canada, and is part of a network of 631 reserves in 119 countries, putting it in the company of such incredible natural areas as the Serengeti, the Everglades, the Amazon Rain Forest, Yellowstone National Park and the Galapagos Islands


Calypso Orchid

This 700-kilometre-long biosphere contains more endangered species than any other part of Canada. The Escarpment contains more than 300 bird species, 1500 species of vascular plants, 50 species of ferns … the greatest variety of ferns in Canada … 53 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish and 100 varieties of special interest flora including 37 types of wild orchids. Rare species include the endangered North Dusky Salamander, the threatened Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake, the vulnerable Southern Flying-squirrel and the rare Eastern Pipistrelle Bat. 72% of all Ontario bird species can be found here. Of the breeding species, 25 are considered nationally or provincially endangered, threatened or vulnerable, including Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black Tern, Louisiana Waterthrush and Hooded Warbler. Prehistoric life that inhabited the “Rib” including mastodons, sabre-toothed cats and woolly mammoths … and more than you can imagine.

The cliff face itself is its own ecosystem. All along the face of the Escarpment you can see slow growing Eastern White Cedars of which the oldest are more than 1200 years old. This cliff ecosystem constitutes the oldest “old growth forest” in eastern North America.

We invite you to virtually explore the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve through our website, but encourage you to experience the real thing for yourself, and hope you find here all you need to begin your adventure!

Remember, take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. – Somebody wise.

More cool stuff.