Taking walking tours to explore the culture of the city is nice, and checking out the free attractions is great, but sometimes you just want to leave the busy urban landscape for a few hours, and immerse yourself in a more natural one.
Although it is not obvious when wandering around downtown, Toronto is sliced by green ravines, and home to some large green spaces, as well as having Lake Ontario at its doorstep. This post describes seven nature walks in Toronto that you can take when the hubbub of the city becomes too much. And to make things sweeter, they are all accessible by public transit!
1. Toronto Islands
A short ferry ride from downtown, the much-loved Toronto Islands are a favourite escape in summer. Endowed with green spaces galore, a 7-kilometre paved path, a large beach with volleyball nets, and picnic tables, it’s a joy for walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers. No cars are allowed except for service vehicles. There are three ferries and three access points.
The most crowded is Centre Island which features activities and rides for children, gardens, fountains, and fast food, and is therefore popular with families. No bicycles are allowed on this ferry. Wards Island offers a couple of cafes, as well as a small beach (people can generally swim there) next to the residential area (worth a visit). Hanlan’s Point is more remote and is closest to the nudist beach (you read that right) as well as providing the best view of Toronto’s skyline.
Getting there: From the southern end of Bay Street (at Queen’s Quay) keep going south past the Westin Hotel, and you will see the ticket booths. The adult fare is currently $7.25 for the return trip, and you can find the schedule here.
2. High Park
Spanning 161 hectares (400 acres), High Park is Toronto’s largest public park. You can spend most of a day wandering around here. It features a restaurant, a large pond with swans, gardens, hiking trails, a dog park, and more.
For one week in late April or early May, the cherry trees are in bloom and one part of the park gets awfully crowded, but normally, there is enough space for everyone to enjoy nature comfortably. Fall is also especially beautiful with the trees changing colour.
Getting there: Take the subway to High Park Station (green line). The entrance to the park is right across Bloor Street.
3. Taylor Creek & Wilket Creek
These two walks (about 5 kilometres each) link together nicely, and even though they can be done individually, I find it easier to use public transportation from either end than to get out in the middle (although this is certainly feasible).
As its name implies, the Taylor Creek path follows a creek in a valley. Wilket Creek goes through wooded parkland. I like doing this hike in the fall because of the colours in the trees, but spring is also pleasant because of the migrating birds and blooming wildflowers. All the paths are paved and mostly flat, so all you need is a bit of stamina. You may see a few buildings poking out of the trees or the occasional overpass, but this trail feel quite removed from the city.
At the northern end of Wilket Creek are the sloping Edwards Gardens as you come out of the valley. Bring your own food and drinks as there are no restaurants. There are toilets but they are often locked out, except for the ones in Wilket Creek.
Getting there: Take the subway to Victoria Park station. Walk north for five minutes on Victoria St. and you’ll see a descending staircase on the western side of the road. To start at the other end, take the subway to Eglinton station, then bus 51 to the corner of Leslie and Lawrence Ave. E. Walk west on Lawrence until you get to Edwards Gardens.
4. Cedarvale Park and Ravine
This is a short walk, only 2.4 kilometres. The path first goes through a park (a cricket field, lawns, few trees) before descending into a wooded area (the ravine) along a dirt path. People hike or walk their dogs through here so it doesn’t feel completely isolated.
Getting there: Take the subway to Eglinton West station, cross Eglinton Ave. W. then keep going south on Everden Road. The path starts at the end of this street.
5. Rosedale Ravine
This secret “forest trail” is hidden right next to Yonge St, one of the busiest roads in Toronto. You have to see it to believe it! The whole path is about 5 kilometres and forms a U shape. You can get out at the “bottom” of the U, about halfway through, if you want. Rather than try to describe this rather complicated walk, here is a photo from the booklet Great Country Walks around Toronto by Elliott Katz.
Getting there: Take the subway to St. Clair station, exit on Heath Street and walk to the end of the street where a “Nature Trail” sign indicates the start of the walk.
6. Scarborough Bluffs trail (Bluffers Park)
The first time I saw photos of the Scarborough Bluffs, I didn’t believe this was in Toronto! Cliffs in the city? This escapement rises to 90 metres at its highest point and is about 15 kilometres long. A park with flower beds and views over Lake Ontario welcomes you at the top. A nice walking trail below the bluffs leads through more parkland and then follows the lakeside. The bluffs are a bit difficult to get to without a car, but not impossible.
Getting there: Take the subway to Warden station (green line) then bus 102, 114, or 9 to the corner of St. Clair Ave. and Brimley Road. Go right on Brimley Road, walk south past the “Welcome” sign and down the hill to the park.
7. The Beaches
The Beaches is now an upscale neighbourhood in the southeastern part of Toronto. It abuts a pleasant boardwalk along lake Ontario that extends for 3.2 kilometres, providing lake views and sandy beaches. Although it is definitely not a remote area, you still feel far removed from the downtown skyscrapers. Locals walk, jog, cycle, or sit on the benches to enjoy a snack. The boardwalk ends at Ashbridges Bay Park.
Getting there: Take the Queen streetcar (501) east all the way to Balsam Ave (or at least past Woodbine Ave.) then walk south to the lake. You can also take a southbound bus from subway stations along the Danforth (green) line such as Coxwell, Woodbine, and Main stations.
Elliott Katz’s little yellow book Great Country Walks around Toronto (which is now in its 6th edition) features all of these walks and many more. I’ve had a copy since the 90s and I’d suggest purchasing it if you’re interested in Toronto’s parklands and natural areas.
(Note: This post contains affiliate links.)