Toronto may be a cosmopolitan city, but it has one big backyard to explore. Whether you live in the city or you’re just visiting for the weekend, put on some comfortable clothes, grab your walking shoes and a water bottle, and check out these four Toronto parks and hiking trails.
Rouge National Urban Park
Deep into the trail, you hear a noise and stop dead in your tracks. At first, there’s only silence, but then you hear flapping, and a barn owl swoops overhead, landing on a branch. You quickly grab your camera and get snapping. It’s just an ordinary day in Rouge Park, soon to be Canada’s first and only national urban park, home to 2,000 different plants and animals, and a great place for hiking in Toronto. There are eight hiking trails, each varying in fitness level and distance, leading through farms, meadows, forests, and wetlands. Free guided hikes are offered throughout the year, some geared towards families with young children. You can photograph wildlife, see the fall foliage, try a fitness challenge, or take your dog for a walk. And winter doesn’t mean you can’t hit the trails. Join the “Winter in the Park” guided hike or, if you have the equipment, snowshoe or cross-country ski through the snowy Riverside Trail.
Sprawled out on the soft grass, you look up at the sky. There are pink flowers everywhere, sweet-smelling and blooming from the branches of Sakura cherry trees. But this isn’t Japan—it’s springtime in High Park. Did you know that over one-third of this 400-acre park remains in a natural state? High Park is home to many wildlife and leafy greens, including rare plant species. It’s no wonder this is considered one of the most significant Toronto parks. It’s also a popular hiking spot. The Spring Creek and West Ravine nature trails are clearly marked, leading through forest with wildlife spotting opportunities. If you’re not sure where to start, join a free Sunday hike, led by a volunteer scientist, historian, or naturalist.
The Beltline and Central Ravines Walk
Trekking the 11-kilometre Beltline and Central Ravines hiking trail feels almost ethereal, you’re following an abandoned 19th-century rail line deep into a valley shrouded by leafy trees. Like a secret passageway, the path snakes behind backyards and bustling city streets, leading to some Toronto heritage sites such as the Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Dating back to 1873, it’s more like a historic park, teeming with horticultural features, as well as the final resting place of numerous famous Canadians. Reaching the Lower Don River, the path suddenly opens to a wetland, full of birds and croaking frogs, and a red brick industrial building. Back in the 19th century, this was a quarry and brick factory, but has recently been transformed into a cultural attraction. Inside, browse the farmer’s market or shops filled with artisan crafts. Or, outside, bask in the sun’s warmth, while enjoying a fresh baked scone and hot cup of tea. This hiking trail takes a minimum of three hours to complete, but you can start or stop at any point along the route. A good starting point is Eglinton West Subway Station if you’re doing the whole shebang.
Scarborough Bluffs Park Trail
You have to leave the downtown core, but it’s worth the trek to see the Scarborough Bluffs. These impressive cliffs stretch 15 kilometres along the Lake Ontario shore, from the eastern beaches of Toronto in the west to West Hill in the east. There’s a three-kilometre hiking trail that leads through Bluffers Park Marina, as well as some of the naturalized areas. To fully appreciate the beauty, hike to the scenic lookout or take a quiet walk below the bluffs, formed by the Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 years ago. Standing on the shoreline, marvel at the majestic grey cliffs, some rising as high as 65 metres above the water. On you hike, take a break to inhale the fresh air and savour a snack by the glistening waters of Lake Ontario. With the towering bluffs and waves lapping the shore, it’ll feel like a seaside retreat, even though you’re actually hiking in one of the beautiful Toronto parks.