With almost three million inhabitants, Toronto can seem more like a concrete jungle rather than an outdoorsy paradise. However, with 1,500 Toronto parks and open areas, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the city.
Toronto parks are spread over 8,000 hectares (just under 20,000 acres) and feature beaches, biking and hiking trails, gardens, playgrounds and sports fields. Here are some of my favourite green areas in the city for outdoor lovers that make you forget you’re in the city.
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During high school, I was a frequent visitor to Edward Gardens. I used to come here during summer and in the winter to take pictures for my photography class. With bridges, water features, gardens and flower beds, Edwards Gardens is a pretty spot for photography and outdoor lovers alike. It’s a perfect place to visit all year round.
This once privately-owned sprawling estate is a peaceful and tranquil spot in the city. Edwards Gardens is also home to the Toronto Botanical Gardens. The organization offers programs, garden tours, nature day camps, field trips and an extensive horticultural library.
You can walk enjoy paths and manicured lawns at Edwards Gardens as you admire the tranquillity the space offers. Keep in mind that there are some restrictions when entering the park. Pets are not allowed and neither are bicycles, so keep your four-legged friends at home.
Location: 755 Lawrence Ave East
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Don Valley Brick Works Park
The Don Valley Brick Works Park is probably one of Toronto parks we visit the most. The park gets its name from a quarry that produced many of the bricks that built Toronto after the fire of 1904. The quarry operated from 1889 to 1989 and has been transformed into a model for urban ecosystem planning.
With extensive adaptive management of the land, wetland re-establishment and re-naturalization, this is one of Toronto’s environmentally significant parks. Here you can enjoy numerous trails, natural parkland and a pond that makes you feel like you have left the city.
The park surrounds what is today known as the Evergreen Brick Works – a hub for sustainable practices and community space. In 2010, Evergreen, a non-profit organization with a mission to create flourishing cities, transformed the deteriorating buildings into a global showcase for green design. Today, the former quarry is a space open to the public with special events throughout the year, farmers’ markets and outdoor learning.
Location: 550 Bayview Avenue
As a popular destination for cherry blossom lovers, High Park is one of the largest Toronto parks with 161 hectares (400 acres). Here you’ll find a mix of rare plants, natural areas and recreational facilities. The park is also home to a wide range of fauna and flora.
Before High Park became a public park, the land belonged to John George Howard. Howard, a British-born architect, taught at the Upper Canada College before becoming the official surveyor and civil engineer for the city. The park opened to the public in 1876, after Howard donated the land for public use. Today, you can check out the Howard House near the zoo, where he lived with his wife.
High Park also features greenhouses, picnic areas, lakefront, a dog park and a small zoo. It’s a perfect destination for outdoor lovers all year round.
Location: 1873 Bloor Street West
Port Union Waterfront Park
The Port Union Waterfront Park was completed in 2012. I used to live nearby and had the opportunity to see the park develop over the years. Today, it provides recreational access to the waterfront while protecting the shoreline and supporting important terrestrial and aquatic habitats.
The park stretches along Lake Ontario and features a continuous (3.8km/2.4 miles) waterfront trail, pedestrian bridge and great views of the lake. It’s not very crowded and often makes you feel like you are somewhere remote instead of Canada’s largest city.
Located at the eastern edge of Toronto, the Port Union Waterfront Park lies between Highland Creek and the Rouge River. From here you can access the bridge over the Rouge River that connects to the City of Pickering.
Location: 175 Chesterton Shores
Scarborough Bluffs Park
Out of all the Toronto parks, the Scarborough Bluffs Park is the most unique. The jagged cliffs overlooking a picturesque water are a product of the Great Ice Age. They were formed by the accumulation of sedimentary and the wind and water erosion from Lake Ontario. In the layers of sand and clay, hide the fossils of plants and animals dating to 70,000 years ago.
Today, the bluffs stretch about 15km (9 miles) along Lake Ontario. There are several parks that are part of the bluff and I recommend going to Buffer’s Park first. With a large parking lot and washroom facilities, it’s a great place to start exploring. This also the only park with access to the beach.
The Scarborough Bluffs Park is a popular area for visitors looking for some greenery and outdoor fun. Here you can explore the waterfront, dip in the water and admire the stunning views of the cliffs that rise 65 metres (213 feet) above the water. There are also picnic areas, a boat launch and a marina.
Location: 1 Brimley Road South
Rouge National Urban Park
Rouge National Urban Park was designated as Canada’s first National Urban Park in 2015. This slice of outdoor lovers’ paradise is a mix of wetlands, bluffs, forests and meadows. It also is home to the Carolinian forest ecosystem with hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants. The Rouge National Urban Park is rich in biodiversity and home to Canada’s oldest know Indigenous sites.
The park overlaps Toronto and the neighbouring cities of Markham and Pickering. It is 16 times larger than Vancouver’s Stanley Park, 19 times bigger than New York’s Central Park and 41 times larger than Toronto’s High Park. It stretches from Lake Ontario in the south, north to the post-glacial Oak Ridges Moraine in the north.
Whether you’re into canoeing, hiking, biking or just want to walk around and enjoy nature, this is the place for you. With extensive trails, scenic viewpoints and historical sites, the Rouge National Urban Park will make you feel like you’re far away from the city. There is also a handy app that makes exploring this park a breeze.
Location: 1749 Meadowvale Road
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Tommy Thompson Park (Leslie Street Spit)
Unlike the other Toronto parks, the Tommy Thompson Park is located on a man-made peninsula that stretches 5 km (3 miles) into Lake Ontario. Known as the Leslie Street Spit, the park is one of the largest natural habitats on Toronto’s waterfront.
Numerous wildflower meadows, forests, marshes and dunes are great for nature and bird watching. The park is home to over 400 species of plants and habitat for numerous birds, butterflies, small mammals and amphibians. It’s also a great place for hiking, cycling, rollerblading and fishing.
The park is a popular spot for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It also a great spot for amazing views of the Toronto skyline.
Location: 1 Leslie Street
Toronto Island Park
Unlike other Toronto parks, the Toronto Island Park (also known as the Toronto Islands) is a group of 15 interconnected islands. You can travel between the islands using the numerous pathways and bridges.
The islands offer plenty of options for everyone. It’s a great place to explore on foot or by bike. With a bike, kayak and boat rentals, gardens, playgrounds, an amusement park and a lighthouse, the islands are a great escape from the city. There are also several beaches to choose from, including the clothing-optional beach on Hanlan’s Point.
To get to the Toronto Islands, you can take a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street and Queen’s Quay. The ferries run to Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island. For tickets and ferry schedules, check out the official site.
Wilket Creek Park
The Wilket Creek Park is a wilderness valley with undisturbed woodlands that are home to many uncommon bird species and rare plants. With pedestrian and bicycle trails, it’s a great place for outdoor lovers. Here you’ll find mature coniferous and deciduous forests nestled between the ravines and creeks.
Over the years, the park has undergone several rehabilitation undertakings including wildflower plantings and natural regeneration projects. With about 4 km (about 2.5 miles) in size, Wilket Creek Park is smaller than the other Toronto parks mentioned here. However, it does feel like you are away from the city and offers a quick escape from the hustle and bustle surrounding it.
The main entrance to the park is on Leslie Street just north of Eglington Avenue East. You can also access the park from Edwards Gardens, or the Sunnybrook Park.
Location: 1100 Leslie Street
Toronto parks in summary
With 1,500 parks in Toronto, everyone can find something to enjoy. From parkettes, botanical gardens and viewpoints to sports fields and recreation areas. There are numerous options to enjoy the outdoors.
In addition to the Toronto parks already listed here, there are numerous trails and outdoor areas that interconnect throughout the city. Whether you like to bike, rollerblade or walk, you have many options to choose from.