By Maggie Sylvester
After five days of subway rides, muggy weather, and sitting in a cubicle, there comes a point when everyone needs an escape.
It’s summer, after all, and as much fun as Toronto can be, sometimes spending a day with nature makes you appreciate the season that much more.
So grab a backpack, a map, and some H2O, ‘cause we’ve got a list of the best hiking trails in and around Toronto that you need to hit before summer’s out.
For the Occasional Hiker
Aka: you own at least one pair of shoes that aren’t sandals.
1. Centre Island: The ferry ride alone will give you all the fresh air you need. As Toronto’s island getaway, the various paths throughout the island give you the chance to make your own route. And once you’re finished you can rent a bike, kayak, or check out the clothing-optional beach for a real break from the city life.
2. High Park: As Toronto’s largest public park, High Park has many hiking trails to keep you busy all day. Bring a picnic and enjoy the lakefront or take a picture under the famous cherry trees. Even if you aren’t a nature person, come for the zoo, the soccer fields, or the dog parks. A hike at High Park can be as close to a stroll as you want it to be.
3. Mt Pleasant Cemetery: Yes, this is not technically a hike, but it made the list specifically for its beauty and location in the heart of Toronto. Meandre along the walking paths past statues, botanical gardens, and rare trees. These low-traffic roads can give you the perfect escape from the rush of Toronto without ever leaving the city.
4. Milkman’s Lane: This well-used path connects Rosedale to the Don Valley via a twisting path through the forest. It’s hard to believe it’s surrounded by urbanization, but the 130-year-old trail is well hidden amongst the trees. Take a short ramble through nature and if you’re feeling up to it, continue on to the Brickworks.
5. Sun Valley: This meadow-like path will take you to a new place, where the hustle and bustle of Toronto seems like a mere memory. Cross over bridges, walk through forests, and take in the nature.
For the Above-Average Hiker
Walking isn’t exercise unless it’s uphill both ways.
6. Cedar Trail: Get enveloped in this trail filled with meadows, small creeks, and wetlands. The old growth forests keep the path covered and provide cool shade from the hot sun. Be prepared for a couple of steep areas, but the beauty of the valley lands make the hike well worthwhile.
7. Scarborough Bluffs: While not the most difficult of the hikes, this may be the most beautiful. The Scarborough Bluffs offer a unique view of Lake Ontario while standing atop eroding sand cliffs. The top vantage point is an ideal location to take in a sunset or sunrise. Yes, we are telling you to go to Scarborough.
8. East Point Park: This hike contains the most wildlife – as in birds and (possibly hundreds of) monarch butterflies. The trail is carved out of a vast meadow, allowing hikers to see far distances around them (see: selfie with a view). And once you’re finished the hike you can even reward yourself with a swim at the beach.
9. Leslie Street Spit (Thompson Park): This park stands as the largest existing natural habitat on the Toronto waterfront. Standing amongst the wildflowers, coastal marshes and forests, it will be surprising to think you’re just minutes from downtown. Come immerse yourself in one of Toronto’s last standing unique natural habitats that isn’t called the Rogers Centre.
For the Advanced Hiker
You’ve never been in a car.
10. Mast Trail: A bit further off the beaten path than many of our other suggestions, Mast Trail makes up for its distance by having a rich history. Used as a logging road 200 years ago, this trail maintains many signs of its past. With steep grades, potentially slippery areas, and a hard 2.2km journey, Mast Trail is a challenging route for the more experienced hiker. Time yourself to take it up a notch.
11. Don River Trail: Although not a difficult hike in steepness, the length of this trail increases its difficulty. The 13.8-km hike winds through Toronto parks offering glimpses of the city’s history. This is a way to see Toronto in a new light while getting away from the busy traffic. Don’t forget that H2O we mentioned.
12. East Don River Trail: This lengthy, 11-km trail follows the river with a range of railway lines and heavily wooded areas. This path is unexpected, since within a couple of steps you can find yourself passing kids in a schoolyard to suddenly walking alone through the woods. Take in the wildlife Toronto has to offer (not to be confused with the wildlife found in the Entertainment District at 3am.)
13. Hockley Valley Trails: This heavily wooded terrain is the most challenging of our hikes. The steep and sometimes rolling terrain means that it definitely isn’t for everyone. This is for the down n’ dirty, uphill both ways kind of hiker. Leave your Tevas at home and get ready for some cardio.