From my travels, when I think about Canada, I’ve always thought nature in the west like Vancouver and British Columbia and concrete jungle in the east. But don’t let Toronto fool you. It has beauty and cement!
After a little research and exploring in Toronto, I found that there are lots of places to get outdoors and enjoy nature less than 2 hours from the city!
For info on where I ate and slept in Toronto, check out my post here.
Similar to New York City’s Central Park, High Park is an urban park to the west of the concrete jungle of Toronto and just north of Lake Ontario. But at 399 acres, it’s MUCH larger than Central Park. High Park is very easy drive but I actually ended up running the five miles from downtown to get there. It’s a beautiful (and exhausting!) run along the Lake.
The park has several hiking trails, waterfront areas, a zoo, children’s playgrounds, a couple restaurants and tons of beautiful gardens.
OK I’m going to hit you with some honesty for a second…the High Park Zoo is really sad. The 9 paddocks are very small but it is free and inside you’ll find peacocks, reindeer, llamas and more. The animals looked miserable and the grounds aren’t kept up very well. But I guess that’s what you get for a free zoo. Shall we start a GoFundMe to free the animals!?
I digress! Since I was training for a half marathon at the time, I spent my fall visit to High Park on foot exploring as much of the 399 acres as I could. I stopped into one of the restaurants for water but there were also vending machines.
Although I wasn’t there to see Vancouver Island during it’s summer prime, I could tell it’s an amazing place to spend a Saturday during the warmer months.
Toronto Island is a short ferry ride from downtown Toronto. Ferries leave from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal located west of the Westin Harbor hotel at 9 Queens Quay West. You can buy tickets online or at the terminal. An adult return ticket is $7.50.
Ferry times vary by season. In the summer, fall and spring, there are ferries to Ward’s Island, Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point but in the winter there are only ferries to Ward’s Island. You can check exact ferry times here.
On the island, you can rent bikes, check out the children’s playgrounds, Gibraltar Point Lighthouse and the beach. There’s also the Centreville Amusement Park with more than 30 rides. It is open from late April through late September.
The ferry ride alone is enjoyable as well as the parks around Toronto Island. But definitely check it out in the summer months. I know I’ll be heading back to scope out the beach!
Dundas Peak/Tew’s Falls
If you have a car in Toronto and are looking for more of a drive, check out Dundas Peak/Tew’s Falls. It’s a little over an hour from downtown Toronto and in the fall months, I would have driven two hours for the view!
Dundas Peak is a hiking area in Hamilton, west of Toronto.
It costs $5 to park your car and they only take cash. You can park at Tew’s Falls or Webster Falls. There isn’t much in the area but if you do forget cash, there’s a tiny convenience store down the road with a rusty old ATM.
Because I didn’t have cash or a debit card, I chose to park on a side street like the rest of the droves of cars. Bad mistake! When I came back about 45 minutes later, I had a $60 CAD parking ticket. The cops know about the massive amount of people coming to Dundas Peak (and lack of parking) so they are sitting there waiting for you. Whoops!
The view of the falls is an easy 5 minute walk from the Tew’s Falls parking lot.
From there, the walk to Dundas Peak is about 15 minutes through a winding, but very easy, wooded pathway. It’s just a dirt path so I would recommend sneakers, boots or at least shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Definitely check out Dundas Peak in the fall months. I mean look at those colors! You don’t see colors like that in Manhattan!
Well, duh! Niagara Falls is about an hour and a half drive west of Toronto. It’s an easy drive but there is also a train which takes about 3 hours. There are several bus options as well that depart from downtown Toronto.
There is a Canadian side of the falls as well as an American side. On the Canadian side, you’ll find several bars, restaurants, hotels and casinos. Note that if you want to drive to the American side of the Falls, you will need your passport or enhanced driver’s license. But I’ve always gone to the Canadian side because to me there is more to do such as the casinos and nightlife.
For day time attractions, the Maid of the Mist tour that takes you to the base of the falls with a complimentary rain poncho is a must! Another option is the Cave of the Winds which takes you on an elevator 175 feet down into Niagara Gorge. There, with your complimentary poncho, you can walk up close to the falls and experience the power of the water.
As a native to Rochester, NY, I visited Niagara Falls several times growing up. It’s a little less than 2 hours from Rochester and just 30 minutes from Buffalo, NY. I haven’t been back since 2012 so enjoy this very old, Blackberry photo of me visiting the falls in the early spring 2012!
For more on Niagara Falls, click here.
Where are your favorite places to get outside and enjoy nature near Toronto?