Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.
Hey Toronto, remember to Practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! That means that, unfortunately, Tommy Thompson Park is closed right now, until restrictions are lifted. Read on to dream about walks when we’re all released from our cages.
And on to the regular post …..
For the past 150 years, Toronto has been growing and building at a furious rate – the skyline has evolved with every decade, as new towers join and dwarf older ones. In recent years, there have been more than 100 high rise buildings under construction at any one time.
All of that development, including the roads that connect it, has resulted in massive amounts of demolition and of excavation, which has created hundreds of thousands of tons of construction debris. It all has to go somewhere, and for 50+ years that somewhere was Lake Ontario.
And thus, from debris was a park born. Today, through a lot of effort from a lot of people and groups, especially the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, the Leslie Street Spit has become Tommy Thompson Park, and the Trail within the park has become one of the most popular in the city. While many bike out to the tip of the park, I like to walk it in a loop. It’s a great way to escape the city – it can be so quiet that, on a winter’s day, you can hear the ice groaning along the water’s edge. And yet, only a couple of km away, that ever-changing Toronto skyline is in full view – the park is one of the best places for taking selfies of the city. And it’s also one of the best places to view wildlife in Toronto, home to many species of birds and waterfowl, as well as squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, beaver, and more. It’s a favourite year-round, and a must for any visitor to Toronto.
Length: about 12 km if you do the full loop around the tip
Surface: gravel and pavement, about 50% each though you can use the paved road the whole way if you’d like
Public Transit: take the #83 Jones bus south to Commissioners Road, either from Donlands station on Subway Line 2 or from the 501 Queen East streetcar.
Route: Starting from the parking lot at #1 Leslie Street, follow the trail signs into the park. The walking trail proceeds south and west from the car park just to the south (left-hand) side of roadway. If the trail is too muddy, you can just walk the road. Follow the trail/road about 1 km into the park, until you come to a gate on the south side (left-hand) side. Turn left and follow the trail/road along the south side of the ponds. Where the road turns right (north), on the lake side of the road, there is a gravel/dirt path. Follow that along the shore to the tip of the point, by the lighthouse. Loop around the lighthouse and follow the trail back to the roadway. Follow the roadway straight east all the way back to the the car park, where you started.
Sights: For me, there are several key sights along the way. First and foremost, there’s that stunning view of the Toronto skyline.
Then of course there is the wildlife, especially waterfowl. In spring and autumn, there are many migratory species coming through – I’ve seen clouds of raptors like hawks, eagles, and vultures, as well as swans, geese, ducks, gulls, and many other species.
I’ve also seen a lot of evidence of coyotes, though I’ve never actually seen one in the park. Similarly, there are often trees downed by beavers, though again the actual animals keep hidden during the day. Both of these species are nocturnal, so one of these days I’m planning to visit late in the evening, just at sundown, to catch some of the night critters.
In summer, there are also many species of butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects, plus snakes, turtles, toads, frogs, and fish in the ponds. You can spend hours just exploring the ponds and observing in the smaller creatures.
As well as the city and the wildlife, there’s also the lake itself. In any season, sitting by the water and listening to the lap of the waves is deeply relaxing. I’m sure it’s also pretty dramatic during a storm, though also pretty exposed.
And finally, there’s an interesting free-form artistic side to the park. Over the years, many people have built sculptures out of the construction debris – wires, bricks, concrete and rebar are combined with driftwood to create some fantastic pieces.
Food & Refreshment: This is a bring your own picnic spot, because there no restaurants or refreshments in the park. At the intersection of Leslie and Lakeshore, just outside the park, there are several coffee shops as well as a grocery store, so you can pick up snacks there. Bring lots of water, especially in the summer, because there are no fountains anywhere. There are also few washrooms – just a couple of portapotties along the way.
Diversions: I’ve drawn the full loop trail on the map, but you can also make a shorter walk by cutting across the park about a third of the way along.
You can also just go straight along the north road to the tip, and back the same way – it’s a bit more sheltered/shaded if the weather is blustery or sunny, and it’s a bit shorter that way as well.
One other alternative is to start at Cherry Beach
and follow the Waterfront Trail to the entrance to Tommy Thompson Park – that adds about 1.5 km, and is a nice walk in its own right.
Finally, the TRCA hosts various events in the park, so check out the park website to see what’s happening.