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And now on to the regular post …..
Over the past several months, I’ve written about a number of my favourite walks in Toronto. This time, I wanted to highlight something a bit different.
One of the many great things about living in Toronto is the work that the City has put into exploring its past and making it accessible to a new generation of residents and visitors. One of they ways of doing that is a fantastic program called Discovery Walks.
Each of these walking routes explores some of City’s many natural features like the lakefront or the ravine trail system, and along the way points out the history of the City.
For example, the Garrison Creek walk takes you through downtown Toronto following the route of the now-buried creek that, back in the 1790’s, emptied into Lake Ontario near what today is about Bathurst Street. Following this route takes you through some interesting inner-city neighbourhoods that are full of history, as well as fantastic shopping, bars, and restaurants.
If you visit the City’s website, the list of walks shown includes a map for each route. There are currently 11 of them, and they’re all great. Whether you’re a lifelong resident of Toronto or a visitor with an afternoon to fill, check them out! Toronto is a great walking city (ahem, it’s what I’ve been blogging about for months now!) and these walks prove it.
Length: Each trail is different. They are usually in the 1-3 hour range for a typical walker, and you can jump on/off any of these walks in many places.
Surface: A mixture – mostly they are paved and suitable for strollers and mobility devices, though there can be some gravel portions. Check each route map for details.
Public Transit: Each walk is accessible at start and finish by public transit, usually a combination of streetcar and subway, with some bus travel too. Each route map has details.
Route: See the City website for details. Each route has a detailed map that you can download.
Sights: Each of the walks has many sights to take in. Some are more nature-oriented, like the Humber Marshes, and some are more urban, like the Downtown or Uptown walks.
Any of these walks works well in any season. That said, I’ve always liked Toronto best in about mid-October on a crisp early autumn blue-sky day when the leaves have started to turn but it’s still warm enough for light clothes.
Food & Refreshment:
Most of the routes take you past at least some type of refreshments, either along the route or near the start or finish. Each route map will have some details.
Also, most of the routes take you at least partially through various City parks and trails, and there are public washrooms in most of them. There are also water fountains in most parks. Be aware, however, that these are usually seasonal so they are closed between roughly late October through early May.
Besides the public facilities, Toronto is well-endowed with coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and numerous other places where you can make a pit stop of one kind or another.
Can I suggest blending some of my Favourite Walks with the Discovery Walks? Check out my list and you’ll see that portions of my favourite walks cover the same trails (the Beltline for example) as one of the Discovery Walks. You can walk my route but use the Discovery Walk for more historical info. Or you can walk the Discovery Walk and use my walk for pictures and maps. Mix and match.
As the late great Ernie Banks used to say, let’s play two – why stop at one Discovery Walk when you can link them together and make a great outdoor day. For example, the Lambton House walk route is adjacent to the Humber River route.
A great walk in any season, following the Don River north from the lake takes you through some of the best parks in Toronto.
Length: about 13.5 km
Surface: 90% paved with a bit of packed gravel
Public Transit options to get to Corktown include the street car from King Station on subway Line 1, along King to Cherry Street and then a short walk to Corktown. I like to subway to King Station and walk from there to Corktown, about 2 km. At the other end, there’s the Leslie 51 or the Lawrence East 54 bus from Edwards Gardens, which both take you back to Eglinton Station on subway Line 1.
From the south end at Corktown Common, the Lower Don Trail takes you up past several points where you can jump on or off – at Queen Street, Riverdale Park, Pottery Road, Crothers Woods, Don Mills, Thorncliffe, or Eglinton. You can take public transit to or from all of these, or you can find parking in many of the parks. Also the Toronto cycle path network intersects with the Trail at multiple points, so you can jump on/off that way as well.
I like to start at Corktown Common and go north. Years ago, this area was industrial, rundown, and polluted – I can remember travelling through here at the bottom of the Bayview Extension. Starting in the early 2000’s, the City of Toronto has led a transformation, so that today the new residential buildings are anchored by the green space of the park.
I’ve walked these trails in both directions multiple times, in all seasons. There’s always wildlife – ducks and geese, salmon spawning in the autumn, chipmunks and squirrels, coyotes, deer, raccoons, robins, redwing blackbirds, jays, crows, hawks, and falcons. There’s also the wildflowers, the autumn colours, the spring blooms, and the cool shaded groves, the willowy grasses and the whispering reeds. And of course the burble of the river, especially north of the Bloor Viaduct, is a constant.
There is a downside in the traffic on the Don Valley Expressway, which the trail abuts along the lower stretch, but you leave that behind once you get to E.T. Seton Park. When you walk north, you’re walking from the urban to the suburban, from the industrial to the pastoral.
Also, when you walk north you realize that there is a significant elevation gradient to Toronto. The Lake is at roughly 90 m above mean sea level, so at Corktown you’re just above that. Travelling north you are climbing, and by the time you get to the Botanical Gardens, you’ll have gained almost 100m to about 180m or so above MSL. That, plus the humps over the bridges, will easily get your stair count up.
That said, since the trail is mostly paved and you are climbing gently over a 13 km length, it’s an easy walk. You can stroll it or jog it, and it’s suitable for mobility devices like walkers and wheel chairs, as well as for baby carriages, strollers, and wagons. Just keep in mind that it is a shared path for bikes, so you have to keep an eye out for them.
Finally, there are lots of options for food and refreshment along the way. Near Corktown is the Distillery District, where there are several restaurants and bars. A bit further west from there is St. Lawrence Market, with even more choice. As you head north, there is a good restaurant at the Don Valley Brickworks, and there’s a cafe at the Botanical Gardens at the end of your hike. Or you can do what I like to do, and take a picnic lunch with you and find a spot to enjoy it – a favourite is the fish ladder about 1 km north of Pottery Road where you can sit by the river in the shade.