After looking back, I realized that I’ve written a number of posts about favourite places in Toronto, so I wanted to collect them together onto one page so that you could find them. I’ll keep updating this page as I add more posts.
Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! As part of its COVID-19 strategy, the City of Toronto had closed some facilities in the parks noted below. Check the City’s website for more info before you go.
And now on to the regular post …..
I was thinking about how to make an all-day walk that tied together some of my favourite parks and trails in mid-Toronto, and looking at a map I realized that I could put together something that stared and ended in mid-town and took in the Don Valley, the lakefront, and the parks and trails to the west around Roncesvalles. Here’s what I came up with:
Length: Depending on your exact route and any detours, it will be about 30-32 km. Allow yourself about 7-8 hours to give time for breaks, picnics, and perhaps some shopping.
Surface: Mostly paved, with some gravel paths along the Kay Gardner Beltline.
Public Transit: Take subway Line 1 to Davisville Station and walk south 2 blocks along Yonge Street to Merton Street. Cross at the lights, walk about 50m east and turn into the laneway behind condo to reach the Beltline Trail opposite the gate into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The finish is the same spot, so just reverse your steps to get back to Davisville Station.
Starting in mid-town on the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail on the north side of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, it follows that Trail through the Cemetery and then out on the south-east end, to continue down the Moore Ravine past the Don Valley Brickworks. Here, divert to the Brickworks for a pitstop, and then cross Bayview to join the Lower Don Trail.
Continue south on the Don Valley Trail to Rosedale Valley Drive. Since the Don Trail stops here, it climbs the hill beside St. James Cemetery and then enters Riverdale Park, following the trails there back down into the Don Valley to pick up the Lower Don Trail again. Continuing south, it reaches Corktown Common and then bends around to the west as it joins the Martin Goodman Trail along the lake.
Continuing west on the Martin Goodman Trail, you go all the way across to Sunnyside Park, and then take the footbridge over the roads and rail lines to reach Roncesvalles Avenue. Walking north up Roncy, you reach Grenadier Road, turn east for a bit, and then jog north up Sorauren Avenue to reach Dundas St W. Turning east, you follow Dundas for about 100m to reach the start of the West Toronto Rail Trail. This takes you north for several km past Bloor Street, and deposits you on Osler St, where you jog north and west to reach Davenport Road, just west of Earlscourt Park.
Cutting through the park, you emerge onto St. Clair Avenue at the bottom of Prospect Cemetery. The roads through here wind north and exit onto Eglinton Avenue. Turning west for a bit, you find Caledonia Road, go north to Bowie Avenue, and then turn west to pick up the start of the York Beltline Trail. This then curves north and then east, taking you eventually to Marlee Avenue. Exiting this trail, you cross Marlee at the lights, follow Elmridge Drive over the Allen Expressway, and then turn into the lane to join the Kay Gardner Beltline again at its western end. Following this all the way back to Mount Pleasant Cemetery completes the loop.
What I like about this route is that it shows off so many of the best parts of Toronto – the parks, the ravines, the trails, the lake, and diverse neighbourhoods full of shops, restaurants, and bars. You get some natural fun along with some urban colour.
At the start, Mount Pleasant Cemetery is worth a visit all by itself. I love wondering its cool shaded roads and exploring the history of Toronto expressed in the headstones and monuments. The Kay Gardner Beltline Trail is incorporated into the Cemetery, so you can just follow the purple line painted on the road, or you can detour and explore a bit.
As you exit the Cemetery, you enter one of the best walking trails in Toronto, the Moore Ravine Trail. The trees, the quiet, the burbling of Mud Creek, and the people watching are all fantastic. It’s a short walk, but it then takes you past the Don Valley Brickworks, again a worthy destination on its own.
From the Brickworks, following the Lower Don Trail takes you under the Prince Edward Viaduct that carries Bloor Street and the subway over the Don Valley. Climbing the hill at Rosedale Valley Road takes you into Riverdale and east Cabbagetown. The zoo and park here are great fun for kids, and in summer the hot dog and ice cream vendors are worth a treat.
And of course, then there’s Corktown. The Common is one of my favourite recent additions to the City. I remember this area in the 1980’s as a post-industrial grey wasteland, and to see it now, transformed, is to be reminded that even if we badly bugger up the world, we can, if we put our minds to it, help nature reclaim and renew it.
The Martin Goodman Trail takes you through the Queen’s Quay neighbourhood, another area that’s seen huge changes over the past 20 years. The shops at Queens Quay itself have been joined in the area by many condo’s, and while I can’t say I’m a fan of tall glass towers, it does mean that there’s a much more residential feel in the area now. Combine that with reminders of industry like the Redpath Sugar Mills along with the marinas, the Harbourfront Centre’s art galleries, and little parks like the Toronto Music Garden and you get a diverse area with many things worth a detour and exploration.
Past Queens Quay, the lakeshore all the way west is mostly one big big green space divided into several parks – Coronation, Marilynn Bell, and Sunnyside. Each is chockfull of picnic areas, benches, Adirondack chairs, and cool shade. I could do without the roar of traffic from the busy nearby roads, but when you get a little quiet lull, the honk of geese and splash of waves reminds you that you’re next to Toronto’s greatest feature – Lake Ontario.
Then you jump back into urban life, along Roncesvalles, where shops, restaurants, and bars abound. There’s a lot of life here and it’s changed so much over the past 20 years that I hardly recognize it. The recent addition of the Museum of Contemporary Art to the area just continues to boost an already-booming area.
The West Toronto Rail Path leads you into an area that hasn’t yet been gentrified (yes there are still some of those in mid-Toronto). This area still has a lot of older untrendy shops that remind you that actual working-class people still live in actual working-class houses.
And then Earlscourt Park, leading to the Corso Italia area along St. Clair Avenue West brings you into a slice of Toronto that has seen waves of newcomers bring life along with their culture and foods. It’s changing still as it always has – come back in 20 years and the Corso Italia may become Little Mexico.
Prospect Cemetery is a cool oasis about 3/4s of the way through this walk, and like Mount Pleasant, it’s a reminder of so many things about Toronto’s past. Whereas Mount Pleasant’s early headstones show the Anglo-Scots surnames of the “Toronto the Good” era, in Prospect Cemetery the names are Irish, Ukrainian, Polish, and Portuguese – west Toronto has been working class for more than one hundred years.
You see that working class vibe as you leave Prospect and cross Eglinton. The houses and shops here are smaller but no less well tended than the bigger places near, for example, Rosedale or Forest Hill. And then joining the York Beltline, you are joining a path that follows one of the key transportation links that made this area an industrial powerhouse for decades. It’s slowly becoming more residential, and as you walk east back towards the finish, you move back in time from the newer redevelopments into the older, greener mid-town neighbourhoods.
In walking this, in many ways you do loops in time and in demographics as well as geographically. Along the way, the route takes you from the old City of York which dates back to 1780’s, neighbourhoods that grew up between the mid-nineteenth though to the mid-twentieth centuries, and up into the latest waves of downtown urbanization. It covers inner-city rent-controlled public housing, the latest young-homeowner condo forests, older working-class, and upscale old-money. And, it shows off the natural features of Toronto that I like the most – the ravines, creeks, rivers, and the lake.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the time of year will offer a lot of variety to this walk. You can do this in any season, though some of the trails can get icy in January and February. It’s, shall we say, bracing to walk along the lake in the winter, but when it’s cold and the waves are high the natural ice sculptures can be dramatic. Of course, autumn would always be lovely given the many treed paths and parks so a crisp October day might be perfect. And spring and summer offer their own joys. I did this walk recently, in July 2020, and picked a day that was in the mid-20’s. There are some stretches, especially near Ontario Place and on the York Beltline, where there is little shade, so if it’s bright and sunny you’ll definitely need sun protection.
Food & Refreshment:
There are many, many options along this route. If you like picnics, this route offers some excellent locations in the parks you pass. If you like quick bites, then there’s that too – food trucks, ice cream, coffee, and little cafes. And of course, there are restaurants galore, in parks like the Brickworks, or in neighbourhoods like Queens Quay, Roncevalles, or the Corso Italia.
Washrooms are located in most of the parks along the way, though many are closed in the cold months (November-April). There are year-round washrooms at the Brickworks, along Queens Quay, and in the community centres at Earlscourt Park and Memorial Park. There are also many coffee shops along the way where you can use the facilities for the price of a coffee.
In terms of water fountains, it’s best to carry at least some water. There are places in many of the parks but these are turned off in the cold months. Other liquid refreshment options abound along Queens Quay and in Roncesvalles.
This is a route that is easy to break up over several days. The parks make good jumping on/off points – Corktown Common, Coronation Park, and Earlscourt Park are all near streetcar stops and can work well this way.
If you are coming in from outside Toronto, you might want to stop/start at Union Station instead of Davisville. You can take the GO Train to Union and walk down Bay Street to Queens Quay, and join the loop that way.
I’ve described this going clockwise around Toronto, but of course you could do it counter-clockwise. Either way, you have to descend from mid-town to the lake and climb back again, though I find the climb through Earlscourt and Prospect Cemetery to be a bit less steep than up the Don Valley and the Moore Ravine.
In walking this, you’ll pass some great shopping/dining areas, especially around Corktown – the Distillery District and St. Lawrence Market are an easy detour away, and you can avoid the industrial grunge around the bottom of the Lower Don Trail where it joins the Martin Goodman Trail.
If you really want to extend your loop, you can also incorporate the Toronto Islands. Just take the ferry at the bottom of Yonge over to Wards Island, walk the path west to Hanlon’s Point and ferry back to the docks to rejoin the path I’ve outlined. I’d allow at least 1.5 hours for this, including ferry waiting times.
Part of a series on my favourite places to go for a walk in Toronto
Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Restrictions placed by either the Province of Ontario or the City of Toronto may limit what you can do. Check the links for the latest info.
And now on to the regular post …..
Ronscesvalles is both a neighbourhood and a street, and its location next to High Park makes it a perfect area to explore, shop, and eat either before or after wandering the park.
Location: The neighbourhood of Roncesvalles parallels the avenue of the same name for a few blocks to the east and west of the street. Roncesvalles Avenue starts a couple of blocks south of Bloor Street West, and runs south to end at Queen Street West. It’s bounded to the east by the train tracks that curve up from near Queen at about Landsdowne Street, and on the west by High Park, although many people would consider the streets immediately adjacent to the park to be the neighbourhood of High Park. Anyway, just aim for Roncesvalles Avenue and you know you are in Roncy the neighbourhood.
Public Transit: Take Line 2 west to Keele Station, and walk south on Dundas a couple of blocks until the road forks – follow the right hand fork and you are on Roncesvalles Avenue. Or, take the 501 Queen streetcar from either Queen Station or Osgood Station on Line 1, and get off at the south end of Roncesvalles Avenue.
Why I like it:
Roncy the neighbourhood for me is really about the shops and restaurants along Roncesvalles Avenue. Years ago, when I first moved to Toronto, my brother had a tiny studio apartment at the corner of Dundas and Bloor. I used to visit and we’d walk down Roncy Avenue, which back then reflected the eastern European wave of immigration that had settled in the area in the 1920’s and 1930’s. You could get a decent schnitzel and a beer (but not much else) at a half-dozen places back then.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the area started changing. The older generation started to sell off to a younger, and as we moved into the 2000’s, these younger folks had a different food and shopping sense. The older eastern European places started to change hands and gradually, as part of restaurant trends throughout the city, new flavours and cultures started to settle. Today, it’s 2 km of funky restaurants mixed with old favourites, where you can get a great BBQ, quality seafood, Asian fusion, and much more. You can also shop for locally grown organic produce, cheeses, books, clothes, or antiques, stop for a local not-another-coffee-chain coffee, or indulge in a drink at one of several bars.
Plus, you are just a couple of blocks from High Park. It’s easy to start on Roncy for breakfast or lunch, then go for nice stroll around the Park and end up back on Roncy to pick up fruit and veg for dinner before heading home. Of course, you can do the opposite and start in the Park for a brisk, appetite-building walk before satisfying that hunger in one of Roncy’s many restaurants.
To be honest, if your idea of sights includes tall buildings and high culture, then this may not your place. On the other hand, if your idea of sights includes some funky fresh menu options and window-shopping in a real neighbourhood filled with the diversity of Toronto, then you are in the right place. Combine that with the natural beauty of High Park and you’re set.
Even then, there is culture in the hood. Just east of Roncy there is the new Museum of Contemporary Art on Sterling Road. Since that opened, a number of gallery spaces have started up in the area, creating a new cluster of art buzz that takes you outside the cloister that used to be centred near the AGO in downtown Toronto. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Another cool option is the Dream in High Park, when the Canadian Stage Company puts on a full length play by Shakespeare during the summer. I remember going 30 years ago (Midsummer’s Night Dream?), and it’s still a tradition. [Sad note: COVID-19 has cancelled this for 2020, alas! Cross your fingers for 2021]
Of course, walking in the park is its own type of culture. I like coming in any season. Autumn of course is a natural, with the turning leaves. Spring is also great, especially in May when the cherry blossoms bloom in High Park (beware the crowds though, weekends can be brutal). A summer day is great, and so is a winter’s afternoon. Oh, let’s be honest, it’s always good. Just come.
Food & Refreshment:
As I’ve said, there are many restaurant, food shop, and bar options up and down Roncesvalles Avenue. There are also many more along Bloor West which forms the northern border of High Park, especially to the west of the park. These days as well, if you walk the length of Roncy down to Queen West and then turn left (east), you’ll go through Parkdale and several other changing/renewing neighbourhoods. It can be a great walk that way too.
In High Park itself, there’s a couple of places to eat including the famous Grenadier Restaurant, and often ice cream or food truck vendors in summer. There are washrooms throughout the park and lots of water fountains [but COVID-19 has many water fountains shut off in 2020 so bring your own water], though these are open only in the warm months between May and October. In the cool months, there are lots of coffee shops back on Bloor or Roncy where you can have a quick pit stop.
Starting just east of Roncesvalle Avenue, at Lansdowne and Queen, is the newish West Toronto Railpath. It runs sort of north-south, and takes you up north of Bloor to near Davenport Road. It’s being expanded and in a few years will be connected into the city’s wider bike plan.
Within High Park itself there are many trails and roads, some paved and some not. On a quiet weekday, it’s easy to get lost in what can feel like a giant forest in the middle of Toronto. You can spend a couple of hours covering many km of trails.
High Park is also home to the High Park Zoo, a small but fun place for kids. We took our son there many times when he was a wee lad.
At the bottom of Roncesvalles Avenue, where it crosses Queen West, there is a bridge and connector trail that crosses the train tracks, the busy Gardiner Expressway, and Lakeshore Boulevard. This lets you jump onto the Martin Goodman Trail along the shore of Lake Ontario, at Sunnyside Park. Either direction, east or west, is fun. I like to go west and cross back over Lakeshore at about Ellis Avenue in order to walk north just to the west of High Park, through the neighbourhood of Swansea, and end up back on Bloor West. From there I can turn right (east) and finish back at Roncesvalles.