With spring finally upon us, it signals the release of Ontario and the GTA from winter’s icy grip. Meaning it’s finally time to start getting excited about the promise of warmer weather ahead and all the opportunities for fun outdoor activities it brings with it.
For myself, and many others, a big part of this is taking every opportunity to get out and enjoy an exhilarating hike or a leisurely trail walk through the many amazing green spaces and natural areas found throughout the city and the surrounding area.
Spending time in nature can be a great way to practice some much-needed self-care and balance your mental well-being. It helps in reducing stress, calming the mind, and offers a well-deserved break from the often hectic demands and stimuli of urban life.
It can also help you develop an appreciation for the natural world and the importance of preserving our greenspace and natural habitats. Along the way it may even spark an interest in some other new hobbies such as birdwatching, wild foraging, or learning more about our local ecosystems!
So, if hiking or exploring nature trails has always been something you’ve wanted to do but don’t know where to start, or if you’re maybe new to Toronto and don’t know the area well enough to dive in, our list below can help you find a spot to get away from it all and enjoy some of the amazing nature Ontario has to offer. Even if you’re already a huge advocate for hiking, trail walks, and getting into nature, read on and just maybe you’ll discover an amazing new spot to explore that you’ve never been!
Trails and greenspace around Toronto
This short trail only takes about 20 minutes end-to-end but offers a leisurely walk among greenery, creeks, and relatively unspoiled woodland that can, in places, make you forget you’re right in the centre of midtown Toronto. This trail can be found between the neighbourhoods of Forest hill and Cedarvale, running from the St. Clair West subway entrance/exit on Heath St, through Cedarvale Park, and stretching nearly up to Eglinton Ave. It makes for a nice beginner-level trail that can be fit into your schedule even on a busy day.
Located in the city’s west end and encompassing nearly 400 acres, this massive park is certainly no secret in Toronto. However, there is much more to it than just manicured gardens and a great spot for a picnic. About one-third of the park’s land remains untouched in a completely natural state, containing wetland habitat and dozens of rare native plant species. In fact, these significant natural parts of the park are classified as Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest by the provincial government, providing vital habitat for a huge variety of wildlife and migratory birds that are otherwise quite rare and threatened in southern Ontario.
All this makes walking many of the trails in High Park particularly amazing and rewarding, allowing you to experience what the natural environments of Toronto’s lands were like hundreds of years ago before being dominated by the urban landscape we know today.
Don River Valley
The land of the Don River Valley bisects the city, separating east from west as it winds its way nearly unbroken from Gerard St E all the way up to Highway 401, acting as a huge corridor of green space and natural environment.
Dozens of nature trails are found within this corridor, with many branching off to follow the routes of other creeks and ravines that feed into the Don and pass through many of the city’s largest parks as well as several conservation areas. The trails range from leisurely strolls to more intermediate hikes that require a bit more time and commitment. However, they are no doubt worth it, offering up the some of the largest continual stretches of natural-state woodland in the city.
The lands of the Don River Valley also support a significant variety of migratory bird species, speaking from experience, it’s always a great idea to pack a good pair of binoculars while walking its trails. However, if birds aren’t your thing, the lands are also home to a huge array of other wildlife and beautiful scenery.
Trails and areas a bit more outside the city
If you’re wanting to leave the city behind and immerse yourself in nature even more, there is certainly no shortage of amazing hiking trails just outside of Toronto in Ontario’s Greenbelt where you can really indulge your sense of adventure.
Forks of the Credit Provincial Park
Found near Belfountain in Caledon this provincial park is part of the Niagara Escarpment, making for some exceptionally beautiful vistas and much more varied terrain than what is normally found in southern Ontario.
Passing alongside mixed-woodland, wetlands, winding rivers, waterfalls, meadows, and cliffs, the trail through this park provides a dramatic feast for the eyes and showcases some of the very best natural beauty found in our province.
Hilton Falls Conservation Area
Located just north of Milton in the Halton region, this forested conservation area contains many beautiful and winding trails, making it easy to lose yourself in moment and follow whichever path you feel calling to you most.
As its names suggests, it is also renowned for its iconic waterfall, which is found next to the historic ruins of an old mill. So, if you’re someone who needs that extra bit of encouragement and the feeling of the payoff at the end of the journey this is certainly the trail for you.
Nashville Conservation Reserve
Located in Vaughan’s northwest, this huge reserve serves as a vital protected area for a large stretch of the Humber River watershed that is free from development. Hundreds of acres of woodland and wetland provide a sanctuary for many provincially endangered species. The long trails that run through it provide a true sense of nature’s peace, quiet, and calm, making it the ultimate city escape.
However, this serenity is in danger of being disturbed, with plans for provincial Highway 413 slated to cut through a portion of this reserve, disturbing the ecosystem and destroying vital habitat forever. It makes visiting conservation areas like this all the more important in order to gain an understanding and appreciation of how much our nature has to offer us and why it’s worth protecting, instead of simply viewing it as more land for development.