Home to Canada’s largest urban population, Toronto is a hub of culture, art, industry, technology, finance and also diversity.
While adventure may not immediately come to mind when thinking of Toronto, you’ll be surprised at the opportunities on offer here. For one, there are far more ways to connect with nature than you may expect!
Read on to discover some of our top picks for adventure in Toronto, with a focus on outdoor activities and recently transformed urban locations.
Here’s what to expect:
- Take a hike in Rouge National Urban Park
- Discover the Don Valley Brick Works Park
- Go paddling on Lake Ontario
- Climb to the top of the lookout at Beare Hill Park
- Bike, run or stroll the MGT/Sunnyside Boardwalk
- Explore the Toronto Islands
- Go on a culinary adventure
- Chase waterfalls in Hamilton
- Take a day trip to Niagara Falls
- Even more adventure opportunities
- Where to stay in Toronto
This post was published 14th November 2022. We were hosted by Destination Toronto in October 2022, with Niagara Falls Tourism providing us entry to the Niagara Falls Power Station and dinner at Table Rock House Restaurant.
The city of Toronto is located on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.
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Take a hike in Rouge National Urban Park
Rouge National Urban Park spans an incredible 79.1 square kilometres, an area approximately 23 times the size of Central Park in New York City.
This up and coming project is not only the first of its kind in Canada, but it will also be the largest and best protected urban park in the world.
The park hosts a variety of ecosystems, including one of the region’s largest marshland, rare Carolinian forest and a beach on Lake Ontario. There’s human history to be found here too, with 10,000 year old Indigenous sites as well as some of Toronto’s last working farms.
This relatively new project currently has six day use areas plus a similar amount of additional trailheads. We primarily explored the Zoo Road Day Use Area which provides access to five different trails.
The gorgeous Vista Trail (1.5km) is a definite highlight, particularly in autumn when the path is lined by golden trees. A multi-level lookout offers sweeping views of the river valley.
We spotted snapping turtles on the Beare Wetlands Loop, a calming route circling a lake with a lively soundtrack of songbirds and waterfowl.
Discover the Don Valley Brick Works Park
The Don Valley Brick Works Park is a beautiful green retreat in the heart of Toronto.
But this is no ordinary park – a former quarry, the Don Valley Brick Works was the source of more than 40 million red bricks, some of which were used to build Toronto’s most famous buildings (Casa Loma, Massey Hall, the Legislature et al).
This industrial site has since been completely transformed into a beautiful 40 acre natural retreat, with wetlands, wildflower meadows and forest. It sits adjacent to Evergreen Brick Works, an abandoned brick factory turned shopping destination. This is urban regeneration done well!
A network of easy walking trails loop through the wetlands and around the ravine, with some paths following the edge of the elevated rim. A lookout offers spectacular views of the Toronto skyline. Visit in mid to late October to see the trees come alive with colour (we timed it perfectly!)
The history of this site goes way beyond the Brick Works. The clay that made the business so successful was deposited 12,000 years ago by a glacial lake.
Before that, the bottom of the quarry was once an ancient seabed, formed when the continental drift created Pangaea 320 million years ago. Many fossils of plants and animals have been found here.
Go paddling on Lake Ontario or the Humber River
Experience Toronto from a totally different perspective – from a kayak, SUP or canoe! Find a new adventure around every corner as you paddle Lake Ontario and enjoy uninterrupted city views.
One of the best places to rent a paddleboat is on the Toronto Islands. The protected lagoons around the Islands are usually pretty calm and flat, providing ideal paddling conditions. Prepare to find a new adventure around every corner!
Lake Ontario isn’t the only place to paddle in Toronto. An ideal alternative is the Humber River. This quiet, meandering river provides amazing wildlife watching opportunities…right in the heart of the city!
If paddling in Toronto is a priority for you, be sure to time your trip to during the main summer season (May to late September). Always wear the provided PFD and follow the guidance of the kayak rental company.
Climb to the top of the lookout in Beare Hill Park
From landfill to hiking haven…yes really! Beare Hill Park is a brand new natural area in Scarborough, transformed from a landfill.
The site was closed in 1983 and was originally set to become a ski hill. After being re-vegetated with wooded and grassland areas, Beare Hill has a new life as a hiking destination.
The most notable feature of the park is the eponymous 60m hill, one of the highest points of land in the Toronto area. The CN Tower can be spotted from the top. The sweeping views are even more impressive in fall, as the trees on the lower slopes turn golden.
Beare Hill is surrounded by Rouge National Urban Park, which makes a side trip both easy and worthwhile. Please note, however, that the only entrance at this time is located at 8145 Finch Avenue East. Since the park has only just opened (October 2022), expect to see continuing development over the next few years.
Bike, run or stroll the MGT/Sunnyside Boardwalk
Toronto is home of one of the world’s longest urban waterfronts with nearly 50km of beaches, parks and marinas bordering Lake Ontario.
The Martin Goodman Trail (MGT) follows the shoreline from Etobicoke Creek in the west to the Rouge River in the east, providing scenic (and traffic-free) adventure opportunities for cyclists, walkers and runners.
Start at the Inukshuk Park and then take a detour into Trillium Park for sweeping views of the city skyline. Head west past Ontario Place to Sunnyside Beach, a gorgeous stretch of golden sand. This is a 8km return trip (about two hours on foot).
Cyclists and runners may want to switch onto the Sunnyside Boardwalk and follow it to the beautiful Humber Bay Arch Bridge, which lies another 2km along the shore. For a longer run or bike ride, continue onto the Humber Bay Park Trail on the other side of the bridge.
If you don’t have your own bike, rent one from Bike Share Toronto. There are more than a dozen self service docking stations located along the Martin Goodman Trail.
Explore the Toronto Islands
For a real escape from the city, head to the Toronto Islands. This chain of 15 small islands is the largest urban car-free community in North America. It really does feel a world away from Toronto, despite being directly opposite the downtown area!
Ferry rides always make things feel more special and the ride over to the Toronto Islands is no different. During the main summer season, there are three different ferry routes.
Visiting in late October, only the Ward’s Island ferry was running. The 13 minute journey is a bargain at $8.70 return (2022 prices).
Once on the Islands, there are plenty of outdoor activities on offer – explore the many beautiful beaches, play disc golf, rent a kayak/SUP or simply chill in the park with a view of the Toronto skyline. Canada’s second oldest lighthouse can also be found on Centre Island.
Go on a culinary adventure
Take your tastebuds on an adventure in Toronto, with the help of Seed.Eat.Repeat. Self proclaimed food nerds Aashim and Amaara set out on a ‘Global Eats Challenge’ to find restaurants for every country’s cuisine in the Greater Toronto Area.
Their pandemic project went viral and so far, they’ve ‘travelled’ to more than 81 countries (the goal is 120). Aashim now leads food tours around underrated foodie neighbourhoods of the GTA, highlighting local businesses serving authentic eats. As a tour guide, his enthusiasm and passion for food is truly infectious!
We joined Aashim on a Middle Eastern food tour in Scarborough, sampling mamajoun (Armenian style flatbreads), halva, Palestinian shawarma, falafel, Lebanese style charcoal grilled fish and Nabulsi kunafa. The latter was probably my favourite – spun filo pastry soaked in sweet syrup with a layer of ooey gooey cheese. Just mouthwateringly good!
The richness of Toronto’s food scene isn’t just about diversity. The very first Toronto Michelin Guide was launched in September 2022, celebrating 13 new Michelin-starred restaurants plus 17 Bib Gourmand designations (outstanding food at affordable price points).
Specialising in simple Roman cuisine made with traditional methods, cosy Italian eatery Enoteca Sociale achieved the prized Bib Gourmand. Stand out dishes for us were the cacio e pepe, burrata salad, arancini and the melt-in-your mouth agnolotti ai funghi.
Chase waterfalls in nearby Hamilton
Toronto can be a base for outdoor adventure as well as a destination. One of the best nature hot spots in southern Ontario is the city of Hamilton, which is home to more than 100 waterfalls.
Hamilton owes its abundance of waterfalls to its position on the Niagara Escarpment, an arc-shaped rock ridge which stretches more than 700km across Ontario.
With the help of Toronto Eco Adventures, we visited three different waterfalls around Hamilton:
- Sherman Falls – 17m high curtain waterfall, hidden just beyond the road (private property)
- Tiffany Falls – 21m high ribbon waterfall surrounded by cliffs
- Albion Falls – Wide 19m high cascade with multiple rock ‘steps’
Of these, Sherman Falls was definitely my favourite. Though these waterfalls all had pretty low flow during our late October visit, the fall colours more than made up for it!
Take a day trip to Niagara Falls
Now, locals may scoff at the idea of visiting Niagara Falls as part of a trip to Toronto (“there’s plenty enough to do in the city!”) but, in my mind, you have to take every chance you get in life!
The easiest way to visit Niagara Falls from Toronto is to take a guided tour or shuttle. This completely removes the hassle of organising transportation, driving, parking and/or worrying about train and bus schedules.
Toronto Eco Adventures‘ small group excursion to Niagara Falls also includes stops at three other waterfalls in Hamilton on the way (see above section for more details).
Even if you’ve been to Niagara Falls before, it’s worth a second (or third!) visit. Not only is there something different to see each season, new attractions open often.
In July 2022, the historic Niagara Falls Power Station opened access to the 670m (2200 ft) long ‘tailrace’ tunnel that once returned the diverted water back into the Niagara River.
The Tunnel features a viewing platform right below Horseshoe Falls, offering a totally new point of view on this natural wonder. I’d recommend it as a must do while visiting Niagara Falls!
Even more adventure opportunities in and around Toronto
- Visit High Park: One third of this massive 399 acre expanse remains in its natural state. Go beyond the main attractions (Nature Centre, amphitheater, museum and pools) and explore surprisingly quiet and remote walking trails
- Explore Scarborough Bluffs: Eleven interconnected urban parks provide access to Scarborough Bluffs, a length of spectacular white cliffs rising above Lake Ontario
- Go horseriding: Year round horseriding opportunities are available at the Toronto Equestrian Downtown, located inside the Horse Palace building on Exhibition Grounds. Both beginner and experienced riders are welcome
- Adventure through time at Fort York National Historic Site: This 43-acre archeological park commemorates the Battle of York, where British Upper Canadian and First Nation fighters stood together against American soldiers. Free entry!
- Discover Tommy Thompson Park: This unique urban wilderness area is located on a man-made peninsula. It’s a great spot for birdwatching, with more than 300 recorded species seen here. Please note that dogs are not permitted
- Brave the EdgeWalk: See Toronto from a whole new prospective – the outside deck of the CN Tower! At 356m, this thrilling 90 minute experience is the highest external walk on a building in the world
- Take a tall-ship boat cruise: Set sail on a 3-masted 1930s schooner and enjoy views of the city from Lake Ontario. Guests can help the crew elevate the sails
- Go kiteboarding: Try something new and take a kiteboarding lesson. It promises to offer the the ultimate adrenaline rush. If there’s no wind, wakeboarding and wakesurfing are an option to!
Where to stay in Toronto
Treat yourself with a stay at Hotel X Toronto, a luxurious urban oasis located at historic Exhibition Place. Each room offers spectacular one-of-a-kind unobstructed views of downtown Toronto or Lake Ontario, with some of the corner suites showcasing both.
For another perspective, head up to the rooftop for a swim in the heated pool or a cocktail on the panoramic patio at Valerie.
A screening room and art gallery sit 28 floors below. Roses Cucina, an upscale Tex-Mex restaurant provides an alternative dining choice (whatever you do, have the lobster benedict for breakfast at least once).
Hotel X isn’t located in the main financial/entertainment district, and honestly, it’s all the better for it. Where else can you get views of the skyline quite like this?
Access to the hotel is also easier due to the lack of traffic in this area (with the exception of event days) and the entrance is only one junction away from the excellent MGT/Sunnyside Boardwalk.
Still have some energy after checking out the adventure suggestions in this post? Hotel X guests receive complimentary access to the Fitness Centre Gym at the incredible 10XTO.
This 90,000 square foot athletic centre boasts four indoor tennis courts (with natural lighting and 15m ceilings!), eight squash courts, Topgolf Swing Suite and even a hot yoga studio. Hotel guests receive preferential rates.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada