Defying winter – Part II: Go out to be out


Defying winter – Part II: Go out to be out

Now the sun is getting its strength back, grab every bit of sunshine you can. Sunshine lifts spirits. That makes you feel more capable. There’s no logic to that, it just is.

Even just stand in a doorway with your face to the sun: delicious!  But Toronto has more to offer: it’s exceptionally good for late-winter explorations. This post has two parts: On Your Own Time – short adventures that work for me, with some great places to see and be; and With Others – walking tours with a leader who talks a bit about what you’re seeing.

All free, because if there’s a charge I make an excuse to stay home : )

Second tip for defying winter: good socks and dry boots that are big enough for the socks. (Pre-owned boots are an inexpensive aid to well-being!) With head, neck, and feet cosy, on a sunny late-winter day you can be comfortable enough to feel great.

On Your Own Time

Usually I plan to be out for an hour – a little break, not a big project – but I’ve learned to bring a sandwich and thermos in case I want to explore a while longer.


  1. Take your phone and walk a few blocks in your neighbourhood photographing the first signs of spring – or whatever catches your eye.
  2. Check out local small parks. Parks map. City staff workto make these nice for us. Simply be there: tea and a sandwich on a bench in spring sunshine = twenty minutes of peace.
  3. Explore the area around each TTC station just to see what it’s like. There’s plenty of variety:
    • The Bloor-Danforth line has 31 stations; it’s 26km (16mi) long.
    • The Yonge-University line has 38 stations; it’s 39km (24mi) long.
  4. Visit the big parks. See migratory birds return from the south, experience oak savannah, watch salmon leaping upstream, take a ferry and walk the largest urban car-free community in North America – all in Toronto, on public transit!

After you’ve gone out a few times, you may find friends will want to join you. It can be that easy to start a companionable habit that magics an hour or so in each week into a mini-vacation.

A few exceptional places

2h/week in nature is good for health & happiness. Just do it; you’ll thank yourself.

Etienne Brule Park – Old Mill Station – salmon run in spring and fall; I have seen this myself. “Perfect for getting away from the city noise for an afternoon to relax in nature.” 6min spring slideshow and fall photos – this too is the city you live in!

High Park – High Park Station – 399 acres, cherries in bloom in spring, oak savannah, nature centre, paths along the Humber River, lakeshore, much more. “A walk along Grenadier Pond … will make you forget you are in the largest city in Canada.”

Leslie Street Spit and Tommy Thompson Park – Queen streetcar to Leslie St, short walk south – lakeshore, migratory birds, unique urban wilderness (CBC Nature of Things episode). Monday-Friday, 4pm-9pm; weekends, 5:30am-9pm. Photos.

Don River Valley trails – see the link for many ways to get into Don River Valley Park, a long stretch of 200 hectares from Pottery Road to Corktown Common. Salmon run on the Don as well as on the Humber. The city is a bit more evident here but if you want to stretch your legs in a long (or short) meditative walk with trees, this is a great place for it.

Ashbridge’s Bay Park – Queen streetcar east to Coxwell, short walk south – stretches into the lake; migratory birds; on the 56km Martin Goodman Trail.

Toronto Island Park – a 10min walk from Union Station to a ferry (there’s a charge for the ferry) that runs May-September. 15 islands, footpaths and bridges. 200yo lighthouse, Lake Ontario, and one of the largest urban car-free communities in North America.

Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat and Garden – Queen streetcar 501 west to the Humber Loop, walk south 12min – wildflowers, shrubs, trees, grasses make it beautiful anytime. It’s a long ride – bring a book, headphones, or a pal to chat with. Best times for butterflies, early morning and early evening, April to mid-October. More info and photos.

Kay Gardener section of the long Beltline Trail – Eglinton West Station, short walk north (map – scroll down) – wanders along old ravines and through hidden green spaces.

Self-directed walks

It’s nice to have a map when you go someplace for the first time.

City of Toronto – route map and details for 11 Discovery Walks – Don Valley, Uptown, Downtown, Ravines, and more.

Daily Hive – resources for a dozen interesting walks. Includes High Park and Toronto Islands, the Beaches, Kensington Market, open space in the downtown core, and more.

City of Toronto – route map and details for four urban walks.

City of Toronto – Trails maps for the east and west sides of the city – PDF, hard to read until you zoom in, but useful.

With Others

Free short walking tours

Riverside Walks – free local walk monthly, May-October.  On May 3 – Wild Plants, 11am; register here.

Toronto Free Walking Tours – daily walks at 10am (!check the schedule), starting from the Berczy Park Dog Fountain, 35 Wellington St E.

Tour Guys – daily fun free walks. Downtown Toronto – 10am; from May 1, 10am, noon, and 2pm.

ROM – free guided walks, every week May-October – Toronto neighbourhoods and history. Sunday at 2pm, Wednesday at 6pm.

Heritage Toronto – free guided walks every week May-October. (In February their schedule isn’t up yet.)

Jane’s Walks. Jane Jacobs was an extraordinary city organizer and advocate of people-centred design. (In February their full schedule isn’t up yet.) Annual Jane’s Walk Festival May 1-3.

High Park Nature Centre – free walking tours, first and third Sunday of the month, 10:30am. Schedule. Led by volunteer scientists, historians, and naturalists.

Toronto Botanical Garden – free weekly guided garden and ravine tours, summer Thursdays 6pm. Connects directly to the wonderful Edwards Gardens and Wilket Creek Ravine.

Club walks

These groups welcome newcomers, and share remarkable information that makes your world richer. Just recognize that some walks are more about discovery than walking – e.g., with birdwatchers, being quiet and staying still for a while are part of the adventure.

Toronto Field Naturalists (TFN) – Frequent public (free) walks with an informative leader. Schedule. Colonel Smith Park, Scarborough Bluffs, Warden Woods will take you out of the downtown core to see things you might never get to on your own.

Toronto Ornithological Club (TOC) – Frequent public (free) walks, beginners welcome. Schedule. Most are local – April 23 and 25 at Leslie Street Spit, April 26 at Humber Bay Park, May 9 at High Park, May 13 at Ashbridges Bay… Woodcocks, spring migrants, orioles – see them, hear them, be delighted.

One more tip

Don’t be paralyzed by all these choices! – just do something. Next week you can do another.