Top 6 Spots to Experience the Great Outdoors in and around Toronto

Photo of Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag
9 February 2017

After long, harsh winters, if Torontonians love one thing, it’s summer. While Toronto may be Canada’s largest city and urban center, there is no shortage of options for outdoor enthusiasts. Come summer, Toronto buzzes with activity. Torontonians and visitors have their pick of summer outings: from swimming, hiking, cycling, sailing, and fishing, to bird-watching, safaris, and cave exploring. For the adventurous tourist and nature lover, add these spots to your trip itinerary to experience the great outdoors, all within an hour’s drive from Toronto.

The spectacular Centre Island Beach on Centre Island | © Arijit Nag

Toronto Islands

A summer paradise for both the city’s residents and tourists, the Toronto Islands on Lake Ontario offer amazing views of the Toronto skyline and Lake Ontario. This archipelago of fifteen picturesque islands originated as sand bars that eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs. The Toronto islands are endowed with three major swimming beaches: the family-friendly Centre Island Beach, the ‘clothing optional’ Hanlan’s Point Beach and the Ward’s Island Beach. Apart from the beaches, Toronto Islands have plenty to keep you busy: the Centreville Amusement Park, the Far Enough Farm, public tennis, softball and volleyball courts, bike rental facility, nature trails, and plenty of food outlets.

Toronto Islands accessible by the Ferry

Playful Polar Bears
Playful Polar Bears at the Toronto Zoo | © Arijit Nag

The Toronto Zoo

Home to over 5,000 animals and located in the beautiful Rouge Valley, the Toronto Zoo, will enthrall visitors with its excellent and informative animal exhibits. The zoo is divided into distinctive zoogeographic regions, each with its own unique inhabitants. The Xie Shou Panda Experience with its adorable giant panda pair, the Tundra Trek with its polar bear exhibit, the Gorilla Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef are amongst the most popular. In addition to the animals, the Zoo has plenty of family-friendly activities: a water play area called Splash Island, a waterside theater, a Discovery Zone for kids, and several eateries and gift shops.

Toronto Zoo, 2000 Meadowvale Rd, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 392 5929

Scarborough Bluffs
Scenic Scarborough Bluffs on Lake Ontario | © Benson Kua/WikiCommons

The Scarborough Bluffs

The stunning Scarborough Bluffs on Lake Ontario are a geological wonder. This escarpment stretches along the eastern portion of Toronto’s waterfront and serves as a relaxing retreat for the city residents. The Bluffer’s Park beach nestled at the foot of the bluffs is considered the most beautiful beach in Toronto. Besides swimming, fishing or sailing on the beach, ‘the Bluffs’ are a perfect spot for cycling and walking along one of the many nature trails, and summer picnics. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars; the Scarborough Bluffs is the ideal area for bird-watchers and enjoying scenic views of the sunrise and sunset on Lake Ontario.

Scarborough Bluffs Park, Scarborough, ON, Canada, +1 416 396 4002

Resting Lions
Resting lions in the African Lion Safari | © Sanjaykattimani/WikiCommons

African Lion Safari

Hamilton’s African Lion Safari welcomes visitors to the wild world of African animals. The Safari can be experienced from your own private vehicle, or in the Safari Tour Bus. You’ll encounter freely roaming lions, giraffes, rhinos, mountain goats, ostriches, monkeys, deer, bison, and elk throughout your journey. Other attractions include the ‘Birds of Prey’ flying demonstration, the ‘Parrots of Paradise’ the ‘Elephant Swim.’ For a relaxed vibe, enjoy a leisurely cruise on the ‘African Queen,’ Pets’ Corner or the Misumu Bay Wet Play Area. Get up close to animals – in a safe environment – without having to leave the GTA!

African Lion Safari, 1386 Cooper Road, Hamilton, ON, Canada, +1 519 623 2620

High Park

Located west of downtown Toronto, the city’s largest public park, High Park, is bestowed with a rich, green cover of vegetation. Head to the Hillside Gardens in the Park to encounter spectacular waterfalls, small bridges and flowering trees. The maple leaf shaped flower-bed at the bottom of the hill looks charming, and perfectly Canadian, with its colorful, blooming flowers. It is a major attraction for nature photographers. For dog lovers, there is an off-leash dog park where dogs can run free. A mini-zoo, an adventure park, a waterfront area, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields and picnicking areas are all distributed across the enchanting park landscape.

High Park, 1873 Bloor St W, Toronto, Canada, +1 416 338 0338

Scenic Caves Nature Adventures

Located at the highest point in the Niagara escarpment, in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the Scenic Caves Nature Adventures provides the thrills and chills of an adventurous package in the heart of nature. Visitors can take self-guided tours to explore the native folklore amidst the labyrinth of caves and crevices in this ecosystem or engage in heart-pounding adventurous activities. Take a daring walk, 60 feet above the forest floor on Southern Canada’s longest 420 foot suspension bridge, or if you want a bit more adventure, take a ride on Canada’s longest twin zip-line, the Thunderbird.

Eco Adventure Tours, 260 Scenic Caves Road, The Blue Mountains, ON, Canada, +1 705 446 0256

By Oishimaya Sen Nag

Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Kolkata, India, currently resides in Toronto and is engaged in full-time freelance writing. She travels widely and loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures, as well as participating in activities concerning wildlife conservation.