Toronto is a vibrant city with so much to see and do – but sometimes the concrete jungle can get a bit claustrophobic. I know this first hand, coming from the Land of the Living Skies and being able to see a sunset stretch as far as the eye can see or the green northern lights dancing in the starlit night sky, then relocating to a city where you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of the falling sun hidden behind high rises and the famous CN tower from the downtown core. Escaping into the great outdoors isn’t hard when the surrounded by the extraordinary Great Lakes. The land all around the city is built upon the wilderness of rugged cliffs and vast forests. Listed below are a few of my top picks for nature escapes in and around Toronto. The best part is that all of these areas are accessible any time of the year, including winter!
Elora Gorge Conservation Area
Located about an hour drive west of Toronto, the Elora Gorge Conservation Area is an amazing spot for outdoor fun; including camping, hiking, rafting, and cycling. There are miles of trails for any fitness level or quiet nature spots to reconnect with nature.
Elora Gorge Lookout
Sitting on top of the rugged limestone cliffs edge, there are two lookouts of the gorge with the forested backdrop from across. Take a look before heading for a peaceful walk throughout the wilderness.
Elora Gorge Trail
There are a few different hiking options within the region but the Elora Gorge trail is a great day hike along the riverside. Encompassed within the lush coniferous forest, the trail is an easy to moderate hike with turnoffs to different viewpoints or the 22-meter deep gorge.
Spencer Gorge Conservation Area
The Spencer Gorge Conservation Area is under an hour drive from the city and offers breathtaking views of the natural cascading waterfalls encompassed within a densely forested landscape.
Tew’s Falls / Dundas Peak
Hamilton, also known as the city of waterfalls, is home to over 100 amazing falls. A must see within the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area is the Tew’s Falls. The cascading 40-meter waterfall is accessible on the trail heading to Dundas Peak. Although there is another waterfall in the area, Webster’s Falls, it is normally overcrowded and the views are not as close up – but if time is not rushed, the waterfall is also worth a visit. Tew’s Falls though, is lesser known and the views are incredible. After taking in the falls, head for a hike down the moderate trail to Dundas Peak – a picturesque lookout of the below heavily forested countryside. Dundas Peak is a great place for a picnic or break from the hiking trail.
Only a short drive from this city center, you will find yourself at the Scarborough Bluffs. The Cliffside will leave you in awe of fantastic views of Lake Ontario. The Bluffs are made up of sedimentary deposits from approximately 12,000 years ago and the highest peak rises up 300 ft. There are trails right along the cliff’s edge for the thrill seekers but also trails below near the waterfront and along the sand. The Bluffs are around 15 kilometers in length.
Also known as ‘The Docks’ is the perfect merge between city and nature. Polson Pier is home to some great restaurants, cafes, and activities – not to mention an epic view of the city skyline. This is a great location for travelers as there is direct transit, so no need for a vehicle.
Of course, this one is a very well-known choice, but it is certainly worth a visit. Niagara Falls is about an hour drive from the city but there are also tour groups and shuttle buses to get out for those without a vehicle. Although the falls can be quite busy, if you visit during low season or off hours, you are sure to have an up-close view of the massive falls.
After wandering along the walkway for different angles of the falls, head up the hill and you will find yourself in the mini Las Vegas like strip filled with fun activities and affordable restaurants. Imagine candy shops, arcades, wax museums, a Ferris wheel, shops, and plenty of restaurants all jammed into one colorful, vibrant, uphill street!