Whether you’re biking, jogging, hiking or relaxing in Toronto’s Rouge Park, it doesn’t take long to understand why the verdant space is slated to become Canada’s first national urban park. Accessible by car, bike or public transit, the park — one of North America’s largest — is quickly turning into the GTA’s (Greater Toronto Area’s) big backyard.
Rouge Park is a great urban escape hatch for folks who crave nature or for those who can’t make the three-hour exodus north to Ontario’s cottage country. The vibrant park system fans out like a deck of cards that hugs two glorious rivers: the Rouge and Little Rouge spilling into Lake Ontario. In that system are pockets of nature — sewn together by suburbia, farms, a major highway and even a former dump — that have essentially become the lungs of the GTA.
Now, instead of simply guessing about which area of Rouge would make for the most memorable experience, lace up your boots and clear space on your camera for a delightful day at these three sections:
Bob Hunter Memorial Park
Nature lovers are keenly eyeing this notable spot dedicated to the late Greenpeace co-founder and renegade environmentalist reporter Bob Hunter. Located on former farm country just north of the city, the park is a vision in the works, but once fully completed in 2015, it will harbor a significant manmade marsh and replanted woodlands. Until then, you can enjoy the solitude along the open bike paths and wander along a marked trail that weaves by tall grasses and groves of still-maturing white spruce and precious black walnut that once covered the old patch. At the center of it all, by an erosion-controlling berm, look out onto the marsh in the making, spot leopard frogs, find the rare American toad and smile at nature’s possibilities as a green heron swoops by.
If you’re not driving, take the TTC (to Kennedy Station, then transfer onto the 86A bus) and get off at the top of the ramp leading to the Toronto Zoo. You’ll spot a trail sign and an old Victorian farmhouse that serves as the home of the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre (it’s also the occasional pit stop for visitors on foot). The near-mile Vista Trail is easy to traverse. You get a wonderful look at the Little Rouge Creek Valley from a new viewing deck located near the start of the path. Head up and see how the Little Rouge Creek winds at a bend and how it all converges with the lush Beare Hill mound. Amazingly, that same hill used to be the city’s dump. To learn more about that transformation and other things, register for free guided walks. Though guides can also point out the blue jays and red-tailed hawks flying above, because of the abundance of fowl, you can do a bulk of the bird-watching on your own.
Glen Rouge Campground
Contrary to what visitors may think about Toronto, camping in Canada’s largest city is a definite possibility. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority runs the site — the Ontario capital’s only camping spot — that’s just walking distance from public transit. Located along the Rouge River, there are a number of trails leading from the campground. Learn about the park on a guided daytime walking tour before counting the stars from your tent at nightfall. But beyond these requisite outdoor activities, Glen Rouge enhances the urban camping experience with laundry facilities, showers, and fire and barbecue pits.
Photos Courtesy of Lou Wise and Ilona Kauremszky