Pandemic winter walk: High Park

The city's second-largest municipal park provides winter exercise of all sorts for walkers, joggers and dog-owners

It’s been months since I checked in with one of my pandemic walks. I had some shoulder trouble, and then there was either too little snow or the temperatures were frigid. Plus we were on second lockdown, so I was trying to limit my outdoor time to essential grocery trips. But I knew I eventually wanted to cover High Park.

I avoided it during the warmer months because everyone’s been to High Park. I had a feeling that it would be a different experience in the winter, with no cherry blossoms, Shakespeare, picnics or tennis. And I was right.

Start: 2:30 pm, southernmost part of Colborne Lodge Drive

Rather than trek up Colborne Lodge Drive, I spotted a semi-cleared path a little further east, so I took that, which led me to open fields where there would normally be picnic benches during the warm weather. The fields were covered with a crusty snow, with the occasional patch of mud. I didn’t have a destination in mind; I figured I would see what the paths were like and how many people were around.

Glenn Sumi

There are lots of signs warning you of slippery conditions.

How accessible is it?

As I soon discovered, most of the main roads in High Park – the ones cars drive on – are cleared of snow and ice. So if you can navigate that during the summer, you should be fine during the winter months, especially if it’s been a day or so since the last snowfall.

I was feeling adventurous, so I brought along my new pair of trekking poles to allow me to navigate icier surfaces. They came in handy, although some off-track sections of the park were so steep I didn’t feel safe without crampons on my boots.

Glenn Sumi

One of my first stops was the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, which was like something out of Frozen.

What will you see, and who’s there?

I went on a Friday afternoon, hoping to avoid the weekend warriors, but because the sun was out it was pretty crowded. One of the first things I encountered was the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, which was named not after the Billy Elliott/Rocketman actor but the volunteer who pioneered the idea of a community-built “natural adventure playground.”

Several young families were taking advantage of this enchanted little space, which in the winter would be a perfect backdrop for a production of Frozen. Don’t worry: I spared everyone my froggy rendition of Let It Go.

A little further north I joined the vast 8.5-acre off-leash dog area, which includes parks and trails. I hadn’t seen so many happy, frolicking canines since the summer. And their owners – about half of them masked – seemed pretty excited to be out walking, too.

Glenn Sumi

The main paths are mostly clear throughout High Park.

From there, I decided to head to the Grenadier Cafe and along the way encountered picture postcard views of wintry landscapes, with rustic gates and bare trees. I was curious about the community garden, but of course not much was happening there.

Joggers, walkers, dog-owners and parents with strollers occupied the paths, and despite all the traffic it was still possible to get away for some alone time. That’s what I did when I ventured off the path to check out the empty snow-covered baseball diamonds, the stands empty and quiet. My poles came in handy during this detour. When I encountered the occasional stranger, they would usually be hanging on to trees for balance.

Lots of washrooms

I figured there would be an open washroom at the Grenadier Cafe, but forgot they’re actually located inside the closed building. Instead, there were a few porta-potties. I found others scattered throughout High Park. Each one comes equipped with a hand sanitizer dispenser.

Getting down to Grenadier Pond proved a challenge. I was going to try the snow-covered grass, but much of it was caked with layers of ice, and I wasn’t willing to risk my neck. So I found the paved path and made my way down to the water. On the shore was a yellow flag indicating it wasn’t safe to go out on the ice. Little square blocks had been cut out – for fishing? – and someone had even rolled massive snowballs onto the middle of the pond. It was here that I saw some of the only natural wildlife: a couple of honking Canada geese.

Glenn Sumi

Looking at Grenadier Pond in High Park, I felt more like myself than I have in months.

At one point I looked out at the harsh yet beautiful landscape and felt better and more myself than I had in months. It’s a different experience during the winter, but this has been a year of different experiences for all of us.

End: 3:55 pm, back at the entrance to Colborne Lodge Drive

I wouldn’t have visited High Park at this time of year if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. I’ll definitely return and check out some of the areas closer to Bloor. I may even bring my snowshoes if there’s enough snow. And now that I know how calming and beautiful it is, I may even return for a winter walk when things go back to normal.

See more Pandemic Walks here.


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