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

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

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

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

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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