From the Beltline to Don Mills, Toronto’s ravines are great places to commune with nature on two wheels
By Enzo DiMatteo
Jun 3, 2021
June is Bike Month and to help get you in the right frame of mind for a post-pandemic spring – cycling does wonders for the brain – here’s a list of 12 of the most thrilling (and challenging) bike trails to get your ya-yas out in Toronto. Note to riders: some selections include multiple trails.
Beltline Trail (aka Kay Gardner Beltline Trail and York Beltline Trail)
We’ll start with an easy one. Most Torontonians are familiar with this trail that follows the old Beltline Railway that used to serve the Forest Hill and Moore Park areas of the city until the 1890s. That’s because a significant portion of it is named after Kay Gardner, the former Toronto councillor and community volunteer who envisioned the trail as “A place in the heart of the city to explore the city.”
But the nine-kilometre trail actually starts in an industrialized residential area west of Caledonia in the old city of York that used to be home to famous factories like Hilroy and today includes the headquarters of Canada Goose.
From there, the trail takes you past the neatly trimmed working-class backyards – and notable examples of modern architecture since converted to condos – all the way to Mount Pleasant cemetery and the site of the old Dominion Coal and Wood Company silos, which today is commemorated by a mural.
Easiest way to get there: Bowie Avenue north of Eglinton just west of Caledonia. If you’re closer to midtown, the stairs on the west side of Mount Pleasant just south of Merton takes you down to the easternmost part of the trail.
Points of interest: Graffiti by Toronto street artist Anser on western stretch between Caledonia and Marlee; mural and metal reproduction of archival blueprint for Toronto Belt Line Railway at Eglinton; Iron Horse art installation by Robert Sprachman atop the Yonge Street overpass just south of Davisville.
If you’re feeling adventurous: You can get lost riding through Mount Pleasant cemetery – and by the notable tombs of some of Toronto’s rich and famous – all the way to Bayview.
Sherwood Park/Blythwood Ravine Park Trail/Chatsworth Ravine
Tucked between Mount Pleasant and Bayview just north of Eglinton, Sherwood Park boasts one of the city’s most diverse canopy of pine, hemlock, beech and oak trees in the city – not to mention, a pretty happening boardwalk. The trail that winds through them, however, is closed to bikes – dogs and walkers only, please – which is a royal bummer. Mountain bikers have been known to ride them when no one’s looking – usually late in the evening at this time of year.
But there’s still ample space on the main road through the park – and dirt trails that snake here and there in the wooded areas on either side of Burke Brook – for some two-wheeled fun.
The main path north will take you to Blythwood Ravine Park and from there to Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens named after the famous composer of The Maple Leaf Forever.
Easiest way to get there: At the end of Sherwood off Mount Pleasant.
Points of interest: Toronto Lawn Bowling Club.
If you’re feeling adventurous: Cross Duplex into Chatsworth Ravine, where you’ll find a lost river – the last remaining above-ground portion of Havergal Stream.
Betty Sutherland Trail Park
Not many downtowners will know Betty Sutherland. But in North York politics she was a pioneer for her commitment to the expansion of the city’s parks and recreational activities.
At first blush, the park and trail dedicated to her on the east Don seems a perfunctory acknowledgement of her achievements – the main trail is only 2.2 kilometres long and its south entrance is somewhat lost in a high-traffic industrial park off Lesmill Road. But it’s a different world once you pass the footbridge that takes you on the other side of the river.
That’s where you’ll find stairs fashioned from railway ties that lead to higher ground and a system of well-worn bike trails with equal amounts of flat spots for casual riding and dips and turns into tiny gullies for those who need a little more speed.
Easiest way to get there: Entrance at the trail’s north end just outside Sheppard East station at Leslie.
Points of interest: The plateau hugs another hidden gem: Moatfield Forest, the wedge-shaped greenspace where the 401 meets the DVP, which is currently being reforested; Henry Mulholland/Jane Armstrong memorial (take the path past the 401 overpass to Manorpark Court); grassed-in baseball diamond, beach volleyball net (under the bridge at the south entrance of the park off Lesmill).
If you’re feeling adventurous: East Don Parkland continues on the other side of Leslie, north of Sheppard.
David A. Balfour Park Trail
This 20-hectare expanse on the west side of Mount Pleasant south of St. Clair was a favoured hunting area of Indigenous peoples, in particular the Mississaugas. For downtowners, the park holds a different kind of history – as a hotspot for cruising and hangout for street urchins. That may come as a surprise to the park’s namesake, a member of the Orange Order and Second World War-era municipal politician who apparently was a fervent anti-communist – and had a thing for banning books considered obscene. He was also a fierce advocate of public space. Most of the park dedicated to him occupies a flat spot atop of the Rosehill Reservoir, which has one of the best views of the city. But it’s a steep dive down from the path on the east side of the park that takes you into the more rugged section of nature trails. From there, it’s across a short foot bridge, under Summerhill overpass and to open space.
Easiest way to get there: Off Avoca Avenue.
Points of interest: Yellow Creek; graffiti under Summerhill overpass; Vale of Avoca on the north side of St. Clair.
If you’re feeling adventurous: Continue on the other side of Mount Pleasant to Park Drive Reservation Lands, which leads to an old system of trails into the Brick Works.
For serious trail bikers, Crothers Woods used to be one of the Don’s best-kept secrets. Back in the day, local riders fashioned their own obstacle courses into the steep banks of the forested expanse. Then the city caught wind of the high flying and it looked like the fun was over.
Instead, a collaborative effort to accommodate trail riders and open up what was a rough part of the Don system was undertaken.
Today, gravel paths carved into the nooks and crannies of the maple, oak and beech forest accommodate walkers, dog lovers and cyclists.
Some of the older dirt trails are closed periodically for remediation work. But the main gravel trails, which make loops on different levels along the steep bank, still make for some of the more challenging cycling around. This one will get your heart pumpin’.
Easiest way to get there: Entrance on the side of Bayview just south of Moore.
Points of interest: Sun Valley; Cottonwood Flats, located on the other side of the bridge at the south end of the woods.
If you’re feeling adventurous: Start at the bottom of the trail by the parking lot off Pottery and work your way up.
West Don Parkland Trail
Home to Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre, this trail hidden in a nature preserve in the wilds of suburban North York is a quiet revelation.
Forming part of a branch of the Don that’s largely untouched, it’s easy to get lost in the rugged, overgrown foot paths that double as bike trails. Head to the river to get your bearings (it flows south) where you’ll find banked bike paths pummelled into shape by tire treads and broken up by cobbles and boardwalks. (Watch for broken planks.)
Trail bike or mountain bike is recommended – the paths here are unforgiving on your racer’s thin tires.
Easiest way to get there: Hove Street to Maxwell and take the gravel trail that runs along the hydro corridor into the park.
Points of interest: The flora and fauna, which is why this park doubles as an education centre; teepee-shaped building; massive fire pit.
If you’re feeling adventurous: Take Blue Forest Drive entrance/exit to Wilmington and from there north of Finch to G. Ross Lord Park and reservoir – it’s a trek, but worth it for the scenery and if you’re into fishing. Yup, some of the best bass in the city, according to numerous media reports.
Don River Valley Park Trail
From the industrial-strength Lower Don to the wide open spaces of Wilket Creek and Sunnybrook Park, the Don Valley trail knits together the city’s most impressive collection of some 200 hectares of green spaces. The 13-kilometre-plus trail snakes along the Don, dipping under and over bridges alongside the hum of the Don Valley Parkway.
The rough-hewn section below Pottery to Corktown Common which forms part of the Lower Don has been the focus of extensive remediation work in recent years as part of an effort to accommodate the growing number of residents in area neighbourhoods who flock to the trail.
But our ride focused on the section north of Pottery where the trail reaches past Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park in Don Mills and opens into forests and meadows that are home to deer, foxes and oak maple and birch forests. Loads of amenities. Make sure to bring a blanket and picnic basket.
Easiest way to get there: Off Pottery south of the train tracks. If you’re coming from midtown, Armistice Drive on the east side of Bayview south of Lawrence takes you through the Sunnybrook Hospital grounds and into the valley.
Points of interest: Frisbee golf park; E.T. Seton Park Archery Range; elevated wetlands at Don Mills; the Middle Mill; pioneer log cabin and nature study centre.
If you’re feeling adventurous: It’s a testy jaunt to Sunnybrook Park and from there to Edwards Gardens. Look for the trail leading into the forest at parking lot #7 by the sports fields. It’ll take you down a steep slope to Wilket Creek Park trail to Edwards Gardens.
East Don Trail/Moccasin Trail Park
To ride the East Don Trail is to feel the power of the Don Valley before someone had the not-so-bright idea to build a highway through it. The northern entrance forms the gateway of the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve – named after a Boy Scout troop leader-turned-conservationist – that stretches from Lawrence to below Eglinton. It’s a serene ride through wetlands and urban forests all the way to Wynford. But it’s closer to the north end of the trail where you’ll find the famous rainbow tunnel that leads to an underpass beneath the Don Valley Parkway into Moccasin Trail Park. From there it’s a quick loop around Moccasin Pond and back onto the main trail.
Easiest way to get there: Old Lawrence Avenue.
Points of interest: Milne Hollow; Milneford Mills outlook; Rainbow bridge and tunnel.
If you’re feeling adventurous: Dip your toes in the pond – or give your lungs a workout and take the main trail east all the way to Wigmore Park on the fringes of Scarborough.
Moore Park Ravine Trail
Moore Park Ravine Trail is not the best known for cycling. The scenic, wooded path that runs from Moore Park Avenue to the Brick Works offers some of the most dramatic topography anywhere in the city. White and red oaks form a massive canopy that keeps the sun out and makes a fave retreat on hot days. It’s mostly been the purview of runners and dog walkers, but its close proximity to the Beltline trail to the north and David Balfour Park Trail to the south – not to mention, its natural incline – also makes it part of a natural loop for biking.
Easiest way to get there: South side of Moore just east of Welland. Also, off Lumley.
Points of interest: Art installation by former local resident Judy Rosenberg (1954-2009). “She saw the light and love in everyone around her.”
If you’re feeling adventurous: Pick up the Beltline Trail south and west of Brick Works through Park Drive Reservation Trail. Happy trails.
Enzo was born in Belgium and emigrated with his family to Canada in the heat of Trudeaumania. He is a winner of numerous writing awards and the only (alleged) Commie banned from entering Cuba. It’s complicated. Claims to fame: champion wood-chopper.