On The Hunt For Trails Part 1
September 4, 2012 1 Comment
Living, as a runner in Toronto is a pretty good thing. Especially for those that live anywhere near the Waterfront. Finding routes that are visually pleasing, challenging and relatively traffic free is not an issue. We are actually a bit spoiled as there are an abundance of pretty decent routes that take you through Toronto’s park-lands. These are multipurpose routes that host runners, walkers, cyclists roller-bladers and more. It is rare to traverse any of these routes and not come across other active souls, regardless of the time of day. The fact that you can get a good workout in without battling the hazards of traffic (collisions as well as the pollutants inhaled) is much appreciated by all that make use of these trails.
As a high mileage runner however, I look for more than just visually pleasing, or traffic free routes. I look for varying terrain, softer ground and technically challenging trails just to add variety to my sport. I also enjoy the quiet,often shaded ambiance of these runs. Unfortunately, these types of trails are hard to come by in Toronto proper. You will need to get outside the city to get a good dose of true trail running. But that is not to say, you can’t do any trail running at all in the city. I have found a few and frequent them from time to time. It would be nice if they we’re closer and if they spanned more ground but I will take what I can get, and am always looking for more options so feel free to offer up some tips to find any hidden gems not listed below.
Brickworks and beyond
We will generally start by parking at the Brickworks and then run a 18km route that encompasses a few trails at the beginning and again at the end. The route between is a mix of roads and multipurpose paved trails but also includes 4km of soft path excellent for running, known as The Beltline.
The Beltline spans from Mt Pleasant Cemetery, through the heart of Forest Hill all the way to The Allen Expressway:
The trails at the start and finish are scattered amongst Crother’s Woods:
Summary: You get a decent run in, with some, but not too much traffic. You get a great variety on the run which helps mentally to break it up when you are attacking it hard. You can choose to start finish at Brickworks and enjoy a good, albeit pricey scone and latté afterward. This route is pretty much run-able year round.
Lower Don Trail, Taylor Creek Park, Sunnybrook / Edwards Gardens
This is a route we run as a group quite often. Especially the Sunnybrook portion. It fits into our routine well. Unfortunately, the route we usually take is all paved. There is a great part off the beaten path however that is excellent trail running. Not too technical, but it is soft, shaded and does require some finesse to navigate without catching a toe on a root or rock. I only run it alone as it never seems to work out that anyone wants to stray when I do.
From the photo to the left, you can see that is even nice to run in the Winter, so long as you do not mind the precarious footing.
In the busier, Summer times, the water fountains and washrooms scattered along these trails are open. But that season is short. The ‘public’ season spans June-October at most, which is frustrating on a hot May afternoon and a dry fountain presents itself.
The Lower Don part that runs from the Lakeshore Road to the junction at the Don Valley parkway and Taylor Creek Park is not used as often by non runners and cyclists and is a nice challenging stretch of pathway.
Summary: These trails, although mainly paved are a great escape from the city roads. They offer a variety of sights and sounds and are generally run-able year round unless there are thaws and re-freezes that create icy paths.
Read up on the Toronto Parklands:
Martin Goodman Trail
This is by far the most common route my friends and I frequent. The highlight, really, is that a lot of this route is cleared of snow, immediately, all winter. This makes it a popular winter route, knowing you can get a decent run in even on the same day it snows.
The stretch from Leslie Street and Lakeshore Rd to Tommy Thompson Park and out to the ‘Spit’ is a very popular route all year long. Walkers, cyclists, runners, bird-watchers, you know it – all make use of the is nearly traffic free area. It’s mostly concrete or asphalt but there are intermittent gravel paths that you can take for a variety of terrain. One downfall however – the smells – sometimes from the filtration plant, sometimes from the birds nesting areas. Either way, occasionally it is a real drawback.
A big part of this trail is the Beach(es) Boardwalk and bike paths. These are more crowded, but are enjoyable to run among the people enjoying the area. The Boardwalk itself, touted as ‘not great for running’ due to its uneven surface and pitted boards, but I love it and enjoy the soft surface from time to time. Running with such a good view of the lake is pleasing in itself.
the Beaches Runners Club enjoy frequent evening races to the Lighthouse at the top of the Spit and back, enjoying the sunset and a few post run beverages and chit-chat.
It would be nice if there were more forests and soft dirt trails within the city limits but as a metropolis forms, these luxuries of a runner disappear. We need to make special trips to get out there and find the real trails.
Next time, we venture out a bit further and cover some of the trails, hard and soft, that run along the outskirts of the greater Toronto area.