aka The Spit.
This five-kilometre long man-made peninsula jutting out from Leslie Street south wasn’t supposed to be a park. First created in the late 1950s to accommodate an expected influx of shipping (that never did happen), the area ended up being storage for the City’s discarded sand, earth and concrete. Surprisingly and lucky for us, nature has taken over. With a help from the Friends of the Spit and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Tommy Thompson Park (or the Leslie Street Spit) has become a 500-hectare escape from the city in the city.
Since feet and small wheels are your only way in, its paths, woods and marshes along the shores of Lake Ontario offer nothing but fresh air and exercise. And you should have no problems coaxing the kids in with promises of bird, snail, butterfly, beaver, boats and plane sightings, to name a few. Plus, the views of downtown are amazing. (No need to navigate the Toronto Island crowds.)
Check out these photos from Waterfront Toronto.
Getting there: By car, travel south on Leslie St. Loads of free parking. By bike, accessible from the Martin Goodman Trail and the Waterfront Trail. On TTC, take the 501 Queen St. Streetcar and get off at Leslie St and go south. About 1.5 km to the gate.
Low-down: Free. Open on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. 9 am – 6 pm April to October. 9 am – 4:30 pm November to March. No-dogs policy to protect plant life in the park. Swimming is not permitted. More park etiquette.
Birds and Butterflies: Nature-lovers will be in heaven with all the bird and butterfly watching. There are 300-plus species in the park. This is the southern-most point of Lake Ontario so the final pit stop before the migration south or landing ground on the way back.
Activities: Hike, bike, blade or push/pull a stroller. The path’s first half is ok, but after the bridge, smooth-sailing with some newly-laid pavement (gravel around the lighthouse.) It’s a full 10 km if you go to lighthouse and back. In the winter, the trails are ungroomed but accessible by foot, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Snacks: Bring your own and leave with your garbage (there are no trash cans on site.) There are no picnic areas per se. You’ll see lots of people stopping for a snack on a rock while snapping a few photos.
Potty time: Spotted some port-a-potties. There are indoor washrooms and a rest area in the environmental shelter mid-way.
Learn more: Stop by the interpretive centre. It’s currently under construction but still open with photos of the evolution of The Spit and some hands-on items for the kids to check out. Buff up on your history of this accidental wilderness.