The Low Down on High Park

An excerpt from the soon to be released Day Hikes of Ontario Vol. II

You can find Vol. I on iBooks along with the Family Camping Guide

Goodness, there are so may ways to enjoy High Park that I really don’t know where to begin, so I'll just dive right in starting with the large swimming pool near the centre of the park. There’s the soccer and baseball facilities nearby. There’s picnic shelters, scores of picnic tables, BBQ pits and the Grenadier Restaurant. If you enjoy wandering curved paths through lush gardens and beautifully kept lawns, you’d do well at Hillside Gardens. There’s a trackless train that takes you on a tour around the park. You can visit or take part in the allotment gardens, enjoy a Shakespeare play at the outdoor amphitheatre or visit the duck ponds. Then there’s the zoo, or as the parks people have taken to calling it, the “Animal Display Area.” You can take your dog to the largest off leash dog park I’ve ever seen or grab your tennis racquet and take advantage of the public courts near the pool, but there’s also a public club on the eastern side of the park, that you can join. You can visit Sculpture Hill and see some of the art installations that were constructed for Canada’s 100th anniversary back in 1967 or just sit under a large chestnut tree or shady elm and take in your surroundings while you read a book or listen to your iPod. Finally, and for me, the most important, there are (depending upon what exactly you’re measuring) about 16km of hiking/strolling/cycling trails.

There are a lot of trails; some are dirt, some are chipped wood, others crushed gravel and still others are paved, so there’s sure to be something for everyone. For the most part they appear to be mixed use with some exceptions which are plainly posted. Some of them are on closed roads, like Spring Road or Cherry Hill (while they’re closed, the trackless train does use them). Another thing you need to know is that they’re not all particularly well-marked, so you should grab a map (or print out this one as a rough guide) and make plans. And still a third thing you need to know, is that while the Parks department looks after the marked trails, at least to some degree, new trails seem to get formed all the time by regular users. One year a trail might cross over between two established route, but the next year it may be completely overgrown and forgotten. The park is in a constant state of flux.

So, while I’ll outline my last walk in the park, there’s lots more to see and do.

My July 2017 Hike – 5.2km

I got off the subway at the High Park station and exited out onto High Park Avenue. I turned right and walked south, across Bloor Street, into the park (A). I veered towards the right and followed West Rd. south past the food concession, kids playground and washrooms at (B). If you brought along a water bottle, this might be a good spot to fill up, for oddly, water fountains seem few and far between. There is also a stop for the High Park Trackless Train along this section. This train runs around the park and stops at various locations where you can board or disembark. Adult fare is $4.50 as of this writing and I believe you have one stopover privilege.

I walked along the west side of West Rd, past all this hubbub to a point where a nature trail emerges onto the sidewalk from the right (⭐️). I took this trail down the hill to the west. I turned left at the first intersection, then left again in a few metres at the next intersection. At this point I was heading mostly south, traversing the hill, about half way between the top and bottom. While there are a few intersections, just keep going mostly south and follow the trail all the way to (D) where it emerges onto the banks of Grenadier Pond.

The road leading up the hill on your left, is Cherry Road. In the spring, there is an explosion of cherry blossoms in this area, both going up the hill and going southward along the shore of the pond. It’s a well attended event and the High Park website even has a page devoted exclusively to this phenomenon. Unless things have changed recently, there is also another trackless train stop right at the bottom of the hill.

Carry on along the shore of the pond. The well tended lawns and pathways to your left is Hillside Gardens. You’ll often see wedding parties, photographers and special events taking place in this area. At about 1.2km you’ll come to a pier out into the pond (E). This is a great spot for photos and observing the geese and ducks that come around almost constantly looking for a hand out. The signs caution us not to feed the birds as it is often unhealthy for them.

Right behind the pier, a little up the hill, is a large Maple Leaf, about 20m in width, planted entirely from green and purple plants.

As an aside, if you want to read a funny story about Hillside Gardens and the trouble my friends and I got into as kids, read Freewheeling.

As you near the southern end of Hillside Gardens, the road starts back up the hill on your left, but you’re not going up there, follow the right fork, back down towards the pond. The path takes you almost down to The Queensway, where you turn left at the fork and make your way over to Colborne Lodge Road.

If you’d like to take in a bit of history, stop into the Colborne Lodge (F) and learn how High Park was once a farm, owned by architect John Howard. Just across the road from the lodge is the burial site of the Howard’s.