Want to run in Toronto and get away from it all? Look to Tommy Thompson Park, a vast natural oasis within striking distance of the city’s downtown core.
From humble beginnings, Tommy Thompson Park has come a long way.
Spanning the northern half of The Leslie Spit on Toronto’s east side, the park juts outward into Lake Ontario, beyond the more touristy Toronto Islands. Originally designated as part of a landfill site, dating back to the ’50s, over the last 3-4 decades ‘The Spit’ has evolved into an outdoor recreationalist’s paradise, spring through fall.
I live nearby ‘the spit’ and know this 5-km stretch of natural urban oasis well. Still, I never seem to get sick of the view of the city’s skyline from the park, its natural beauty and the abandoned lighthouse at the turnaround point, with nothing but open water beyond.
While the southern half of The Spit still operates as a landfill site, Tommy Thompson Park has become one of the city’s top natural playgrounds. The reclaimed space also provides a way station for hundreds of species of birds and monarch butterflies, migrating to Mexico each year in August. You can also spot several types of mammals, including foxes, beavers, coyotes and rabbits if you spend enough time in the park. As such, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority has officially designated Tommy Thompson as an Environmentally Sensitive Area, and thus protected from development.
Running in Toronto’s Tommy Thompson Park
The flat, paved road running from one end of the park to the other makes Tommy Thompson ideal for any level of runner. Several trails jut off to the left and right along the way, leading to marshes, forested areas and rocky beaches. The path also crosses over several bridges, with insanely beautiful views of the Toronto skyline at sunrise and sunset on clear days. Once you see the lighthouse ahead, you’ll know you’re close to the turnaround point (the 5 km halfway point).
I like running to the lighthouse on clear days at sunset. It feels as though you’ve wandered on to a desolate coastline in the Maritimes rather than at the seat of Canada’s biggest metropolis.
While you can run in Tommy Thompson Park any time of the year, it can be a slog, especially when the weather changes to icy headwinds paired with snow. Yet, these are also great conditions to build your physical and mental stamina if training for a marathon.
If you want to extend your run, head out the park’s main entrance/exit off Leslie Street and turn right (east) onto Lakeshore road. From here, follow the Waterfront Trail for a kilometre or so. Breath through your mouth as you pass the Ashbridges Bay Water Treatment Plant, then turn right at the foot of Coxwell Avenue. From here, the trail meets the shores of Lake Ontario again as you pass through sandy and popular Woodbine Beach, Kew Gardens and Balmy Beach.
At the end of Balmy Beach rises the majestic R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant at Nursewood Rd. and Queen St. West, which serves as your finish line. A small, secluded beach runs along the bottom of the plant if you want to get away from the crowds to sunbathe or walk the dog. Or, take a refreshing dip here at the end of a hot summer run. ‘Dip,’ being the operative word, as this part of Lake Ontario is perpetually freezing.
Where To Go After Your Run
If the Coronavirus weren’t raging right now, I’d suggest heading one block north to Queen Street East for brunch or beer after your run (maybe stick to take out for now, if available). There are several great, laid-back spots along the east end of Queen Street, including the iconic Goof (a.k.a. The Garden Gate Restaurant), Vivetha Bistro (amazing breakfasts), The Outrigger (best patio) and Ed’s Real Scoop (fantastic ice cream and open as of May 2020).
Running Routes to Tommy Thompson Park:
High Park/Downtown to Tommy Thompson Park. Approx. 17k
Midtown to Tommy Thompson Park: Approx. 16k
From the East (Scarborough, Cliffside.). Approx. 16K