Escape to the Toronto Islands

Brilliant blue skies with the sun a blaze stood in contrast to the vivid yellows and burnt orange leaves. The unseasonably warm temperatures had me tearing off layers on this early November day. And even though we came over on the ferry with at least two dozen others it felt like we had the Islands all to ourselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to explore the Toronto Islands.

A friend from Toronto was my local tour guide of the Islands for the day. She’s explored it numerous times and knows where to find its hidden treasures. From Ward’s Island’s charming residential neighbourhood to the amazing views over the city, I was blown away by the beauty, the untamed nature, and the feeling of being so far removed from the city – and yet so close.

We strolled down an old, abandoned mooring block to a sweeping view of Tommy Thompson Park to the south. I as so taken with Ward’s Island. Homes full of character and colour and each with their own name hinting to stories past.

Toronto Island boardwalk

A boardwalk took us along the edge of the southern part of the Islands, from Ward’s to Centre Island. Under a canopy of overhanging trees we kicked up the crisp leaves, channeling out inner youth. While Centreville was deserted for the season it only added to the mystic. We wandered passed the Island’s forgotten fountains and over to the Centreville bridge. Picture perfect was all I could think! The pale blue bridge against the dense, dark blue waters and surrounded by brilliant autumn foliage made it scream to be photographed. Nearing the bridge I spotted a few swans at the water’s edge and thought this must be what a fairytale feels like!

Toronto Islands

When was the last time you entered a maze? For me, I do any chance I get! I remember trying my luck at one the last time I was in Paris. And the Toronto Islands has a maze too. The William Meany Maze stood before us, with its towering cedars, we ventured in to test our skills. We laughed and giggled like school girls as we chose this way than that, only to find ourselves at another dead end. But alas, we wound our way through one last time and found success! There’s something liberating and enchanting to let yourself play as an adult. So often we’re too focused, and letting go to play and have fun is so rewarding.

One of my favourite parts of the Islands was over in Hanlan’s Point Park. There peeking out above the towering trees was a beautiful lighthouse. Surrounded by the colours of falls, and against the bright blue sky, its brilliant white bricks stood out like a beacon in a dream. And at its base stood a vibrant red door that made me feel like Alice in Wonderland. Would I fall into a Mad Hatter world if I entered?

Gibraltar Lighthouse

The Gibraltar lighthouse opened in 1808 and is noted for being the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes in existence. It’s also one of Toronto’s oldest buildings. My friend even told me that it’s said to be haunted by an old lighthouse keeper who was sadly killed here.

We wound our way along the southwest beach, along the nudist beach. Bare, free flowing, middle-aged beach goers soaked up the unseasonably hot November sun. And all I could think is why don’t you ever see young, tight, athletic folk on a nudist beach? All the same, I admire their confidence and lack of tan lines.

Just next to the nudist beach lies the Gibraltar Point Sand Dunes. Turns out the southern shore of the Toronto Islands was once a large sand dune system. But sadly it’s been converted into parkland and recreational beaches. This now small section of protected sand dunes is home to incredible plant species that are specially adapted for this environment. Even the fence along it is created from live willow cuttings. I was delighted to find this sweeping sandy habitat here on the islands.

Toronto Islands sand dunes

After we stumbled through the dunes a tree lined path took us to the end of the western side of the Toronto Islands, Hanlan’s Point. Here stood a massive statue to Edward “Ned” Hanlan, a Toronto born rower. Known as a great sportsman, he was even elected Alderman back in 1898 and 1899. The tug boat that shares the point is also named after Hanlan. But the most impressive sight here is the sweeping view of the city. Looking back at the city from Hanlan’s Point offers a breathtaking panorama of all Toronto’s iconic buildings, from the CN Tower and across the harbour front.

We’d made our way across the entire Toronto Islands, from east to west, and explored almost every nook and cranny. But alas, all adventures must end, and so we must return to Ward’s Island to catch the ferry. But first we’d have to walk the entire length of the islands again! But it was so worth it!

Just as we boarded the ferry back the sun started to set behind Toronto’s skyline. A golden hue enveloped the sky. It was a glorious end to a beautiful day.

Toronto, Ontario

Ferry tipIf you’re returning back to the city via Ward’s Island ferry during a school day avoid leaving around 4pm. When the kids get out of school they seem to have priority. So, either take the one before or after.

For an in depth guide to exploring nature on the Toronto Islands from check out this pdf from Toronto Parks & Rec

Have you ever explored the Toronto Islands?

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Escape to the Toronto Islands


I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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18 Responses

  1. Hannah Logan says:

    I love that there is this beautiful natural area so close to the big city! Gotta love Canada!

    • Stephanie says:

      I agree! Toronto is thankfully home to a few natural gems in and just outside of the downtown that are incredible!

  2. Kat says:

    This is my favourite place in Toronto! 🙂 It’s so much fun to rent a quadricycle and pedal around the island. 😀

  3. Diana says:

    Great blog post. I am from Toronto and haven’t been out to the island in a long time – will have to go soon.

  4. Meghan says:

    I love lighthouses! And the bridge looks so pretty too. What a nice place to visit. I haven’t made it to Toronto yet but will keep this in mind!

    • Stephanie says:

      I love lighthouses too! There are so many lovely spots on the island! You’ll love it when you finally make it there Megan!

  5. Yuen Mi says:

    I really need to go to Toronto Island. I’m always in Toronto for a visit, but for some reason, we always drive up north for our outings instead of just going there. It looks beautiful. You really captured its beauty, especially that swan!

  6. Sara says:

    I am from Toronto and have been to Toronto Islands but never visited that lighthouse. I may have to check it out next time I am around the area again!

    • Stephanie says:

      Oh, Sara you missed such a stunning area of the islands! Don’t forget next time you visit to check it out!

  7. C-Ludik says:

    I never heard about the Toronto islands before reading your post. Such a stunning area ! There are so many lovely spots on these islands ! I love the photo of the bridge… the reflection is beautiful !

  8. Katie says:

    I’m so bummed I missed these islands when I was in Toronto! I have to go next time! How beautiful!

  9. Karen says:

    I missed the Toronto Islands when I was there and I WISH that I had visited! This looks so charming

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