Hitting the trails is an incredibly liberating experience. There’s something about running like a wild woman or man through the woods that gives you an almost prehistoric feeling. When you live in and around Canada’s biggest city, though, it’s not always easy to know where to find great trails for running – some of them are quite well hidden.
To get you started, here’s a list of top-notch trail running spots in and around the GTA; they may be closer than you think (and some are locations for the MEC Toronto Trail Race Series).
Albion Hills Conservation Area
If you’re searching for great trails, then it’s worth the trip to visit Albion Hills. This conservation area has exhilarating routes that feature both technical singletrack and rolling doubletrack trails, which means you can be speedy in some sections and then work hard in others. The area’s also famous for its big trees that offer runners shady shelter from the harsh sun on hot, sticky Ontario summer days.
Kelso Conservation Area
With over 16km of trails along the Niagara Escarpment, Kelso gives you lots of variety to choose from. You’ll have to decide between countless lookouts and countryside views, but if you love to climb, then the trails here will be right up your alley. The uphills may literally have you clawing in the dirt to get to the top, but the scenery’s well worth the effort.
Dundas Valley Conservation Area
Terrain in the Dundas Valley ranges from rocky and technical to get you working on your focus, and soft flowy singletrack to get you working on your speed. It’s a huge zone to explore and parts of the Bruce Trail cut through this area. Whether you’re a seasoned runner looking to throw down your weekly big run or are just looking to get out of the city and stretch your legs, the 40km of trails are guaranteed to have something for you to run.
If you’re new to trail running, then Don Valley is an awesome place to start. It’s a bit more urban than the other areas on this list and many trails here are paved (a bonus for beginner trail runners who may only have road running shoes). However, what these trails lack in technicality they make up for in length, as the trail is roughly 20km long. Beautiful parks, pretty scenery and convenient entrances along the course of the route make this a pleasant mid-week hit of nature. If you’re there on a weekend, end your run at the farmer’s market inside Evergreen Brick Works and stock up on local veggies.
Boyd Conservation Area
Be ready to curve and turn at this escape from the urban jungle. In the Boyd Conservation Area, several trail networks wind through the beautiful Humber River Valley, which gives you lots of options to loop, lap, and out-and-back.
Heart Lake Trails
Set around a small naturally occurring kettle lake, Heart Lake Conservation Area has more than 8km of scenic nature trails. You’ll find everything from rough and muddy to cruisy grass valleys in this compact trail zone. The uneven terrain will have you dodging rocks, sticks, roots and the occasional rabbit hole – or was that a tortoise hole?
Toronto trail running map
Toronto area run crews
Trail runners are some of the most fun and encouraging people in the world. Almost all of them would give you the shirt of their back (although you may want to wash it first). If you’d like to meet some fellow trail runners in Toronto, check out MEC Run Crews in Burlington, North York and Toronto. They have regularly scheduled road and trail runs, and new runners are always welcome.
Top photo credit: Geoff Fitzgerald for Evergreen