Outdoor park adventures for kids in Toronto

by Jeff Cottrill

Summer is coming soon, and your little ones will be dying to get out of the house now and then. Toronto has parks aplenty, and any green space will do for kids with loads of energy and big imaginations – but here’s a list of ones with some added features that turn outdoor playtime into an adventure. It may be worth the extra drive (or ferry ride) to check out one of these places on a sunny afternoon. [Photo credit: Roundhouse Park from iStock]

Outdoor park adventures for kids in Toronto

Roundhouse Park
This downtown park, affiliated with the Toronto Railway Museum, has a live steam miniature railway that offers rides from an old-fashioned train station through working replicas of historical locomotives. Roundhouse includes other historical structures and exhibits, including a water tower and coaling tower, for parents who are also interested in the story of Canadian choo choo trains.

The Franklin Children’s Garden
A perfect place for young children who know Franklin the Turtle, from the Paulette Bourgeois books. The garden has seven sections with different activities: Little Sprouts Garden, TD Storybook Place, Snail Trail, Hide and Seek Garden, Franklin’s Pollination Station, Pine Grove and Turtle Pond. There are bronze sculptures of Franklin and his friends – and kids even get a free backpack with a nature guide, junior binoculars and more goodies.

The William Meany Maze
If the Franklin garden doesn’t tire them out, you can also bring the kids to this nearby hedge maze, which consists of a woodchip path between more than 1,200 black cedar trees. Some say there’s even a secret tunnel around the maze’s centre. The original maze was built in 1967, but shut down in 2011; businessman William Meany remembered how much he’d loved it as a child and helped to rebuild it, and so it bears his name today.

Toronto Sculpture Garden
Right in the middle of the downtown concrete jungle is this tiny parkette that features temporary artworks by local sculptors, as well as a permanent waterfall fountain on the east wall. Although the Garden displays sculptures on an intermittent basis these days, it still can be a fine place to introduce a curious child to the wonders of modern art.

Corktown Common
Opened in 2014, this park in the West Don Lands has lots to keep the little fellas occupied, including giant slides built right into natural hills, a splash pad, swings and more. You and the kids can bring food to enjoy at one of the picnic tables or the permanent barbecue, and there are enough types of birds and amphibians for some good wildlife watching. An off-leash dog area is reportedly planned for the future.

Underpass Park
Not too far from Corktown is this hidden park under freeway overpasses, complete with a basketball court, a water fountain, a picnic site and a popular skateboarding area; seating is available around the skating area where kids too young for the action can watch. There’s also a playground for all ages, with an unusual climbing sphere with what appears to be giant spider webbing in the middle.

Sunnyside Park
Once the site of the famed Sunnyside Amusement Park, this west-end park area near Roncesvalles Village now boasts a playground, a beach, a picnic area, two biking trails, a kids’ wading pool and a splash pad. The little ones will also love the dinosaur statues near the boardwalk, and ice cream and snacks are available at concession stands.

High Park Zoo
High Park in the west end is so big and sprawling, it’s like a hundred different parks in one. It even has its own free small zoo, which dates back more than a century and is perfect if you can’t meet the Toronto Zoo entry prices. You and your kids can see deer, peacocks, highland cattle, bison, llamas and other animals – but be forewarned, the park discourages feeding the animals and photography using flash.

The Jamie Bell Adventure Park
High Park also has one of the best-loved kiddie playgrounds in the city – and children helped to design and build it. Castles, swings, ropes, ladders, a huge slide, even play-themed artwork by kids and more all populate the playground site, and there’s usually an ice-cream truck close by on hot summer days. It’s often very busy on long weekends, which may be intimidating for younger tots.

Grenadier Pond and Café
If the High Park Zoo isn’t enough, you and your kids can spot more animals further south in the park; Grenadier Pond is home to many ducks, swans, geese and frogs. There’s a good view of the spread from the observation deck at Hillside Gardens, and the nearby Grenadier Café has ice cream and other snacks for hot summer days.

Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat
Continuing with the animal theme, head west to Humber Bay Park to find this ecological restoration project where many species of flutterbyes live. The Butterfly Habitat includes areas devoted solely to native plants, along with a large wildflower meadow, a demonstration home garden and walking trails, allowing kids and parents a chance to see nature in its full beauty.

Riverdale Park
The ideal park setting for kids who love sports, Riverdale has two baseball diamonds, three multipurpose sports fields, seven tennis courts, a running track and an outdoor swimming pool. For those who don’t care so much for the sportsball, there’s also a picnic area and a playground, as well as hiking trails in the north end closer to Danforth. Family movie screenings also happen in the summer – and don’t miss the view of the downtown skyline at sunset.

Dufferin Grove Park
Lots of fun things to do at this large, popular community park. Summer brings pizza days and Friday night dinners, campfires, drop-in gardening and a wading pool. A unique feature here is the Cob Courtyard: a colourful cluster of earthen-walled small cottages with running water and electricity, like a second home in the park. The courtyard also has a cafe with nutritious snacks and a seating area.

Oriole Park
The Neshama Playground in this midtown park is Canada’s first fully accessible play area, where kiddies of all mobility levels can have their own adventures: it features a wheelchair-friendly flat ground made of rubber, with ramps and special spaces for the differently-abled, as well as toys designed for autistic children. Toddlers, meanwhile, are free to run around in their own section.

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