By Stephen Lew
first appeared in May 2006 Canoe and Kayak
Like many who live in Toronto but play outdoors, I've learned to brave the commute on crowded, polluted highways with the hope that my secret oasis hasn't been developed into a Cottage Country suburb. And now, I'm floating in the middle of a lush wetland spotting birds and other wildlife, watching the sunset over a sandy beach. I'm a million miles from the stresses of city life, yet 20 minutes from the bling of five-star entertainment. This is the Toronto paddling experience--if you don't think outside the concrete, but embrace what's in the middle of it.
T.O. is Canada's largest city, and one of the most culturally diverse in the world. Blinded by the flair of shopping and nightlife, you can easily forget that there co-exists a thriving outdoor universe.
Rivers, an archipelago, miles of shoreline, and a skyline like no other create a true flatwater nirvana; if water conditions and the seasons cooperate, the Humber and Rouge Rivers provide Class II and III rapids right in the city. Stellar paddling is as accessible as the theater strip, with its hit Broadway musicals, and some of the best dining (at all price ranges) on the continent. With put-ins and paddling clubs in the heart of downtown, paddlers have even been known to squeeze in quickies between board meetings and power lunches.
So if you can handle getting cosmopolitan on your next outdoor adventure, add Toronto to your tick list--you can even leave your cell phone on.
Cherry Beach and Ashbridge's Bay are downtown put-ins that give ready access to the Toronto Islands, the bird sanctuary at Tommy Thompson Park, and the downtown skyline for spectacular sunset paddles.
In the Toronto Islands themselves, you can leave the city behind and enjoy island-hopping and a break on the nude beach before you return for dinner and a show.
At the Sunnyside Pool and Beach Caf, you'll find the peaceful Humber River and the spot for an aprs-paddle dinner on the beach.
Explore the over-eight-mile limestone escarpment of the Scarborough Bluffs from the base of Bluffer's Park and easily forget about the city's 2.5 million occupants.
OUT OF TOWN
If you're willing to drive a few hours, you'll find world-class canoeing at Algonquin Park, which has more than 1,300 miles of established routes (www.algonquinpark.on.ca; 705-633-5572); Killarney Provincial Park, with its quartzite mountains and pristine lakes (www.ontarioparks.com/english/kill.html; 705-287-2900); and some of the best sea kayaking around at Philip Edward Island (www.killarney.com; 800-461-1117 for outfitting).
Whitewater junkies head west to the Elora Gorge and the 180-mile Grand River, for tranquil tubing or Class II to IV rapids (www.grandriver.ca; 519-621-2761 for info and the guidebook). A park-n-play fix can be found on the 800-meter stretch of rapids on the Gull River in Minden (www.whitewaterontario.ca; 888-322-2849).
GETTING TO TOWN
Toronto has one of the busiest airports on the continent, making cheap flights and packages plentiful (www.gtaa.com).
ON THE TOWN
Ka Chi (612 Bloor St. West; 416-533-9306) serves up tasty stews and a kim-chi fix at one of the busiest restaurants in Koreatown.
Fresh by Juice for Life (894 Queen St. West; 416-913-2720) is where you can unpack your Lululemon and art-film glasses and find out why going vegan and veggie is so popular in Toronto.
Swatow (309 Spadina Ave.; 416-977-0601): Did you lose track of time and take out late? This super-casual noodle house is an after-hours destination for some of the hottest chefs in the city.
Canoe (66 Wellington St. W.; 416-364-0054): While the price tag is steep, the view is incredible, and the impeccably prepared food has a classy, Canadian focus. Get cleaned up for this one.
Did you miss your favorite musical, opera, concert, or show when last in Manhattan? Get your cultural fix with cheap Canadian prices at any number of stages, theaters, and clubs by checking www.toronto.com.
Toronto hotels range from cheap and sleazy to chic and chichi. Find packages at your preferred Web site, and check www.toronto.com for some of the most popular picks. There's even a campground in the city if you're willing to be farther from the action (www.toronto.ca/parks/recreation_facilities/camping/index.htm).
Retailers: Mountain Equipment Co-op, 400 King St. West (www.mec.ca; 416-340-2667); Europe Bound Travel Outfitters, 383 King St. West (www.europebound.com; 416-205-9992)
Schools: Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre (paddletoronto.com; 800-960-8886, 416-203-2277)
Toronto Kayak & Canoe Adventures (www.torontoadventures.ca; 416-536-2067)