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Biking Toronto's best wilderness: Leslie Street Spit

From the peaceful, isolated spit, downtown Toronto seems very far away.
From the peaceful, isolated spit, downtown Toronto seems very far away.
L. Shuttleworth

Just how easy is it to find peaceful wilderness when you’re in Toronto, a metropolis of more than 3 million people?

Pretty easy if you head to the Leslie Street Spit, also known as Tommy Thompson Park.

From eyesore to beauty spot

The spit is a man-made, five-kilometre-long peninsula in Lake Ontario. Originally created as a dump for construction materials such as concrete and pipes, and dredged sandfill, it’s now the most amazing place in Toronto for nature lovers.

What happened on this industrial dump site is almost miraculous. Within only a few years, nature moved in. Birds and animals discovered the spit. Trees grew. Wild flowers sprouted. Before you could say “Natural reclamation!” the Leslie Spit had transformed from an ugly eyesore into a beautiful, peaceful nature reserve with 400 plant species, 300 bird species, 50 butterfly species, and numerous species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The really neat thing about Leslie Spit is that no one transported any of the birds or animals there. They just naturally gravitated to it and made it their home. Even migrating birds can’t resist the spit—many of them stop over in May and September.

Bike there in a few minutes

You can bike to the spit in a few minutes from downtown Toronto. Follow the bike path down Cherry Street, stopping to admire Cherry Beach, and then continue east along the bike path until you get to a big sign at Leslie St. flagging Tommy Thompson Park. Ride south past the gate, and you’re on the spit. Before you continue, check out the cool art installation of sculptures made from random junk.

Ride along the road all the way to the lighthouse at the end of the spit. You’ll pass a marsh where Toronto conservationists have encouraged marsh plants to grow. At the far end of the marsh, you’ll see something your eyes won’t at first believe: a beaver lodge. Yes, along with red foxes, coyotes, rabbits, and the usual city suspects such as raccoons and skunks, beavers have taken to the spit like, well, beavers to water.

Cormorants and herons

Double-crested Cormorants nest in rows of trees, and you can watch these big, black birds flying out in groups to go fishing. You can also see herons, terns, ducks, and even owls.

On weekends the park is closed to motorized vehicles, and open to cyclists, hikers, rollerbladers, and, in winter, cross country skiers. Because of the vast variety of wildlife on the spit, no dogs are allowed. Sorry, Rover.

For more photos and details, visit the Friends of Leslie Spit website: and the Leslie Spit section of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority website: