Toronto is many things, but a runners paradise it is not. Confronting traffic gridlock and busy intersections, urban planners have struggled to make the city safe for bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians. Despite an increase in the number of bike lanes over the past few years, accidents are still occurring on a regular bases. Many are resulting in fatalities. In 2017, the city launched Vision Zero, with the aim of making Toronto’s streets safer for pedestrians. One year later, the number of deaths on the Toronto’s streets has been steady, possibly even on the rise. To run in Toronto, one needs to be diligent.
As opposed to running trails and outdoor tracks, I prefer to jog on city sidewalks. They are more accessible, and frankly, less boring. Rather than run endless circles on a track, I like to feel like I am getting somewhere. That said, tracks are great for interval training. There are no red lights, large groups or pedestrians blocking my path. Since I want to keep setting personal bests when I race, interval training is important too. While running in Toronto, I make use of what’s available.
After years of exploring the city on foot, I am familiar with the streets of Toronto. Through trial and error, I know which sidewalks are safe and uncongested. I’m also aware of the intersections where I am likely to encounter a bad driver rolling through a stop sign without glancing left or right.
Here are the best places to run in Toronto
Private Running Tracks with Free Community Hours
In the downtown area, the best free running track is at the Central Tech Stadium. Located just South of Bloor Street West and Bathurst Street, the facility is a popular place for kids summer camps and after school programs. In July and August, its outdoor running track is open to the public between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. Year round, the track is available from 7:00 to 8:00 am on Saturdays and from 7:00 – 8:30 am, as well as 12:00 – 1:00 pm, on Sundays. The track is only about 1 to 2 km from most downtown locations so it’s easy to reach with a quick warm run.
This track on the East End has both an outdoor and an indoor season. From May to October, the track is open to the public from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm Monday to Friday, and from 8:30 am to approximately 6:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. Since school hours run until 6 pm, it’s best to use this track in the evenings on the weekdays (unless you want to weave around 100s of kids during your run).
During the indoor season, from November to April, the entire field is covered and memberships are offered for those interested in using the facility. A season pass is $300 for adults and $250 for youth and seniors, making it an affordable place to run during the colder months of the year.
Public Running Tracks in Toronto
Toronto has dozens of public parks. A few contain outdoor running tracks. In the downtown area, the recently built Regent Park Athletic Grounds lie about 2.5 km from Union Station while Riverdale Park East is a little more than 2.5 km from the Yonge and Bloor intersection. On the Upper West End, Earlscourt Park features a ton of facilities, including tennis, basketball, and tennis courts, a playground, and a wading pool.
If you are looking to explore the parks of Toronto, the city website offers a sortable list of Toronto parks to help you plan a visit. On the site, you can sort for parks that contain the activities or features you are looking for, such as a playgrounds and sports facilities.
Private Paid Running Tracks in Toronto
For residents in the downtown area, the University of Toronto features a number of facilities, including an outdoor running track at Varsity Stadium and an indoor track at the Athletic Centre. The cost of a Community Membership is $79.15 per month or $850 per year if paid upfront. The membership includes access to drop in classes and pick-up games, a swimming pool, and of course, the running tracks. If you don’t mind having some of the university track stars running circles around you, this is a great place to train.
Running Trails in Toronto
Toronto has a lot of running trails. Many parks feature running paths, including High Park and the Don Valley, two of Toronto’s largest green spaces. I confess that I prefer to avoid trails. The uneven terrain can make it easy to roll an ankle, and most of the cities trails are heavily used by cyclists, who don’t always like sharing the space with runners.
The most commonly used trail for runners is the Martin Goodman Trail, a 22 km stretch that runs along the waterfront. It’s a good trail for runners because it’s paved and is easy to access from almost any point south of Bloor Street. However, a lot of cyclists use the trail as well, and many seem to think that it’s meant exclusively for them (it’s not). On hot days, it can be a nice place to run because of the breeze emanating from Lake Ontario. The path also features very few stop lights and so it’s easy to keep a steady pace, which can be difficult when running through city streets.
Another nice place to run is in the newly constructed Trillium Park, located just south of Exhibition place. It features a 1.3 km looped running trail on a freshly paved path and offers a great breeze from the lake.
Running on the Streets of Toronto
Despite there being some great outdoor tracks and trails in the city, I still prefer a run though the streets of Toronto. However, I have learned that there are a number of streets to avoid. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any streets along streetcar routes. These roads tend to have a lot of foot traffic, street lights at every intersection, and impatient drivers. This would include Yonge Street, Spadina Avenue, and Bathurst Street running North and South. Running East and West, avoid King Street, Queen Street, Dundas Street, College Street, Gerrard Street and Eglinton Avenue. Use these streets at your own risk and be wary of drivers entering from side streets that have no street lights.
I’ve identified streets in the downtown area that have fewer stop lights, limited sidewalk congestion, and less traffic. The map below displays a 10 km route that takes advantages of the lesser used streets that run through the city. This route contains no streetcars and very few buses. You are still likely to encounter the occasional group that takes up the entire sidewalk, especially around the University of Toronto, but I have been running this route for years and find that it let’s me keep up a good pace through the entire run.
The route starts downtown at Queen and Beverly, then takes advantage of two streets that I find are very underused in the city, Dupont Street and Harbord Street. I’ve ended the route near its starting point. The Osgoode Subway Station is close by, as is the Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival.
When I got more into running a few years ago, the initial challenges I faced are well known to anyone who has tried to become an avid jogger. Shortness of breath, cramps, and knee aches at one point or another made it difficult to even like jogging, let alone love it. I discovered that it’s not an easy hobby to embrace.
These days, I love it. On most days, I look forward to the run I have planned for the day and after competing in a couple half marathons, I am beginning to think that I may even run a marathon one day soon. Over the months and then years, running transformed from a task to a passion. Despite living in downtown Toronto, it’s a hobby that I embrace. Exploring the city on foot is great fun, especially if you know where to go.