Discovering the Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands are my favourite outdoor spot in the city, so I am really happy about them now being open to visitors again. This green oasis punctuating the concrete jungle comprises a small chain of 15 islands on Lake Ontario south of mainland Toronto, making up the only islands on the western part of the lake. Encompassing 820 acres, they are home to parkland, the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, yacht clubs, an amusement park (Centreville), a residential area, and several beaches.

Approximately 300 homes can be found in the residential areas of Algonquin and Ward’s Islands, part of an exclusive community that is often known for its NIMBYism. Under the terms of the Toronto Islands Residential Community Stewardship Act, there are strict rules under provincial law governing the buying and selling of these residences. Currently, the waiting list to bid on any homes that come up for sale spans somewhere in the range of 25 years, so most of us common mainland folk will only ever have the privilege of venturing out to the Islands for day trips.

To access the Islands, you can catch a ride on the ferry that departs from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at Queens Quay and Bay Street, or hire a private water taxi. I find the public ferry to be quite nice, and will cost you a meagre $8 CAD for the two-way return trip. The trip is a short 15 minutes and offers you grand views of the Toronto skyline from Lake Ontario. You can choose to dock at either the main Centre Island, Ward Island, or Hanlan’s Point.

Once you arrive, hop on your bike (bring your own or rent) and go on a ride along the 15 kilometres of easy paved trails that will take you through the cozy streets of Ward’s Island, all the way to Hanlan’s Point where you can check out the clothing optional beach, or head further afield to partake in some plane spotting by the airport. Don’t worry if you’re not into the nude beach scene, as there are several other options along the way to lounge in the sand and dip your toes in the water while staying covered up. I recommend Gibraltar Point Beach, as it is a little more secluded and clean. Disc golf is also a thing here; there is an extensive course set up in the eastern section of the Islands.

As for the food, there are a couple patios and cafes dotted around Centre Island, Ward’s Island, and Hanlan’s Point, but I suggest packing a picnic or heading back to the mainland for a more satisfactory gastronomic exploration of Toronto. You may be hungry after a day of cycling and sun while discovering this little gem in the big city!