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Cycling Secrets of the Don Valley

Many of Toronto’s avid cyclists are aware of our network of bike trails, but for the most part, the slice of pseudo-wilderness cutting a swath through the Don Valley and along Taylor Creek is one of the city’s most woefully neglected attractions. Those who use it may like it that way (its obscurity keeps bike and foot traffic relatively sparse), but we think it’s a treasure that should be celebrated.

Though the route also splits off near Don Mills Road, passing behind the Ontario Science Centre and up to Edwards Gardens, we chose to highlight the easterly jaunt, with its terminus at Dawes Road (near Victoria Park Avenue). Lakeshore Boulevard at the Don Roadway provides the other access point.
What makes this particular course appealing is how it begins with dense foliage and the meandering, rocky river, eventually becoming more urbanized as you head south, kissing the edge of the Don Valley Parkway and passing under rusting expressway ramps near the portlands. The charm lies in quirks like the odd water crossings in Taylor Creek Park, the mammoth foundations of the Prince Edward Viaduct, and experiencing some wetland efforts meant to undo the environmental damage done by the industrialization of the Don River.

Image: Google Maps/Abvio Cyclemeter

Most of all, it’s a magnificent and surprisingly tranquil chunk of nature running clandestinely through the heart of downtown Toronto. You’d hardly know it, because access to the trail is virtually invisible from street level, and existing wayfinding signage is minimal and decrepit (there is an official map, but it’s confusing and overcomplicated, natch). Because the stretch running alongside the DVP is sunken into the valley and the traffic passes up high, the presence of such a major highway is often barely noticeable and a lot quieter than you’d expect.
Toronto’s tourism campaigns don’t include scenes of river rapids and and dense valley flora, but perhaps they should—we’re positive that many visitors would much rather spend their summer afternoon on a bike than wait in line at the CN Tower. As for Torontonians, it’s a big ol’ backyard many of us didn’t even know we had.
Photos by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
Main access points to this route near vehicle parking are from Taylor Creek Park, Stan Wadlow Park, E. T. Seton Park, Coxwell Ravine Park, Riverdale Park, and the Queen Street Bridge at Bayview. The southern terminus can be accessed by bike from the Lakeshore East bike pathway, which runs from Beaches Park to Lower Sherbourne.


  • http://undefined James Goneaux

    Well, thanks a lot! Yes, this used to be an unclogged cycling “artery” :-).
    Seriously, not a problem to share, really. Some of those homeless guys on the south end don’t look too friendly, so some more traffic won’t hurt (ever see the guy wearing (only) a kilt?)
    BTW, while most of the trail is in good shape, there was some dirt on some corners after that flood a few weeks ago, which makes the corners a bit dicey.
    As well, I’d recommend a face covering (you might want to remove if you suddenly come up to a riot), as the bugs tend to get a bit thick this time of year. Oh, and that “urinal” smell? Completely normal, if not exactly “natural”…
    Great pics!

  • http://undefined the_yellow_dart

    I am a mountain biker, so I’ve seen all these as they connect some of the best mountain bike trails in the city. If any MTBers have just moved in and not yet figured it out, go to the intersection of Pottery and Bayview, and go in about 50m on Pottery – there’s a trailhead that will take you North to Seton Park, and several trails other trails branch off from that park.
    This group does great work for the trails, including getting the city on board with plans for mountain bikers and their trails – I help them out with trail builds from time to time.

  • http://undefined the_yellow_dart

    Oh yeah, and the homeless guys! I was hiding from the rain under that underpass in Pic#17, and a homeless guy came through, bleeding from the head. Another homeless person had attacked him with a bottle earlier. If I wouldn’t have said something I think he would have kept walking. I couldn’t believe they actually got the ambulance down in there to the trail, right up to the underpass (from the north).

  • Val Dodge

    Bonus secret:
    When the Lower Don trail south of Pottery Road was officially opened in the early nineties, the railway underpass in picture 17 had a sound system: you were treated to recordings of frogs as you passed through it. It’s been broken for almost longer than I can remember, but you can still see the speaker grills overhead.

  • http://undefined Mark

    I’ve always wanted to know what the heck this weird structure is right next to the defunct Eastern Avenue Bridge:
    I even emailed “Ask Torontoist” about it. There are more pictures of it in that Flickr set photostream if you’re curious.

  • rmcw

    Thanks for the tip! I took my road bike up there this evening… it’s been a couple of years since I went up the Don Valley and the pavement is a lot less vibratey (?) than I remember it being… and I’d never been up Taylor Creek either. I almost forgot I was actually in the city.

  • http://undefined Don Watcher

    Your ‘decommissioned rail bridge’ is not a rail bridge. It is used to carry critical hydro conduits over the Don River. I blogged about this earlier this year: Nice set of pictures by the way.

  • thelemur

    I’ve sometimes used the trail on my commute. It’s somewhat out of my way and not easy to find in some places (there is absolutely nothing to suggest you can get on it from around the Broadview DVP ramp, but you can), but nothing beats riding through the valley while traffic is crawling along the DVP.

  • Michael Brown

    Hey Mark,
    I have often wondered the same thing. The last time I rode up past it the thought that I had was that maybe it was in use before the DVP was built. As the bridge is at the same grade as the DVP, it could no longer be used…having bridges at Queen, Dundas, Gerard and Bloor was enough. Just a thought??

  • Michael Brown

    That Toronto Tourism campaigns don’t use images of rapids and flora and all things natural in the Don (or the Rouge, the Humber, etc.) is a 20th century way of looking at “urban” areas. What is the brand, Toronto? For some it is a place of commerce, the financial capital of Canada, a place that means business during the work day. Even the “creative city” label seems a tad serious. Rapids and flora and wildlife, those are part of the Muskoka brand.
    This way of viewing our city explains why there is no signage to access the Don bike path. These rivers and creeks are in the way. Deer in the Highland Creek, Beavers on the Rouge, coyotes by the Etobicoke Creek, big fish in the lower Don–these are anomalies that don’t fit when trying to strengthen a “dated” brand. This also explains why a fake lake was built for the G20 and the outrage around it. I bet anyone that uses the bike paths along Toronto’s rivers/creeks could think of a number of locations where a backdrop of natural beauty in Canada’s largest urban centre could have been used for the G20.

  • http://undefined the_yellow_dart

    Speaking of the wildlife, that’s one thing that also surprises me about the Lower Don. Large deer come down there! They’re so domesticated it’s unbelievable. I stopped on the mountain bike trail, somewhere in the area of your ’4km’ marker on the map, and there were two bucks about 30 feet from me. I thought maybe they didn’t see me and I didn’t want to sneak up on them, so I clapped loudly. They looked at me for about 5 seconds, decided they didn’t care and continued eating leaves. The only thing that finally scared them off was a GO train going by.

  • Rhain

    The Humber river has an equally nice trail system that goes all the way from the lake to the 427 and Finch, with a small detour along Weston road. Plenty of deer to be seen there as well!

  • http://undefined DuncansCityRide

    Thanks for the link to Toronto Offroad, I was wondering who maintained the Crothers Woods trails.
    Following the_yellow_dart’s instructions, here’s what you’ll see in the trails of Crothers Woods in the Don Valley:

  • http://undefined Simon

    I really wish there was a simple connection between the Don valley trail / Riverdale park foot bridge, and the Rosedale valley road trail.
    I’d use these trails for my commute from Leslieville to Bloor and Yonge, but having to go north to Pottery Rd is just annoying… 2km each way extra to get 20m closer to my destination :(

  • Michael Brown

    That seems frustrating…I guess you can’t cross the railroad tracks from Bayview to the bike path south of Riverdale Foot Bridge (chain link fence?). When commuting from work to home, could you not travel south on Bayview and then peel right across the field south of the Foot Bridge and North of River Street exit. Then you would loop north and rejoin the bike path…sure there is no path…but you would effectively be creating your own cloverleaf. This might be more of a hassle going from home to work, what with left hand turns in busy rush hour traffic….just a thought….happy riding!

  • Michael Brown

    Forget my first suggestion…it doesn’t work…time for the city to build a bike tunnel under the tracks or or a bridge to go over…that would be a good suggestion to the Toronto Bicycle Union and also the folks at City Hall that deal with bike lanes/infrastructure. It would certainly increase pedestrian + bike use of Rosedale Valley…

  • http://undefined Carmen

    The city really needs to put stairs from the this path to dundas, queen and gerrard street above.
    This path would be a great commute from east york (where I live) to yonge / dundas (where I work) expect its hard to get off it to go on to Dundas!

  • thelemur

    The nearest exit would be Riverdale Park but those stairs are quite a climb. It’s a shame, since the access from Beechwood is really nice.

  • Mike

    I can’t wait to get the Norco Charger mountain bike rental from ( this weekend to check out Don Valley.

  • FattyQ

    Just discovered this today by accident and it WAS tranquil and beautiful! I had to laugh at myself how excited I was to find it. Def gonna be a regular :)

  • Ron Singer

    How do you cycle around construction on the Don River Cycle Pathway at the Don Mills underpass leading west to Taylor Creek?

    • Jon Henry

      By dangerously crossing Don Mills Road, right where the “trail closed” sign is. I use the trail to commute. It makes you happy to be alive, twice daily!