Wild Toronto is a series about the many wild places you can hike and bike in all four seasons without ever leaving the city.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we headed out to Crothers Woods for a winter day hike in the city. But shortly after we embarked on the trail, we could tell it was someplace special that was worth visiting and protecting.
Crothers Woods is a 52-hectare mature maple, beech, and oak Carolinian forest located on the west side of Toronto’s Don River valley. Many of the trees in this sensitive woodland are over a century old and rarely found in the city anymore. As a result, Crothers Woods has been designated an Environmentally Significant Area (ESA). Still, the area’s woodland, prairie, and wetland features 10 kilometres of multi-use trails for hiking and biking.
How to get to Crothers Woods
Hikers and bikers can access the trails from at least four locations that I’m aware of, including but not limited to:
- Thomas Hauser Memorial Trailhead, also known as the Loblaws trailhead (14 Redway Road) – lots of parking available
- Beechwood Drive, near the Toronto Police Dog Services training facility – some parking available
- The stairs near Redway and Millwood Roads – accessible by TTC (56 Leaside or 88 South Leaside bus)
- Pottery Road near Bayview Avenue – some parking available
Crothers Woods trails
The trails in Crothers Woods twist, wind, intersect, and double back on each other quite often throughout the forest, so it can be difficult to tell exactly where you are and where you are going at various points. I recommend printing or picking up a trail map, or keeping the file handy on your phone for quick reference. Use it alongside your GPS (or go old school with a compass) to avoid getting lost.
We started at the Thomas Hauser Memorial Trailhead, also known as the Loblaws trailhead (14 Redway Road), and stayed primarily on the narrow dirt trail outlined in hot pink on the map:
Crothers Woods trail map (Source: City of Toronto brochure)
The trail was both muddy and icy in sections, so we had to stay cautious. In some cases, we had to turn back or find an alternate route when there was no safe path. Brian and I both found ourselves slipping and sliding up and down the steeper sections of the trail at times. We used nearby trees and rocks for support to avoid falling.
We didn’t encounter any bikers using the Crothers Woods trails on this cool January day, but we did find evidence of heavy use by mountain bikers, including tracks in the mud and snow, and plenty of comments and complaints from fellow trail users online. It’s as good idea to stay alert for oncoming bikers just in case they don’t follow trail etiquette. They might alert you to their presence by ringing their bells.
Points of interest in Crothers Woods
The narrow dirt trail offers many vantage points from which to view the city skyline and Don Valley. Those views are especially clear in the winter in the absence of all the leaves.
The real point of interest for us, however, was the sewage treatment plant between Redway and Millwood Roads. You can hear it and smell it before you see it. The nearly 100-year-old plant is made up of rows of small, red brick buildings with green roofs, and treatment pools that are constantly moving “water” at a frantic pace.
According to the plant’s 2016 annual report, the North Toronto Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of four wastewater treatment facilities operated by the City of Toronto. Commissioned in 1929, it was one of the first plants in North America to use the “biological activated sludge process”.
Today, it serves a population of approximately 55,000, and discharges treated effluent into the nearby Don River. (This fact is not lost on us when we participate in the Paddle the Don event each year. We try to focus on the word “treated,” and avoid tipping into the water to maintain our health and sanity.)
You can walk the circumference of the plant along the trail, which eventually loops back to Redway Road. This area definitely has a post-apocalyptic feel to it sometimes, with many seemingly abandoned vehicles parked in places they’re probably not supposed to be. It feels creepy for a minute or two until another cheerful dog and its owner pops out from around the corner.
We look forward to returning to Crothers Woods in the spring, summer, and fall. In those seasons, the forest will undoubtedly be bursting with life. The woodland is primarily deciduous, so it likely features beautiful fall colours come September.
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