For the millions of Canadian residents who live in busy, bustling urban centres, finding moments of stillness to connect to nature can be essential for our mental health. Luckily for us, many of our cities are brimming with municipal, provincial, territorial and even national parks, plus private green spaces, conservation areas and community greening programs.
From well-known spots to hidden gems, these are 40 favourite green spaces near urban centres across Canada.
Kayaking at Lighthouse Park, Vancouver - photo by Martin Aldrich
- Moss Rock Park is a little gem in the Fairfield neighbourhood of Victoria. What it lacks in size it makes up for in great views of the city and the Salish Sea, plus (as the name would suggest) neat plant life and geology to admire. After the short but steep scramble up the rocks, there are a few benches to reward yourself with a picnic.
- The Dallas Road Waterfront Trail offers some of Victoria’s most scenic easy walking. Stick to the paved pathway or venture down to the coastline to find pebble beaches, amazing photo opportunities and driftwood galore. This is a great spot to sit back and enjoy watching the waves and windsurfers.
- In West Vancouver, Lighthouse Park has groomed hiking trails, lookout points and beautiful old-growth trees spanning its 75 hectares. Point Atkinson Lighthouse, which gives the park its name, is also a National Historic Site of Canada.
- World-renowned Stanley Park is Vancouver’s largest urban park. Enormous trees, the winding Seawall and stunning views all around make this green space a must for any visitor to the city. The totem poles at Brockton Point, carved by Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Nisga’a, Nuu-chah-nulth and Squamish artists, is one of the park’s most popular sites. There are also beaches, an aquarium and restaurants to enjoy.
- Picturesque Victoria Park in North Vancouver has wide pathways, picnic areas, groomed gardens and shady lawns. The park is part of the municipality’s Green Necklace, a 7.5-kilometre-long multi-use trail that loops around the city centre and connects a number of urban green areas.
- Fishtrap Creek Park in Abbotsford is a peaceful wetland escape from the surrounding busy city. The multi-use Discovery Trail runs along its banks, including educational signage about the park’s natural habitat.
- Knox Mountain Park is just north of downtown Kelowna. The sprawling green space has options for swimming, disc golf and racquet sports, as well as great hiking trails offering views of the city, valley and Okanagan Lake.
Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary - photo by Bernard Spragg (Flickr CC)
- Fish Creek Provincial Park, bordering Tsuut’ina Nation in the south end of Calgary, has more than 80 kilometres of trails to explore. Excellent birdwatching and fishing go hand-in-hand with swimming, rollerblading and biking.
- Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden is a provincial historic site and a horticultural gem in the middle of the city. Charming stone pathways curve around three acres of gardens that hold thousands of species of alpine plants.
- Nose Hill Park in the northwest of the city offers sweeping views of Calgary and the surrounding area. Enjoy the native grassland ecosystem along its many hiking trails and don’t miss the Siksikaitsitapi stone medicine wheel at the top of the hill, built by the Blackfoot Confederacy in recognition of the area as part of their traditional territory.
- The Louise McKinney Riverfront Park is one of many gateways to Edmonton’s winding trail system along the North Saskatchewan River Valley. The adjacent 100 Street Funicular, promenade, pedestrian bridge and elevator make this section of trail more accessible to those of all abilities seeking a green escape.
- Emily Murphy Park on the river’s southeast shore is a small but beloved park in the city of Edmonton. There’s plentiful trail access, picnic sites with fire pits and a boat launch for your canoe, kayak or paddle board.
Saskatchewan & Manitoba:
Bois-des-Esprits, Winnipeg - photo by Dave Shaver (Flickr CC)
- Rotary Park along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon is a favourite spot with locals. When the weather’s fair, you can expect to find folks out and enjoying this urban green space to the fullest—whether that’s sharing a picnic, enjoying an outdoor yoga class or throwing a frisbee around on its grassy lawns.
- Wascana Centre is the urban greenery pride and joy of Regina. The park’s rambling lakes, gardens and pathways are overlooked by the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. The city’s paved multi-use pathway, which winds its way from the far southeast corner of the city to its northwest edge, loops around Wascana Lake.
- The Living Prairie Museum in Winnipeg is a tall grass prairie preserve not far from the city’s airport. Tall grass prairie was once a sprawling ecosystem throughout the Indigenous homelands of Treaty 1 territory and beyond, but only one per cent of that natural habitat remains today. The museum offers self-guided trails, environmental education programs and community events.
- The Bois-des-Esprits in Winnipeg is a large urban forest along the Seine River. Keep an eye out for beavers, herons, turtles, deer and other plentiful critters. Among the beautiful sights is a three-metre-tall wood spirit named Woody-Mhitik, carved into the trunk of a felled elm tree by local artists Walter Mirosh and Robert Leclair. At the northern edge of the park, you’ll meets up with the Louis Riel Sr. Trail, named in honour of this important figure in Métis history.
High Park cherry blossoms - photo by City of Toronto (Flickr CC)
- In the heart of Windsor, just a stone’s throw from the Detroit River, is a cluster of five natural areas known collectively as the Ojibway Prairie Complex. Named for the Anishinaabe traditional territory on which it rests, the parks and natural areas consist of wetlands, forests, savanna and prairie habitats to explore. The city-run Ojibway Nature Centre offers public events, a wildflower garden and nature trails.
- Princess Point in Hamilton is part of the city’s Royal Botanical Gardens. Although it’s right beside a major highway, this gorgeous spot features large swaths of Carolinian forest, lakeside canoe launches, picnic spots and boardwalks through the woods. It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset over the bay!
- High Park in Toronto’s west end is a haven of urban greenery popular with the city’s birdwatchers, dog walkers, joggers and families. Among its many features are a nature centre, adventure playground, gardens and greenhouse, outdoor performing arts theatre and the picturesque Grenadier Pond. In springtime, the park’s cherry blossom viewing can’t be beat.
- Located in a former quarry and industrial site of a Toronto brick factory, Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley is a dynamic reclaimed green space. The shady trail system weaves around naturalized ponds, up to a lookout point, past community gardens and into reimagined eco-friendly architecture. The weekend farmer’s market shouldn’t be missed.
- Nestled in the Rouge River Valley of east Scarborough and stretching all the way to the shoreline of Lake Ontario, Rouge National Urban Park is easily accessed by public transit. It holds the city’s only campground, a sandy beach and plenty of spots to hike, cycle and fish.
- Remic Rapids Park on the Ottawa River is a popular spot to watch the sunset. It’s particularly well-known for the dynamic display of balanced rock sculptures, created by artist John Felice Ceprano. The Ottawa River Pathway passes by here, as does the SJAM Winter Trail for cross-country skiing. (At the time of press, it’s been reported that the latter will soon be renamed due to Sir John A. MacDonald’s legacy as an architect of the residential school system in Canada.)
- A bike ride along Ottawa’s Rideau River trail to Mooney’s Bay is a delight. The sandy beach, supervised by lifeguards during the summer months, is a popular swimming spot and the park also offers picnic areas, barbecue pits and volleyball nets.
Verdun waterfront rainbow, Montreal - photo by Emily Churchill Smith
- Enormous Gatineau Park, located on unceded Algonquin territory in the National Capital Region, boasts more than 360 square kilometres of rich and diverse ecosystems. In wintertime, their cross-country ski trails and adjoining warming huts are a hub of activity, while the changing fall colours are stunning and the chance to paddle through its waterways is a treat for the senses.
- Parc Maisonneuve in Montreal neighbours the city’s Biodôme and botanical gardens. Winter brings great sledding and skating at the outdoor rink, while in the summertime, a herd of sheep mow the grass and songbirds sing in the mature trees.
- Cutting through Montreal is the city’s renowned bike network, including the Lachine Canal National Historic Site’s 13.5 kilometres of uninterrupted, flat cycling pathways that pass through beautiful parks and greenery, with plenty of places to sit for when you want to stop for a snack.
- Sit, stroll or cycle beneath shady trees along the banks of the Kaniatarowanenneh (the Kanien'kéha name for the Lawrence River) and listen to the water’s flow. This special waterfront in the Verdun neighbourhood of Montreal is sure to help you reconnect with your inner peace.
- Mont-Bellevue Park is Sherbrooke’s largest. Along with hills and trails for a seemingly endless number of summer and winter activities, it is also home to a nature reserve project put in place to protect the park’s forest and wetland habitats.
- Along the shores of the St. Lawrence in Quebec City, the picturesque park of Bois-de-Coulonge contains an arboretum, manicured garden beds, historical buildings and water features.
- Quebec City’s largest park, Parc Chauveau, has serene, wooded walking trails along the babbling Akiawenrahk (St. Charles River). Follow this waterway for just a few more kilometres up to the Huron Wendat community of Wendake to witness the beautiful Kabir Kouba waterfall.
Quidi Vidi Lake cast bronze sculpture "The Rower" by artist Morgan MacDonald - photo by Dave Paddon
- In Moncton, New Brunswick, the Park & Pine Collective Garden is a community initiative on reclaimed private land that is open to all. The garden’s workload and harvest are shared amongst community members, and its organizers host educational events on topics such as food security, permaculture and soil regeneration.
- Mill Creek Nature Park is a favourite of locals living within the Moncton tri-city area. The extensive trail system for snowshoeing, mountain biking and skiing is growing all the time. The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s WILD Outside program uses this park to teach youth participants sustainable trail-building techniques.
- Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Public Gardens feature beautiful blooms. The meandering walkways pass over bridges, past fountains and around diverse horticultural displays. It’s a perfect place for a stroll to soak in some beautiful greenery.
- Across Halifax Harbour in Dartmouth is the Shubenacadie Canal, named from the word Sipekne’katik, which means “where the groundnuts grow.” This extensive waterway, which Mi’kmaq have travelled for millennia, offers great options for paddling, cycling, hiking and camping, starting from Dartmouth Cove and eventually reaching the Minas Basin in the Bay of Fundy.
- In Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, a whopping 88-acre experimental farm lies right in the centre of the city. Explore the local farmer’s market, a sculptural beehive and play structure, horse pasture and an amazing amount of green space. The province’s former rail line, now the naturalized, multi-purpose Confederation Trail, also runs through it.
- Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s is a popular spot to watch rowers preparing for the city’s annual regatta. Part of Newfoundland’s Grand Concourse loops around the lake, which includes a boardwalk and linking trails that take you to Virginia River, Cuckolds Cove or up to Cabot Tower on Signal Hill.
- You'll find a campground at Pippy Park, located in the northwestern edge of the city of St. John’s. This huge urban green space also offers snowshoeing, hiking and wildlife spotting along the rough terrain trails of the Three Pond Barrens.
Somba K’e Park - photo by Alison Karlene Hodgins, @alison_abroad
- In Nunavut’s capital is Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, known as Iqaluit Kuunga in Inuktitut, referring to the river’s plentiful fishing. It’s just a few kilometres from the centre of town to the park’s pavilion, which overlooks the beautiful surrounding tundra and waterfalls.
- Somba K’e Park is a popular and beautiful meeting space in the heart of Yellowknife. The large grassy lawns, outdoor amphitheatre seating and “United in Celebration” sculpture by local artist Francois Thibault are all major draws. The park will soon have the territory’s first accessible playground, too.
- The Yukon River Loop Trail in Whitehorse is a full day hike that takes you from the downtown all the way to Miles Canyon footbridge and back. The 15.5 kilometres of beautiful river scenery offer a wide variety of terrain, from steep, rough climbs to paved roads.
PS. Why 40? Because Explore Magazine is Turning 40 Years Old!
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