Home Traveling AdventuresCanada Cycling the Waterfront Trail East – Toronto to Ajax

Cycling the Waterfront Trail East – Toronto to Ajax

by bromptoning

Since the pandemic is still not over, we stayed close to home this summer once again. We’ve done many short bike rides around Toronto, including a fun one on the Beltline and Don Valley trails for the Brompton World Challenge 2021, but no big rides. So when our friend Janet Joy asked if we wanted to bike to Paradise Beach in Ajax, we said YES! We also posted in the Toronto Brompton Owners Facebook page to see if anyone else wanted to join. Four fellow Bromptoneers replied in the affirmative, and just like that, we had a Bounty of Bromptons ready to ride to Ajax on Canadian Thanksgiving! 

Us and our Brompton bikes in the fall foliage.
HAPPY CRANKSGIVING!!!

Toronto to Paradise Beach in Ajax is 50km one way! Luckily a GoTrain line runs along the lakeshore, with one station (Rouge Hill) located right beside the Waterfront Trail. We figured the best plan of action was to bike to Ajax, then double back 20km to catch the train at Rouge Hill. If anyone didn’t want to bike the entire 70km, they could easily catch another train home along the route, or meet us partway, as one of our friends did at Danforth & Main station.

This was a big ride, so I’ve divided it into six legs, each with a detailed map, route information and photos. 

  1. Bloor-Danforth Bike Lanes -> Waterfront Trail
  2. Waterfront Trail – Scarborough Bluffs
  3. Waterfront Trail – Guildwood
  4. Waterfront Trail – Rouge Hill
  5. Waterfront Trail – Frenchman’s Bay (Pickering)
  6. Waterfront Trail – Duffins Creek (Ajax)

Of course, there’s also a VIDEO! If you want to skip straight to that, click here.

1. Bloor-Danforth Bike Lanes -> Waterfront Trail

One positive thing to come out of the pandemic is a network of new bike lanes in Toronto. People have been advocating to get bike lanes on this important east-west route across the city for decades, but except for a short section on Bloor St. W, nothing was done until the pandemic made taking the crowded Bloor-Danforth subway line too dangerous. Suddenly, the city needed a space-efficient way to move people along this major corridor, so in record time bike lanes were installed!

Bromptoning on Bloor Street just past the ROM.
Bromptoning on Bloor Street just past the ROM.

Unfortunately, these bike lanes aren’t permanent, but we’re optimistic that city councillors will make them so since thousands of Torontonians use them every day.

Temporary curbs and planters on the Bloor Street bike lanes.
Temporary curbs and planters on the Bloor Street bike lanes.

Because we have bike lanes on Bloor St and Danforth Ave, we took them rather than cutting south to Harbourfront to take the Waterfront Trail. We’re all familiar with the downtown trail and wanted to get east faster, and the Bloor-Danforth bike lanes make that possible. Plus, this route avoids a brutal uphill at Queen St. E and Fallingbrook Rd.

MAP - Bike route along Bloor Street to Danforth Ave, then going south at Warden Ave through some residential streets to connect to the Waterfront Trail.

Where the bike lanes end at Dawes Rd, I planned a side street route just north of Danforth, but since traffic was light on a holiday Monday and there were seven of us, we simply spread out and took that right-hand lane the last couple of infrastructure-less blocks to Warden Ave. We turned south on Warden for one tiny block, then turned left onto quiet residential streets and soon connected with the Waterfront Trail at a little unnamed alley off Harding Blvd just south of Kingston Rd. 

This alley between Harding Blvd & Birchmount Rd. is part of the Waterfront Trail.
This alley between Harding Blvd & Birchmount Rd. is part of the Waterfront Trail.

From here, we rode mainly residential streets, following the painted bikes+chevrons on the pavement that mark the Waterfront Trail route.

Bromptons take over the streets in Scarborough!
Bromptons take over the streets in Scarborough!

The trail also cuts through small local parks and uses a brief bidirectional bike lane on Kingston Rd. Frankly, we think this bike lane should extend the entirety of Kingston Rd, but that’s an issue for a different post. 

And before long, we were at the Scarborough Bluffs!

2. Waterfront Trail – Scarborough Bluffs

A mere two years ago, the Bluffs were the farthest east we’d ever biked in Toronto! Now on this ride, we were only 1/3 of the way to our destination in Ajax.

Waterfront Trail Map, Zone 2, Section 12: Scarborough Bluffs

*Full Waterfront Trail MAPS available to download at https://waterfronttrail.org/map/downloadable-maps/

When cycling east, getting through the Scarborough Bluffs involves a steep hill that starts at the end of the aptly named Undercliff Drive. We rode down this hill last year on our Highland Creek Trail ride and I noticed the sign at the bottom of the hill has changed:

2020 – “Moose Crossing” sign
2021 – “Gecko Crossing” sign

Obviously, these signs are jokes since we don’t have moose or geckos in Toronto. I wonder who puts up these joke signs and if they change them every year. We’ll have to ride east again in 2022 and find out!

Heather cycling up to Cliffside (Photo by Janet Joy)
Heather cycling up to Cliffside (Photo by Janet Joy)

Of course, hills never look as steep in photos, but trust me, this one is a challenge! Eventually, we all made it to the top and were rewarded with a wonderful view over Lake Ontario.

The previous times we’ve ridden this dirt trail around the Bluffs, it’s been dry and hard-packed, but after a rainy summer, the trail was pretty muddy!

Waterfront Trail, Cliffside section (see MAP)
Waterfront Trail, Cliffside section (see MAP)

After that, we were back on residential streets, with a brief section on Kingston Rd where there’s no bidirectional bike lane, so we cut through the Shell gas station parking lot between Faircroft Blvd and Ravine Dr. 

And here begins the Guildwood section of the trail…

3. Waterfront Trail – Guildwood

Waterfront Trail Map, Zone 2, Section 13: Guildwood

Ravine Dr curves into Hill Cr where we followed the bike pavement markings past a house with red moose sculptures amongst the trees on its front lawn. Just past the moose, the trail continues through a wooded area that is marked “Steep Hill, Rough Terrain” on the map above, but I didn’t find it rough or steep, though we were travelling downhill. 😉

Soon the trail enters the Guild Park & Gardens (formerly Guildwood Park). 

We cycled through slowly, as there were lots of pedestrians enjoying the grounds, and only stopped for a bathroom break. However, Guild Park is well worth an extended visit! As USA Today’s 10 Best puts it:

Guildwood Park’s 90 acres of picturesque gardens and walking trails serves as a sort of graveyard for Toronto’s historic buildings. The park features approximately 70 pieces of buildings that stood in the city’s downtown core until being torn down in the post-World War II boom. The facades, archways and other pieces were transported here, and today form a sculpture garden… everything from the remains of the Temple Building, Toronto’s first skyscraper and once the tallest in the British Empire, to the fireplace mantle salvaged from the home of Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin.

10 BEST
A brief glimpse of Guild Park & Gardens.

After Guild Park, the Waterfront Trail goes up Morningside Ave to Coronation Dr, but we took the connection shortcut through Greyabbey Park & Ravine. The entrance to the path is off a street literally called Greyabbey Trail between houses #112 and #114. It’s easy to miss! And miss it we did, but only by a few dozen metres. I quickly got the group doubled back to the unmarked entrance.

Unmarked Greyabbey trail entrance.

Fair warning: the route through Greyabbey Ravine is a just a grassy path! It’s pretty, but if you don’t like off-roading on your bicycle, you might want to stick to the main Waterfront Trail route on Morningside Ave and Coronation Dr. However, we were happy we took this scenic connection!

Next up, Port Union and Rouge Hill!

4. Waterfront Trail – Rouge Hill

Waterfront Trail Map, Zone 2, Section 14: Rouge Hill

The Greyabbey Ravine path exits onto Copperfield Rd. 

This is a low-traffic service road that runs past East Point Park. We didn’t go into the park, but according to this BlogTO article, “East Point is nothing short of a natural gem.” Perhaps on our next ride, we should pay it a visit! Note: There are also washroom facilities in East Point Park. 

Instead, we cycled right by it onto the Port Union Waterfront Park section of the trail.

Completed in 2012, this is the newest section of the Waterfront Trail. Prior to Port Union Park’s construction, this section of the lakefront wasn’t accessible to the public. In many spots, the trail runs alongside the water, buffered by a series of headland beach systems — rock structures built to prevent erosion and protect the shoreline.

Note on the MAP above the Rouge Hill GoTrain station right beside the Port Union Waterfront Trail. 

Waterfront Trail rock structures protecting the shoreline.
Waterfront Trail rock structures protecting the shoreline.

After a leisurely ride on this well-used section of the trail, we arrived at Rouge National Urban Park where the Rouge River flows into Lake Ontario.

Rouge River
Rouge River

Just before this river, there’s a bathroom building with a handy bottle refill water fountain on the outer east wall. Great place to rehydrate!

This is the most easterly point of Toronto. From here, we’d enter another city: Pickering.

5. Waterfront Trail – Frenchman’s Bay

Though this section of the trail map is labelled “Frenchman’s Bay”, the trail through Pickering is actually divided into three named sections. First Nations Trail (3.5 km), which recognizes indigenous settlements from the past and the significance the river and lake played in their location, is the western leg from Rouge River to the west shore of Frenchman’s Bay. Monarch Trail (4.7 km), named for the monarch butterfly and its yearly migration to the bay from down south, surrounds Frenchman’s Bay and ends at Millennium Square. Peak Trail, named after one of Pickering’s earliest settlers, runs from Millennium Square and past the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant to the border with the city of Ajax.

Waterfront Trail Map, Zone 3, Section 1: Frenchman's Bay

The scenery here was some of the best of the ride! Soon after entering Pickering, the trail runs over the marshes of the Petticoat Creek Conservation Area via an elevated wooden boardwalk bridge.

Petticoat Creek Conservation Area via an elevated wooden boardwalk bridge
Petticoat Creek Conservation Area elevated boardwalk bridge

Then we alternated between park paths and residential streets along the west side of Frenchman’s Bay and came out at Bayly St, which is a wide, busy road. On the MAP you’ll see a note instructing cyclists to use the sidewalk, which is generally not ideal, but in this case the sidewalk is wide and surprisingly smooth — clearly designed with cyclists in mind. 

Smooth bike-friendly sidewalk on Bayly St. (Pickering, Ontario, Canada)
Smooth bike-friendly sidewalk on Bayly St.

After that, we followed the bike markings all the way to Millennium Square, which is the beach area at the foot of Liverpool Rd.

According to the map, the Waterfront Trail continues east of Millennium Square via the beach, but when we arrived, we found that the boardwalk abruptly ended!

Boardwalk ends at Millennium Square in Pickering.

And we had to walk our bikes across the beach. 

Walking our bikes across the beach.

After our ride, Janet Joy did some investigating and discovered that the wooden boardwalk used to extend across the beach as part of the Waterfront Trail, but high water levels and intense storms in 2017 and 2019 damaged it beyond repair, so in 2020 the boardwalk was removed. Pickering does plan to rebuild it, but that hasn’t happened yet. 

Once past the beach, we cycled around the Pickering Power Plant, which is much bigger than it looks from across the lake!

But we made it and soon found ourselves at Duffins Creek, the dividing line between the cities of Pickering and Ajax.

6. Waterfront Trail – Duffins Creek

Duffins Creek is part of the Greenbelt, a protected area of land that surrounds the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). A quick online search about this section of trail revealed that the boardwalk over Duffins Creek had been closed until June of this year for construction. Grateful that we did this ride once it was finished. It’s a beautiful elevated boardwalk!

View of Lake Ontario from Duffins Creek boardwalk. (Canada)
View of Lake Ontario from Duffins Creek boardwalk.
Cycling on Duffins Creek boardwalk.
Bromptoning on the boardwalk.

After Duffins Creek, the entire Waterfront Trail in Ajax is smooth asphalt with cute duck markings. According to waterfronttrail.org, Ajax is the first community to achieve a completely off-road trail! From end-to-end, it hugs the lakeshore and never detours onto any streets.

Waterfront Trail in Ajax, Ontario, Canada.
Waterfront Trail in Ajax

Finally, we reached our destination — Paradise Beach!

SIGN: Paradise Beach, Ajax, Ontario, Canada.

Note: There are two NEW self-cleaning bathrooms at Paradise Beach by the parking lot that aren’t on the Waterfront Trail map (c2017) because they were just installed this year. 

After a picnic and dipping our toes into Lake Ontario…

…we biked back to Rouge Hill station to catch the GoTrain home.

Final Thoughts

It’s amazing to have such a smooth, scenic trail along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Two years ago, we took the Waterfront Trail out to the Scarborough Bluffs. Last year, we ventured as far as Rouge Park. And this year we made it all the way to Ajax’s Paradise Beach! Next year, we’ll go even further east!

RIDE VIDEO

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