Rouge National Urban Park
While the thought of Toronto might not bring to mind plentiful green spaces, wildlife and winding hiking trails, that’s exactly what awaits at Rouge National Urban Park.
Canada’s first and only national urban park boasts over 79 square km of green space, making it the perfect city retreat. Rouge is actually 22 times larger than Central Park in New York City and features a great diversity in landscapes and activities.
Rouge is easily accessible by public transportation via TTC or GO Transit. If travelling by car, the most common entrance is off Sheppard Avenue East, near Meadowvale Road, but directions from any of the surrounding areas are available on the Rouge’s website.
Rouge National Urban Park is open 365 days a year, and admission is always free. Visit the Rouge National Urban Park website for more information. Download the Rouge app before you go! It offers maps and resources that can be incredibly useful in areas of the park with no cell signal or WiFi.
More about Rouge National Urban Park
While inside Rouge National Urban Park, it may seem like you’ve escaped the city. In fact, Rouge takes up over 60 km of the Greater Toronto Area from Lake Ontario in the south to the Oak Ridges Moraine in the north.
Toronto’s only designated campground can be found in Rouge National Urban Park. Glen Rouge Campground welcomes tents and RVs on 114 sites, 87 of which are electric. More experienced campers can reserve a spot in the backcountry, while novice explorers can ease into outdoor living with the oTENTik service. The Rouge also offers plenty of opportunities to stay in more unique accommodations like a cabin, yurt, micrOcube, or tipi. For all of the camping options and fees at the Rouge, check the Parks Canada website.
Parks Canada currently manages the land and has been working since 2011 to increase the overall size of the park, trails, and education and orientation centres. When the expansion is complete, Rouge National Urban Park, or “the Rouge,” as it’s known locally, will be the largest protected urban area in North America.
Because the park was established in the middle of the largest city in Ontario, much of the natural landscape was retroactively created. Though the wetlands are man-made, they benefit the environment by reducing the flood force and creating a crucial habitat for semi-aquatic organisms.
Rouge features over 12 km of rustic hiking trails, an invaluable opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to connect with nature without technically leaving the city. The trails wind through meadows, forests, wetlands, and farmland, all while providing incredible views. Each trail differs in distance and difficulty, from the quick 10 minute Celebration Forest Trail to the difficult path of Mast Trail that follows a former logging route. For more information about each trail, check the Hiking section of Rouge’s website.
If cycling is more your style, the Rouge is the perfect place to ride. While bikes are only allowed on paved roads (no cycling on the hiking trails), there’s still plenty of ground to cover. Reesor Road, which runs through the park’s section by the Toronto Zoo, is popular with cyclists, while the northeast corner of the park is better for anyone who wants a quiet ride closer to the countryside.
The park’s location in the watersheds of the Rouge River, Petticoat Creek, and Duffins Creek provides plenty of opportunities for water sports. Visitors can head out for a day on the water by boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle-boarding or swimming. In the summer months, Toronto Public Health oversees daily water quality testing to ensure the water at Rouge Beach is safe for swimming.
There are plenty of animals to spot in the Rouge, including deer, coyote, opossums, raccoons, skunks, ducks, beaver, red foxes, turkeys, river otters, woodchucks, porcupines and maybe even black bears. You might even see hawks, bald eagles and bats. All in all, Rouge National Urban Park is home to over 1,700 species of plants, animals and fungi.
The Parks Canada volunteers and staff offer plenty of outreach and educational opportunities, including guided walks through the Rouge, camping and hiking workshops and Club Parka (ideal for families and kids ages two to six).
Keep the following things in mind while preparing for a trip to Rouge National Urban Park:
- The park is busiest on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so visit during non-peak time for a better experience in the park.
- Use public transportation, bike, or carpool as parking can be limited when the park is busy.
- Make sure to have food and water with you, as resources are limited within the park.
- Dogs are welcome in the Rouge but must stay on a leash at all times.
- There are ticks in Rouge National Urban Park. Dress appropriately to decrease your chances of being bitten and check for ticks when you return home.
- Take only photos, leave only footprints.