Canada, North America, Travel

A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Beautiful Scarborough Bluffs

Two clay and sand formations, with a water treatment plant and Lake Ontario in the background. The view from the top of Scarborough Bluffs Park. Photo by Deni Verklan. Post: A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Scarborough Bluffs in The Full-Time Tourist, 2016 ©

All it took was a single Instagram photo to convince me that I needed to go to the Scarborough Bluffs this summer. The dramatic view of these chalk-y cliffs towering over the teal-blue waters of Lake Ontario is one that I’ve never seen anywhere else in Toronto- or in the world, for that matter. So naturally, I packed my swim suit for the beach and set off to see the Bluffs on one of the hottest days this year.

The Scarborough Bluffs and the beach at the base of the escarpments were more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. If all it took was one photo for me to go to the Bluffs, it probably took a whole second to decide that I needed to come back again. With stunning views of the crown-like clay and sand formations, clean and clear waters below, powdery sand beaches and lush hiking trails, the Scarborough Bluffs is the best way to escape the city hustle and discover Toronto’s beautiful lakefront.

Here is how to make the most of a day-trip from Toronto to the beautiful Scarborough Bluffs.

Two boats in the teal-blue water of Lake Ontario. Part of the Bluffs at Scarborough Bluffs Park is seen overhanging the water. Photo by Deni Verklan. Post: A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Scarborough Bluffs, The Full-Time Tourist, 2016 ©

What are the Scarborough Bluffs?

The Bluffs are unusual clay and sand formations that stretch for about 15 km along the Lake Ontario shoreline in East Toronto. According to a plaque in Bluffer’s Park by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, “The layers of sand and clay exposed in these cliffs display a remarkable geological record of the last stages of the Great Ice Age. Unique in North America, they have attracted worldwide scientific interest. The first 46 metres of sediments are [remnants of the] Wisconsinan glacier some 70,000 years ago. [The remaining sediment comes from] subsequent advances and retreats of ice, [with] the final withdrawal of the glacier occurred some 12,000 years ago.”

This constant erosion is what gives the Bluffs a crown-like appearance, but it’s also what makes it so dangerous. With the edge of the Bluffs creeping inland as much as 30 cm per year, homes that once bordered the Bluffs are now awaiting their doom. The Bluffs have also had many injuries and a couple of deaths in recent years, which have led Toronto police and the City of Toronto to issue warnings about the escarpments. That being said, stay a safe distance away from the edge and be cautious hiking around the edges of the Bluffs.

View of the beach below the Scarborough Bluffs at Bluffer's Park. Photo by Deni Verklan. Post: A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Beautiful Scarborough Bluffs, The Full-Time Tourist, 2016 ©

What’s the best way to see the Bluffs?

I started my exploration of the escarpments at the top of Scarborough Bluffs Park. From the top of the Bluffs, you can oversee the crown-like spires and watch the yachts, boats, kayaks and jet-skis float by in the lake below. Some people are more adventurous at the top of the Bluffs, venturing out onto the escarpments themselves. But with sheer drop-offs, it is quite dangerous to stand on the Bluffs themselves. Plus, their quick erosion rate makes it easy to disturb the natural landscape.

Read more about the geologic history of the Bluffs here, courtesy of The Wild Bluffs.

From the top of the Bluffs, I ventured along multiple trails to find out how to get to the beach below. A local had overheard my boyfriend and I talking on our walk down Chine Drive to Scarborough Bluffs Park and warned us that there isn’t an easy way to get from the top of the Bluffs down to the beach. Instead of walking out of our way back to Kingston Road, she recommended following the path on the left-hand side of the gate (located at the end of Cecil Crescent) and keep as far left as possible on the trail until it leads past a school to Brimley Road. Unfortunately, after following many of these paths and bailing early- they all ultimately lead to the same spot. So if you’re at the top of the Bluffs, find a trail that’s not sectioned off by the City of Toronto and keep left until you pass a building with what appears to be a dome roof. From there, the trail leads to a parking lot adjacent to Brimley Road, which will lead you down to Bluffer’s Park.

Please note that Brimley Road is quite narrow, so it’s best to walk down to the water whilst facing oncoming traffic.

Two jet-skis chasing after one another in Lake Ontario. Photo taken at Bluffer's Park in the Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Deni Verklan. Post: A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Scarborough Bluffs, The Full-Time Tourist, 2016 ©

Let’s go to the beach!

Bluffer’s Park is home to what many locals call the best beach in Toronto. Located just east of the marina, below the Cathedral Bluffs, this beach has natural, powdery sand from the erosion of the Bluffs and crystal clear, teal-blue water. The City of Toronto tests this beach daily during the summer, and it has since been deemed a Blue Flag Beach. The Blue Flag is awarded to beaches and marinas that meet strict water quality testing, environmental management and education, safety and services.  Here is the latest beach test by the City of Toronto.

Although I heard rave reviews about the Bluffer’s Park beach, I chose to go to the beach directly below Scarborough Bluffs Park. With sandy beaches and hardly any people, it was a great place to spread a beach towel and work on that summer glow! (By glow, I mean a lovely lobster-coloured sun burn from forgetting to re-apply the SPF 50 mid-day.) The beach itself is very clean and the water had very minimal algae in it- one of the most common complaints of the Great Lakes.

Venture around the Bluffer’s Park Peninsula

One of my favourite parts about the Scarborough Bluffs was Bluffer’s Park peninsula. With ample grass and large boulders to sit on near the water front, it was the perfect place to have a picnic or to toss a frisbee with friends. There was also plenty of grills, which many families were using to cook their dinner, and there are also washroom facilities near the parking lot. It honestly felt like a campground, without the parking stalls for RVs or campers.

As one of the inlets in the peninsula is the marina, there is also opportunity to take out a jet-ski to see the Bluffs from the lake, as Lady Elizabeth Simcoe did when she first discovered the unusual escarpments in 1793. If you don’t have the means of seeing the shoreline from the lake, you can do what I did- I found one of those large boulders and watched the jet-skis chase after one another in the lake.

How to get to the Scarborough Bluffs by TTC?

One of the common misconceptions about getting to the Scarborough Bluffs is that you need a car to do so. Arriving in the Bluffs by TTC is quite easy.

To arrive in Bluffer’s Park, at the base of the Scarborough Bluffs:

Take the subway east to Warden Station. From Warden, take the 12 bus to Kingston Road at Brimley Road South. Walk south on Brimley Road until you reach Bluffer’s Park.

To arrive at Scarborough Bluffs Park, overlooking Lake Ontario:

Take the subway east to Warden Station. From Warden, take the 12 bus to Kingston Road at Chine Drive. Walk south on Chine Drive, and follow the street onto Cecil Crescent. Follow the dirt trail to Scarborough Bluffs Park.

Blonde girl in blue shirt and black shorts with a pink and grey backpack from NicePKG over one shoulder. Scarborough Bluffs in the background. Model: Deni Verklan. Post: A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Beautiful Scarborough Bluffs, The Full-Time Tourist, 2016 ©

What do I wish I knew before going to the Bluffs?

If I had any advice for first-timers going to the Bluffs, it would be to bring a backpack with:

  • Food – There are a couple of food trucks, but it’s mostly ice cream at the beach. Pack some sandwiches, fruit and nuts to keep you fuelled for the day. Here‘s what I packed.
  • Toilet paper & hand sanitizer – There are facilities beside the parking lot at Bluffer’s Park, however due to the number of people using the facility, toilet paper can run low at the end of the night, and so can the soap. This was something I found out while I was there and it was almost comical having 5-6 people grabbing toilet paper from one stall before waiting for any available stalls.
  • Sunscreen – Always re-apply your sunscreen at least every 3 hours during peak sun times (typically 12-4 p.m. in Toronto), as well as after swimming every 1-2 hours. And in the vein of sun safety, bring your sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays.
  • Swim suit – If there’s water nearby, I always wear my swim suit to the beach. I usually pack a pair of underwear and a bra for after, so I can change out of my wet clothes in nearby facilities, if I decide to go for a swim.
  • Towel – Towels are great if you go swimming, but I also use them as picnic blankets to protect myself from the grass. (Yay allergies!)

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Two boats in the teal-blue waters of Lake Ontario. View from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs. Photo by Deni Verklan. Post: A Quick Day-Trip from Toronto to the Beautiful Scarborough Bluffs, The Full-Time Tourist, 2016 ©

Would you ever climb to the top of the Scarborough Bluffs? What’s your favourite part about the Bluffs?

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