Looking to escape the Toronto heat this summer? What better way that to hop the ferry to Toronto Island! With beautiful sandy beaches, plenty of sport arenas, bike rentals, award-winning gardens, Centreville amusement park and more, it’s the perfect way to cool off on a hot Canadian summer day! The Full-Time Tourist, 2017 ©
Contrary to Canadian stereotypes, Toronto can get pretty hot in the summer. That’s why close to one million people visit Toronto Island from May to September every year. I’ve escaped to Toronto Island twice in the four years I’ve been in Toronto, and both times I had an absolute blast!
My first trip to the island was mostly spent on Ward’s Island, walking through beautiful frisbee golf fields and along the shoreline boardwalk. For my second trip, I mainly stuck to the Hanlan’s Point side relaxing on the clothing-optional beach and taking a dip on one of the many secluded beaches on the walk back toward Centre Island.
Whether you’re a Torontonian exploring the islands for the first time, or a visitor to the 6ix, here’s how you can escape the heat at Toronto Island!
Baby, It’s Hot Outside! Escape The Heat At Toronto Island
Getting To Toronto Island
The most popular way to get to Toronto Island is a 15-minute ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. To get there, it’s easiest to walk south from Union station along Bay Street to get to the ferry terminal.
If it’s sunny and warm outside, there will generally be longer line-ups at the terminal from 10 am until evening. The line to buy tickets can sometimes take up to 45 minutes to get through during the week. It can be even longer on the weekends. I recommend skipping the line altogether and buying your tickets online. Although buying your tickets online won’t give you priority boarding, it will save you the time waiting in the initial line-up.
There are three different ferries to get to the island: Ward’s Island, Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point. The island itself is only 5 km in length, so it’s better to know where you plan to spend most of your day before choosing what ferry to go on.
If ferries aren’t your thing, another option to get to the island is via water taxi. Compare prices for the top two Toronto water taxi companies here and here.
For more information about ferries to Toronto Island, click here.
Which Island Should I Go To?
Located in between Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island, Centre Island tends to be the busiest of the islands. The ferry brings many families take their kids to Toronto Island to escape the heat. There are many fun, child-friendly activities on Centre Island like the Centreville Amusement Park, the William Meany Maze, an award-winning gardens and bike rentals.
But Centre Island isn’t just for the kiddos. With ample shaded fields, barbecue pits and several beaches (hint: the secluded ones are along the way to Ward’s Island or Hanlan’s Point), there are plenty of activities for people of all ages to do!
I recommend taking a walk back in time through Centreville Amusement Park before making your way to the gardens for a quick snack break. From there, rent a bike and start exploring the island! And don’t be afraid to stop off along Lake Ontario’s shoreline for a quick dip in its cool waters.
Located on the west side of the islands, Hanlan’s Point is the quietest of the bunch. Known for its ‘clothing-optional’ beach, Hanlan’s Point is generally free from kids running around. Hanlan’s Beach is one of two clothing-optional beaches in Canada, with the other being in Vancouver.
The beach itself is the longest and one of the cleanest shorelines on the island. Men, women and non-binary folk take full advantage of going nude at the beach, so be respectful and don’t stare. For LGBTQ2I+ travellers, Hanlan’s Beach is also known as a gay hang-out spot because of its relaxed and non-judgemental atmostphere.
Hanlan’s Point is also known for having the most greenery on its island. It has a baseball diamond, bike trails, fire pits, outdoor tennis courts and outdoor volleyball courts. If you’re interested in seeing more nature on the islands, there’s also beautiful sand dunes near Hanlan’s clothing-optional beach.
Known as the ‘residential’ island, Ward’s Island is mostly free from tourists and, in turn, has one of the quietest beaches on the island! Roughly 650 people live on the island. Living on Toronto Island is much more difficult that living in the city, as there are no stores, no cars and no public transportation.
But if you’re looking to catch a break from the bustling crowds flocking to Toronto Island to escape the heat, Ward’s Island has plenty of activities to keep you busy for the day!
My favourite part of Ward’s Island is walking along the boardwalk along Lake Ontario. It has stunning views of sail boats and shoreline. There’s also a stand-up paddling (SUP) school that offers SUP rentals, tours and classes! Many water passages divide the island, making SUPing a great way to see Toronto Island from a unique perspective.
Activities To Escape The Heat
- Strip down past your skivvies at Hanlan’s Clothing-Optional Beach. Just be sure to apply sunscreen to the areas where the sun don’t shine and be respectful of everyone’s privacy while you’re there.
- Rent a ridiculous bike at Centre Island’s bike rental shop. Chose from your traditional bicycle or tandem bike, or go all out with the two-seater quadricycle or four-seater quadricycle if you have a larger group! The last two are shaded and offer spots to put any bags you brought to the island. This makes a bike ride adventure around the island a bit more bearable in the heat!
- Take a dip at any of the four groomed beaches on Toronto Island. Or forge your own path, and take a dip at the many secluded beaches tucked away along the shoreline.
- Play some lazy sports like lawn bowling or frisbee golf in one of the large, shaded fields on the island. Bonus points if you BYOB in a thermos.
- Rent an SUP board, a kayak or canoe. Explore the islands by water for a couple of hours. When it gets to hot, it’s easy to hop in the water to cool off and keep on going!
- Go picnicking! What better way to spend a hot summer’s day than in the shade or on the beach with a delicious picnic and friends?
A Mini-Packing List For Toronto Island
- Water proof sunscreen! As the Aussies say: Slip, slop, slap that stuff on every couple of hours – especially if you’re taking a dip!
- Picnic blanket & food! No one wants to wipe themselves with a sandy or muddy towel after a post-picnic dip. Bring a separate blanket to lay down on the grass or on the beach! Also be sure to pack lots of food & a water bottle for your activity fuelled-day! There are plenty of water refill stations interspersed on the island. For an easy gluten-free & vegan sandwich to bring along, try my brekkie sandwich recipe here.
- A bathing suit & cover-up! The bathing suit is as optional as Hanlan’s Beach, but bringing a cover-up to keep the sun off your skin is definitely a life saver!
- Don’t forget your hat & sunnies! Keep your eyes from being too strained by the sun with a hat and some sunglasses. They’re both practical and stylish beach wear!
- Any sports equipment! If you’re planning on playing some soccer, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, lawn bowling or any other sport your heart desires, bring it along with you! The Toronto Island ferries also allow bikes to be brought over from the mainland, but try to avoid bringing them in peak hour. No one likes the guy that brings his bike in peak hour.
- Friends! It may be hard to cram them into your backpack, but they’ll make the day a lot more fun if you bring them along!
What’s your favourite way to escape the heat in Toronto?
Please share your favourite ways to escape the Toronto heat and your Toronto Island stories in the comments below! I still haven’t made up my mind about whether Toronto Island or the Scarborough Bluffs is the best way to escape the summer heat!! What do you think? Don’t hesitate to let me know if I missed any of your favourite activities on the islands!
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