Updated: Aug 25
Toronto has its share of marquee parks that feature great playgrounds: High Park, Kew Gardens, Dufferin Grove. Families will regularly brave the TTC on a hot summer's day to take advantage of these wonderful public spaces.
But there's something about the small playground on a side street, the one that surprises you as you bike through an unfamiliar neighbourhood, that just gets me.
I’m not sure what it is about these “hidden” playgrounds that sends me into a childlike giddiness. Even if the playgrounds themselves aren’t that great, there’s something about a park being tucked into an unlikely, surprising spot that I can't resist.
It probably has to do with Toronto’s relentless grid structure which, although it provides for easy and uncomplicated travel, isn’t exactly conducive to whimsy. So when you turn a corner, cut through an alleyway, or find a gap in a row of houses that reveals a cozy little playground, there’s a magical sense of discovery that can’t be beat.
A quick caveat: despite living in Toronto for decades, there are plenty of corners of the city I still haven’t explored, and probably many hidden playgrounds I’ve yet to find, especially in the west end and the inner suburbs. But until I find them, here are, in no particular order, my five favourite hidden playgrounds in Toronto.
If natural beauty is your thing, it doesn’t get much better than Sherwood Park. Surrounded by the trees of the Blythwood Ravine, a good 500 metres from any major street, and with a large cemetery directly south, this lovely little playground is just about as insulated from the surrounding city as possible. Full review here.
One of the city’s most aptly-named parks, Hideaway is a laneway oasis with a modest climber, toddler area, and dog park. Leslieville residents have cherished this one for years, and with good reason – it feels more like a shared backyard than a park. Cozy, shaded, and wonderful. Full review here.
Like Hideaway, Moncur is surrounded largely by the back ends of houses, which gives it a pleasant, communal feeling. But unlike Hideaway, this east-end spot is surprisingly large, and the grounds incorporate not only the playground, which is newer and more varied than Hideaway’s, but a fairly large field with a baseball diamond, and a tennis-court-sized asphalt area that can be used alternately for ball hockey, basketball, or bike riding. Full review here.
RV Burgess Park
Sitting in a nest of high-rise apartment buildings in Thorncliffe Park, this is an absolute goldmine if your kid is a playground fanatic. If you include the playgrounds belonging to Thorncliffe Park Public School, there are four separate playgrounds and a splash pad all clumped together here. A true community gathering place, but largely unknown to those outside the neighbourhood. Full review here.
This might be the most well-hidden of all the playgrounds listed here. Pump Park is tucked away in the heart of the Republic of Rathnelly, which, in case you didn’t know, is a thing. The playground is pretty basic, but the seclusion is wonderful [2023 update: it is now more wonderful!] Enter by the hidden path off McMaster Avenue and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped inside a Beatrix Potter illustration. Full review here.