Updated: Oct 17, 2021
It was only last fall, thanks to posts on the Midtown Raviners instagram page, that I learned about Crothers Woods’ hidden staircase, leading to the bottom of the woods. (Note: This courtesy self-guided tour is not included in the 26 urban strolls and 52 mini-walks in the author's Toronto guide.)
Crothers Woods is located north of Evergreen Brick Works and west of the Don Valley Highway, between Pottery Rd and Millwood Rd. It has everything: mature forest, birch and larch meadows, a river, dirt and gravel trails, a pedestrian bridge, a railroad track in us another abandoned… and a 194-step staircase.
Visitors usually park in the huge parking lot in front of Loblaws at 11 Redway Rd (accessible from Millwood Rd). Regulars confirmed to me that the supermarket allows walkers and bikers to park there… But it's not the best starting point for reaching the stairs.
When on Redway Rd, off Millwood, you'll see the back of the Loblaws buildings to your left, including several parking spaces. This is where you will want to park. Then walk up Redway towards Millwood, less than 200 meters away. You will find the hidden access to the wooden staircase on your right.
This is certainly not the original staircase built in 1929, but the current gray wooden structure has the quaint look of my childhood cottage dock. It has a few landings, including a bench to sit on in hopes of spotting a hawk overhead, and leads down to the gate of the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant.
An interesting historical fact: R. C. Harris, who was Commissioner of Public Works in 1926 when the project was approved by City Council, was quite the visionary. He was way ahead of his time when it came to worker safety and planned the original staircase as an escape route for employees to exit the valley in case of emergency.
The staircase crosses paths in two places. I recommend that you turn right at the second crossing to take the dirt trail through the ravine, for a better view over the old plant. Watch out for cyclists and make sure to give way to them by standing at the edge of the path as they pass. Most of them will thank you for the courtesy and will let you know if there are more cyclist coming.
Walk down to the gravel road, where you’ll turn left. Then take the trail past the small information station (with site map) and find the opening allowing you to cross the railroad tracks on your left. You can then walk to the edge of the Don River.
I like to explore the river bank. Going right, you will cross an impressive obstacle trail for mountain bikes. Eventually you’ll walk up a wide gravel trail (the newest in the park). You could take it to the left and eventually cross the meadow by a shortcut for a change of scenery. You will cross the gravel loop again.
From here you will see trails going up the ravine. They lead to the official entrance to Crothers Woods, not far from the large Loblaws parking lot. From this entrance, looking south, you see three dirt trails. If you take the one on your left, you will eventually reach the gravel road and find your way back to the 194 steps. This circuit covers about 4 km
Other starting points
The entrance near the large Loblaws parking lot is the most commonly used. Note that on weekdays, few walkers use this park. Good news: there is a Starbucks counter in the large Loblaws, as well as take-out counters. Perfect for a last-minute picnic lunch to enjoy in the park (bring a blanket!).
From the entrance, facing the ravine, you'll have to choose between the three paths. If you take the dirt trail to the right, you'll be exploring the mature forest along a winding, root-laden path. It's like being on the Bruce Trail! If you keep to the right, you should even find the abandoned railroad tracks. If you choose the middle trail, you'll come down to the prettiest viewpoint over the valley.
The left path leads to the gravel road, mentioned earlier. Good to know: there is a very small public parking lot at the end of that road, which few people think to use, thinking it is reserved for the plant workers. It’s not.
Finally, you can also access Crothers Woods by parking at Todmorden Mills. A paved path crosses Pottery Road to the north. Turning left at the large intersection and continuing past the railroad crossing, you will find a nice pedestrian bridge lading to the main gravel path. This is the best option for those with limited mobility.
This post is a companion to walk #13 EVERGREEN Brick Works Stroll in local author Nathalie Prézeau's latest walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls which you can get on amazon.ca or by contacting the author directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can pick up the book at 299 Booth Avenue, the author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations.