A sunset canoe tour of the Toronto Islands is the best blend of adventure and city travel that you can find in Toronto. As you paddle through a conservation area, spotting wild birds, you’ll catch glimpses of the CN Tower through the trees.
And you don’t have to leave the city!
Most adventure experiences in Toronto require driving for hours or staying overnight – maybe even multiple nights.
This post was sponsored by Ruckify. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
This Toronto Island tour is a perfect add-on to any Toronto summer itinerary.
You won’t want to miss out on the epic shots and surprising greenery so close to downtown.
- 1 Where Are the Toronto Islands?
- 2 Toronto Islands Canoe Tour
- 3 How to Get to the Toronto Islands from Downtown Toronto
- 4 How to Book Your Own Sunset Canoe Tour of the Toronto Islands
- 5 Improving Memories
Where Are the Toronto Islands?
Before I get started on the canoe tour, I’ll introduce the Toronto Islands. Many people don’t know that Toronto has a small archipelago off its shores in Lake Ontario. The chain of islands are called the “Toronto Islands”.
Torontonians like me may know that we have an island, but not know that there are actually multiple islands.
I thought that it was singular – Toronto Island – for YEARS. Somehow Central Island made me think there was just one. I’m not sure, but I’m glad to have learned a lot more about the different islands and their bird life during the Toronto Islands canoe tour.
The Toronto Islands are best known for two things: Billy Bishop Airport and Centre Island.
Billy Bishop is the smaller Toronto airport where Porter flies from. If you’re flying to Toronto, look into landing at the island, as it’s known, for cheaper flights with less wait times.
Centre Island is an amusement park for children, complete with a petting zoo. It’s a lot closer and much cheaper than going to Wonderland, so it’s a great spot for amusement park lovers.
Toronto Islands Canoe Tour
Canoe Novice? That’s OK!
I was nervous to take a Toronto Island canoe tour.
I may love adventure, but I haven’t canoed in years. The last time I did, I’m pretty sure I gave up paddling after 5 minutes.
Imagine my surprise when I’m asked to sit at the head of the canoe because I look like I know what I’m doing!
That was a huge mistake on Peter, our guide’s, part, because I instantly forgot the two extra strokes he taught me to help turn the canoe. Peter was 100% responsible for any turns we did or didn’t make during the 1 hour journey.
Luckily, I wasn’t the only novice canoe-r (is that a word?) on the trip. You’re not expected to be some world class paddler to successfully canoe in the Toronto Islands.
Peter gave a very helpful demonstration on how to paddle forwards, backwards and (only for me) to turn. Although I forgot the turning strokes, the front and back stuck in my mind. I actually learned that I’d been holding the handle too high when I paddled in the past. Peter’s tips made it way easier to get a powerful stroke that made me feel like maybe I did belong at the front of the canoe.
Not Your Average Canoe
The sunset canoe tour I did through Ruckify begins during the daylight. Your guide, likely Peter or the owner, Alexander, will pick you up from the ferry terminal at 6 pm. After signing waivers, you make your way to the marina and the paddling begins.
Canoe Tours Toronto uses Voyageur canoes, designed in the style of the traditional Algonquin canoes. These have been modified for tours and are not the Indigenous canoes. I was a bit disappointed when we saw how clearly non-traditional they were since the company advertises that they offer Voyageur canoe tours.
The canoes are deep hulled vessels, not like the red ones you see on Lake Louise (a spot I’m dying to check off of my Canadian Bucket List). They seat 8 people along the wooden benches.
Even with COVID, my canoe tour had 6 participants and the tour guide. A pandemic truly won’t stop adventure travellers!
An Unexpected Bonus
The sunset canoe tour is all about seeing the sunset. The advertisements never mention getting an actual tour during the experience. Free bonus!
Peter had endless knowledge about the area, its wildlife, and even the housing market on the island (which is a super odd lottery situation I can’t even begin to get into here).
As he paddled us between the islands, pointing out wild birds nesting in trees or skirting through the water, he kept spouting off facts. Sitting up at the front of the canoe, it was like having a podcast in my ear specifically dedicated to the Toronto Islands. With the bulky life jacket and need to paddle, I couldn’t turn around to see him or anyone else, so it really felt like I was on a solo canoe tour.
During the tour, we spotted mute swans, sea gulls, herons, and cormorants. I’m not a big bird person, but I was snapping pictures constantly.
How could I not when the water was so perfectly mirrored and the city kept peeking through the wildlife?
It felt peaceful in a way that Toronto rarely manages.
Occasionally, the serenity of the experience was broken by a raft of party boats that can’t have been COVID-safe.
The High Point of the Tour
Our group of 7 paddled through the small waterways, avoiding the heavy swells in Lake Ontario (I definitely would have given up paddling in that). Although my arms started to burn halfway through, I never stopped. I don’t know if it was inertia keeping me going or the desire to see more with whatever time was left.
We paddled past islands smaller than our canoe. A flock of Canadian geese launched from the water beside us, dripping onto the back paddlers. We got oddly silent as we passed under the famous Centre Island bridge, all looking up for tiny birds nests tucked into the beams.
Although I’ve visited this island for a fair amount of my childhood, I’d never seen it like this before. We’d stayed on land, or sailed from the city (which left me curled up sea sick on the benches). Or maybe I’d just had my nose too deep in a book.
We passed Canada’s oldest yacht club, the cutest church I’ve ever seen in Toronto, and reached the pinnacle of our trip: the ultimate spot to view the Toronto skyline.
The Toronto Islands are becoming famous for their view of the downtown skyline. Thanks to Instagram and the rise in photo bloggers, I’m sure this will quickly become the Islands’ claim to fame.
We were halfway through our canoe tour when we reached the spot, at the harbour opening of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC). The sun had begun to set.
Unfortunately, the cloud cover from an oncoming storm blocked most of the colours I’m used to seeing in a Toronto sunset. But the moody grey tones and golden underlays offered a different kind of appeal.
Even as lightning flashed in my periphery, I was in no hurry to paddle back.
Stick With It
After a few moments of photos and silent staring at the picturesque view, we turned back.
The whole experience took 2 hours with travel time to the marina from the docks. But the next day I could barely raise my arms or sit on anything but a cushioned surface.
Canoeing is deceptively difficult.
Even with the aches, I’m glad I did the full tour. A guest left early to meet the 7:30 ferry into the city. He may have saved a few dollars, but he missed out on the stunning city skyline and over half of the tour (we’d started late due to some late comers).
I understand needing to budget. I mean, I found a way to solo travel in Europe for free with Workaway. Money definitely matters to me.
But it’s more important to make the most of the experience. Do yourself a favour and stay for the entire sunset canoe tour of the Toronto Islands to discover the full brilliance of the area.
How to Get to the Toronto Islands from Downtown Toronto
The cheapest way to get to the Toronto Islands from Downtown Toronto is to take a ferry.
There are 3 routes for the ferries: Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island.
To get to the Toronto Islands canoe tour, take the Centre Island ferry. Schedules change depending on season and day of the week. Check the All Ferry Schedules guide to plan the time of your trip. A round trip costs $8.19 CAD.
Alternatively, you can take a water taxi. Water taxis don’t operate on a schedule, which give you more freedom for your trip. A one-way ride costs $10 CAD per adult.
If you take the sunset canoe tour of the Toronto Islands, plan to take a water taxi home. Although the tour can finish by the final 7:30 pm ferry, you may miss out on parts of the tour. If someone is late for the start then you’ll miss even more.
I recommend taking the ferry to the Islands and returning on the water taxi.
You can canoe, kayak, or sail to the islands. But be careful: these aren’t safe at night in the choppy channel. Take these trips during the daylight and stay overnight on the island.
With how tired I was after 1 hour of canoeing, I can’t imagine wanting to paddle there and back as well – even on the next day!
Note: all of these methods are subject to weather and availability. Toronto winter conditions sometimes cancel service. For more on Toronto season, find out the Best Time to Visit Toronto.
How to Book Your Own Sunset Canoe Tour of the Toronto Islands
Looking to book your own sunset canoe tour of the Toronto Islands?
Book through Ruckify!
Ruckify is a Canadian peer-to-peer rental marketplace. You can rent individual items, like cameras or camping equipment, or experiences, like a sunset canoe tour of the Toronto Islands.
You shouldn’t be limited by storage space or price, and now you don’t have to be! Ruckify gives you the freedom to do more for less.
Ruckify is the perfect solution for solo travellers and digital nomads. I don’t have a lot of space in Toronto or when I travel. Now, that’s not a problem! I can rent what I need from Ruckify and make the most of my trip. Then I can return it when I’m done – so there’s no waste!
I love the sustainability of this model. It’s super helpful and it’s great for the planet. What’s not to love?
To book the Sunset Canoe Tour, simply head to Ruckify and make a free account. Then select your dates and request a tour. The complete Sunset Canoe Tour of the Toronto Islands costs $100 CAD per person.
Or use my code: NINACLAPPERTON
I haven’t visited the Toronto Islands since I was a teenager. Getting to see it in a completely different way really changed my perspective.
I’ve always thought the islands were beautiful (even when I thought it was just one island).
But I had no idea how much nature was hidden behind the paddle boats and petting zoo of the amusement park.
This adventure is one of my many attempts to be a tourist in my own city. I’ve discovered new places like the Scarborough Bluffs, revisited the calming Toronto Beaches District, and now I’ve improved my memories of the Toronto Islands with this canoe tour.
Who would have thought I’d also love paddling?
It’s opened up a whole new world of adventure travel for my future.