Originally published in 2021. Updated for 2022 with more spots and the exciting news that High Park trees are no longer fenced off!
Toronto is obsessed with cherry blossoms. “When are the cherry blossoms blooming in Toronto?” “How can you see cherry blossoms in Toronto?” “Where are the cherry trees at High Park?” It’s as common a springtime sound as the call of robins.
It wasn’t always this way. We have had cherry blossoms in Toronto since 1959, when the Japanese ambassador to Canada gifted the city 2000 sakura trees. The majority of these were planted near Grenadier Pond in High Park, which bloom into a canvas of pink and white for about one week in April or May, climate depending. Of course, they’ve long had their enthusiasts, like the nature lovers who call High Park a second home and Japanese-Canadians practising “sakura hanami,” or cherry blossom viewing. But, like so many pretty things in nature, it wasn’t until the age of Instagram that they became a full-blown obsession.
Cherry Blossoms in Toronto: A spring tradition
I must admit, I lived here for many years before I paid attention to the annual bloom. But once I did, it became a spring tradition to visit the sakura trees in High Park. April is generally a dreary month in Toronto. Weather is unpredictable. There’s a lack of festivals or other special events. The cherry blossoms give us something to look forward to. Watching, waiting, reading the Sakura Watch blog, tossing around new words in our mouths… “peak bloom.” And then, if all the conditions were right, we had more than just beautiful white and pink flowers to admire. We had a happening.
Like so many good things in Toronto, cherry blossom viewing became a problem to control during the pandemic. Fences were put up around trees in the most popular parks to keep crowds away. This was for the good cause of preventing large gatherings during a pandemic. But welcoming spring flowers in the outdoors is a simple, small joy after living through a very dark winter. To see barriers and police guarding trees like that, well it felt like living in a dystopian sci-fi movie.
But do not despair! Because the truth is that you can still see cherry blossoms blooming all over Toronto in 2022 — now with fewer fences!
Where to see Sakura in High Park
Let’s start with the good news: the cherry trees in High Park have been freed! No more fences! And they’ve closed off the park to all car traffic during peak bloom. (WheelTrans excepted.) I realize that’s not good news for everyone who can’t walk or cycle in. But it had become a total gong show: cars inching along, bumper to bumper, circling and circling full parking lots and eventually giving up. This solution will be better for most. Take TTC to High Park subway station and follow the crowds.
The largest and most popular grove of cherry blossoms in High Park is on the west side of Grenadier Pond, starting near the Grenadier Restaurant and sweeping down the (steep-ish) hillside to the pond. On the South East side near the children’s playground is a second area of trees you can appreciate, with (slightly) fewer crowds.
If the crowds are too much for you, you can watch the High Park cherry blossoms on the city’s 4K BloomCam. And if you’d like to show your appreciation for the free beauty, make a donation to the High Park Nature Centre.
In recent years, more downtown people figured out there were also cherry blossoms in Toronto at Trinity Bellwoods Park. That grove was just planted in 2010, and is finally coming into its own. So on the West Side of the city we have had two places to experience the beauty of the sakura trees in bloom. And on a nice day during their peak, you’ll be hard pressed to find a moment when someone isn’t sticking their face into the branches, posing for photos, or making out under these trees.
In front of our provincial legislature buildings, three sakura trees were planted in 2005 as part of the Sakura Project, an ongoing friendship initiative between Japan and Ontario. Three doesn’t sound like a lot, but they are big and bountiful, with delicate white flowers. A lovely place to have some cherry blossoms and privacy.
Robarts Library at U of T
A friend of mine tipped me off about these trees on the University of Toronto campus, which were also part of the Sakura Project to bring cherry blossoms in Toronto. There’s a lovely canopy for a short wander, and a decent place for photos. Or step back across the street and admire the whole scene, including the library itself, a unique architectural gem and one of the best examples of Brutalist design in the city.
The Toronto Islands are an absolute gem, whether you live here or are just passing through. Few visit in spring, so you can have the sakura trees almost to yourself. Check ferry times and buy your ticket in advance here.
Another fairly recent edition – 68 cherry tress were planted in 2002 all around the Exhibition Grounds. My favourites are on the West Side, near the Princess Margaret fountain and bandshell area. There is plenty of parking around here and lots of space, a good place for a drive-by.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery
I’m a West End/Downtown Girl and so this list does reflect that. But I will cross to the East for cherry blossoms at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This historic cemetery is sprawling, but a pretty spot for sakura watching is easy to access right off the Yonge Street entrance, where the falling blooms mix with memorials to the dead.
Your Own Neighbourhood
I titled this travel blog “lessons learned while seeing the world,” because travel teaches you things that you can then put to use at home.
Like, when something is too popular and crowded for your liking, you can probably find something equally marvellous if less famous just a few steps away. You can jostle your way in front of the Mona Lisa, or you can turn around and admire other wonders of Renaissance art on display in the same room. In cities around the world, pedestrian boulevards teem with throngs, but turn off onto any side street and you will find way better food for half the price.
You don’t need to treat nature like a trendy restaurant, where only one hot spot is worth being seen at.
The city has a list more than a dozen other places to cherry blossoms in Toronto, with directions here.
But I also mean just appreciate a tree or two here and there in your own neighbourhood. On my bike ride to High Park, I came across cherry blossom trees in a park 1km from my place, which makes it easier to visit several times and enjoy the various stages of bloom. I bet you can find your own local tree.
Spring in Toronto is also time to appreciate other things in bloom, like the trees of pink magnolias or golden weeping forsythia on my neighbours’ front yards. (I’m not a plant expert, but I do love my app PictureThis to identify species.) In fact, despite my fondness for cherry blossoms, they aren’t even my favourite flowering trees in the city. I’m now on lilac watch. Because it’s when that sweet smell permeates the city I truly know spring has arrived.
Happy sakura hunting…