Although to many Pickering is just a commuter city for Toronto, it is actually quite a fascinating place to visit. Not only does it have an extremely long history, but it also has quite a vibrant arts scene. Still, for some reason it is often overlooked by travellers, even though it has so much to offer.
The city sits right along Lake Ontario immediately to the east of Toronto and is accessible from the big city by train and motorway. If you are lucky enough to be able to spend some time here, these are the 15 best things to do in Pickering.
1. Wander around a park
Not just any park, the 62.9 square kilometres Rouge National Urban Park. This historic park dates back to around 10,000 years ago and has been home to Palaeolithic nomadic hunters, Iroquoian farmers and early European explorers.
The park itself was established in 1995 by not only Pickering, but also Toronto and Markham, as it spans all three of these cities. It is home to wetlands, farmlands and conservation areas.
There are three trails in the park where visitors can go hiking in the spring, summer and fall, and snow shoeing or cross-country skiing in the winter. Along the way, look out for rare birds, as well as white-tailed deer, coyotes, beavers, red foxes and minks, amongst other animals.
2. Spend a day on the waterfront
Pickering’s Nautical Village is a unique community that sits along the edge of Lake Ontario. It makes for a great escape from the busy city centre, strolling around and enjoying all that it has to offer.
The community is home to quaint shops, ice cream parlours, bakeries and cafés. There is even a beach complete with volleyball nets and areas to go swimming.
Boaters can spend time at the Frenchman’s Bay Yacht Club, Tenkey Marina or Wharf Street Marina. Hire a boat, canoe or wind sail, or just admire the beautiful yachts and sailboats on Frenchman’s Bay.
3. Hike through a forest
The 53 hectare Altona Forest is an important ecological area as well as being a great place for a scenic hike. It is home to numerous plants and animals common to the area, as well as some that are less common.
Hike on your own or go on a free guided hike of the forest, which is available every Saturday morning. Ogle at the wildflowers, ponds, trees and plants, or try to spot bird species that call the forest home.
There are seven entrances to the Altona Forest trail system, however those arriving by car should enter via Altona Road. The forest is open to be explored all year.
4. Walk along the water
The Waterfront Trail that is, which is a series of interconnected trails along the shores of Lake Ontario. The trail runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake east all the way to Cornwall, with Pickering sitting somewhere near the middle.
The Pickering portion of the trail starts at Rouge Beach Park and continues east to Frenchman’s Bay, around Frenchman’s Bay and past the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. It ends at Simcoe point before continuing into neighbouring Ajax.
Along the way, be sure to make a stop at Beachfront Park, Alex Robinson Park and Bay Ridges Kinsmen Park. It is also recommended to walk along the Beachpoint Promenade at the very south end of Frenchman’s Bay.
5. Enjoy street food
If you happen to be in Pickering in August, don’t miss the Pickering Food Truck Festival. This three day festival is a foodie’s haven, with food trucks offering up some of their best eats.
Esplanade Park near Pickering City Hall transforms into a foodie’s paradise with over 40 food trucks taking over. There are eating challenges, live music and even a children’s village.
It is completely free to enter the festival and to park. Still, you will want to make sure that you bring more than enough money so that you can sample different foods and craft beer.
6. Go to the zoo
The sprawling Toronto Zoo is just west of Pickering next to the Rouge National Urban Park. At 287 hectare, it is the largest zoo in Canada as well as one of the largest zoos in the world.
There are over 5000 animals living at the zoo from all over the planet. In fact, it is separated into seven zoogeographic regions, each of which houses some fascinating animals.
Wander around the zoo and look at white rhinos, Sumatran orang-utans, spotted hyenas, red pandas, Komodo dragons and snow leopards. There is even a kid’s zoo where the kids can interact with animals.
7. Step back in time
Visit the Pickering Museum Village and learn all about the history of the city. The museum is set within a number of historic buildings to show what life was like in Pickering from 1830 onwards.
The Puterbaugh Schoolhouse, Duffin’s Creek General Store, Oddfellows’ Hall, Combination Barn and Bible Christian Chapel are just a few of the historic buildings in the village. There are also log houses, residences and gardens, including Collins House Medicinal Garden.
The museum village also collects artefacts from the city’s history, including clothing, china, furniture and photographs. There are also special exhibitions that take place in the Robert A. Miller Building.
8. Window shop
Or actually go shopping at the Pickering Town Centre; a large shopping mall that boasts over 200 stores. The mall opened its doors in 1972 and today is the busiest mall in the area.
The mall houses both international and local brands, including H&M, Roots, American Eagle Outfitters, Lush and The Body Shop. There is also a Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH.
It is easy to spend an entire day wandering around the shopping mall, as it is also home to restaurants, fast food counters and a movie theatre. There is even a virtual reality arcade!
9. Head for the hills
Visitors coming to Pickering in the winter should not miss the chance to head for the hills to go skiing, snowboarding or tobogganing. Luckily, this can be done right outside of the city’s limits at Lakeridge Ski Resort and Dagmar Ski Resort.
Both of these ski resorts are just north of Pickering in Uxbridge, taking less than 30 minutes to get to from the city centre. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your equipment with you, as both places offer rentals.
Lakeridge Ski Resort is the larger of the two, with 23 runs and three terrain parks. Dagmar Ski Resort features 18 runs and two jump lines with 1/4 pipes, hips, pyramids, spines and more.
10. Admire the trees
There are around 69 types of trees at the Petticoat Creek Conservation Area, and plenty of wildlife that call the area home. Walk along the trails and admire the trees, which include oak, birch, willow and pine.
The Waterfront Trail runs through Petticoat Creek Conservation Area, offering panoramic views of Lake Ontario. It is also possible to go mountain biking, though you will need to bring your own bike.
The conservation area also happens to be a great place for a picnic, what with its six sites scattered throughout. If that’s not enough, there is a 1,600-square-metre pool, a 1,000-square-metre splash pad and a beach.
11. Cycle around
Pickering has numerous on- and off-road trails that are suitable for all levels of cyclists. Whether you want to go for a leisurely ride through the city or a more intense ride in the hills, there is a trail to suit your needs.
Ride along the shoreline of the lake, through lush green spaces, in conservation areas or on city streets. Pickering has six multi-purpose trails, two off-road trails and bike lanes on many of its streets.
No matter where in Pickering you want to get to, you can do it by cycling. Be sure to cycle safely by wearing a helmet and obeying the rules of the road.
12. Go to the market
Stroll through the diverse Pickering Markets and leave knowing that you pleased all of your senses. There are things to eat, see, hear and smell as you walk around this massive indoor market.
Purchase things to take home with you, like a cashmere scarf, beautiful bedding, handmade jewellery, a salt lamp or even a medieval sword. Don’t forget to also try some of the delicious food from the different food venders that set up inside the market.
After walking around, relax and have a coffee, get your palm read or enjoy a 15 minute massage. There is even a magician that shows off his tricks right in the centre of it all.
13. Get fit
If you want to stay in shape while holidaying in Pickering, head to the Pickering Recreation Complex. The massive complex is home to ice rinks, two swimming pools, racquetball courts, tennis courts and squash courts.
Get your sweat on by working out at the health club, which features cardio equipment, a weight room, an indoor track and stretching studios. You can even get a few tips from the onsite personal trainers.
You don’t have to be a member to enjoy the Pickering Recreation Complex, as they offer drop-in rates. There is even child supervision onsite, so you can work out without having to worry about watching the kids.
14. Release stress
There is no better way to do this than to throw a few axes around. Yes, you can actually spend a couple of hours tossing axes at a target at BATL (Backyard Axe Throwing League).
BATL started in 2006 when founder Matt Wilson started an axe throwing league in his backyard. Today, there are locations all over Canada and the USA, with the Pickering location being the largest of them all!
Visit on a weekend during public drop-in hours and be coached by their onsite instructors. There is also a fully licensed bar and a restaurant onsite.
15. Try your luck
New and old gamblers alike should try their luck at the Ajax Casino. The casino is not in Pickering itself, but just 15 minutes from the city centre in neighbouring Ajax.
The Ajax Casino is an all electronic casino that features 900 of the best slot machines out there today. There are also electronic roulette, blackjack, baccarat and sic-bo tables.
Take a break from the tables and slots at the onsite restaurant that, like the rest of the casino, is open 24-hours a day. Plus, every night it features a different promotion, like all-you-can-eat ribs, fish fry and prime rib dinner.