Kitchener is a city that truly has the best of both worlds: thriving urban centres interspersed with forested fields of green. Everywhere you look, you’re sure to find a park worth visiting: whether it’s the stretched-out Forest Heights Community Trail in the northwest, or Chicopee Ski & Summer Resort in the east, there are outdoor opportunities to enjoy throughout Kitchener. We’re going to get into a top 5 list shortly (because who doesn’t love a good top 5 list?) but first, I’d just like to emphasize that the City of Kitchener has done a great job in ensuring that every community has access to a park. While some are bigger than others, the fact remains that wherever you choose to live in the city, there will be some green space nearby to enjoy. That said, let’s get into the list you’ve all been waiting for… The Top 5 Parks in Kitchener! Starting with… Number five.
5. Stanley Park Conservation Area
Stanley Park Conservation Area is a large, beautiful part of the city, and its access to the long, diverse Dom Cardillo Trail (which leads all the way through Idlewood Park to Chicopee) makes it a great place for exercise and enjoying nature. The Stanley Park Conservation Area is right near an off-ramp from the Conestoga Parkway (Highway 7), off of Ottawa Street.
4. Homer Watson Park
This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s visited the lovely Homer Watson Park – it’s a great place to be. Homer Watson Park boasts a long trail, perfect for hikes or casual sightseeing strolls. You can enjoy the rippling waters of Schneider Creek, or the much grander sight of the Grand River, all while immersed in the scenic, forested surroundings. The park is located fairly centrally within Kitchener, and it’s quite easy to get to: just follow Homer Watson Boulevard, and turn onto Manitou Drive to get to the Wabanaki Drive entrance. There’s a bus stop right by the Wabanaki entrance, and parking lots off of Wabanaki Drive and Wilson Avenue. Homer Watson Park is beautiful year-round.
‘Would a rose smell as sweet, by any other name?’ some of you may be wondering. That is to say: is part of Homer Watson Park’s appeal in its name? Yes, I do believe it is. Homer Watson was a local lad who went on to do great things, painting vivid scenes of the Canadian landscape. So why don’t you take a page from Homer Watson’s book, and bring a sketchpad (or if you’re ambitious, an easel, a canvas, and your favourite paints) to Homer Watson Park and put your own spin on the natural vistas. You can even visit Homer Watson House & Gallery, just outside the park, to see some of his famous paintings.
3. McLennan Park
Kitchener-Waterloo has established itself as a forward-thinking centre of innovation. Why should their parks be any different? McLennan Park shows that one person’s trash is another’s treasure – or, in this case, one city’s former dump can be the same city’s beautiful park! Yes, that’s right, McLennan Park is a repurposed, revitalized landfill. But it’s not just a gimmick – it’s actually a great place to visit, with plenty to see and do. From its splash pad to its sprawling Great Lawn, and from its various sports facilities to its large gazebo and trails, there’s never a shortage of things to enjoy here, and its central location (as well as its proximity to the Conestoga Parkway) make it easily accessible to everyone in Kitchener, no matter where they live. The City of Kitchener has set aside quite a bit of money for improvements to the park (including plenty of new trees, a shade structure, and repairs to drainage pipes), so although parts of the park won’t be accessible for a little while, McLennan Park will be better for it down the line. There’s still plenty to enjoy here in the meantime, though, including a dog park, a skateboard park, and more. McLennan Park is in the Laurentian Hills neighbourhood of Kitchener, just south of the Conestoga Parkway, and near the Alpine Village neighbourhood.
2. Huron Natural Area
Located by the rapidly-growing southwest corner of Kitchener, Huron Natural Area is a true Kitchener-Waterluvian wonder. It’s got a huge network of trails, some more suited to care-free family strolls, others a bit more challenging (though really, they’re all quite accessible). The Huron Natural Area is large enough that you may feel like you’ve wandered out of the city and into a forested wonderland. It consists of over 100 acres of land, varying from wetlands to meadows and more. Strasburg Creek runs through the forested land, and two points of interest are Sunfish Pond and the creatively-named Board of Education Pond. They may be called ponds, but they feel much more like lakes: standing on the beautiful boardwalks overlooking their waters, it really does feel like you’re in cottage country. The Huron Natural Area has quite a few informative signs, with local information and eye-catching graphics. You can both reconvene with nature, and learn a little bit about the area’s history, and the species that call it home. Did you ever wonder where turtles go in the winter? Well, the Huron Natural Area signs have you covered! Oh and by the way – there are turtles here. Need I say more? Huron Natural Area is a wonderful place to explore – it’s particularly fun to watch as it changes throughout the seasons.
To reiterate: every neighbourhood in Kitchener has at least a small park for its residents to enjoy. The parks listed here are just some of my personal favourites. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of Kitchener’s finest outdoor attractions that doesn’t quite qualify as a park: the Walter Bean Grand River Trail. This long, winding trail follows along the Grand River, offering wonderful views of Kitchener’s most famous river (it also passes through many of Kitchener-Waterloo’s finest parks and green areas – another perk!).
1. Victoria Park
Was it ever in doubt? What park could possibly top the lovely crown jewel of Downtown Kitchener? It really is stunningly beautiful, and it offers just about everything you could want from a park. It has many meandering paths and trails to enjoy, historic buildings to marvel at, as well as more modern amenities to enjoy. The splash pad and playground make it perfect for kids, and it hosts a variety of events held throughout the year (there are events suitable for both children and adults). Perhaps the best part of Victoria Park (and believe me, it’s hard to choose just one) is the perennially lovely Victoria Park Lake. Whether you’re enjoying it from one of the park’s many trails, driving past it along the tree-lined Jubilee Drive, or gazing at its waters from one of several footbridges (including an original iron one), it truly is mesmerizing. But then again, so is the rest of the park: its beautiful flower gardens, its imposing statue (of Queen Victoria herself) and cannons, and the Victoria Park Pavilion (which hosts events throughout the year, and is available for rental) – to summarize, you really must visit Victoria Park! It’s worth it.
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Victoria Park has long been Kitchener’s favourite green destination, and dating back to the days when Kitchener was still Berlin, it’s also Kitchener’s oldest park. Its beautiful, historic clock tower even adorns Kitchener’s flag! For a park right near Kitchener’s downtown core, it’s also surprising just how large Victoria Park is: Victoria Park Lake alone has over 2 kilometers of shoreline! And being so close to Kitchener’s vibrant downtown core, there’s plenty to see and do nearby, as well (including the Kitchener Farmers’ Market). Arguably Victoria Park’s loveliest entrance is right behind the Charles Street Transit Terminal, so getting to the park is quite easy (there will be an LRT stop nearby, too).
Written by Will Kummer