Littered with billboards and dilapidated shacks, the abandoned 6-acre gravel pit looked like the last place you'd want to plant a garden. But from 1930 to 1931, the Royal Botanical Gardens transformed the area by arranging weathered limestone rocks from nearby quarries into linked paths and staircases winding around ponds and waterfalls. Since then, the 2,700-acre nonprofit facility has continued to display approximately 40,000 plants and 50 living plant collections in its five gardens.
The property also hosts three nature sanctuaries. The largest, Cootes Paradise, encompasses 16 creeks and a 320-hectacre river-mouth marsh on more than 600 hectares of land. Visitors can explore stream crossings or check out the gardens from above on 31 scenic trails that range across more than 21 kilometres with more than 20 lookouts. After long expeditions, visitors can make their way to the three onsite restaurants, browse gardening tools in the shop, or attend one of the garden's many monthly events.