Planning a road trip across Ontario? Find your new favourite corner of the province from this collection of must-see spots.
It’s important to keep in mind that, even if you’re comfortable travelling, others may not have the same desire to see you on the road. Be extra considerate of strangers when you’re on the road. Practice safe social distancing, and then some. Wear your mask. Carry sanitizer with you and use it. Read up on the area you’re visiting before you go so you know what’s open, as some facilities are still closed due to COVID-19.
Destination Canada has put together a “Canada Nice” video that sums things up, well, nicely.
Black Lives Matter has garnered attention around the world. And southern Ontario has a rich Black history. One of the best places to learn more is at the Buxton Settlement, located a few minutes outside Chatham. It’s a national historic site set on part of a large swath of land that was set aside for Black settlers by the government in 1849. There’s a fine museum and several old buildings that demonstrate what life might have been like.
Visitors to Ontario’s Southwest have a choice of two of the Great Lakes. The Lake Huron shore is sometimes called Ontario’s West Coast, in part of because of the amazing sunsets with soft, puffy, summer clouds in the sky. You’ll find outstanding beaches at Grand Bend and The Pinery Provincial Park, where you also can kayak or canoe on a quiet, inland river. Further north is Sauble Beach, Southampton, Kincardine and Inverhuron Provincial Park. The north shore of Lake Erie is equally attractive, with fine beaches at Port Stanley and Port Dover, where the owner of The Beach House restaurant plants palm trees on the beach for a Miami/South Beach vibe. If you want quieter, try the beaches on Pelee Island or at Erieau.
Beer and wine
Located near Long Point in the village of St. Williams, Burning Kiln is a fantastic winery that makes crisp whites and luscious reds, including superb Cabernet Franc. They often have a food truck out by the patio, and the staff (almost entirely women) are super-friendly. Just outside Port Dover is a fun winery called The Frisky Beaver, which makes a blend called Crappy Wine just for the fun of it. (No, it’s not crappy). Closer to Windsor, Muscedere also makes tremendous red wines. There are tons of great craft beer places, including Hometown Brew Co. and the beautiful Charlotteville Brewery, housed in an old barn with attractive antiques scattered about.
The Hamilton-Dundas area is famous for its waterfalls, many of which are only a few minutes from major highways. Webster’s and Tew Falls are within a short walk of one another in the Spencer Gorge/Webster’s Falls Conservation Area. Webster’s is a wide, 22-meter-high cascade, while Tew Falls is a narrow ribbon that drops a full 41 meters. They’re great anytime but most spectacular in autumn.
Even some Torontonians are unaware there’s a national park in the city. The Rouge National Urban Park lies just east of the Toronto Zoo. You’ll find thick forests, winding rivers lined with high, chalky cliffs and wonderful hiking trails. The park extends all the way to Lake Ontario, where there’s a small beach.
One of Canada’s great playgrounds, Muskoka has tons of quiet corners and plenty of places to get out and enjoy nature. Situated just off Highway 169 between Gravenhurst and Bala, Hardy Lake Provincial Park is one of the top hikes in the region, with nary a cottage to be found. The folks at LivOutside in Bracebridge can rent you a canoe, kayak or paddleboard for a ride on the beautiful Muskoka River.
East of Toronto
Amazing art in the Kawarthas
Petroglyphs Provincial Park is home to truly unique First Nations limestone rock carvings that date back hundreds of years or more. There are hundreds of carvings that feature everything from turtles and human figures to snakes and a spiritual being called a nanabush or nanabozho, with a human body and rabbit-like ears. ZimArt Rice Lake Gallery is a luscious garden near Bailieboro that’s filled with Zimbabwean stone carvings and other artwork. Both are open until around Thanksgiving.
Prince Edward County is increasingly known for its food and wine scene. But you’ll also find massive, eight-storey-high sand dunes that march along the shore of Lake Ontario at Sandbanks Provincial Park. It’s an amazing sight. There are campgrounds nearby, but you also can visit for the day. It’s a great area for swimming and boating, too.
There actually is something like 1,500 Islands in the Thousand Islands group (yes, someone has counted), which lie in the St. Lawrence River east of Kingston. You can hop on a tour boat in Gananoque and enjoy the fresh air while you admire bald eagles soaring in the air or gasp at lavish homes such as Boldt Castle.
A Canadian hero
September 1, 2020, marks the 40th anniversary of the day Terry Fox, a Canadian hero if there ever was one, had to halt his epic cross-country run outside Thunder Bay. There’s a large statue of him high on a hill above the Trans-Canada Highway and a marvellous visitors’ centre.
A sleeping giant
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is one of the wonders of Ontario, with crystal clear bays that look like the Mediterranean, rocky outcroppings and an elevated platform that juts out 130 meters over Lake Superior. Check out the pretty beaches near the rock formation known as Sea Lion Rock and the old cottages at Silver Islet. It’s only a short drive from the park to wondrous Ouimet Canyon.
A superior lake
There are dozens of islands scattered along the east coast of Lake Superior near Rossport, which is a couple hours’ drive northeast of Thunder Bay. Discovery Charters can take you out on a magnificent boat ride to learn about the area’s glorious nature and colourful history.
Jim Byers a veteran of 32 years with the Toronto Star, with five as travel editor, Jim has been covering the travel business and writing about destinations for over a decade. He is the author of “Ontario Escapes: 19 Great Places to Visit Right Now.” It’s available for just $4.99 on Apple Books, for downloading to Apple devices.