Summer has started and for many of us that means it’s time for a vacation. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the finances needed to fly around the world for breathtaking views, inspirational culture and worldly cuisine. No need to worry, though, as you can find enough to fill decades of vacations right here, tucked away not far from your front door.
Almost 16 million tourists came to Canada during 2011 to see what many Canadian residents have potentially overlooked, potentially just up the road. Thankfully, you don’t have to go very far in Ontario to find breathtaking views, inspirational culture, great cuisine and much more. Here are some of our favorite “just out of town” day trips that you could take, and a few lesser-known things to do at each of these destinations.
A day trip through the Kawarthas
One of the greatest things that travel books say about Canada is how easy it is to get away from the larger city centres and into the relative wilderness to experience nature. A trip through the Kawarthas means a stunningly scenic drive past historical landmarks and to the doorsteps of some dining opportunities the locals try to keep a secret. Make sure to stop and see what could be Canada’s best collection of prehistoric rock carvings in Canada in Petroglyphs Provincial Park, do a little exploring in the Warsaw Caves, and take in the beauty of small towns like Fenelon Falls and Lindsay.
Wine tasting in Prince Edward County
Quite a bit closer than France and the wine regions of Europe, is Ontario’s commonly overlooked Prince Edward County, which is Canada’s newest budding wine region and boasts the same soil composition as France’s Burgundy. Because the roads are relatively quiet in PEC (as the locals refer to it), cycling is quite prevalent, the beaches are breathtaking and the food is not to be missed. Cruise down the “taste trail” (via local map with the landmarks), stop in for a picnic at Lake on the Mountain (an elevated lake with no apparent source), and finish up with dinner at Wapus Winery or Blumen Garden Bistro (highly recommended)!
Adventure in Collingwood
Things in Collingwood slow down a little in the warmer months, but many of the area’s hidden treasures can only be found in the summer. This makes Collingwood an excellent option for a family looking for some adventure. Blue Mountain offers activities like mountain biking, golf and luging, and is complete with shopping, spas and dining. Collingwood doesn’t stop there, though, so make sure you visit the scenic caves at the top of the hill for some exploring, treetop walking, and Ontario’s longest suspension bridge. If you are up for a little more of a drive, head to Grandma Lambe’s between Thornbury and Meaford for incredible baked goods and a variety of maple syrup.
One of Canada’s best-known landmarks, it doesn’t usually get the attention it deserves from Ontarians. Sure, the falls are there and they are pretty, but there is so much more that often goes overlooked. After you take a look at the falls, make sure you visit the Daredevil gallery that focuses on those who have ridden the falls, and you can even take the virtual plunge yourself in the IMAX Theater. Afterwards, check out the butterfly conservatory with over 50 different species flitting around or take a drive down the scenic Niagara Parkway. When it is time to eat, check out the Flying Saucer for “extraterrestrial fast food” or Guru if you are in the mood for delectable Thai with a surprisingly robust wine list.
Sault St Marie, Lake Superior Provincial Park and Thunder Bay
If there is one thing that Ontario has, it’s space. At some point, a car trip through a stunning landscape with unique landmarks and the chance to see incredible starry nights, and maybe even the Northern Lights, is a must for every Ontarian. For a tour through an untouched section of the Canadian Shield, hop on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. If you find yourself in Thunder Bay, head out to the Fort Williams First Nations and Mt. Mackay, which rises 350 metres above Thunder Bay and is compared to Ayers Rock.
From one day to a lifetime in Toronto
There is a good reason that approximately 10 million overseas visitors and many Canadians visit Toronto each year. In fact, there are hundreds. Toronto has a tremendous amount of cultural attractions, food to try and sights to see. Many of them aren’t a secret for locals, but it is sometimes surprising how few Ontarians have really spent time absorbing all Toronto has to offer. Whether you’re interested in food, sporting events, architectural gems, art and culture, or awesome shopping opportunities, it is easy for a visitor (or even a local) to spend weeks exploring the city without ever visiting the same place twice.
Ottawa and Eastern Ontario.
For a taste of politics and some interesting art and culture, there is no shortage of things to do in the city of Ottawa. However, like in Toronto, many residents have barely scraped the surface of all the opportunities awaiting them. With a Cultural Passport you can spend a full week exploring the nine museums and visit the Diefenbunker (a Cold War bomb shelter designed to allow inhabitants to survive a nuclear blast). For some adventure, you can head north to the white water rafting section of the Ottawa River, east to the Bonnechere Caves (within the province of Quebec) or partake in many other adventures nearby.
The greatest tool that most Canadians overlook is a guidebook to Canada or the specific province they are visiting. Purchasing a copy of Lonely Planet Canada, Frommer’s Canada, or one of many other guidebooks will open the door for all kinds of adventure right outside your door.