By: Jim Bamboulis
After a very long and cold winter (in Toronto, anyway), warmer weather is finally here to stay. And although many people love to travel anywhere, no matter the weather, for many, summer is the season to take a trip or two. That includes road-tripping.
And who doesn’t love a good road trip? Unless you’re crossing international borders, there are no security delays or hassles, no extra fees (other than gas) and no need to worry about whether your carry-on baggage meets weight and size requirements either. Solo or with some friends, road tripping is liberating. All you really need is some food, music (including that Milli Vanilli CD from ’91 you have buried somewhere), an adventurous spirit to meet new and interesting people, eat in some cool diners along the way and maybe even re-discover the country that you call home.
In Southern Ontario, there’s no shortage of great road trips. There’s so much to see and do, the list is endless. If you’re visiting Toronto and surrounding area for the first time, then doing a day trip to Niagara Falls and the wineries along the way is must do. But if you’ve been there, done that and want to experience something new, then these 5 ideas below will inspire you to get out there and discover parts of Canada you may not have known existed. Here we go!
5. Hamilton – The City of Waterfalls
Ah yes, Steel-town. Located about 1 hour southwest of Toronto, Hamilton doesn’t look pretty from the highway. All you really see is a rough-looking town with factories and smoke stacks. But if you judge Hamilton based on what you see from the highway then you’re not looking deep enough. Go beyond, be amazed.
Of course, locals know it all too well but if you didn’t know that Hamilton is The City of Waterfalls, well now you do. Hamilton is proudly home to over 100 waterfalls identified by the Hamilton Conservation Authority, found along the Bruce Trail and the incredible natural wonder that is the Niagara Escarpment. If you can or don’t mind getting your heart pumping while taking in the sights, then you’ll love the fact that there are several hiking trails in Hamilton and surrounding area that lead you to some of the most beautiful waterfalls outside of Niagara. Take a look for yourself.
For more information about how to experience more of these waterfalls in Hamilton, refer to Hamilton Waterfalls and get informed.
4. Point Pelee National Park
This is a place that must be visited. Located about 4 hours southwest of Toronto, Point Pelee’s big draw is the fact that it’s the southernmost tip of mainland Canada (map). A compact little park full that gives you the chance to canoe, hike the easy trails or lay down a towel and soak in the sun on the beach. If you’re a bird lover, Point Pelee is one of the main go-to places anywhere in North America for bird watching. There’s even an annual bird festival that takes place here.
If you like wine, you can hop on a ferry to Pelee Island and visit the winery located there. But if you prefer to stay on the mainland, you should also visit Leamington, the cute little town that surrounds Pelee. Not only is it the Tomato Capital of Canada (Heinz has a plant here for over 100 years), it’s also known as the “Sun Parlour” for its warmer than typical Canadian temps. In fact, Leamington lies on the 42nd Parallel, the same latitude as Chicago, Rome and Northern California. Here are some sights from this beautiful oasis.
For more information about Point Pelee National Park, including fees and schedule of events, please visit the Parks Canada website.
3. Flowerpot Island and Bruce Peninsula National Park
Flowerpot Island is one of those places that when you see pictures of it, you kinda don’t believe that it exists, especially so close to Toronto. Granted, it’s still a 4 hour drive northwest of the city (map) but the drive is well worth it. In fact, this part of Ontario is quickly becoming one of the most popular summer weekend getaways for city people. For the past few summers, tour buses (and loads of money for the local economy) have been pouring in as word has gotten out about the beauty of this part of Ontario.
Flowerpot Island is part of Fathom Five National Marine Park, the first national marine park in Canada. This park has 45 square miles of clear water and an archipelago of 19 islands. Cliffs, caves, shipwrecks and lighthouses are found here. Board a glass bottomed boat and see the wrecks for yourself or strap on scuba gear and have an even closer look. This is the Shipwreck Diving Capital of Canada after all. Here’s a gallery of the shipwrecks and Flowerpot Island.
Meanwhile, Bruce Peninsula National Park (map) is just south of the Marine Park. A sprawling park, it’s loaded with hiking trails and offers an incredible terrain, beautiful landscapes and crystal clear turquoise water. There are many highlights and activities that you can do while here, but if you have a limited amount of time, I suggest you hit the Cyprus Lake Grotto. It’s a comfortable 15-25 minute hike to one of the most breathtaking scenes I’ve seen in Ontario. If you’re brave enough to handle the cold water or adventurous enough to scope out the caves, do it. Otherwise, bring a camera and some sunscreen and enjoy the blue.
Fore more information about Flowerpot Island, Fathom Five and the Bruce Peninsula, this website will tell you everything you need to know about what else to see, where to eat and where to stay.
2. The Scenic Caves in Collingwood
Sure, in the winter, you drive the 2 hours north of the city (map), hit up the ski resorts in the Collingwood area to ski, snowboard and even snowshoe. But there are plenty of activities to enjoy when the weather is warmer, including zip lining, hiking and walking across the longest suspension bridge in Southern Ontario.
From the heights of the bridge to the depths of the earth, the Scenic Caves take you down. Deep down. There are a bunch of caves to explore that take you down as much much 70 feet. There’s an ice cave here that’s so deep that snow and ice stick around through early summer.
Bring a good pair of running or hiking shoes, maybe a light sweater and some will power. Some of these caves are dark and tight. Otherwise, you’ll have a good time. For more information about the Scenic Caves and a full list of activities, caves to explore and natural significance, visit the Scenic Caves website.
1. Sandbanks Provincial Park
The first time I went to Sandbanks, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Located about 3 hours east of Toronto (map), Sandbanks Provincial Park is home to hiking and canoeing but the big draw is swimming in one 3 sandy beaches, including Dunes Beach. These pictures give you a perfect idea of what to expect at Sandbanks.
Sandbanks is located in Prince Edward County. PEC has become pretty famous for its wineries. Although Niagara still seems to be the main wine region in Ontario, Prince Edward County wine makers are making a name for themselves with many wines to sample. If you love a glass of wine before, during or after a day at the beach, check out the list of wineries available in this part of Ontario.
There you have it. 5 incredible road trips to choose from this summer. No excuses. If you want to get away and don’t want to spend an intense amount of money, hit the road and enjoy the sights and sounds in your own backyard.
Happy travels everyone!