By: Jim Bamboulis
The Canadian dollar is still low, flights within Canada are still pricey and if you plan on traveling to the USA, lineups are expected to get even bigger with no end in sight! And although a recent report said that Millennials picked Canada as the best overall country, it turns out that Millennials, in Canada, are opting to travel abroad instead of staying and exploring in their own country.
I get it. But at the same time, I don’t. For those of you who want to get away but don’t have the time, money or even patience to travel abroad, you don’t have to go too far for some much needed summer adventure. There are plenty of incredible travel experiences closer to home. My 5 Road Trips from Toronto article from last year continues to be read and shared proving that not only are there gorgeous places to see close to Toronto but also that many of you are eager to get out of town for a few days, breathe in some fresh air and save some cash along the way.
That’s why this year, I’m sharing 5 new experiences that you should discover, all within driving distance of the big city. These 5 (all located in Southeastern Ontario) won’t break your bank and won’t force you to deal with customs agents. Instead, they’ll bring a smile to your face and make you realize that there are so many beautiful sights to experience in Ontario which are worthy of the drive from Toronto.
Here we go!
Remember that look you had on your face when your parents surprised you with that bicycle you always wanted? When I first went underground and started exploring the Bonnechere Caves, I stopped in my tracks and had that exact same look on my face. I took a few more steps inside and quickly ran out of words to describe my sheer amazement. My face pretty much stayed the same all afternoon.
There are only so many times you can say “wow” and “incredible” before you’re just left in silent awe.
Located about 4 hours northeast of Toronto, the Bonnechere Caves (map) are experiential travel at its best. Family owned and operated, the Caves have been welcoming people from around the world for more than 50 years. And no matter how old you are, you’ll enjoy exploring them.
Chris Hinsperger, who co-owns the Bonnechere Caves with his wife Val, has been involved with this natural wonder since he was 12 years old. Now in his late 50s, Chris remembers working for ten summers at the Caves before going out into the world and spending 27 years as a Youth Worker. He credits an intangible magnetism for pulling him back to the Caves after all those years which led to the chance to purchase and then run them with his Wife Val for the past 24 years.
Guided tours, led by friendly and knowledgeable staff leave every 20-30 minutes and last about an hour. If you prefer to visit at night…and have dinner in the process, you can do that too. There are two seatings in the summer when you can dine in the Caves, making the visit an extra special experience.
For more information about the Bonnechere Caves, including rates, schedules and events (including the chance to dine underground, please visit the website.
Palaces and Palisades Cruise
Whether you’re a scuba diver exploring old sunken ships or a family discovering the many beautiful islands in the archipelago, the Thousand Islands are popular with just about everyone. About three hours east of Toronto, you’ll find historic sites and of course, the gorgeous Thousand Island National Park of Canada (one of the oldest in the country). You won’t run out of things to do and places to see in these parts.
And that includes getting out onto the water and going for a two-hour cruise along the St. Lawrence. I had the chance recently to do just that and joined the Palaces and Palisades Cruise offered by Rockport Cruises (map).
People love this tour so much that the Canadian Tourism Commission (now Destination Canada) included it into its ‘Signature Experiences Collection’. Essentially what that means is that this cruise offers visitors an incredible and truly unique Ontario experience.
The boat takes off from Rockport and gives you a first hand look at the majestic 1000 Islands. As you go along, you pass under the 1000 Islands International Bridge and cruise along, marvelling at the opulent homes along Millionaire’s Row.
Eventually, you circle around what is the centrepiece of the cruise. The simply incredible Boldt Castle. It’s majestic, beautiful, massive and the stuff of fairytales.
And if that wasn’t enough, before docking back in Rockport, you’re taken past Zavikon Island, where you get to see first-hand the shortest International Bridge on the planet. It’s a mere 32 feet long separating Canada and the USA.
This is the kind of experience where you can’t help but snap photos left and right but also take a few minutes to really appreciate where you are, what you’re looking at and what you’re experiencing. It lives up to the hype and is a day you won’t forget.
Bon Echo Provincial Park
Located about 3 hours northeast of Toronto, Bon Echo PP (map) has been a favourite of mine for years. One look at the pristine blue waters of Mazinaw Lake with the 330ft high Mazinaw Rock rising out of the depths and you’ll quickly understand why this is one of the most beautiful spots in Southeastern Ontario.
Fishing, hiking and camping are only a few of the many activities enjoyed here. But what sets Bon Echo apart from other parks is the naturally inspirational beauty of the landscape. And judging by the more than 260 native pictographs (or rock paintings) that are found in the area, humans have been loving the views for a long time. In fact, the Mazinaw pictographs were designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1982.
For more information about Bon Echo PP, including activities, facilities and fees, please refer to the website.
Looking to inject some history into your getaway? Drive three hours east to Kingston and stop to experience a 19th century British military fortress. I’m talking about Fort Henry (map).
A National Historic Site of Canada, Fort Henry makes you feel as if you’re going back in time, to the 1800s. Plenty to experience, including the ‘Muster Parade’ where both kids and adults can join in all while the Fort Henry Guard put them in uniform and teach a few drills – all in good fun.
Walk along the east wall and you’ll see a spot reserved for the Fort Henry Guard’s goat mascot, David X. The mascot serves as a reminder of the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), stationed at Fort Henry in 1842 and 1843, which was a goat named “Billy.” David X can be met on his daily walkabouts, and seen in the shows and parades put on by the Fort Henry Guard.
Want to fire a rifle? A cannon? Here, you can! Choose either an Armstrong Cannon or a Snider Enfield rifle and a member of the Fort Henry Guard will train you.
On top of that, there are exceptional dining experiences to be had as well. Take a seat at the Battery Bistro. It’s Kingston’s largest outdoor patio and has spectacular views of the City of Kingston and Lake Ontario. If you want something a bit more than a great meal and lovely view, book a table for dinner and a show, especially during July and August. Special events during the warmest months include the Sunset Ceremonies.
Perth is the type of place where time seems to stands still. Historic and serene, it was voted one of the prettiest towns in Ontario and is a short 3.5 hour drive northeast of Toronto (map). Play golf on Canada’s oldest golf course or sit on a bench under a maple tree in Stewart Park, gazing onto the idyllic Tay River. Perth offers that and more.
2016 marks the 200th anniversary of this picturesque town. To celebrate, there are several events going on throughout the year, most notably the Homecoming Weekend in late July. Blue Rodeo is scheduled to perform, there will be a BBQ Block Party and a Stone-Carving Festival, among other events. For more information about Perth’s birthday party festivities, please refer to this website.
There you have it. 5 more incredible close-to-home road trips to choose from. 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!