By: Jim Bamboulis
Another summer is upon us and that means another liberating, road tripping season is here. It’s time to discover new spots and re-discover your own backyard.
There’s no shortage of great road trip ideas around Toronto. There’s so much to see and do, the list is endless. I’ve put together a list of 10 trips that will inspire you to get out there and discover parts of Canada you may not have known existed. Here we go!
Belfountain Conservation Area
Located about an hour northwest of Toronto, Belfountain is a must experience. A small, cute hamlet, its charming shops and lovely coffee shops will make you forget all about the big city. Park the car, stroll through the centre, make your way to the beautiful conservation area and be amazed!
This land once belonged Charles Mack, inventor of the cushion-back rubber stamp. Mack developed his version of a mini Niagara Falls and Yellowstone Cave. He created a fountain topped with a bell honouring the town and added stone walls, footpaths and scenic lookouts.
He also had a suspension bridge built downstream from the dam. Wedding photography is huge here as is photography in general. After all, what’s not to love? That bridge looks and feels like it’s straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
For more info about everything Belfountain, please visit this link.
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park
There’s two reasons why I put Mono Cliffs near the top of this list. First of all, it’s only 45 minutes north of Belfountain (and thus only 2 hours north of Toronto). Secondly, it’s not just a summer destination but also a place you can fully enjoy into the fall. Located on the Bruce Trail, Mono Cliffs Provincial Park is easily one of the most beautiful areas within driving distance of the city, has several biking and hiking trails along with gorgeous vista points.
The beauty of this place isn’t just reserved for the summer. I visited in the fall and it was stellar. The trails are always well-marked and the park is ideal for the whole family. Whether you go at the start of the season or close to autumn, the experience will leave you breathless (not only because of those stairs).
For more info about Mono Cliffs and surrounding area, visit this link.
Port Dover – Canada’s Cape Cod
Located a couple of hours southwest of Toronto, Port Dover (map), has been described as Canada’s Cape Cod. It’s the only place I’ve seen in these parts with legit palm trees.It has something for everyone, including beach lovers, sunset lovers, hot dog lovers and even bikers. In fact, since 1981 bikers from all over have congregated to this small lake side town for good times every Friday the 13th.
Everyone from young couples to retirees come together to spend the day at the beach, walk the pier, rent a board and have a bite. Speaking of food, Port Dover has some pretty famous eats.
Knechtel’s (map) is close to the beach, has picnic tables out front along the street and serves up a bunch of dishes ranging from burgers to pickerel. Meanwhile, The Arbor (map) has been serving up its famous foot longs (aka Ritz Red Hots) for more than 80 years.
For more info about what to do, what to see and where to stay in Port Dover, click here!
Paris – Canada’s Cobblestone Capital
Located about 1 1/2 hours west of Toronto (map). Paris, is known as the cobblestone capital of Canada because of the number of aged cobblestone houses. A key example of this is historic Hamilton Place, a house built in the 1840s in the Greek Revival Style and constructed entirely of cobblestone.
It’s also considered to be one of, if not the prettiest small towns Canada. It has loads of charm, serenity, friendly people, restaurants, bakeries and of course a picturesque backdrop. And although Parisians here don’t separate their neighbourhoods by Arrondissements, you can make a case for Paris, Ontario having a left and right bank of the Grand River.
For more information about restaurants, accommodations and other activities along the banks of the Grand, please refer to the official Paris, Ontario directory.
Only about 2 1/2 hours west of Toronto, Bayfield (map) sits on the shores of Lake Huron. It’s often overlooked by the bigger, glitzy coastal towns along Huron, like Sauble Beach and Grand Bend. No more! Not only is Bayfield beautiful, has its own share of blue flag beaches, it’s also got more room to lay down a towel and actually have some space between you and the next beach goer.
Don’t get me wrong, Sauble and Grand Bend are amazing places with so much to do and see. But if you want serenity and space, a place where you can feel time slow right down for you, then hit Bayfield. Great for young and old, couples, families or even solo. It’s between the two giants and in my opinion, better!
Look out into the lake you’ll see something sticking 12 feet up above the surface. It’s part of a vessel, the Lynda Hindman, which was hauled from Goderich to Bayfield about 30 years ago to use as a break wall and prevent further erosion of the beach. Apparently, the brigadier decided to leave it out there. That, and nasty storms over the past three decades have reportedly broken up the vessel. What remains sticking up is the stern. With the water level so low, it allows for it to be seen and climbed on. Swimmers often head out and stand on it.
But wait, there’s more. Bayfield also has a cute, charming and stroll-worthy downtown, complete with green space, inn’s, rustic restaurants and shops. But if you want to get beyond the surface, consider a walking tour. There’s plenty to choose from.
And finally, you can’t talk about Lake Huron and Bayfield without mentioning the sunsets. They’re epic and people set up camp early in the evening from high above Pioneer Park or along the water to take it all in.
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For more info about what to see, do and experience in Bayfield, hit up this link.
Georgian Bay Islands National Park
I have to admit. I had NO idea that there was a National park so close to Toronto. Turns out, there is. And it’s awesome.
Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto (map) and although the drive north can get a bit boring, it gets pretty beautiful north of Barrie. The landscape becomes that much more rugged, the air that much cleaner. GBINP is right in the middle of the 30,000 island country and home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago.
A small boat takes you either to the north end or south end of Beausoleil Island where you can then take your pick as to what you want to do. Cycle, hike, camp, swim and/or just enjoy the many vistas available. The Group of Seven saw plenty of beauty here and I guarantee that you will too.
GBINP is one of those places that comes equipped with fully functioning, all-the-comforts-of-home waterfront cabins. You can rent a cabin at either Cedar Springs or Christian Beach. At Cedar Springs, accommodations for up to 5 people is available, while the cabins at Christian are more remote and smaller.
Cabins come with a queen sized bed and a bunk bed. You get washrooms, showers, dining table, sofa, coffee table, a fridge and yes electricity. There’s no running water in the cabins but you get a shared fire pit, a beautiful pebble beach, views of Georgian Bay and you get to experience epic sunsets. At last check, pets aren’t allowed, except maybe the odd rattlesnake or black bear in the area.
For fees, what you should bring along and the general ground rules, please refer to this link.
For more information about other visitor safety tips, what to look out for and how to protect yourself, please refer to this link.
Lagoon City – The Venice of Ontario
Did you know that Lagoon City is considered to be ‘The Venice of Ontario’? Drive 1 1/2 hours north of the city and you’ll see it for yourself (map).
Lagoon City is one of many towns that make up the township of Ramara. An official Canadian Resort village, it has a small town feel, mixed with a bit of Floridian vibe. Friendly people, beautiful homes and surrounded by water and boats.
Homes here are connected to 10 miles of lagoons which are in turn connected to Lake Simcoe and the Trent River waterway. It makes for an incredible sight and worthy of a walk around the town.
Of course, there are plenty of spots along all sides of Lake Simcoe to enjoy the outdoors. The water is exceptional in many spots and often very shallow. Lagoon City is one of those places that centres around those who boat and enjoy the ‘dockominium’ type of lifestyle.
But you don’t have to know anyone living in Lagoon City to enjoy it. There’s a great beach and a hotel so that you can stay a while, eat, play and swim.
This part of Ontario is truly a wonderland when it comes to things to see and do. There are several golf courses, Provincial Parks such as Sibbald Point and Mara, Casino Rama is in the area and if you love ice cream, you can’t beat Kawartha Dairy, home to some of the best ice cream in Canada.
About 1 1/2 hours west of Toronto (map), the town of Elora is a thriving town full of history, boutiques and restaurants. It’s also home to a great gorge.
For cyclists, hikers and walkers, hit a portion of the Trans-Canada Trail which connects with the 47km long Elora Cataract Trail. The trails take you through some incredible terrain and scenery, including a descent down the gorge and to the river’s edge.
The Elora Gorge itself and the activities you can enjoy is arguably the biggest draw to this region. The limestone cliffs are more than 70 feet high and stand tall along the Grand and Irvine Rivers. Here you’ll find everything from kayakers, tubers and swimmers. If you want to get up and see it all from above, there are several hot air balloon as well as zip line companies in the area. If you prefer to stay on the ground, then take your pick as to what activity you want to do.
And then there’s the Elora Quarry, also known as the “old swimming hole”. This is a 2 acre former limestone quarry surrounded by 40 foot cliffs. A stunning backdrop and a really cool place to swim.
For more information about events in Elora and surrounding area, check out this website.
Only about an hour east of Toronto (map), Cobourg may be small but it’s a definite hot spot. Back in the 19th century, wealthy Americans built massive summer homes here. These days, visitors and locals enjoy a beautifully preserved and historically significant downtown, many quaint boutiques and shops along King Street and a big beach.
This beautiful building pictured below was completed in 1860. Victoria Hall is a National Historic Site of Canada and today, it’s the town hall, home to the Art Gallery of Northumberland, the Cobourg Concert Hall and an Old-Bailey-style courtroom now used as the Council chamber.
In recent years, Victoria Park Beach has become the place to be. Come on the August long weekend and you’ll even have a chance to take in the Sandcastle Festival.
For more information about what to see and do and where to eat and stay in lovely Cobourg, Ontario, please refer to this site.
Lake on a Mountain
It’s a park, a natural wonder, surrounded by beautiful scenery and lovely vistas. Lake on a Mountain Provincial Park is located just east of Picton, on the eastern part of Prince Edward County, about about 2 1/2 hours east of Toronto (map). Lake on a Mountain is exactly what the name suggests.
It was a mystery at one point, especially when trying to figure out where the water was coming from. After all, Lake on a Mountain is more than 200 feet above Lake Ontario. The Mohawks called it the Lake of the Gods. They believed it was home to powerful spirits. It’s now believed that the clean and fresh water comes from 2 small streams from the surrounding higher land. Early settlers here thought the Lake was bottomless. These days, the depth still isn’t known but it’s thought to be about 112 feet.
And because you’re already more than 200 feet up the mountain, you get to experience some incredible views of the Bay of Quinte. If you want to continue driving east towards Kingston, the Glenora Ferry connects you from PEC to the mainland on the bottom of the mountain. The ferry works as a nautical thread for the The Loyalist Parkway (Highway 33). Otherwise, bring a picnic or take some time and enjoy the vista.
For more info about Lake on a Mountain and surrounding area, hit this link.
There you have it. 10 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.
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. Cute pic, no? That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to travel, food and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.