Written by Jim Bamboulis
Road-tripping in the winter isn’t ideal but if you time it right, those winter tires and windshield washer fluid top ups can make trips both adventurous and rewarding. Sure, the slush and cold temps can hinder your motivation to head out and explore but there’s beauty to be experienced out there, in and especially during the colder months. And although Toronto’s big city allure with its lights and energy is fine and dandy, small town winter charm is close by, and these five charmers offer plenty to see and do.
Love, love LOVE visiting Elora during the summer. A cute-as-a-button downtown with shops and boutique, cafes and bistros, a natural gorge perfect for hiking and a swimming hole that’s been popular for decades. A perfect summers’ day means spending it in Elora.
But, in the winter, Elora becomes a wonderland – without the throngs of people.
Hiking down into the gorge is a bit more challenging because of the snow and ice, but the rewards are breathtaking. If you’re into ice climbing, then this is a spot for you. The shops are still open, of course and if you pick a day that isn’t too frigidly cold, walking the streets of charming Elora makes for a great winter day trip from the city.
Sure, it’s about three hours north of Toronto but along the way, you enter Muskoka, a part of the province where natural history, rugged Canadian Shield is around every corner. A stunning and serene drive north becomes a winter adventure when you hit Huntsville and its surrounding parks. Grab some lunch and a hot tea in any number of its quaint shops and cafes before gearing up for a day in the great outdoors.
Arrowhead provincial park features loads of hiking, skiing and snowshoeing trails and if you time your visit right, you can even skate on its outdoor trail that’s lined with tiki torches – a winter experience with a touch of romance and nuance. East of Huntsville is Algonquin, a provincial park many visit during the warmer months and even autumn for its fall colour viewing. Hit it during winter and you can enjoy the sweet sound of silence and the feeling of rejuvenation.
Look beyond the smoke stacks and you’ll find not only a city where the food and coffee is scene is exploding but a city that’s home to over 100 waterfalls. Over the past few years, the question, ‘why would you go to Hamilton’ has turned into ‘what’s taking you so long’. It’s true, steel town has gone through a pretty massive shift and it has paid off. In the summer, stroll Locke Street or James Street North for a coffee and lunch before heading up the mountain for a hike along the escarpment.
You can still do that in the winter, but a hike at this time of year becomes a lot more stunning. The waterfalls are hit and miss in the summer, largely dependent on rain fall. But during the colder months, the water going over the cliffs has frozen, creating a naturally majestic sight. Some waterfalls allow for access to the base for a perfect, close up view of time standing still.
No matter how many times locals have visited Niagara, the allure keeps them coming back. Obviously in the summer, it’s a far warmer and more enjoyable experience to walk and gaze upon the falls – and you don’t mind getting sprayed with mist to cool you down from the summer heat. But the winter offers its own beauty to view and experience these beauties.
Depending on how cold it gets in these parts, Niagara is a spectacle to behold if the temperatures go down far enough. The guard rails and trees are completely ice-covered, the ice formations along the raging river are straight out of Narnia. Bundle up and take it in, Niagara in the winter is not only stunning but for a limited time, looks like a winter painting brought to life.
Over the past few years, the Bruce Peninsula has captured the imagination of locals. And because it’s now on the radar, this part of the province has become a tourist haven. In the summer, Tobermory, Flowerpot Island and Bruce Peninsula National Park are now prime destinations for everything from swimming to sightseeing. Loads of buses now make enjoying these parts tougher. It’s great for businesses but terrible for those looking for easier access to the sights and of course, parking.
Do yourselves a favour and make the four-hour drive north in the winter. The park is open all year and offers hikes with views that are out-of-this-world. The Niagara Escarpment is gorgeous during the warmer months but in the winter, exploring this amazing natural wonder is gratifying and exhilarating. Oh, and the Grotto transforms from a Caribbean-looking, turquoise beach into a jaw-dropping ice paradise. Tread carefully no matter where you go in this park. Cell service is unreliable, snow depths vary and always check the weather and sunset times ahead of time.
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to working with brands to promote travel, food, and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about both the journey and the destination. So enjoy it and happy travels, y’all!