Written by Jim Bamboulis
Winter’s done. Sun’s out. Heat is on. Time to take a road trip or two.
Whether you live in Toronto and looking to get away or visiting the city and want to explore more of what Southern Ontario has to offer, then these 10 trips are just what you’re looking for.
So pack the car with snacks and supplies, and get moving.
The formation of the Badlands was exposed by poor farming practices in the 1930s which led to soil erosion, exposing the underlying Queenston shale. Located within the Niagara Escarpment, it’s by default part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Closed for a few years, the Badlands have reopened, complete with marked trails, a boardwalk and a dedicated parking lot. Located about an hour northwest of Toronto, this is a heavily patrolled area for good reason. This gem attracted thousands over the years who in turn, walked all over the sensitive landscape and damaged it almost beyond repair. Luckily, it’s been saved and can now be fully enjoyed once again. When you go, park only in the designated parking lot ($10/vehicle) and stay on the trails.
Ontario is full of cute, quaint towns. St. Marys is one of the prettiest. About 2 hours west of Toronto, this beauty is not only home to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, but it’s also aptly named “Stonetown” because it’s filled with unique architecture featuring locally-quarried limestone.
What’s summer fun without a day on the water? The decades-old St. Marys Quarry has been an outdoor swimming pool, enjoyed by millions since the 1930s. So big and so popular, this quarry is now Canada’s largest outdoor swimming pool!
Limehouse Conservation Area
Located about an hour and a half northwest of Toronto, Limehouse is one of those hidden, out-of-this-world experiences that you wouldn’t think exist so close to Toronto. The Bruce Trail – the 800km long hiking trail from Queenston to Tobermory, Ontario which follows the course of the Niagara Escarpment – runs right through Limehouse. And although many parts of the trail go unused, Limehouse sees a LOT of visitors.
Get on the paths and view old lime and draw kilns as well as remains of an old train station and a one-lane car bridge. Go deep into the caves and crevices and feel the temperature drop slightly as you explore the Hole in the Wall feature of the Bruce Trail. You can bike on designated trails as well and as always, careful of the footing. Depending on the season and weather, rock surfaces may be slippery.
Short Hills Provincial Park
This park is a perfect example of why going off the beaten path has huge benefits. Located about an hour south of Toronto, near St. Catharines, Ontario, Short Hills is a provincial park that often gets overlooked. Sedimentary deposits and glacial till once filled the valley this beauty is located on until Twelve Mile Creek sliced through, forming the “Short Hills.”
Horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking and of course, hiking are all popular here. If you’re lucky, spot white-tailed deer among the southern plants. Otherwise, enjoy the natural, graceful rolling terrain and several waterfalls, including the inspiring Swayze Falls.
About two hours south of Toronto, along the coast of Lake Erie, is an oasis that fascinates both adults and kids alike. A fully functioning provincial park with everything from car camping and birding to comfort stations and picnic tables, Rock Point has plenty to experience.
For starters, enjoy a gorgeous two-kilometre hiking trail, lay down a towel on the beautiful kilometre-long sandy beach and view sand dunes from an elevated viewing platform. Come in the fall and watch the monarch butterfly migration. During your visit, make sure to look down. Embedded in the limestone shelf along the beach, you can feel history through your fingers. View and even pick up exposed fossils of a coral reef dating back 350 million years!
With hilly Walton Street lined with Canadian flags, Port Hope is easily one of the most proudly patriotic towns in Ontario. Ironically, because of slow growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Port Hope’s original architecture was never demolished in the name of progress. That said, this spectacular small town has over 270 heritage-designated buildings and has a higher per capita rate of preservation than any other town in the country. It’s no wonder that Port Hope is celebrated as the best-preserved 19th century streetscape in the province!
With a lakefront boardwalk trail, beaches, plenty of amazing restaurants and cafes and a downtown farmers market, you can spend the day in Port Hope and enjoy every second. Every April, the “Float Your Fanny Down the Ganny” event goes down. A 10km river race along the Ganaraska River to commemorate the historic floods that have affected the town, participants range from serious paddlers to ‘crazy craft’ paddlers using whatever materials they can to float down the river and reach the finish line.
At night, enjoy a show at the legendary Capitol Theatre, Canada’s last functioning atmospheric theatre complete with an auditorium styled after an outdoor medieval courtyard with rolling clouds projected onto the ceiling. Or go old-school at the Port Hope Drive-In. Built in 1952, it’s among the oldest drive-ins still operating in Canada.
Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail
Muskoka is often the primary destination for Torontonians looking to get away and take in nature. For good reason, Muskoka is a gorgeous part of the province, two hours north, that offers a quick getaway from the big city. But one place that gets overlooked is the Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail located in Muskoka Lakes.
Known locally as a beautiful scenic lookout, the bedrock located here is over 4.5 billion years old, making it some of the oldest rock on the planet. Thanks to donations of land from adjacent landowners, a 120 acre park has been opened, allowing for public access to enjoy the incredibly unusual and rugged terrain and of course, the sprawling horizon, including beautiful blue Lake Muskoka in the distance.
Rockwood Conservation Area
What do you get when you combine glacial caves and potholes, towering limestone cliffs, historic ruins and a full on beach fun for the whole fam jam? You get Rockwood, an incredible conservation area that combines history, water and fun in the sun. Rent a canoe or hike both sides of the Eramosa River and see it all for yourself.
Over 65,000 people visit this quick haven each year and thanks to the park’s unique setting and rustic ruins, it’s often used for television shows, movies and photography shoots.
Along with having some of the oldest dated tress in Ontario, Rockwood is also home to a 12-cave network system, over 200 potholes – known as giant’s kettles – that vary in size and glacial bluffs that range from 30 meters deep and 200 meters wide.
Nottawasaga Nature Reserve
In the 1930s, the White Trillium became Ontario’s official floral emblem. Although it blooms in the spring and early summer, this bad boy is tough to locate. Until now. The Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve is located about two north of Toronto and as it were, is home to some incredible trails that lead you through some of the most spectacular displays of Trilliums anywhere.
Lush forest, unreal bluffs and magnificent views of Georgian Bay await you. Hop on the 8.4 kilometre “there and back” hike or mix it up and explore the Singhampton Side Trail and Standing Rocks + Caves Side Trail. There, you’ll find yourself surrounded at every turn by monumental rocks that not only make you feel small in comparison but give you a much needed dose of perspective. A perspective that only nature can provide.
Fun fact: Lion’s Head is located on the 45th parallel north, which means it’s halfway between the Equator and the North Pole! To get here, head three hours north of Toronto, and enter a new world. For a small and quiet seaside town, Lion’s Head is loaded with activities.
Take it easy on the beach or enjoy a self-guided visit to Grieg’s Caves, a series of 10 limestone caves that take you up, down and around the Escarpment with views of Georgian Bay. Take a Bruce Peninsula Boat Cruise and explore the turquoise water up close or take your adventure to the lookout. Up to you, really.
From a distance, the 400 million year old exposed bedrock formations are said to resemble the profile of a lion. Besides being home to ancient white cedar trees and rare plant species, the 200-foot cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment, including those at Lion’s Head, support one of the most ancient and least disturbed forest ecosystems in North America. That said, wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes and please remember that the natural features are vulnerable and easily damaged. Enjoy jaw-dropping views White Bluff, Cape Chin, Cabot Head and of course, beautifully blue Georgian Bay.
There you have it. Here’s a map. Get to it!
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!