Did you know that Ontario is 1.076 million km² large? And yet somehow we all go to the same places when escaping the city – PEC, Niagara, Sauble Beach – and there is nothing wrong with that, those are some of my favourite places as well. But here is the thing: these are small towns, not always well equipped to deal with an overwhelming volume of tourism. Last year many of these beaches had to close to avoid overcrowding and regions like PEC were rattled by a human earthquake. The stress can be eased if more of us travel on weekdays but there is also the rest of Ontario which we can, and should explore.
To share some ideas for alternative road trip destinations I’ve reached out to the travel blogging community and added a couple of their suggestions, let’s dive in!
The town of Elora
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down international travel, I was devastated like every other in the Travel and Tourism space. It took a while to accept that I won’t be able to travel again for the foreseeable future. That said, closing the borders opened up possibilities for exploring more of my own backyard. What a blessing in disguise!
One of the cutest little villages in rural Ontario is Elora. It’s located along the Grand River, and at about 90 minutes, it’s a charming destination for a day trip from Toronto. One of the famous Group of Seven painters, A.J. Casson, called Elora “Ontario’s Most Beautiful Village.”
There are tons of things to do in Elora. If you love the outdoors, there are parks and extreme activities like river tubing and zip-lining while hiking in the beautiful Elora Gorge will make you one with nature. There are tons of authentic, original mom-and-pop shops, with numerous places to eat, from fine dining to cute cafes. Elora also has several art galleries, or you can make your own art at one of the many classes. While the borders remain closed or even when they open up again, be sure to spend a day in Elora!
by Kevin Wagar
Adventure Family Travel Writer
Lanark County is a region of Ontario that often falls far under the radar of domestic travelers. But this little slice of heaven, which sits just underneath the Ottawa Valley, is an absolute gem for local adventures in the province. Not only is Lanark County home to the town of Perth, Ontario, which is one of the prettiest small towns in Ontario. But it’s also home to some of the most delicious craft chocolate makers in the country. Treat yourself to world-class cocoa treats at Hummingbird Chocolate Maker in Almonte or delectable truffles in Perth. And you can enjoy them at one of the province’s luxury houseboat experiences, Le Boat. These rentals, which launch out of the town of Smiths Falls, let you cruise the gorgeous Rideau Canal from Ottawa down to Kingston and back through some of Ontario’s most beautiful waterways. Lanark County won’t be a secret for much longer. So enjoy it before the word gets out. More on the tour here.
Grand Bend is a lovely waterfront community spanning 10km of sandy beach along the shores of Lake Huron. The region offers a wide range of activities including small local eateries, forest hikes (38km of trails), sandy dunes, an obscene number of bird varietals, water sports, parasailing, art, and live music.
Huron County’s terroir is also an emerging wine region, with a large selection of breweries and a couple of cideries — here is a map to follow. The beach is split in two: the larger portion, appropriately referred to as Main Beach, and a quieter location on the South Beach end. [Cover image, courtesy of Ontario Blue Coast]
Plympton-Wyoming & surrounding region
This is the area outside of Sarnia, towards and around Plympton-Wyoming. At first glance, it’s just stunning farmland, but what makes this area particularly special is its coast. Starting from Murphy Road Beach and following the route along Lake Huron you will come across a wide variety of beaches, and conservation areas like Brights Grove Beach, Windcliff Lane Beach, and waterfalls in the Rock Glen Falls conservation area.
This is a place where you come to relax and listen to the wind brush against the grass while wild rabbits frolic through the fields. This is also where you come to try new breweries: directly in the town of Plympton-Wyoming is Stonepicker Brewing Company, a short drive away in the lovely small town of Petrolia is Black Gold Brewing, and a whole cluster of them can be found in Sarnia. More on the brewery route here. I have now visited the region twice, mostly because of one fantastic AirBnB, but the serene environment and country drives are an inspiration for future visits.
Village of Bayfield
This one is on my personal travel to-do list. Specifically, because I like lighthouses, and the Folmar Windmill just outside the village looks like one worth a drive, and perhaps a picnic. For the adventurous kind, there is Lake Wake & Eco Park.
Village of Bayfield is a quaint small town naturally showcasing a lovely range of local shops, parks, art galleries, and restaurants. When it comes to additional activities visitors can explore nearby beaches and hiking trails. There are two very nice hotels to accommodate your stay: The Ashwood Inn* (lovely terrace, close to the beach) and The Little Inn of Bayfield* (promises exceptional culinary experiences).