Summer in Ontario. Let’s be honest – at first that doesn’t seem like the most enticing phrase. Sure there’s downtown Toronto and Niagara Falls for the tourists to enjoy, but for us ‘Ontarian’ locals, summers can get pretty boring and humid. All the fun activities and music festivals available in the big cities can really start to hurt the pocket, and sometimes travelling somewhere else just isn’t an option. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of a few amazing local (relatively inexpensive) Ontario getaways that you can do anytime! Make your weekends count this summer, and check out these fun and unique excursions.
1. Thunder Bay and The Big, Beautiful North
Let’s start with the furthest and most adventurous option on the road-trip agenda. A 14 hour drive from Toronto proper, this pristine Canadian city landmark is near Ontario’s most Northern point. Although the distance is a bit gruelling, it’s worth it. An adventure awaits you as you stroll through the historic downtown, take a hike up Mount McKay for amazing views, and enjoy the untouched natural beauty and fresh air at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. More like Thunder Bae, amirite? (I’m sorry, I had to).
2. Thousand Islands and Gananoque
Just a couple hours East of the GTA is the adorable limestone peninsula known as “Thousand Islands.” It’s called that because of the many small “islands” that are dispersed amongst the US/Canadian border. If you’re an avid cottage goer, a weekend stay here is a perfect and tranquil getaway where you can do all the seadooing, barbecuing, fishing and tanning your heart desires. Some interesting attractions include the quaint town of Gananoque where you can get a yummy meal at the famous inn, and the Thousand Islands boat tour which takes you to see Boldt Castle located on one of the American islands (don’t forget your passport)!
3. The McMichael Gallery
For art and culture lovers, a short drive from Toronto just outside of the GTA to Kleinburg brings you to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. This gallery is a small and little-known gem that lets you take a break from the city life and step into the world of rural Canadian art, exploring works from The Group of Seven and many Aboriginal artists. Surrounded by lush nature, you can also check out a local nearby park and eat in the gallery’s cafe. It’s a leisurely and pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and not a whole lot of driving is required.
Everyone knows Niagara for its falls, but just outside the touristy core lies the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Discover some of Canada’s best wines from the Niagara region, and spend the day winery hopping and strolling through the lush vineyards on one of the famous wine tours. If you’re not much of a drinker, you can still try any of the fantastic restaurants in the city of Niagara-on-the-Lake and spend the afternoon strolling and shopping your way through the historic and beautiful little town.
5. Flowerpot Island on the Bruce Peninsula
This spot is becoming increasingly popular amongst Ontario locals, and it’s easy to see why. With water so blue, you might think you were in a tropical destination but it’s only a 4 hour drive northwest of Toronto in the Municipality of Tobermory. Check out the stunning blue rocky beaches and underwater shipwreck in the Bruce Peninsula National Park, and take a kayak or boat tour past the iconic natural rock sculpture known as Flowerpot Island. This is a perfect weekend getaway for beaching, swimming, and enjoying the fresh air.
6. Big Apple
About an hour East of Toronto in Colborne lies the iconic Big Apple (you know, the one with the ominous smiling face that we all see from the 401 and wonder about but never actually visit). Turns out, it’s a pretty cool little place. Inside the Big Apple, you can buy some delicious pies, but it’s much more than that. You can also see in real time how the iconic apple pies are made, there’s an extensive gift shop, and on the surrounding property there’s a petting zoo and mini-golf course.
7. Albion Falls
Although it seems like there isn’t much to see west of the city (and for the most part, there isn’t), the greater Hamilton area is on the Niagara escarpment and known for its many stunning waterfalls. One of the most remarkable of the Hamilton waterfall tour, is the cascading Albion falls. The falls can be found at the south-end of King’s Forest Park, where you can spend the day hiking, eating, and enjoying the nature as well.
8. Bluffers Beach
This is one of the few excursions which is actually within the GTA. Given the natural beauty of the Scarborough Bluffs you would think it would take hours of driving to get there, but the conversation park is located on the East end of the city. Spend the day hanging out at the blue beach, or take a hike up one of the trails along the Bluffs for amazing views and Instagram photo opps. You’ll love it there, not even BLUFFing! (get it?..)
9. Humber Bay Park
On the West end of the GTA, along the lakeshore area which borders Mississauga, you can find Humber Bay Park. Right on Lake Ontario, this park features a bike trail which can take you all the way to the downtown core along with a butterfly conservatory, rocky beaches, and many spots to sit and have a summer picnic or hangout with friends. Not to mention, you get some pretty great views of the Toronto skyline. Humber Bay Park is the perfect place to laze away a weekend in Toronto, while avoiding the downtown core.