(This weekend getaways in Ontario post was updated on June 26, 2023.)
What started as a pandemic pivot for my travel writing has turned into a passion project that continues to chronicle some of Ontario’s best road trips. This new Weekend Getaways in Ontario post will not only relieve some of the lags you may have experienced accessing my original Road Trips from Toronto post that had grown much too big for a single blog post, but it will also serve as a hub for getaways that aren’t based solely on proximity from The Big Smoke.
Be sure to not only bookmark this blog post — and refresh the page/clear your cache in case there’s new content since your last visit — but also visit my Day Trips from Toronto post if you’re just looking for easy, family-friendly trips close to the Toronto area. If you’d also like to follow along in real time, I’ve got “GTA Stuff,” “Outdoorsy” and “Travel” highlight reels on my Instagram profile where I always post highlights from our adventures.
The Ontario weekend getaways featured in this post may be within easy driving distance from GTA (where I live) or it may be worth a train or plane ride — that’ll be up to you and how much time (and patience) you have. So, bust out those homegrown dollars and take advantage of the new Ontario Staycation Tax Credit that allows you to deduct up to $2,000 per family for any hotel stay in Ontario this year*.
Here are 9 awesome weekend getaways in Ontario waiting for you to discover (so far):
Niagara Falls weekend getaway.
Algonquin Park weekend getaway.
Grey County weekend getaway.
Grand Bend weekend getaway.
Clarington weekend getaway.
Haliburton weekend getaway.
Elora & Fergus weekend getaway.
Ottawa weekend getaway.
Tobermory weekend getaway.
Weekend Getaways in Ontario: trip 1
Where this weekend getaway in Ontario will take you: the Niagara region
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Niagara:
Of course I’m starting with Niagara. It’s a classic! It’s on bucket lists around the globe! And it never gets old. Plus, there’s a whole lot more to do in the Niagara region that just Niagara Falls.
I’m going to go mostly “tip to tail” for this Ontario weekend getaway; that is, after I kick it off over in St. Catharines, which isn’t Niagara proper but it does have beautiful Port Dalhousie and a really fun way of seeing it. Then I’ll move over to Niagara-on-the-Lake and head south in a nearly straight line to Niagara Falls. If you have the time and interest, I’ve popped something from the Niagara region that’s an hour away from most of these sites and attractions into the list.
Please keep in mind that the Hamilton-Brantford day trip itinerary in my road trips from Toronto post also has some Niagara region options in it, too, so you could mix and match these two maps. (Because, boy oh boy, are those Painted Ladies in Grimsby worth seeing.) And if you’re comfortable braving Clifton Hill and some of Niagara’s indoor attractions, here’s a big list of things to do in Niagara with kids. Just note that there may be some overlap with what’s listed here.
Important parking information! The thing with Niagara is that parking can be (a) hard to find and (b) crazy expensive. If you’re opting to cycle the Recreation Trail (see later bullet), there are quite a few free parking lots in Niagara-on-the-Lake; I’ve pinned a couple on the map but there’s also one just a hair north of McFarland House or you can park for free on just about any side street in NOTL for up to 12 hours (as long as it doesn’t have a paid parking sign on it). However, if you’re thinking of driving from one attraction to the next, you’re going to pay one billion dollars to park over and over all the way down to the Falls. Your best bet would be to park in the Bird Kingdom lot — which is the cheapest option in the heavily touristy Niagara Falls core — and use the WEGO bus that runs up and down the NOTL/Falls “strip” and stops at MANY convenient locations.
But…if you’re cycling — Peller Estates has a huge, free parking lot and is a quick, easy ride to the Niagara River Recreation Trail. We planned our day around having a late lunch back at Peller Estates so I didn’t feel even a little guilty about using its parking lot. And I certainly recommend this to anyone because our lunch was awesome! Peller has an enormous patio at the back of the estate, which overlooks the vineyard. The food was excellent and both the cocktails, mocktails and local Gretzky beer earned rave reviews from all four of us.
- Kicking things off in Port Dalhousie (that’s “da-LOU-zee” not “DAHL-house-ee”!). Combine a beautiful, historical guided tour of this part of the Niagara region with the fun and adventure of Segwaying! Niagara Segway offers one- and two-hour tours of both Port Dalhousie and the Welland Canal — complete with a training session if you’ve never been on a Segway before. Welcoming those 12+ who are comfortable driving their own Segways, you’ll get a fully guided experience on a well-maintained vehicle. We really enjoyed learning more about the Welland Canal’s origins and skirting across bridges and through the marina. We even got to Segway at the beach and found a hidden carousel that’s still in operation! Use the code “MGSEG” at the checkout to get $8 off per person
- About that bike ride… If you do decide to cycle from NOTL to the Horseshoe Falls, please note that it can be very hilly and challenging in spots (cough, cough — Queenston Heights). We all managed but it is, bar none, the toughest ride we’ve all done and marks the first time my thighs burned with lactic acid for two days. But the ride is so worth the effort, meandering through the stunning properties that back onto the river, fruit stands, wineries and so much green. When you reach the Queenston-Lewiston bridge and realize it’s the first time you’ve been UNDER it, that’s your queue that the Falls are near. We hopped up on the sidewalk once we were on the busiest stretch of the Niagara Parkway because it just seemed a lot safer with the kids; and we weren’t the only ones — many adults without kids in tow were doing the same thing. I think we did about 50km roundtrip, so this is not just a leisurely ride. You’re going to need gears in good working order for this ride!
- Grab some nosh. Before you leave St. Catharines, you absolutely must have ice cream at Hometown Ice Cream! It’s in a random, nondescript plaza and you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it. I beg you: look for it. Once you’re in NOTL, Treadwell Bakery (122 Queen St, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON) is the brainchild of nearby Treadwell Cuisine, which is my favourite restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The bakery lives up to the hype and I’ve literally never had anything from there I haven’t loved — and I’ve visited numerous times. Their commitment to freshness and a farm-to-table sensibility shines through beautifully at the bakery where you can eat for far, far less than you will at the restaurant
- Come for the important memorial, stay for the ghosts. We heard about the Voices of Freedom Memorial from my friend Yashy at Parenting To Go and decided to check it out. It commemorates the silenced and forgotten stories of people of African descent — whether enslaved, freed or free — and recognizes their sacrifices, labour, skills, talents and contributions to the development of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s got a lovely pathway that leads to a garden intended for silence and reflection, and the entire space marries historical narrative with a permanent art installation of steel figures. As I was reading aloud to give my kids context, they started up the path. They hadn’t gone 10 feet when Miss Q turned around and bolted toward me. “Mom, did you see her?” See who, I asked, because we were the only ones there. She described what can only be a paranormal event, with an older Black woman embracing her in a protective, warm, grandmotherly way. It was just for a brief moment, but she could describe the way she looked and felt with quite a bit of detail. Neither of my kids has ever had an encounter with a spirit before, so this was pretty neat and less creepy than perhaps it reads here. And that it happened in NOTL doesn’t surprise me in the least since it’s often called Canada’s most haunted town!
- This is a must-do picnic — at McFarland House. The gourmet “Picnic in the Park” lunches available are ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! Plan to be here at lunch time to pick up your beautiful lunch, all packed in a reusable cooler that you get to keep. It’s $76.99 per basket, which comes with two servings each of: egg salad sandwiches, tuna salad sandwiches, oven-roasted turkey sandwiches, and cucumber and herb cream cheese sandwiches; then there are also two massive freshly baked scones that come with local jams and whipped butter; a whole bunch of homemade miniature pastries and/or cookies; a big serving of seasonal fresh fruit (ours had Niagara peaches, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and grapes); plus two beverages — we chose the freshly made lemonade and a house-blended lavender Earl Grey tea. This is supposed to be a “picnic for two” but my kids and I were quite satisfied sharing it. We grabbed a blanket from the car and popped down right beside this historical home that was built in the year 1800. There are nearby picnic tables and a small park, and it all sits right along the Niagara River Recreation Trail, too
- Go back in time — to the Laura Secord Homestead. Tell your kids about the War of 1812 while you show them where the brave Laura Secord lived at the time she made the 32km walk to warn the British of the U.S.’s impending attack
- Visit the home of Toronto’s first mayor. William Lyon Mackenzie’s printery is an historical site now, and although we didn’t go inside the Mackenzie Printery, we were riding past it and stopped to learn more about this beautiful property perched at the top of Queenston Street. This was home to The Colonial Advocate (a weekly political journal that started here in 1824), which helped Mackenzie become an important figure in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837
- Get some local produce. There are quite a few market stands all along the Niagara River Recreation Trail, and if you’re riding your bike, you could attach your new cooler from your Picnic in the Park lunch to your bike rack and grab some Niagara peaches or whatever happens to be in season when you visit. We hit up the Van de Laar Orchards road-side kiosk on our way home and the peaches were half gone by the time we got back home. So good!
- While away the time with some flowers. Did you know there’s a Floral Clock in Niagara? In the 43 years I’ve been making at least an annual pilgrimage to the area, I had never heard of it until our day trip. What a neat spot. Just off the Niagara Parkway near a huge OPG hydro-electric power plant, the Floral Clock changes twice a year and features as many as 16,000 plants on its big face. Be sure to stay for the loud chime — it goes off every quarter hour
- Climb away. I’ve been wanting to try the WildPlay Niagara Falls Whirlpool Adventure Course for a while, and — WHOA — even the smaller kids’ course is pretty high off the ground and nerve-wracking! We appreciated the timed entry, sanitation protocols and that parking here is included if you’ve paid to climb. We didn’t try it, but part of the bigger course actually overlooks the Niagara gorge, which would be terrifyingly awesome
- Take a ride from side to side. Soaring over the Niagara gorge, the Whirlpool Aero Car will take you from one side of the gorge to the other (right to the Whirlpool Adventure Course, actually). This antique, suspended cable car has been taking guests across this spectacular expanse since 1916 and provides a bird’s-eye view of the Class 6 rapids below. My kids love knowing that although they’re going from one Canadian point to another that we technically cross the U.S. border during the journey — no passports required
- Do the White Water Walk. We love, love, love this self-guided nature walk, which puts you within mere feet of those Class 6 white-water rapids you could see swirling from above on the Aero Car. There are several points along the way where you can learn about the geology of the Niagara Gorge and its plant and animal life, too
- Get into the mist. Remember Maid of the Mist? Well, it’s not called that anymore. Now it’s Hornblower Niagara Cruises. With timed entries and running at less than 15 per cent of its total capacity to ensure guests can physically distance throughout the boat ride, Hornblower is doing an outstanding job of making guests feel safe. Even our elevator ride was reserved just for my kids and me. It had been so many years since we’d taken a ride into the Horseshoe Falls that my kids didn’t even remember it (not a surprise since Miss Q was still in a baby carrier at the time). I’m not sure there’s anything better as a parent than re-living an experience through your child’s eyes — so it was like another first for all of us. If you want a snapshot of what this 20-minute ride into the mist is like, along with some of my top tips, check out the video I made during our visit:
- Stand at my favourite spot in Niagara Falls. Table Rock. Named for a long, flat slab of rock that juts out from the top of the gorge wall of the Horseshoe Falls — which partially collapsed in 1818 — this is, for me, the most mesmerizing place from which to watch all that water flow over the side of the Falls. It’s almost hypnotic if you stand and stare long enough, and I feel cheated if I don’t get at least five solid minutes to do just that when we visit
- Patio dining with a view. Hit up Queen Victoria Place Restaurant for lunch or dinner and ask for patio seating along the railing for the best views of both the American and Canadian Falls. My kids devoured the milkshakes and Miss Q’s pizza bites were so yummy I wished they were an app on the adult menu. The K Man raved about his Caesar salad and I inhaled the soup of the day and a fabulous burger. I’d skip dessert here, though — it’s really hit and miss
- Wander the Dufferin Islands. WOW — we simply loved this little collection of “islands” connected by bridges and paths. I only discovered this hidden gem when I was creating our day trip map and happened to scroll past the Horseshoe Falls to see if we should keep biking the Recreation Trail. There are waterfalls, lots of wildlife and a serenity that you won’t find elsewhere on the main Niagara strip. With 10 acres to explore, you could easily grab your picnic lunch from McFarland House and drive down to the Dufferin Islands to eat. It’s $20 to park here and only about a 20-minute walk to the Horseshoe Falls, so this is another “cheaper” parking option, too
- Booze up. OK, OK, so Wayne Gretzky Estates isn’t exactly family-friendly but I have to give it a shout-out because it’s the home of my favourite coffee pairing — Canadian Cream Whisky. It’s the same price here as the LCBO, but at least here you can also layer on a tasting
- Are you Ostrich crazy? Then perhaps a visit to Ostrich Land Ontario is for you. It’s truly in the middle of nowhere and isn’t so fabulous that I’d ever suggest a special trip just for this place, but if the idea of feeding baby ostriches and big, teenage ostriches, and learning everything you ever wanted to know about ostrich oil seems like your jam, this could be a fun add-on. My kids and I didn’t like seeing animals like bunnies and ducks in small cages, but the ostriches seem to have a fair amount of space to roam. Many parts of this place could use some serious TLC — like the tables and chairs where you’re invited to stay and have a bring-your-own picnic lunch, for example — and I certainly wouldn’t be keen on sitting in the cramped space with a bunch of strangers, where the tour begins with a video, but if you’re there just to get close to ostriches, that part is definitely the best
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 2
Where this weekend getaway in Ontario will take you: Algonquin Park
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
- Even if you’ve never gone camping — much less a canoe trip that takes you to a remote camping site — an Algonquin Park canoe trip with Wild Adventures Canada is a must-try. Think of it as roughing it, with frills. Yes, it’s camping but it’s camping with a knowledgeable, capable guide who will bring all of the gear and equipment you need (right down to the sleeping bags!), food and water, fishing stuff and more. You’ll use canoes provided by the company and get a quick tutorial on how to canoe if you’ve never done that before either. Then you’ll spend time finding just the right island to set up camp, eating under the stars, heading out on moose-watching excursions, hiking, fishing — or basically anything you tell your guide you’d like to do within the timeframe you have. This is like camping with an onsite concierge and it’s my kids’ favourite way to camp, bar none!
- If, however, you’re looking for a romantic getaway in Ontario, there’s Couples Resort on Galeairy Lake — an adult-only, almost-all-inclusive resort in Whitney, which is very close to the Algonquin Provincial Park East Gate. Your stay comes with an Algonquin Park Pass and use of the resort’s motor boats (two for those with boat licenses and two for those without), canoes and kayaks, bikes (they even have one XL frame!), in-ground pool and two meals daily served to your room. I’ll eventually have a feature-length review about Couples Resort on the blog, but for now, here’s what I think is important for you to know before you book:
- THE GOOD — the rooms are huge! We were in a master’s suite and had more space than we knew what to do with. Every room has its own wood-burning fireplace (and unlimited wood to use) and balcony hot tub. These were, without a doubt, the two features we loved most about Couples Resort. The outdoor pool is heated to 82F year-round (not warm enough for me on a cool day but I’m a princess). One of the owners is an artist and she has a studio and small gallery onsite that’s worth a visit; very Group of Seven-inspired and perfect amidst the Algonquin landscape. It’s super-cool that there are motor boats available for people who don’t have boat licenses, and you get 90 minutes of free boat time during your stay. There’s a steamer built into the shower — love that. Every single gratuity is included, from housekeeping to serving/room service staff to spa attendants; this is unusual in Ontario but very welcome! Absolutely wonderful for complete unplugging because you don’t have to leave if you don’t want to. We spent hours in and out of the hot tub, drinking wine and making fires in the middle of the day, just because we could
- THE GAFFE — the resort is billed as five-star luxury, but it is definitely not and you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. The decor is quite dated (think Niagara Falls strip circa 1983 meets Woodbridge mafia); the mob boss vibes are strong. It could be a pandemic thing, because people whose foodie opinions I trust told me how amazing the food would be, but we found the food here hit and miss; some dishes were portioned well and full of flavour and creativity while others were strangely small and not plated nicely or devoid of anything noteworthy. The spa experiences were nothing special, unfortunately. There is only one RMT on staff (so if you need a receipt, be sure that you request him specifically) and he’s a lovely guy but we didn’t have the kind of massage you’d expect at a resort in this price bracket
- Only about 25 minutes from Algonquin Park is Barry’s Bay, which is worth a detour or en route stop just for a coffee at the Madawaska Coffee Co. Cafe and some pierogi poutine from Polka Spudz! They’re within easy walking distance of each other and were such a highlight of our most recent visit to the Algonquin Park area. The mochas we ordered at the cafe were outstanding (like, shockingly amazing considering it was a random visit to such a small town) and homemade pierogi by a Polish couple who turn them into poutine with huge cheese curds and wonderful gravy is the thing foodie dreams are made of!
- Closer to Algonquin itself — and just around the corner from Couples Resort — The Mad Musher restaurant is a Whitney staple and has decent food if you’re on the hunt for something casual. But there’s also a fantastic chip truck that isn’t even listed in Google Maps so I had to add it myself to the map above, and that’s Avery’s Chip Truck, in the parking lot of Opeongo Outfitters. We had the daily special (chilli cheese fries) and it was so, so good, inexpensive and the portions are massive
- If you aren’t visiting the area with Wild Adventures Canada or Couples Resort and you need to rent camping equipment or canoes and such, pop into Opeongo Outfitters while you’re waiting for your chilli cheese fries because the rental prices are insanely good. I’m talking like $20 for a canoe for a week! We haven’t personally used their stuff but I was definitely drawn to the prices
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 3
Where this weekend getaway in Ontario will take you: Grey County
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Grey County:
We’ve been visiting Grey County and Collingwood for many years, and we still haven’t uncovered every stone. This outdoor paradise covers a lot of ground! I’ve done both girlfriend getaways in Grey County and romantic escapes, but it’s also super family-friendly. However, we made Grey County our first kid-free overnighter last summer since the you-know-what started and, as usual, it provided opportunities to get active, relax and — my favourite — EAT.
- I’ve had the incredible pleasure of being treated to a tasting menu by Chef Zach Keeshig before. It ranked as one of my top 10 favourite meals of all time, but his Indigenous-inspired nine-course tasting dinner this time around — which is available through October at just $100 per person, plus gratuity — usurped it. This rising culinary star, who studied under Chef Michael Stadtlander, forages or grows much of what you’ll eat during one of these intimate dinners hosted at Riverstone Retreat. Taking on Stadtlander’s idea of forest dining, depending on the weather, you may dine outdoors along the Saugeen River near a clay oven built by puppeteer squatters (I could not make this stuff up!) who used to roam the property when the previous owners ran Riverstone. Or you may find yourself among a few physically distanced tables in the EcoNest, a charming little two-storey cottage that sits isolated on the 136-acre property. Made of straw, clay and water using construction techniques dating back 1,000 years in Europe, the structure is the first-of-its-kind that’s been built in Canada. Between Chef Zach’s storytelling, intricate and thoughtful plating and unique approach to cooking, you’ll find yourself wondering why there isn’t a film crew from Chef’s Table at your dinner. Each of the nine courses was tastebud heaven, but I have to make a special mention of the duck egg yolk ice cream with sweetgrass, dusted in a carmelized chocolate crumb. I’ve eaten a few desserts in my time (just a few…) and this is a very, very special standout. In any fine dining restaurant, this dessert alone would be $20. And it would be worth it. Please do yourself a favour and try to book this tasting dinner while it’s still available. All proceeds benefit Elephant Thoughts, a registered Canadian charity (see the next bullet!)
- Riverstone Retreat is a spectacular eco-property. Perfect for weddings or family reunions during “normal times,” there’s enough room for a group to host 120 guests in everything from basic campsite accommodations to a luxe timber stone house with seven bedrooms. The catch is you have to book the entire property. Aside from the riverside views, gardens, hiking trails, sanctuary-like spaces such as the stone labyrinth and features like an outdoor wood-burning sauna, Riverstone is more than just a beautiful place to spend time in nature; it actually provides charitable funding for Elephant Thoughts — founded in 2002 by a group of teachers, principals and professional educators — which helps teachers create sustainable change in education, both among its 100 Indigenous school communities here in Canada and around the world. From its Child Freedom Project to the Kimbercote School in Nature and beyond, this charity does amazing work. We got to stay in one of the two onsite Cabooses! Though I don’t recommend these kitschy self-contained units for tall people, the average family of four with younger kids will find it perfectly suitable. Big B couldn’t stand completely upright inside and I was the entire length of the bunk beds in the back (did railroad engineers have height restrictions in their job description knowing how small their beds would be?!), but it didn’t matter because WE SLEPT IN A CABOOSE, y’all!
- Nearby Thornbury is a foodie goldmine. I recommend stops at the Thornbury Bakery Cafe for beautiful baked goods (including cinnamon buns that would make Princess Leia jealous) or a hearty breakfast; The Cheese Gallery for a huge selection of gourmet cheeses and charcuterie accompaniments, plus gorgeous sourdough baguettes that sell out every day; the Thornbury Village Cider and Brew House, which has a large patio currently set up where you can enjoy its beer or cider flights (the blood orange cider is my fave); and The Mill Cafe, which we’ve been to for both lunch and dinner and has a good amount of patio seating, provided you reserve it ahead of time
- We brought our bikes in anticipation of cycling the Georgian Trail from Meaford to Collingwood. At 34km each way, it would have been our biggest ride yet, and we were excited to really move since we were sans kids, but my body had other plans. Recovering from a migraine the day before, I simply couldn’t squeak out more than 20km. We started in Thornbury thanks to some free parking, which I’ve plotted on the Grey County day trip map above, and called it a day. Since it’s a rail trail, it’s mostly flat and though you do have to cross some busier roads, there wasn’t much road riding to stay on the trail — at least on the 20km stretch we completed. We’d definitely come back and try again another day
- If you’re in the area and love a good waterfall, Inglis Falls in Owen Sound is one of the prettiest waterfalls in Ontario and is the heart of the 200-hectare Inglis Falls Conservation Area. Its 59-foot cascade billows over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment with incredible power. You can check it out from a viewing platform or take on one of the hiking trails through the conservation area
- Some of my favourite things in Grey County (like downhill mountain biking at Blue Mountain) are closed this summer, but the Scenic Caves Nature Adventure is open for business! And you should take the whole family, because this is an attraction that my kids still talk about even though it’s been a few years since we visited with them — and not just because they loved running across the longest Suspension Bridge in Southern Ontario! As one of Canada’s 18 biosphere UNESCO sites, the reserve dates back a jaw-dropping 450 million years. Its network of hiking trails, caves and caverns provides hours of adventure (even if you don’t take the kids after all); make sure you get into the “Refrigerator Cave” while you’re there! Brrrrrrrr…
- On our way out of town, we didn’t want to head all the way back to Thornbury to grab a coffee. We found Highland Grounds on the map as we drove through a little spot called Flesherton. What a random little store with so many goodies! Not only did we get a delicious slice of home-baked lemon loaf and some yummy muffins along with our artisan-made coffees, but I also picked up a pound of coffee beans and some homemade marmalade, too!
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 4
Where this Ontario weekend getaway will take you: Grand Bend area
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Grand Bend:
If you do this as a day trip like we did, plan to arrive early and stay late — I’ll explain why below. But, better still: stay overnight and turn this into one of your most memorable weekend getaways in Ontario ever.
- Pinery Provincial Park has been all over the ‘gram this summer, but I won’t lie: it pushed the limits of what we could do in a single day and I wouldn’t do it again without staying overnight. With a three-hour one-way drive from where we live, it made for a pretty exhausting drive home. Was it worth it? HECK, YES. Just plan to get there early because Pinery is one of the more popular provincial parks in Ontario, and you don’t want to go all that way only to find out it’s full. We visited on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend and were advised to arrive before 11 a.m. Just to be safe, we got there at 9:30. Yep — we woke everyone up at 6:30 a.m. to get on the road! Success. And, considering we went on arguably one of the busiest weekends of the year, it didn’t feel crowded. There were times on narrow pathways that we had to turn our backs to others passing at the same time since we couldn’t stay six feet apart, but it only happened a few times. Even the beach had lots of space and most visitors were respectful. One of the best photo opps is on the Cedar Trail; but you need to take the 850-metre extension to find it. Once you reach the viewing platform for Lake Huron, get ready for a clear, blue water backdrop. We much preferred this trail to the Bittersweet Trail, which we did first, since it offered a wider path and more to see. Keep in mind that Pinery is absolutely MASSIVE, so you’ll need to park in two places if you want to do both of these trails (of course, I added them to the map above for you!). I’ve also pinned the location of the ice cream shop where you can get a scoop of “unicorn poop” — Miss Q was in heaven. We spent most of our day hanging out on Dog Beach, though, because the weather was amazing and I’m the only one in the family who can’t handle cold water (and, make no mistake, Lake Huron is c-c-COLD). And it’s too bad I’m a total wimp because it was soooo blue and clear and exactly the kind of lake water I’ll agree to otherwise. Parking Lot 1 for Dog Beach was pretty full so we drove on down to Parking Lot 2 and it had plenty of room. It’s then a quick walk to the beach, but I’d suggest turning right and heading back in the direction of parking lot 1 because the beach is flatter and sandier up that way. That said, I highly recommend bringing water shoes (at least for the kids) because it’s a very pebbled beach; the rocks are smooth overall but there are a lot of them. Next time, we’ll stay and watch the sunset from Dog Beach. Pinery is one of those parks we could revisit 15 times and still explore new ground — I will just spread those visits out over the course of a weekend next time
That’s it: the unicorn poop ice cream. Calorie-free, I’m sure. (Taken with the iPhone 11)
- Long before social bubbles in the early pandy days, I loved the energy of downtown Grand Bend. Right now, it’s still just too busy for me to visit on a weekend trip — but everyone is in a different stage of “getting back to normal,” so this might be right for you. Perhaps weekdays are different, which is why I left this on the map, but the Saturday we went for a day trip, we didn’t even park because the crowding was insane. I counted four masks as we drove up and down the strip and there was a very serious lack of physical distancing. This was in summer 2020 when there were no vaccines and I think I’d be more comfortable now. There are lots of places to eat along here, cute shops and there’s a public beach right at the end of the main drag (which was also very busy). Worth a quick drive to check it, especially if it’s a low-crowd kind of day.
- The Bad Apple Brewing Company Ltd is in a little Grand Bend-area town called Zurich; we happened upon it on our way to Bayfield and Big B is a sucker for craft brewers. It was the renovated century barn that caught my eye from the two-lane highway, and they even had a Patio Bar, beer garden and — get this — a licensed orchard!
- Bayfield Brewing Company & Public House wasn’t originally part of our plan for the day, but between my friend Solmaz from The Curious Creature telling me we had to head to Pioneer Park in Bayfield to watch the sunset and downtown Grand Bend looking too iffy for patio dining, we quickly changed gears. Not only is downtown Bayfield one of the most charming little spots in Ontario, it was also significantly — and I mean really, really significantly — more comfortable for pandemic times. Fewer throngs of people swarming the sidewalks, people respectfully moving away from each other as they passed one another, and just more peaceful. We managed to get the last available patio table, and dug into all kinds of yummies (have the Korean Fried Chicken and Public House Pierogies, but skip the Lobster Sliders if you’re expecting a lobster roll-worthy amount of seafood). I’ma give a special shout-out here to the Crunchy Chicken Buffalo sandwich, the Perch & Chips and the cocktails — I may have imbibed a little — which were all so good that my mouth is watering as I remember them and write this.
- Pioneer Park was just a hop, skip and jump away from the restaurant, and I suggest timing your dinner with sunset, because you don’t want to miss a drop of it. When National Geographic calls this sunset one of the 10 best on the planet, listen. You know, I’ve seen some pretty beautiful sunsets in my life, all over the world. But I’m with NatGeo on this one; it’s just staggeringly beautiful. When you arrive at the park, you’ll see about a dozen park benches, all facing the lake. This is great and all, but the money shot is down closer to the water, so walk to the “sunset lookout” area I’ve pinned on the map and you’ll find a lovely set of steps leading you down from the park to the edge of Lake Huron. There are three or four viewing platforms on the way down, each offering a unique vantage point from which to watch this spectacular sunset — keep going until you reach the last one, just one set of steps from the beach. There were quite a few people swimming as the sun went down, so bring your swimsuits and towels if you can handle the chill. We sat for an hour as the sky turned from vivid hues of yellows and oranges and danced into to reds and pinks, then blues and purples. This is the first time I’ve been nearly moved to tears by a sunset, and I’m so grateful I was able to witness that kind of perfection.
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 5
Where this Ontario weekend getaway will take you: Clarington (Courtice, Bowmanville, Hampton, Solina, Newcastle & Orono)
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Clarington:
Alright, you guys — this is where I live! And, more often than not, we forget to explore what’s right in front of us. In our case, we’re sharing some of our long-time faves alongside fun stuff we’ve just discovered these past two summers. I’ve lived here for 10 years and there’s still so much I haven’t seen or done. Dig in, because there’s a heap of things to do in Clarington.
- Clarington’s Waterfront Trail section has a lot of variety, a couple of hidden gems and lots of places you can park to make it as long or short as you like. Between the Bowmanville Off-Leash Dog Park parking lot in Bowmanville to Bondhead Parkette, across from the marina in Newcastle, this ride will take you along the Lake Ontario waterfront, through forested areas where you can go in search of a little gnome and fairy collection, on quiet side streets, across bridges and alongside ravines. We especially love riding up the Port of Newcastle road and then down Mill Street towards the lake; the century homes on Mill Street are gorgeous! Bondhead Parkette is a lovely spot to stop for a snack or picnic lunch. If your kids are older and/or you’re extremely comfortable with them on busier roads, you can continue east along Boulton Street from the Parkette and connect to Lakeshore Rd and find your way back to a quieter section of the Waterfront trail, but we’ve never tried it because it’s too busy for our liking.
- If you didn’t pack a picnic lunch, or you’d rather not go all the way to Bondhead Parkette, the Newcastle Marina is a fun stop. You can check out all of the boats, grab a packaged ice cream treat or even stay for lunch on their patio while the weather co-operates. The lunch menu is basic, but inexpensive and pretty good — and you can’t beat the scenery, with fishing boats coming and going, lots of geese and even swans if you’re lucky.
- We’ve gone to see the salmon swim upstream along the Bowmanville Creek before, which in and of itself is a pretty cool experience, but we found the Fish Ladder this year and that’s where the money shot is, baby! The K Man described it as a “salmon lobby” because there are sooooo many of them just chilling before they go make the plunge and jump up and into the waterfall pouring out of the dam to make it to the next section of the creek. This is very cool to watch and we sat on the rocks the other day for about 15 minutes and saw no less than a dozen fish successfully scale the waterfall. You’ve got to visit while the salmon are spawning — usually September and October. You can either park at the Bowmanville Creek south parking lot that I’ve pinned on the map and ride your bikes down (it’s paved) or you can turn down Roegnik Drive and park here if you want the closest spot from which to walk. Please note: if you put “Bowmanville Creek Fish Ladder” into Google Maps, you will drive to a retirement home parking lot. Instead, please use my map above and park in the spots I’ve mentioned.
- Archibald’s Orchard Estate & Winery – I was in university the first time I visited Archibald’s with my own parents. We didn’t pick apples together, though…we did a wine tasting and took home quite a few more samples. (Quality control is so important, right?) Ever since we had kids, apple picking at Archibald’s has been an autumn tradition. We love being able to drive right into the orchard and park near the apples that are ready to be picked, and we love that they encourage sampling while you pick! We’ve already picked Silkens (my kids’ new favourite variety), Cortland and Gala and those famous Honey Crisps are just about ready (don’t worry, Archibald’s doesn’t charge extra based on an apple’s trendiness). Make sure you hit the onsite market shop and get some treats before you leave; we are OBSESSED with the apple cider! Other must-haves include the sparking non-alcoholic “wines” safe for kids and those who are expecting — the apple raspberry is our kids’ favourite and we serve it in wine glasses so they can feel fancy. The homemade apple crisp is also incredible and everything made by a local chocolatier gets two thumbs up from all of us.
- Watson Farms PYO is fun for little ones during apple-picking season and has a great photo opp area with a little red tractor set up just as you go through the hay-lined lineup to pay for your bag. There’s a tractor on weekends that drives around the orchard, which you can ride just for fun but also let it take you farther out into less-picked areas where you won’t need a ladder to get some prime apples. Watson’s Honey Crisps are a slightly different variety and may be ready earlier than many of the other area orchards, but the real star to watch for next season is the new Rave apple. Honestly, it has ruined me for apples! I’ll still eat any variety in baked goods but for my raw apple-eating desires, it’s Rave or bust. They’re gone for this year since it was just a test crop but I already have their August 2021 public debut in my calendar.
- Pingle’s Farm Market always seems to have something fun planned, like the Pingle’s Picnic we enjoyed this summer, which was truly one of the most COVID-friendly ideas I saw come together. Just check out its website regularly for what’s coming next. If nothing else, you absolutely must drop into the Farm Market — amazing produce, excellent ready-made meals and frozen foods, beautiful jams and (my personal favourite) the yummiest-in-the-whole-world onion dip. Buy the kettle chips to go with them; you won’t be sorry.
- Tyrone Mill has been running since 1846 and has been the most consistent place to buy good-quality flour since mid-March. When I dove into crazy amounts of stress-baking, Tyrone Mill’s 10kg bag of all-purpose flour for $18 was my go-to. When I moved into sourdough, its organic flours (hard white bread flour, whole wheat, spelt and Ezekial) became pantry staples. And once I started making fresh pasta, I also added its durum semolina flour to my Tyrone Mill shopping list. Even if you’re not a baker, it’s pretty neat to visit a mill that’s been operating since before Canada’s confederation. The cinnamon doughnuts sell out for a reason so pay attention to Tyrone Mill’s hours and get there early.
- The Enniskillen General Store is even older than the mill, though not far away. It’s been around since 1840, making it one of Canada’s oldest general stores. There are now a few locations, but the one I’ve mapped is the original and it’s the one we like best. Truth be told, we’ve never gone here for anything but the Kawartha Dairy ice cream — and we go with very empty stomachs because even the BABY cone size is freaking enormous! If the weather’s nice, there’s a bench in front of the store and an area around the side near the parking lot with some tables under tree shade
- Looking for vegan ice cream instead? Sundae Funday in Bowmanville is AWESOME! They do a weekly soft-serve flavour and offer charcoal waffle cones, which I like even more than regular waffle cones. The consistency is like sorbet but the flavour was all-ice-cream-all-the-time!
- My memories of Darlington Provincial Park are…hazy. My friends and I camped there several times during high school and that’s about all I’ll say about that. So it was such a pleasure to explore this local gem of mine with Miss Q. We spent a wonderful girls’-day-out hiking all but one trail and had a picnic lunch by the beach (it was too cold to swim). We meandered through Golden Rod-laden trails that had swarms of Monarch butterflies and dragonflies dancing above, found orange-spotted Snap Dragons, watched a hummingbird scoot from flower to the flower, heard a falcon and too many tree frogs to count and — the best surprise of the day — discovered a pioneer cemetery and learned about the area’s first residents who came from New York State in the late 1700s. The trails are short and easy and perfect for little legs. Make sure you pick up a map from the main office, and if you have an Apple Watch with a compass, you may need to use it if you’re like me and terrible with direction!
- There are so many great spots to eat in Clarington, but we’re still only doing takeout or patio dining, so I’m leaving out some of our go-tos. Here’s where to eat in Clarington when you’re trying to do the same:
- Food Truck Alley in Solina is one of our favourites because we can all get something different. I love the oxtail stew from King’s Finest Food; The K Man says the poutine from one of the newer trucks is the best-ever; Miss Q goes crazy for the quesadillas from Cantina’s Mexicano; and Big B likes just about everything from both Cascone’s and Opa’z
- Mito Sushi and Sushiholic are, hands down, the best sushi restaurants we have in all of Clarington. I know this because I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all. Even as a takeout option, they travel well all the way home and I purposely order extra to keep in the fridge overnight to have for lunch the next day (but keep in mind that you shouldn’t keep sushi in the fridge for more than 24 hours)https://mommygearest.com/road-trips-from-toronto/
- The Bittmore Tap & Grill has our favourite wings in town (honey-hot forever!), and we’ve even had luck ordering our beloved fried pickles and getting them home without too much condensation from takeout packaging messing with their crispiness. Miss Q, without fail, orders the cheese cappalletti every.single.time.
- If you love Polish food, there’s no better option than Norm’s Delicatessen (29 King St E, Bowmanville, ON L1C 1N2), but unless you like disappointment, you need to order ahead of time — even half a day might work but a day ahead is even better. Norm’s is not built for spontenaity — the stuff goes fast
- If you’re craving a scone or butter tart, I want to point you in the direction of The Toasted Walnut. In normal times, it’s one of my spots for a lunch meet-up with friends or for a local lunch with my kids. The food is ALWAYS excellent and the prices are so good, but since they don’t have a patio, we haven’t been since March. Except for scones and butter tarts, that is! The herb and cheddar scone is the best and, I swear to you as a butter tart afficianado, The Toasted Walnut’s butter tarts should be award-winning.
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 6
Where this Ontario weekend getaway will take you: Haliburton
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Haliburton:
I spent two incredible summers in Haliburton during university — as a camp counsellor and riding instructor at Camp White Pine. The camp, in and of itself, offered such an abundance of activities that were new to me that I even spent many of my days off onsite. Embarrassingly, I rarely explored the greater Haliburton area. I knew it was beautiful. I knew it was nature heaven. What I didn’t know is that we’d fall in love with it so completely that we scheduled a return visit the following weekend and a third return the summer after.
- If you make it to Haliburton and don’t spend a big chunk of time at the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve, you’re missing out on one of the most spectacular places to get into nature. There have only been a few places we’ve gone to as a family and had an instant connection that feels like a homecoming — and Haliburton Forest joins the ranks of Tremblant and Smugglers’ Notch in this regard. There is an undeniable charm as you walk through the main camp area that’s got cabins for rent, free firewood, remnants of the Forest’s original logging days, a restaurant and the long road that will lead you to 100,000 acres of scenic drives, 100 lakes and an enormous network of hiking trails. On our first visit, we stayed overnight in Camboose No. 3, a basic but clean and nicely equipped cabin with two entry points (one of which doesn’t require walking through a shared hallway with Camboose 1 and 2 guests). This was our first overnight stay anywhere since March, and I agreed to it because it was self-contained. It turned out to be a wonderfully rustic space with comfortable beds — but bring your own pillows — and enough of a kitchenette that we could bring some food from home and cook onsite to save money. At $125-50 per night, this pet-friendly, two-bedroom cabin located close to the registration office and across from the restaurant, was the perfect spot for us to call home while we spent two days barely making a dent in our Haliburton Forest exploration.
- The biggest highlight for us at Haliburton Forest was the Husky Hike; and it was so freaking great that when we got home a day later, we immediately booked another hike for the next weekend. So I am very, very sad to report that the husky experiences no longer exist at Haliburton Forest. Many of the retired dogs are currently available for adoption so please do check out the website if you’re looking for a wonderful, well-socialized pet
- Haliburton Forest may still be offering Kennel Visits to meet the huskies and I promise you this: it’ll take everything in you not to take one home. They were amazing with my kids and we were able to ask a million and one questions about all of the beautiful dogs
- Hiking at Haliburton Forest will take you a lifetime because its trail system is extensive. And that’s an understatement. But at check-in, when I asked what hike we absolutely shouldn’t miss, I was told to do “The Lookout.” This came with a map and some basic directions. Well, I am directionally challenged so I did a test-drive to the start of the trail the day before we actually planned to tackle it. It was a 30-minute drive from base camp, but the signage is pretty good, so I figured I was in good shape for the next day. But I missed the first road I needed (East Rd) and when I checked the map, it looked like if I just stayed on North Rd long enough, it would loop me back around to The Lookout Trail, so I kept going. Except the trail marked on this side of things was completely different. But I had faith that, since the markings were so good the day before, I could just keep following them. Let me be a lesson to you: DO NOT FOLLOW SIGNS TO THE LOOKOUT FROM NORTH ROAD! And certainly, once the “road” becomes a one-way lane with merely tire marks, stop and figure out how to go back. I naively believed that I’d find the same start to the trail, so I kept going. DO NOT DO THIS. When I got to a spot where I had to physically get out of my vehicle to move a fallen tree, I knew I was in trouble. This stretch was not meant for vehicles — much less CUVs. It was a precarious situation, especially after a morning of torrential rain that made the sides of this trail so wet that we risked getting stuck trying to do a three-point turn. So, I hit reverse and backed out. For 12 knuckle-whitening minutes. Stepping out every once in a while to see how mucky the sides were when there was a slight clearing. I finally managed to do a nine-point turn. Make no mistake: I was riddled with concern about getting stuck here, where there’s no cellphone service…and I am NOT a nervous driver. So, my advice to you is to follow these directions to reach the trail (which we reached on our subsequent visit):
- As you head north from base camp and pass the gates, look carefully for East Rd. Turn right.
- Follow this for quite some time until you reach the Blue Post — an actual blue post with signage on it. Turn left toward Black Lake Cabin.
- Although you will come across signage on the right pointing uphill for The Lookout Trail, keep going straight until you reach signage on the right for Black Lake Cabin — turn right and park here:
- Now you’ve reached the best spot to safely park your vehicle and start your steep hike up to a spectacular view. It’ll take about 30 minutes in each direction and is a challenging climb, but the lookout is worth the effort!
- Before you leave, if you have a wolf-lover in the family (Miss Q’s fave animal), check out the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre — but book ahead and bring your masks. Although it’s an indoor experience, we felt the protocols in place were quite good and we were able to distance well from the other guests. I did find this activity on the expensive side for what you get, which amounts to a DIY tour with some access to an employee who will answer questions. We got to see about a dozen different wolves from behind the glass and I loved hearing that they have 15 acres of property to roam freely, but even though my kids were both super interested in watching the wolves, by the 45-minute mark, they were ready to leave. For about $30, I admit I expected a bit more, but Miss Q squealed with delight being able to see a couple of the wolves within mere feet of us, which is pretty unique.
- Oh, how we LOVED the Haliburton Sculpture Forest! What a very ecelctic kind of nature walk, which is exactly what it sounds like: a forest full of sculptures. Created by both Canadian and international artists, you can meander through the sculpture forest at whatever pace suits you and discover pieces that seem hidden, interpretive and even experiential. When you arrive at the parking lot, you can take a quick detour to the left before heading into the forest path to see some historical cabins that have been set up to resemble a centuries-old village, too.
- After grabbing a bite to eat in downtown Haliburton (more on that below), we set off for home and noticed a big train on the side of the road. I mean, literally beside the sidewalk. So we pulled over and went to take a closer look. Turns out the Haliburton Rotary Locomotive has been there since 1960. It’s huge and the kids loved getting on and climbing all over it, and asked to return the following weekend when we went back to Haliburton Forest for our second Husky Hike.
- If your kids are into planes, the Royal Canadian Legion Avro CF-100 is right beside the train — you can’t miss it. It’s not nearly as cool because all you can do is look at it, but it was neat to learn that “the Clunk” as it’s nicknamed was the first 100 per cent Canadian-designed and -built all-weather interceptor, which took flight in January 1950. Now, mind you, I had to look up both the plane AND train on Google to find out more about them because I couldn’t find a plaque anywhere in the vicinity — which is a miss by the city, IMO.
- Eating. Because you know we done did some of that! While at the Forest, if you’re not bringing a picnic or staying over and using your own kitchenette, we were really impressed by our lunch at The Cookhouse, which had the most delicious brussels sprouts dish and a really tasty roasted cauliflower appetizer; we also all had outstanding sandwiches (the brisket one I had was huge and OMG-good) and shared a lovely homemade chocolate cake for dessert that even won over Miss Q, who is typically not hot on chocolate things. We thought breakfast was fine but not nearly as standout as lunch, so keep that in mind
- Other top spots we tried:
- If you’re ANYWHERE in Haliburton, make your way to The Little Tart for hot-of-the-press baked goods that are so hotly in demand that a lineup forms before the doors open and the place sells out completely every day. Everything we tried was incredible, but I think the lemon curd tart and the pecan tart were our collective favourites
- Baked & Battered, in downtown Haliburton, had some awesome fish and chips, excellent seafood chowder and phenomenal calamari
- Then there’s the Kawartha Dairy in Minden, not far away, which is what I think of when I think “Kawartha Dairy” because it was the first place I ever had the stuff
- And I know it may seem very, very odd to add a Tim Horton’s to this list since I generally want to promote independent restaurants and treat shops, but we stopped to grab a coffee for our 2.5-hour drive home at the end of our second visit and, I have to say, this Tim’s that I’ve pinned on the map has the coolest drive-thru ever: right alongside the Canadian Shield! It’s the little things…
- If Fenelon Falls is on your route to or from Haliburton like it is for us, I highly recommend a quick stop to take in the Falls themselves (which I’ve pinned on the map; park at the adjacent restaurant). They’re gorgeous. That’s it!
If a Haliburton cottage rental is up your alley, I can’t write enough good things about Mökki Stay. There’s also a Haliburton Ontario post on my site that’ll help you plan an incredible trip to the area.
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 7
Where this Ontario weekend getaway will take you: Elora & Fergus
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Elora & Fergus:
We visited Elora for the first time in summer 2020 as part of our Guelph and Waterloo Region day trip (see trip No. 5 in my road trips from Toronto post), and went back a second time to get a better look at the Tooth of Time. When they call Elora “the most road-trippable destination,” they aren’t kidding — it’s historic, it’s pretty, there’s lots to do and locals are friendly. Even if you didn’t head out to Fergus, there’s enough to do in Elora alone to spend an entire weekend there.
- Before we ever stayed for a whole weekend, we centred a day trip around the Elora Cataract Trailway, a 47km trail that starts near downtown Elora in the southwest and runs northeast to Erin, Ontario. It’s a fabulous trail that’s easy to manage with little kids thanks to its flat, even surface and only minimal off-trail riding. The terrain is rarely covered in much more than hard-packed limestone, making it easier on little legs. There’s a fair bit to see along the way, too, depending on how far you want to go. We made it 20km or so and shot off the trail by about 600 metres to hit up the Belwood Country Market before turning around and using the Elora Cataract Trailway to head to Fergus for another pitstop. Then we found the Trestle Bridge Trailway for a different bike route back to our parking spot near 10 East Mill St. in Elora, which was also flat, easy and had the addition of a couple of great bridges to ride over
- Even if you’re packing a picnic lunch, I strongly suggest the detour to Belwood Country Market. They’re on track to sell 300,000 butter tarts this year — and with good reason. They are, without a doubt, my family’s favourite butter tarts EVER. And we’re a tough crowd to please when it comes to butter tarts. Be careful as you come off the Trailway; you need to go northwest on Wellington County Rd 26 to get to the little side street on which the Market sits, and it’s a busy road. Stay on the side with the sidewalk if you’re riding with kids, which may not technically be allowed on bikes, but if it’s a matter of keeping your kids safe, so be it. If there are pedestrians on the sidewalk, however, do be courteous and get off your bikes to pass. Now, if you didn’t pack a lunch, you’re in luck because Belwood Country Market makes the most delicious sandwiches and salads, too. We had a FEAST of a lunch across the street at the picnic tables, chowing down on sandwiches made with freshly made buns and more meat than you usually get at a sandwich shop — the ham and swiss and summer sausage sammies were our faves. But the butter tarts, y’all. Oh em gee. This took my plain butter tart-loving kids to the next stratosphere of tarts! We tried the Reese flavour, Skor, blueberry white chocolate and limited-time-only maple bacon. Every single one was a winner and left us wanting more (and more, and more). I chatted with Mike, the owner, and he continues to be astonished that folks drive from all over for his butter tarts — and take them on long plane trips (ahem, Austraila!) or even call from as far as the UK asking if he’ll ship them. Yes, they’re that good
- If you did bring a picnic lunch, however, another option for picnic tables is the Belwood Lake Conservation Area, which is free to cycle through — though you’ll pay to get in if you decide to park your vehicle here. It’s a huge space and we didn’t do much more than have a water break here, but it looked like a great spot to have a leisurely picnic
- Stopping in Fergus on the way back is a must. Not only is it a great way to break up the ride back to Elora, but it’s also got some nice (free!) attractions and some sweet stops if you want an energy boost. The Vault Coffee & Espresso Bar is a great little coffee shop in downtown Fergus that’s in an old bank and still features the original tin ceiling and the actual vault after which it’s so-named! You can literally walk into the vault, which is really neat. The London Fog and Flat White we ordered were both delish and there’s some outdoor seating beside a spot to naturally lean your bikes just away from the sidewalk to ensure they don’t interfere wth pedestrian traffic. Note that we went on a Monday, and although there were no crowds, there also wasn’t a lot open — many of the restaurants and shops are closed, so keep that in mind if you plan a visit
- As you get downtown, look at the heritage homes on the main drag — some will say “shoemaker” or “blacksmith” with the original owners’ names on plaques near the doors. It’s so cool to think about what the town must have looked like in the 1800s; and if you look at a huge photo blown up on the side of the I Love Chocolate! building just down the road from The Vault, you can see an image of just that — what this exact spot looked like with horse-drawn carriages and the original storefronts. While you’re there, pop in for some ice cream, gelato or (my personal pick) the chocolate. I tried a sugar-free peanut butter cup and it was SOOOO good!
- Now that you’re waiting for your sugar rush to kick in, head down to Templin Gardens, just off the main street. This spectacular garden shrine was built in the 1920s and 30s as a gift from the editor of the local paper to his wife. The main door to go into the heart of the garden area was shut due to COVID, but you can see them really nicely from the adjacent bridge. This is also the perfect spot to view the Fergus Cascade, which is more like a staircase of mini rapids than a waterfall, but my kids love any kind of waterfall no matter its shape or size so this was a big hit
- You can either get back on the Elora Cataract Trailway using some side streets again, or you can look for the Trestle Bridge Trail (I’ve noted the entry point in my map above) for a different route back. We opted for this to change it up, and it was a nice alternative — with some bridges and new scenery. For what it’s worth, although it’s a pretty flat ride from Elora up to Belwood Lake, it has to be said that the ride back was faster and easier so it must have a slight decline slope to it. Therefore, I would always recommend starting in Elora and making your ride back the easier of the two!
- If you manage this ride all before 3 or 4 p.m., and it’s a hot day, you’ll be thrilled if you scored tickets for the 3-7 p.m. time slot at the Elora Quarry. You definitely need to get tickets ahead of time and weekends will sell out before week days, so avoid disappointment and don’t try to do this part of the day trip on the fly. It’s exactly what we needed to cool off and soothe our aching muscles, even if the quarry water wasn’t as clear as I’ve experienced in other quarries. It was, predictably, just as cold though. Wow. Took me a good 20 minutes to creep in, but once I was fully submerged it was ultra-refreshing and I credit that cool swim with the reason I didn’t wake up sore the next morning after a 40km bike ride. I was so glad we brought swim shoes with us, since the entry is rocky and there are sea weeds growing in certain spots, even where you think there shouldn’t any because of the depth. For daredevils, there’s a spot to do some cliff-jumping and even The K Man gave it a whirl (though he claims he instantly regretted it). If you or your child are not VERY confident swimmers, please don’t go far from shore without life vests. The bottom drops out pretty quickly and once you’re out in the middle of the quarry, it’s a far swim in deep water if you want to get back. There are no lifeguards either. My kids are strong swimmers and can tread water for quite a while, but coupled with the cool temps, Miss Q found it was a bit of a struggle after being out there for 30 minutes and nothing to hang onto to catch her breath. If you want to spend your entire ticket time hanging out here, bring along some camp chairs and even a sun shelter — plus water and snacks, since there’s nothing to buy unless you cross the road from which you entered
- When it’s time for dinner, you can use the public washrooms at the Quarry or head to 10 East Mill St. (the tourism office) where there are big, lockable public washrooms open until 8 p.m. These were awesome and fit our whole family in one shot! Be sure to stroll down to the Elora Mill to catch a great glimpse of the Tooth of Time before you hit a local restaurant
- Keep in mind that some restaurants in Elora are closed on Mondays so while the crowds will be low, so will your options for dinner; The Evelyn is open, however, and — wow! — what a great meal. The patio is set up perfectly for good distancing and there are cantilever umbrellas shackled to the perimetre, ready to keep rain or sun off of the tables. You can’t go wrong with ANYTHING on the menu here. The bread and butter is served with a gorgeous butter from Alliston and sprinkled with a sel de fleur that you want to marry; the warm, marinated olives are served with these beautiful red tear-shaped sweet peppers that I’m going on the hunt for myself after trying them at The Evelyn; the crab cakes are filled with actual crab and not a bunch of filler like panko and corn; the clam appetizer, served piping hot, is such an interesting take on often-boring clam dishes that don’t bring out the full flavour potential of these little guys and even turned my husband into a clam appreciator; the burger is big and freshly made, not frozen, and can be served boring if it’s for your teen or the way it’s supposed to as described on the menu, which would have been my choice if I’d ordered it; the kids’ mac n cheese was outstanding — but if you have a picky eater on your hands, this might not be the best choice since it’s a white cheddar mac topped with a parsley-infused panko crumb; I can’t write enough good things about the seafood risotto except that I wanted another one immediately after and I applaud the chef for the skills needed to perfectly balance the timing required for arborio rice to be served perfectly al dente while the shrimp and scallops done JUST right while the snap peas somehow retain their crispness. But, whoa. It was great. The desserts ranged from yummy to OMGGGG, with the floating island being devoured by one 10 year old while her mother enjoyed a couple of bites (but found it too sweet overall) and that same mother wishing she had ordered the tiramisu parfait that her hubs and son shared because one bite was definitely not enough
- We have also enjoyed wonderful meals at La Fontana, The Porch Light and the Elora Mill’s restaurant, with La Fontana being our favourite out of all of them (including The Evelyn) when we considered both food quality and overall price. Make sure you have the signature burrata starter with balsamic pearls and you can’t go wrong with any of their homemade pizzas or pastas. The owner is from Italy and the authenticity in his food really shines through. We enjoyed the carrot cake of a lifetime here not long ago and I’m still thinking about it!
- If your sweet tooth is somehow still not completely satisfied, Sweet Distractions is just down the road from The Evelyn and La Fontana, as is The Wild Tart, which has the most gorgeous desserts
- Finally, grab some local beer from the Elora Brewing Company — the resident beer drinker in our house says it’s excellent
- If, on the other hand, you’re looking to get away from it all and stay the whole weekend in Elora, there is absolutely no better option for a splurge than the Elora Mill. Kids are welcome but I vote you leave them at home for this one. There’s so much to write home about when it comes to the Elora Mill that I crafted an entire post basically making love to it here. It’s absolutely everything you think a five-star destination should be, with stunning interior design, rooms that are bright and airy with superior character, food and amenities that keep you onsite from beginning to end, and a spa with services that are worth every hard-earned penny (and you will spend all your pennies staying here!). Your best bet to get a reservation before next year is to call and ask for a mid-week stay, but if you have your heart set on a weekend or you need more than one room, the long-term planning will pay off
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 8
Where this Ontario weekend getaway will take you: Ottawa
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
Things to do in Ottawa:
Oh, Ottawa, how we love you! It had been five years since our last visit to the nation’s capital and I was reminded why I always used to say I wanted to live there. It’s got so much to do and see that it would take effort to get bored.
I’m going to break this road trip down a bit more than the previous ones because there is a LOT to cover…
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to hotels in Ottawa. From boutique properties to all-suite hotels with full kitchen facilities, many are within walking distance of the city’s best attractions. So figure out what area you want to use as your home base and then consider the best hotel for your budget.
Here are a couple of places we’ve stayed:
- Chateau Laurier — Big B loves staying here when he visits Ottawa for work, and though I have personally not stayed at this Fairmont property, I trust the brand implicitly based on my experiences in Montebello, Tremblant and Alberta. The rooms at Fairmont hotels are typically on the smaller side and sometimes show their age, but if you want to stay in a castle in Canada, this is about as close as you can get! Plus, it sits right beside the Rideau Canal and the beginning of its lock system. Locks 1 through 8 start here and should not be missed even if you aren’t staying at the hotel
- Andaz Ottawa Byward Market — you can read my updated view of the property in this Ottawa hotels post, and while I still recommend it because of its prime location, excellent bedding and beautifully designed rooms, plus reasonable pricing even during high season, it definitely had its fair share of disappointments during our second stay
You will be run ragged trying to pack all of this into even a single weekend, so pick and choose what fits your family best and plan accordingly:
- Interzip Rogers — so technically this activity ends in Gatineau, but it begins in Ottawa! This is the world’s first interprovincial zipline and it’s the perfect height and speed for those who have never ziplined before. It’s on the slower side and sloped such that if you’re over the minimum weight recommendation, you’re not gonna get stuck halfway (which is legit terrifying). The health protocols are excellent and the safety briefing is excellent; you’re in great hands here
- Ottawa City Rafting — if you’re visiting Ottawa with kids and/or grandparents and want to give white water rafting a whirl, this is the one to do! I’ve done the bigger Wilderness Tours rafting on the outskirts of Ottawa in class 4-5 rapids that will make your boat flip. This is NOT that kind of tour! While the class 3 swells were big enough at first to make our 10 and 13 year olds really nervous, by the second rapid, they were asking for more. There’s also a motor on each boat so you don’t have to rely on your kids to help too much. There are opportunities for both cliff-jumping and body surfing in what amounts to a lazy river down one section of the route, and our guide let our kids repeat the body surfing three times (!!!). The meeting point is only a short drive from downtown Ottawa and the views from the water are a nice change in perspective from the walkabouts you’ll do on land during your visit
- Escape Bike Rentals — I just love a good back story and Maria, Escape’s owner, has a great one. As a girl born in Iran, Maria loved to bike ride as a child; but as a woman in Iran, that joy was snatched from her since women aren’t allowed to ride bikes once they become teens. So, when she immigrated to Canada, Maria wanted to start a business in direct opposition to that oppression, and Escape Bicycle Rentals & Tours was born! Escape stocks expensive Marin bikes for all ages and most sizes (the biggest frame is an XL — there are no XXLs for people of Big B’s stature), plus bike trailers for babies and toddlers and tandem bike attachments, too. You can rent helmets if you don’t have your own as well as extras like phone holders for your handlebars (highly recommend this!). Tours are available with knowledgeable guides but staff will also set you up with a map of local bike paths and suggest routes based on your experience and how long you want to be out riding. We wanted to explore for two to three hours, so Maria suggested the Rideau Canal loop up to the Ottawa River-side trail, over to Gatineau and back again around the Parliament buildings. All said and done, it’s a 20km ride that’s just beautiful and mostly flat and represents my kids’ favourite bike route to date. We broke it up halfway with a small detour to Little Italy and lunch on a patio. To read more about this ride and the route itself, you can head to the bonus section in my bike trails in Toronto & beyond post
- Lady Dive — these “amphibus” tours are really neat and one of the things my kids remember most about our last visit to Ottawa, five long years ago! You start on land and tour some of the major attractions by bus before heading into the water where your bus converts to a boat. It’s a great way to get an overview of Ottawa and the city’s historical significance and also get a lay of the land if you’re new to visiting the capital
- Shopping — there are soooo many places to shop in Ottawa that I can’t even provide an exhaustive list since I’ve barely made a dent myself, but here are my faves:
- Rideau Centre — sure it’s “just” a shopping mall, but it’s a big, good one with stores that fit a range of budgets. If you want an all-in-one shopping experience, this is the place to be
- ByWard Market — from artisanal goods to baked treats, this is one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets and if you’ve never been, expect crowds. If lack of physical distancing concerns you, go early in the day and avoid afternoons and especially evenings when it’s busiest
- Schad— for upscale women’s brands, I’ve yet to find a more beautifully curated selection of clothes, shoes and accessories than I did here
- Westboro Village — wow wow WOW! How we loved this little neighbourhood shopping strip! From big-name shops like MEC and Lululemon and independent stores like MUST Boutique (where I found soooo much at incredible prices) and Tallow (full of stunning Australian imports), we spent hours wandering up and down both sides of Richmond Rd
- Rideau Canal Locks — the canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is now a special part of my heart after our Le Boat Canada vacation, so seeing Locks 1-8 beside the Chateau Laurier this time was like seeing it with new eyes. The kids were even more fascinated with it this time around than they were five years ago, too, which is a testiment to taking kids to places they’ve been once they reach new age milestones and can appreciate things differently. The best place to see the multi-lock system here is from up top AND below, so try to do both
- Self-guided monuments and architectural tours — go castle hunting! At least, that’s what my kids called the Chateau Laurier and Parliament buildings for the duration of our stay in Ottawa. And I get it — those are the closest things they’ve seen to castles and their grandeur should not be underestimated before seeing them in person. Here’s a short list of some of the key places you should see as a starting point:
- The Famous Five statues (powerful, especially if you have daughters!)
- Ottawa City Hall
- The National Arts Centre
- The National War Memorial and Confederation Square
- Centennial Flame
- Parliament buildings (the library, House of Commons and Victoria Tower Bell)
- Confederation Building
- Supreme Court of Canada
Food & drink
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it (er, write it…) again: Ottawa’s foodie scene is #YUMazing! I’ve been coming to Ottawa my whole adult life and the food has always impressed me — even when I was a poor university student and couldn’t afford finer dining.
This visit to Ottawa didn’t disappoint on the food front. Not one bit. Here’s what I’ve mapped out (you can reach each website through the map, too!)since so much can change even in a normal year when it comes to food scenes, so I don’t want to recommend anything we tried in the past other than this recent trip:
- Best coffee — look for any of the Bridgehead or Happy Goat Coffee Co. outposts; the coffee we had from both were a notch above Starbucks. I marked the two we patronized on the map above
- Best pastries — hit up Le Moulin de Provence in ByWard Market for divine almond croissant and other baked goods; Mamie Clafoutie for the best breads and Quebec-inspired treats; and Mavericks’ Donut Company in Westboro for out-of-this-world doughnuts. And maybe they aren’t the “best” pastries on the planet, but iconic BeaverTails from its quaint stand in the ByWard Market is Canadiana-on-fleek
- Best meals — Fairouz Cafe is middle Eastern goodness and was the best meal we had in Ottawa, which is saying a lot since we had so many great meals! We sampled a LOT of the menu and every.single.thing was gold. Corazon de Maiz is a little Mexican restaurant in the market that’s been on my mind since we first visited in 2017; it’s still going strong and is as fantastic and flavourful as ever. The Grand Pizzeria has a huge patio and serves up affordable Italian fare that’s a consistent crowd pleaser for the whole family. Pub Italia in Little Italy was a great find during our bike tour; look for its extensive “beer bible.” Zak’s Diner is typical diner food that’s guaranteed to be kid-friendly. Pair a visit to Baja Burger Shack with Beachconer’s micro-creamery after an Ottawa City Rafting tour and be prepared for awesome burgers and inventive ice cream concoctions. For a different take on brunch, Das Lokal is a good option just beyond the chaos of the market; it was having a rough, disorganized morning the day we visited but I could tell that the food would normally be noteworthy and I’d definitely give this one a second shot
Weekend getaways in Ontario: trip 9
Where this Ontario weekend getaway will take you: Tobermory
Here’s a map to help you plot your next weekend getaways in Ontario adventure:
I have a very thorough Things to do in Tobermory post that will help you plan an unforgettable weekend here, but I definitely suggest making this one a long weekend. You’re gonna need it to get to all of the highlights, such as:
- Visiting The Grotto in Tobermory (plan ahead!)
- Snorkelling to see some of Tobermory’s famous shipwrecks
- Bottomless fish & chips at Shipwreck Lee’s
- Seeing Big Tub Lighthouse
- Exploring Little Tub Harbour and watching the huge Chi Cheemaun Ferry pull away as it heads to Manitoulin Island several times a day (we’re getting on that ferry next time for sure)
- Cruising to Flowerpot Island (refer to my Tobermory Ontario post and get your tickets for this well ahead of time as well)
- Getting cavities at The Sweet Shop
- Swimming at Little Cove Beach
Looking for some great bike trails in Toronto and close to the GTA? This post will have you cycling some of the trails featured in this post and several more.
That’s all for now, folks! Please check back again soon for more weekend getaways in Ontario — and don’t forget to refresh the page and/or clear the cache if you don’t see new content.
DISCLAIMER: I have researched and booked many of these adventures on my own (and paid for them myself, too). In some cases, there may be elements/activities that are gifted to facilitate various parts of this post — as always, I will be upfront and honest about our experiences no matter what. In some cases, there could be tourism boards who assist but no part of this is will ever be compensated. I am simply hoping to support and encourage Ontario tourism.
* Ontario Staycation Tax Credit subject to change at any time; please be sure to check with your accountant.