10 day trips to take around Toronto this summer
In his new book, Day Trips Around Toronto, former Globe and Mail columnist John Barber gives urban dwellers a reason to escape the chaos of the city and discover scenic places nearby. His guide lists 50 destinations and covers areas within two hours of Toronto. Here are 10 of our favourite day trips:
A historic afternoon near Georgian Bay
160 km from Toronto
1Sainte-Marie among the Hurons tops the list as one of Ontario’s most historic places—not for heroic acts of discovery, but for bloodshed and sorrow on the southern shores of Georgian Bay. The town is home to a now-venerable recreation of a doomed 17th century mission to the Wendat nation, which is meticulously authentic and, on quiet days, moody to the point of feeling haunted. About 15 minutes away in Penetanguishene is Discovery Harbour, which recreates the 19th century Royal Navy base that once commanded the upper Great Lakes. Stop for a sandwich at Penetang’s World Famous Dock Lunch and you have a recipe for a very full day.
An evening art crawl in Hamilton
68 km from Toronto
2Over the past few years, Hamilton has become home to a surprising number of art galleries and creative initiatives. Now, on the second Friday of each month, James Street North hosts an evening art crawl where the city’s galleries collectively open their doors to display new works. The bi-weekly gatherings and subsequent Supercrawl festival are now creative landmarks of the sister city’s renewed spirit. And, while you’re in this part of Ontario, it’s always worthwhile to visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The exhibits are anchored by a terrific permanent collection of Canadian art.
A picturesque bike tour off the Lakeshore line
3Canada may feel years behind when it comes our rail system, but by making use of the frequent service on GO Transit’s Lakeshore line, escaping on a sunlit tour away from the busy downtown streets is possible. You can ride your bike west on the Waterfront Trail to Burlington and take the train home, or ride the train east to cycle different loops in Durham Region. One of the most scenic tours begins with a GO bus to Georgetown, followed by a lovely spin along the Greenbelt Route down to the Aldershot GO station, then home by rail. (Note that bikes are not permitted on GO trains during rush hours, but the buses are equipped with racks.)
An industrial revolution museum in Hamilton
68 km from Toronto
4Thousands whiz by the Hamilton Museum of Steam Technology on the QEW daily without ever noticing it, but stopping is worth your time. The building is a Victorian-era pump house that features two enormous stationary steam engines (locally made in the 1850s), which were once used to pump clean Lake Ontario water to a reservoir on top of Hamilton Mountain. From there, the water was distributed by gravity to the cholera-stricken town below. The exhibit commemorates an inspiring history of civic enterprise that took place decades ahead of the famous initiative that finally brought clean water to Toronto via the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant.
A paddler’s paradise in the Minesing Wetlands
109 km from Toronto
5That infuriating, unavoidable bottleneck around Barrie you always run into while descending the 400 from cottage country? Blame the Minesing Wetland—a sprawling, 6,000-hectare swamp that’s impossible to cut through in anything bigger than a canoe. But for paddlers, the Okefenokee of Ontario is unlike anything else in the province. You’ll need good navigational skills to find your way around and if you’re not so great with a compass, there’s always the option to join a guided tour with the Friends of Minesing Wetlands or the Barrie Canoe and Kayak Club.
An adventure-filled day of tubing and zip-lining in Elora
116 km from Toronto
6This completely authentic historic town about an hour and a half away from Toronto feels almost like a theme park, offering a combination of sophisticated pleasures and outdoor activities. Gift shopping and zip-lining go together naturally here. A walk down the Elora Gorge is always worthwhile, and in summer you can rent tubes to take a scenic float through the water. The ride is about two kilometres long and passes through narrow cliffs that soar high above the river. Permits and equipment are available at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area, just west of the village.
Rafting and relaxing in Paris
111 km from Toronto
7A little further down the Grand River brings you to Paris, another handsome old valley town that escaped the worst ravages of 20th century modernism to emerge as a picturesque destination in the new era. Paris is renowned for its distinctive cobblestone buildings and it’s also the perfect starting point for a lazy summer float down the bucolic Grand. The Grand River Rafting Company is one of a handful of outfitters that can handle the details. Don’t miss a stop at the Paris Surf—a trendy clothing store, pizzeria, juice bar, coffee shop, and neighbourhood bar hybrid with just the right amount of California hipness and cozy atmosphere.
A Sunday concert in Queenston Heights
125 km from Ontario
8Picnicking at Queenston Heights Park on a summer Sunday is like stepping into a plein-air impressionist painting. Lounge in the dappled shade while children run around on the grass, kites fly and music plays from a blossom-fringed bandstand. Nothing in Ontario can rival the experience for sheer wholesomeness. A different local band plays every Sunday and the old battlefield is full of interest for historical explorers. As with all things Niagaran, parking will be a problem, so bicycling is the way to go.
A beachfront escape in Port Dover
133 km from Toronto
9While others waste sunny hours inching north on overburdened highways, head south and you could be on a beach before traffic clears Barrie. Long overlooked by Torontonians, the north shore of Lake Erie is just as distinctive as Ontario’s traditional cottage country. It has a rich cultural history and the last remnants of a Carolinian ecology that is unique in Canada. Experience the best of what Lake Erie has to offer along the north shore of Long Point Bay, from Port Dover to Backus Woods in Norfolk County. Port Dover is best known for fish dinners: try Erie Beach Hotel on Walker Street or Knechtel’s for fresh caught perch and pickerel.
A scenic drive to Northumberland County
160 km from Toronto
10En route to Northumberland County, pleasure-seeking motorists will find endless kilometres of gridded roads without a bend or swoop in sight. But the effort of escape is amply rewarded with a beeline east to the hills of Northumberland County, a Sunday driver’s paradise with a hidden gem: the surprisingly swanky village of Warkworth. You can easily drive a 100-kilometre loop throughout the hills without ever meeting a traffic light.