Looking for Ontario roadtrip inspiration? Look no further. Read on for ten of my favourite towns in and around the province, and what to do when you get there.
One of the best things about living in this city is getting out of the city.
That sounds contradictory — but as lively and geographically-diverse as Toronto is, it’s just a small part of a huge province, and there’s so much of it to explore.
Travelling to different towns in Ontario is one of my favourite things to do. You don’t have to spend a lot to make the most of a daytrip or weekend adventure, and the wider province has so much to offer, no matter what you’re looking for. Whether you’re a foodie in search of fresh & local finds, an outdoor adventurer, an indoor relaxer, or just looking to get back to nature, there’s a town out there for you.
As long as you have a weekend, a mode of transportation, and good company, you don’t need an excuse to roadtrip. What are you doing this weekend? Take one right now!
In case you’re in need of inspiration, here are 10 great Ontario towns to discover.
1. Paris, Ontario
We all know Ontario has its own “London” — but did you know it has a Paris, too? Located on the banks of the Grand River, and acknowledged as one of the most beautiful towns in Ontario, Paris does justice to its namesake while retaining its own whimsical charm.
The town is filled to the brim with artisanal makers, painters, and foodies. Stock up on gourmet cheese at A Swiss in Paris (highly recommend the Guinness-infused cheddar), indulge in some sugary Chocolate Sensations, and check out what the locals are making & baking at The Wincey Mills Co., a huge installation which houses local businesses, restaurants, artists’ studios, and a coffee house, along with an outdoor weekend market with fresh produce and local treats.
For local gastro-pub fare with a view, enjoy dinner under the stars from the rooftop patio at Stillwaters Plate & Pour. For a locally-recommended culinary experience, Juniper Dining Co. is just over the river from the downtown strip. For something unique, take in an afternoon tea while appreciating local history and Greek Revival architecture, with a “Social Tea” at the Wolverton Manor. And if landmark historical buildings are your thing, make your daytrip an overnight stay at the Arlington, located across the street from the historic cobblestones of Hamilton Place.
For the more adventure-inclined, the Grand River lends itself to recreational activities like canoeing and kayaking routes designed for all levels. Even a complete beginner can enjoy a scenic journey along the river, with designated picnic spots, freshwater springs, and caves to explore along the way.
2. Haliburton, Ontario
The best name I’ve ever seen for a small-town radio station is Haliburton’s Moose FM. The best metal sculpture of a moose I’ve ever seen is, likewise, located in Haliburton.
If figurative mooses aren’t enough, visit a real one over in Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve. The 70,000 acre complex includes a moose habitat, wolf sanctuary, hiking & biking trails, camping, fishing, astronomy sessions on clear Friday nights, and educational programs on local wildlife. The reserve also operates through the winter, where you can ride a snowmobile, or even book a dog-sledding adventure.
First and foremost, however, Haliburton is an art town. Year-round, you can find students from Fleming College’s School of Art + Design painting, drawing, and wandering through the nearby hiking trails, which wind past the noteworthy metal moose in the Sculpture Forest. Just on the edge of town, Visible Voices Open Art Studio hosts bi-weekly drop-in sessions for budding artists and enthusiasts to draw, paint, sculpt, and discover new mediums with instructor guidance — totally free.
You can appreciate local history at the Highlands Museum, or simply wander through the main street where you’ll stumble upon a plethora of museums, workshops, and studios for all kinds of artisans. Get inspired to create your own art by checking what time the sun sets, and find a view overlooking Head Lake.
If you can’t decide between dinner and dessert, swing by Baked & Battered, where your choice of fresh fish is lightly battered and gloriously fried to perfection, without being overly heavy or greasy. The restaurant has an adjoining bakery, where offerings include nut-, gluten-, and lactose-free options, with daily specials and bistro fare.
3. Hamilton, Ontario
Maybe you’ve passed through Steeltown on your way to Niagara, or visited a friend at Mac — but have you really explored Hamilton?
If you have, you’ll know why the waterfall capital of Canada earned its name. The college town boasts over a hundred waterfalls within its borders — not to mention countless hiking and biking trails, including a stretch of Canada’s longest and oldest, the Bruce Trail. (The trail begins in the Niagara Escarpment and ends in Tobermory.)
Waterfall-chasers of every kind can find something in Hamilton, whether it’s a drive-and-park destination for a picnic, a hike that winds up to a photogenic vista looking down on one of the falls, or a more daring close-up waterfall trek that involves blatant illegal trespassing and gorge-crossing. I plead the fifth on this one.
When downtown, browse around for your cheapest parking option, and then hit up as many local restaurants and bars as you can squeeze into one day — after a long hike, you’ll need it. Hamilton Foodies is a great resource for local food offerings, as some of them can be a little tucked away. My personal recommendations include Portuguese-style seafood at Wild Orchid, burgers and beverages at The Ship, and handmade ice cream cookie sandwiches at Made For You by Madeleine, where all of her made-in-house creations are lovingly prepared with freshly-milled flour.
If The Hammer’s night-time bar scene isn’t your thing, cruise over to StarLite Drive-In, where you can spend a nostalgic evening watching a movie on a jumbo screen under the stars, right from the comfort of your car.
4. Huntsville, Ontario
You can do anything in Huntsville. Located in prime Muskoka, just a stone’s throw from Algonquin Park, and proximal to the Kawarthas and the Haliburton Highlands, it’s the perfect starting point to any northern adventure. The options for hiking, camping, boating, and portaging are endless.
If you’re thinking Algonquin, make the most of your visit to Canada’s oldest provincial park by portaging into the interior. There are parts of the massive park — which is one and a half times the size of the entire province of Prince Edward Island on its own — that can’t be accessed just by driving, hiking, or canoeing alone. Portaging past the waterfalls is the only way to really get in there!
If you’d rather stay on paved roads, Huntsville has small-town Ontario charm in spades: from a range of restarants, to novelty stores with cottage-friendly home decor, to every possible size and colour of moose-printed pajamas. The ice cream destination here is Belly Ice Cream Company, which produces their handmade varieties just around the corner from where they’re sold — as local as it gets. Indulge in flavours like Muskoka Mocha Maple, Scotch Whiskey, and Obscene Chocolate Brownie.
Huntsville also boasts its own branch of quintessential Ontario ice cream purveyor Kawartha Dairy, which is conveniently located on the way down from Algonquin so you can reward yourself after an adventure.
5. Flinton, Ontario & Kaladar, Ontario
Discovering Ontario isn’t just about the highly-populated towns — it’s about the natural, unsculpted beauty of the land itself. If you want a small town that doesn’t pander to the tourists, you want Flinton. Small and unassuming, this quiet area in the Land of Lakes sits adjacent to Kaladar’s Bon Echo Provincial Park, where you can camp, RV, or embark on an interior portage.
For a more removed experience, camp or cottage in Flinton itself. It’s far enough from any large town that on a clear night, you’ll have an incredibly unobstructed view of the stars. You’d usually have to drive further north for a view like this!
Bonus ice cream adventure: About an hour south of Flinton, you can venture over to Prince Edward County, where the bridges of Belleville will lead you to downtown Bloomfield. Here, you’ll find unique and locally-made ice cream flavours at Slickers, which is well worth the detour down from the 401 any time you’re in the area. Their most famous variety is the Toasted Marshmallow, which tastes exactly like a campfire treat right down to the smoky, almost-burnt hint of flavour.
6. Tobermory & Manitoulin Island
If the stretch of the Bruce Trail in Hamilton wasn’t enough, consider a longer drive up to its pinnacle — the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Tobermory.
Tobermory is actually magic. The water is so bright and blue, it has an almost tropical feeling. The beaches are like something out of another country altogether. Venture up the cliffs for a dive, or climb down into the grottoes — vibrant little underwater caves, where light pours in through holes in the stones like windows, glittering and otherworldly. You can wade into the grotto ponds, or dive in from a stony ledge.
Once you’ve driven up to Tobermory, it would be a shame not to experience Manitoulin Island. Book the Chi-Cheemaun ferry in advance, and let it sail you and your car over to the largest freshwater island in the world.
Manitoulin — named for the Odawa legend of a cave-dwelling spirit, and known as “Spirit Island” in the native tongue — is hauntingly beautiful. On a foggy night with a full moon in the sky, it’s like something out of a story. The sunsets are searing and spectacular — they reflect over the water like liquid gold.
The island contains multiple towns, reserves, rivers, and lakes — some of which even have islands of their own. Treasure Island is “the largest island on a lake on an island on a lake” in the world. Make a stop by Lake Kagawong, and pay a visit to the scenic Bridal Veil Falls for a natural freshwater shower. The Cup and Saucer Trail, one of the most popular hiking destinations in Ontario, winds up the escarpment to a scenic view of the cliffs. The local specialty is whitefish, so don’t forget to stop for fish & chips!
7. Elora, Ontario
I can confidently say I have eaten all the ice cream in Elora — and it was all amazing.
This historic town is the perfect combination of architectural and natural beauty. Explore the streets lined with historic limestone buildings, and then skip town for the natural wonders of the Elora Gorge, or the Elora Quarry Conservation Area — where you can camp, hike, tube, canoe, and explore. You’ll find family crowds on peak-season weekends, so to maximize your time, try to get away on a weekday.
Out of all the options for ice cream, the best in town is surprisingly found at the back of an olive oil purveyor — head over to The Village Olive Grove and try the sorbetto. To fill up on something other than frozen dairy, see if you can find The Lost & Found Cafe, slightly hidden in the Elora Mews. If you’re craving novelty gifts and decor, look no further: Elora is filled with quirky shops and eclectic collections.
If you’re looking to venture out of town, The Elora Cataract Trailway is a hiking/biking trail that follows a historic railway line between Elora and Cataract. The entire path is wheelchair-friendly, and can be used for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. If you’re attempting the full journey in either direction, be sure to make a stop in Erin, Ontario, where you can fill up on brunch fare and a specialty tea service at Tintagel’s.
Once you’re back in Elora, however, you might not want to leave — travel back to the 19th century and book a stay at an inn. For a more adventurous alternative that still provides 1,200 thread count sheets, book a campsite nearby and then rent a fully-furnished luxury tipi from Moonlight Glamping — no assembly required.
8. Wakefield, Quebec*
Alright, so Wakefield may not be right in Ontario itself — but it’s less than half an hour from Ottawa, and most locals have no hesitation toward speaking English. This bilingual town has the feeling of a Quebec/Ontario hybrid.
Geography aside, the Québécois French influence is more than evident in the cuisine of Wakefield. Wake up to perfectly-prepared croissants and delicatessen fare from Pipolinka — pure provincial French charm. If you’re after macarons, don’t hold back from a full box of pastel-coloured flavours at Patisserie La Toque, an independent dessert shop where the owner’s daughter sells her own hand-drawn greeting cards to patrons. The adjacent backspace hosts an art gallery and gift shop, where you can purchase a curated range of artisanal creations, cookwares, and gifts.
Like Haliburton, Wakefield is an art town. Wander through the main strip and stumble upon countless artists’ studio spaces and shops, where all manner of paintings and curiosities are available to peruse and buy. Whether you’re looking for a hyper-realistic painting of Canadian scenery, or a sculpture of a turtle whose shell is a wax recreation of a mask-like face, Wakefield has it all and more.
If you can’t get enough of the Gatineau River winding past Wakefield, consider commandeering a locally-crafted houseboat for a day. The town’s recreational offerings have you covered for a summer or winter stay.
9. Stratford, Ontario
My family is not easy to wrangle into a daytrip. I can count the Ontario destinations they’ve willingly driven to on less than one hand. That said, I’ve gotten them out to Stratford — not just once, but twice.
Who can resist the charm of yet another of Ontario’s prettiest towns? Between the gardens, the waterways, and the sprawling open parks, you don’t even have to see a play to make the most of your stay.
You should still see a play, though. The Stratford Festival runs from April to October, and the season is usually an appealing blend of Shakespeare, contemporary musicals, and other classic productions. Whether you’re after Macbeth, Shakespeare in Love, or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the town’s famed theatres will have something up your alley. Plan in advance and take advantage of group savings, 2-for-1 evenings, or discounted showings for young patrons aged 16-29, which often sell out quickly. You can find a comprehensive list of discounts and savings here.
The town is also a great destination for antique-hunting. Block off some time to browse through vintage/reclaimed furniture and decor, then stay in town for libations by the lake paired with cheeses from Monforte. For a sit-down lunch with a table and chairs, Keystone Alley Cafe is tucked behind the Avon Theatre in downtown Stratford, offering “Meat and Bread” sandwich pairings along with house-made ice cream flavours that rotate daily. For dinner and drinks before a show, The Red Rabbit‘s pre-theatre menu has you covered — carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore style.
For easy transportation, a weekend shuttle operates between Stratford and Toronto, making it easy to enjoy a trip without a car. The town is also accessible by ViaRail.
10. Toronto, Ontario
No, that’s not an editing error. When you live in a city with green space that spans over 1600 parks, you can “get out of the city” without actually getting out of the city.
Think about it. Toronto is so geographically large that you can be on one end and have completely different weather from somebody at the other. Next time you’re itching for a daytrip, why not create your own mini staycation?
The Scarborough Bluffs are said to resemble the cliffs of the suburb’s namesake in England — the Lake Ontario-facing escarpment has been described as a geographical wonder. To make a real staycation of it, spend a night in one of the floating homes that hug the lakeshore. Deer sightings are a regular feature of Bluffer’s Park, as well as it being home to an abundance of swans. Once you’re lounging on a Muskoka chair on a cliff overlooking the lake, you’ll feel the civilization around you melt away. You can even canoe and kayak, adding to the feeling that you’ve left the city proper.
Out by the zoo, the Rouge Valley is an often-forgotten gem. Take advantage of its trails, viewpoints, and campsites, and enjoy the local wildlife all inside the borders of the city. (Anything west of Port Union is still technically Toronto.) The Vista Trail in particular has a steep uphill portion that lets you look down at the Rouge River, as well as views to Little Rouge Creek and Scarborough Bluffs. The Glen Rouge Campground is the only official campground in the city, running from May to October.
And let’s not make the mistake of thinking that there’s nothing south of the city but lake — the Toronto Islands are abundant with hidden gems. Rent out a houseboat, or seek out events that give you the rare opportunity to camp. Halfway between the well-known beach near Centreville, and the nude beach by Hanlan’s Point, look for the comparatively quieter stretch of sand known as Manitou Beach. Nearby Artscape Gibraltar Point hosts residencies and events, just down the road from Gibraltar Point Lighthouse — the area’s oldest lighthouse, and the second oldest in all of Canada!
No matter which direction you go, there’s always something yet-to-be discovered in this province — or even just within this city — without needing to venture too far.
For a local approach to discovering Ontario, Airbnb is an amazing resource. Instead of a hotel or motel, I’ve had incredible experiences staying at unique places — farms, historical sites, cottages, private acreages, and even a handcrafted all-season yurt, all in the same range or cheaper than a hotel.
If you’ve never used Airbnb, you can claim a $40 coupon here.
What’s your favourite place in Ontario, and what’s the best thing about it? Share how you “Discover Ontario” in a comment below.