With over a million square kilometres of terrain to explore, there’s no shortage of things to do in Ontario. Canada’s second-largest province is home to everything from lakes and rivers, to cities and culture. One of the best ways to see all that Ontario has to offer is to take one of the many incredible Ontario road trips, whether that’s exploring major cities like Toronto and Ottawa, or getting out into the wilderness and exploring one of the millions of lakes around the province.
So without further ado, here are the 8 best Ontario road trips for you to take this summer.
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Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake
British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill visited Niagara Falls in 1943 and is quoted as saying that the Niagara Parkway is the “prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” Now that tells you something!
Niagara Falls is certainly no secret. In fact, it’s one of the top attractions in all of Canada. However, considering its beauty, and the fact that it’s only 30-minutes from Toronto, we couldn’t leave it out as an incredible road trip. To make the most of this Ontario road trip, extend your trip to spend a day (or two or three) in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region as well, taking the Niagara Parkway, which follows the Niagara River through beautiful wineries, parks, historical sites, and more. There’s plenty of places to try delicious food, snacks, and of course, wine! Plus, each season presents new scenery, such as blossoming flowers in the spring, hot weather in the summer, and winter festivals during the colder months. You can even extend your trip down to Fort Erie, which is south of Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Parkway is a short scenic drive running parallel to the Niagara River from Fort Erie at the bottom to Niagara-on-the-Lake at the top. It’s only 55 kilometres (34 miles) in length and takes just over an hour without any stops. Of course, doing the trip without stops would defeat the purpose, as you’d miss all the villages and attractions along the way, such as Old Fort Erie, Queen Victoria Park, Niagara Falls, the Butterfly Conservatory, a variety of wineries, and much more.
This short road trip can easily be made into a full day or a full week depending on what you want to do. For example, you could spend a day learning about the history of the area at Fort Erie, spend a few days in Niagara Falls to enjoy the beautiful views and the variety of attractions, and then spend a couple of days peddle-biking around wineries or catching one of the many performances during the Shaw Festival. After all, biking is so much better after a few glasses of wine.
Popular things to do include:
- Wandering through the Historic District
- Taking a food tour in Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Touring the many wineries
- Watching a performance at the Shaw Festival
- Taking a Hornblower Cruise at Niagara Falls
- Flying over Niagara Falls in a helicopter
Staying in Niagara Falls but wanting to explore the wineries without the worry of driving? The Niagara-on-the-Lake Shuttle offered from May 5th until October 29th is only $7.00 one-way for an adult ($5.00 for a child) and runs every 60 minutes from 10:30 am until 5:30 pm, departing from the Floral Clock.
Ottawa to Toronto via Algonquin Park
When it comes to visiting Canada’s capital city and Canada’s largest city, there’s no shortage of things to do in Toronto and Ottawa. However, far too many people take the major highway that connects both cities instead of opting for the much-more scenic route through Algonquin Park. Known as the Highway 60 Corridor, this road trip cuts through the south end of the park from the east gate to the west gate, taking you through lush forest, while providing many opportunities to explore hiking trails, beautiful lakes, lookout points, campgrounds, and even an art centre.
Think of it like a massive oasis right in-between two of Canada’s most famous cities. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of Ottawa, take a few days to get back to nature in Algonquin Park, and then get right back into the action in Toronto. If you still have time, continue down to Niagara Falls and the stunning wine region for even more relaxation and sightseeing.
Algonquin Provincial Park, established in 1893, is the oldest provincial park in Canada and a national historic site. It’s about 7,653 square kilometres (almost 3,000 square miles) and is a great place to spend a few days outdoors. It contains more than 2,400 lakes and more than 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers. Due to its location, it can be busy but is still a great opportunity to go hiking, canoeing, camping, wildlife viewing, or to simply see where the northern coniferous forest and southern deciduous forest meet.
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls may have been a hit song but we don’t advise listening to the lyrics when in Hamilton. This is, after all, Ontario’s waterfall capital, and we highly recommend you do go chasing them. Hamilton is only an hour’s drive from Toronto, making it one of the best day trips from Toronto, but also an excellent road trip as well. Rather than a long-distance type of drive, this one is more focused on seeing as many of the 100 waterfalls as you can.
All around the region, there are hiking trails and parks that allow you to see the thundering beauty of many different waterfalls, including the very popular Devils Punchbowl Falls, which is a 37-metre ribbon waterfall. Many of the waterfalls are located around the Bruce Trail Conservancy, but what makes this area unique is that you can easily combine some easy hikes through nature with urban charm as well, such as shopping for antiques on Locke Street, sightseeing at Dundas Peak, or learning about the city’s history at Dundurn Castle or the Steam and Technology Museum. Hamilton is also known for its thriving arts scene and the Supercrawl Festival, which is a great time to taste local food and craft beer.
Thousand Islands National Park
Perhaps one of the most beautiful and unique places in Ontario is Thousand Islands, which is just a short road trip from Ottawa or Toronto. Someone miscounted because there’s actually more than 1,800 islands residing around the St. Lawrence River, but either way, this is a gorgeous place to go for a road trip and then a water trip as well. Not only is it a stunning place to take a boat tour or to go kayaking and canoeing, but it’s also a great place to check out extraordinary lighthouses, historic castles, and learn about the unique history, which includes pirates and smuggling.
This national park straddles the American border and offers a range of things to do on land and on the water. If you had one of those cars that can also float in the water, this would be the trip to take!
Prince Edward County
If you love wine but are looking for something different than Niagara-on-the-Lake, consider visiting charming Prince Edward County in-between Toronto and Ottawa. A favourite amongst wine and cheese lovers, this vacation destination is the home to many passionate winemakers, giving you the chance to drink the province’s best Pinot Noir before walking the white sand beach of Sandbanks Provincial Park. But there’s more than Pinot Noir as well. The region is home to more than three dozen wineries, as well as two local cheese producers. In fact, if you really want to indulge, make your way here in June when the Great Canadian Cheese Festival comes to town. This can easily be a day trip from Toronto or Ottawa, but it’s much better to book a stay at a cottage or a local bed-and-breakfast and just relax.
Oxford County Cheese Trail
Want even more cheese? Then this road trip is for you. In Oxford County, near London, Ontario, you can follow a specific route to explore all 98 cheese factories in the area. Okay, maybe not all of them. That’s a lot of cheese! However, along the Oxford County Cheese Trail, you’ll find eight different companies showcasing their products and teaching you about the agricultural industry of the county. The nice thing about doing your own road trip tour is that you can make it as short or as long as you wish. Go for a few hours or stay for a few days. It’s not like it’s just cheese either. You’ll also find artisans, entertainment, and nature as well.
The entire trail consists of 24 stops featuring cheese, dairy, and other offerings that make for a unique road trip that’s not too far from both Toronto and Niagara Falls. It’s even close to some U.S. cities such as Detroit and Buffalo.
Downtown Toronto to Newmarket
While this 83-kilometre stretch of road may not be your typical road trip, it’s kind of a cool thing to do in Ontario. After all, it’s proclaimed to be the longest road in the world and is in the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s mostly situated on Yonge Street, taking you from the bustling downtown core of Toronto all the way north to Newmarket. You can visit the suburbs of Richmond Hill and North York, enjoy a glass of wine at Holland Marsh Winery, stroll the Newmarket Riverwalk Commons, or learn some history at the Elman W. Campbell Museum. In fact, the road itself is quite historical as it was part of the infrastructure that established Upper Canada in the 1790s and provided access to the Great Lakes in case of invasion from the U.S. after independence. If you want to continue North, you can visit places such as Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.
Lake Superior Circle Tour
Last but certainly not least, the Lake Superior Circle Tour is by-far the most adventurous Ontario road trip of them all. In fact, it’s on our bucket list of road trips in Canada. We’ve technically done half of the route but only did it to get from point A to point B, missing out on all the beautiful sights in-between. There are essentially two Lake Superior road trips you can do. The full Lake Superior Circle Tour takes you through the Canadian side on the northern half and the American side on the South. You will cross the border twice and should aim to spend a couple of weeks to fully enjoy it. The shorter version is the Lake Superior Half Circle Tour, which sticks only to the Canadian side, comprised of the area in-between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay. This stretch of the road trip is over 700 kilometres in length and can take anywhere from a really rushed-day to a multiple-week adventure. Please keep in mind that if you only do the Canadian version of the road trip, it’s one-way, which means you’ll have to come back the same way or continue on to other provinces such as Manitoba.
Popular places to visit include Thunder Bay, Ruby Lake Provincial Park, the Terry Fox Memorial, Rossport, Terrace Bay, Pukaskwa National Park, White River, Wawa, Lake Superior Provincial Park, and Sault Ste. Marie.
Road Trips in Ontario
While Ontario may not have those classic road trips like the Icefields Parkway or the Viking Trail, it does have a ton of interesting, fun, and beautiful destination that can easily be turned into a fabulous road trip. Whether you’re looking for a day trip from one of the major cities or looking to truly get into some adventure along the shores of Lake Superior, there’s no shortage of cool Ontario road trips for people of all types. We hope this article inspires your next trip and if there’s a road trip we missed, please let us know in the comments!
For more adventures in Ontario and beyond, check out these articles below: