Summer Self-Care Staycations in Ontario
Summer is finally here and we all deserve some time to exhale and make the most of it. With fluctuating Covid-19 restrictions still in place for many regions, that can make summertime planning a little tricky, but not impossible.
I know I’m not the only one ready to jump on a plane, but until breezy international travel is the norm again, the good news is that there’s lots to see and do in our own backyard. And our local businesses can definitely use the help.
So grab your friends and get ready to explore. Here’s a list of beautiful Ontario destinations to discover or rediscover this summer. Happy travels!
1. Prince Edward County
Just two hours east of Toronto and three hours southwest of Ottawa, beautiful Prince Edward County is always a top spot on the list of local getaways. With parks, beaches, wineries, and restaurants there’s always plenty to enjoy.
– Hit the beaches at Sandbanks Provincial Park.
– Browse through local works of art on the arts trail.
– Explore the heritage museums.
– Hike the Millennium Trail.
Local Gem: Hungry after all that sightseeing? Stop off at the Blumen Garden Bistro for a bite and a stroll through their lovely garden.
2. Hamilton Waterfall Walks
Besides being known for its local music scene, Hamilton is also the Waterfall Capital of the World! Boasting over 100 waterfalls, this region (just an hour west of Toronto) is easily a great pick for a day of serious hiking or gentle walks. Download your map and get ready to explore some of our choices below.
– Webster Falls: the largest waterfall (located in Dundas), great photo ops.
– Tiffany Falls: easy access, connections to the Bruce Trail.
– Devil’s Punchbowl: has the wow factor, a deep gorge with beautiful rock formations millions of years old.
– Albion Falls: scenic and impressive, views from above with two viewing platforms.
Local Gem: top off your waterfall hike by indulging in one of the sweet creations served up at Crumbled. — think artfully deconstructed cake in a cup along with other goodies like macarons and milkshakes.
3. Bruce Peninsula
From the Waterfall Capital of the World, we head north to the Bruce Peninsula, a region which is full of fun sites to explore, including the scuba diving capital of Canada. It takes anywhere from two to four hours from the Greater Toronto Area, depending on your exact destination, so you could easily spend a weekend or more here. Or get up early and make a day trip out of it.
– Tobermory, at the top of the peninsula, is known for its famous crystal clear waters. You can go scuba diving, visit Flowerpot Island, and visit the area’s quaint lighthouses.
– Hike or camp in the Bruce Peninsula National Park, home to some of the oldest trees in Canada. Make sure to visit the Grotto!
– At the south end of the peninsula is Sauble Beach, the second longest freshwater beach in the world. A prime spot to kitesurf, stroll, or just relax and watch the sunset at dusk.
– Feel like exploring a bit farther north? Take a relaxing cruise on the two-hour ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island.
Local Gem: Fans of fish and chips and pirate-themed bistros can stop in at Shipwreck Lee’s for locally-sourced whitefish in one of two locations close to the ferry.
Walking the streets of Niagara Falls can feel like you’re in the middle of a tourist trap, but this region has so much going for it that we just had to add it to our list. About an hour and a half southwest of Toronto, it’s a great choice for day-tripping with tons of stops along the QEW to keep you entertained.
– Throw a rock and you’ll hit a fantastic winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines, or Twenty Valley. Large-scale, organic, or boutique — there’s plenty to choose from. Or plan a tour and indulge responsibly for the day.
– Spend an afternoon in paradise at the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, one of the largest in North America.
– Walk the streets of scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake with its 19th-century homes and boutique stores in the Heritage District.
– Final destination — the Falls themselves. Stop for a photo op along the railing then take a stroll up Clifton Hill to visit the Fudge Factory or have a funnel cake. Top off the day with a ride on the massive Niagara Skywheel for breathtaking views of the falls and Niagara skyline.
Local Gem: Drive down early and start your day at kooky, homestyle landmark, the Flying Saucer Restaurant. Known for their breakfasts along with standard summery fare like hot dogs, burgers, and subs, you’ll definitely know it when you see it.
In the mood for grand architecture and riverside walks? Ottawa’s a great place to relax and explore at your own pace. Plan for about a four-and-a-half hour drive from Toronto (two hours from Montreal), then pack your bags and get ready to take in the sights of our nation’s capital.
– Take a stroll up to Parliament Hill and marvel at the Gothic architecture of our Parliament Buildings overlooking the Ottawa River. Check out the Peace Tower for must-see views of the city and stay to hear a performance of the Tower’s carillon bells (played daily on weekdays).
– Cool down by the Rideau Canal with a bike or paddle trip.
– Explore the history and culture of our First Nations with a trip to the Canadian Museum of History across the river in Gatineau. Book one of Indigenous Experiences’ group packages for a fun and educational day.
– If you’re in the mood for one-of-a-kind goods, check out the monthly Saturday 613flea marketplace at Lansdowne Pavilion.
Local Gem: For amazing views stop by Tavern on the Hill or Tavern on the Falls, sister canteens offering outdoor patio seating and live jazz nights.
Covid-19 advisories are always changing so make sure to check travel and visiting restrictions for any of the sites and regions you’d like to visit before you go.
To our American friends south of the border (and other international travellers): you might need to wait a while longer before you can visit, but we hope you’ll consider putting one of these stops on your Canadian bucket list! Check here for the most up-to-date information.
Bonus Tip: Pack a picnic lunch (or grab take-out) and check here or here for access to public washrooms when you meet up with friends for your day trip drive.
Do you have a go-to Ontario summer destination? Which sites are you planning to visit on your staycation? Let us know here!
Keisha Paterson is a lifetime writer of sticky-note poetry who enjoys comfort foods, self-care holidays, and Hawaiian dance. A prolific wanderer, she loves to discover and take home old orphaned books and eclectic records. She is an office manager, private yoga instructor, and freelance editor in Toronto.
Favourite Book: Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
Favourite brunch spot: Sisters and Co.
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