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Road tripping Ontario – Circular route self-drive from Toronto
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The second largest province in Canada, Ontario is spread across over 450,000 square miles. This vast region is ripe for an unforgettable road trip, with a circular route from Toronto bringing everything from the world-class delights of the city to some of the most beautiful national parks, charming small towns and one of the wonders of the world.
Before embarking on your road trip through Ontario, spend a few days in your arrival city. Toronto is a world-class city that offers a thriving dining and shopping scene along with a wide range of cultural attractions. If you like sampling foods from around the world, this is one of the best places to do it. Thanks to its diverse population, Toronto is truly a foodie heaven, with districts that are devoted to a variety of cultures, like Little Italy, Little India, Koreatown, Greek on The Danforth and countless other world cuisines, including Caribbean, Japanese, Hungarian, Portuguese and plenty of Jewish restaurants and delis.
Enjoy lots of great shopping, from the famous St. Lawrence Market - named among the best of its kind in the world, with over 120 specialty food to upscale retailers in the Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood, designer boutiques in the pedestrian-only Distillery District and lots of malls and shopping centres. The CN Tower is not to be missed – zip to the top in the glass-fronted elevator for a bird’s-eye view of the city from Canada’s tallest structure and then enjoy the Ripley’s Aquarium at its base. The largest indoor aquarium in the country is spread over 135,000-square-feet and features some 20,000 aquatic animals. Stroll the moving walkway through the Dangerous Lagoon for close encounters with all sorts of creatures, including sharks. You can even participate in the Discovery Dive program, a 30-minute guided dive where you’ll swim among the sharks.
Muskoka Pioneer Village, Huntsville and Algonquin Provincial Park
Travel north from Toronto towards Huntsville and Algonquin Provincial Park, through Muskoka cottage country with its rolling hills and sparkling lakes. Muskoka Pioneer Village is a must-stop south of Huntsville. It represents a crossroads community in the area around the turn of the 20th-century, from 1880 to 1910. Visitors can experience life during the period in this living museum with historically recreated buildings, including a general store, blacksmith shop, a First Nation’s encampment, a one-room schoolhouse, livery, woodworking shop, train station and many other dwellings. Costumed narrators demonstrate pioneer life and entertain visitors through demonstrations and hands-on activities, including candle dipping and traditional baking.
Base yourself in Huntsville where you’ll find plenty to do. In the summer it’s especially popular for hiking and canoeing, and while much of its attractions are related to outdoor adventures, visitors can also enjoy shopping more than 120 independent shops and boutiques that offer locally-made handcrafted items, and browse the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery with its over 90 murals that celebrate the artwork of famous Ontario landscape painters. If you like wine, at Wine Not Huntsville you can even make your own wine with a personalized label. Only a short drive from downtown is Arrowhead Provincial Park which offers lots of scenic trails, waterfalls, and wildlife like deer, fox, beaver and moose. It also hosts rivers and lakes for paddling, with kayaks and canoes available to rent at the main beach. Just north of Huntsville is Algonquin Provincial Park, spread over 4,750 miles made up of lakes, forests and rolling hills, an ideal destination for nature lovers to explore. Picnicking, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, canoeing and wildlife watching are all popular here.
Killarney Provincial Park
If you’ve visited the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery in Huntsville, now you’ll have the opportunity to discover those breath-taking landscapes that once inspired the iconic group of artists. About three hours northwest, this spectacular region of northern Ontario is considered the jewel of the province’s parks system with its deep sapphire blue lakes, lush pine forests and ancient white cliffs made of quartzite. It’s popular for canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and camping. There are also some fantastic resorts like Killarney Mountain Lodge which sits along the shoreline of Georgian Bay. On both Georgian Bay and George Lake, you can paddle through the crystal-clear blue waters surrounded by views of the awe-inspiring wilderness. If you want to embark on an epic hike, take the just under 7-mile trek to Topaz Lake, a postcard-perfect stunner with an array of surreal sapphire and turquoise hues all surrounded by quartzite cliffs.
Timmins and Cedar Meadows Wildlife Park
Venturing further north through beautiful wilderness, Timmins offers lots to travellers, both in town and out. The small town has a rich mining history to explore with mining tours available, and opportunities for outdoor adventure abound. There are over 500 lakes and rivers in the area, popular for kayaking and canoeing, the chance to play a round or two of golf, or just browse the shops and art galleries in town. Cedar Meadows Wildlife Park is the place to go for close encounters with Canadian moose. After a day of fun, enjoying dining with a wide range of outstanding local eateries in town, and perhaps take advantage of the nightlife, including taverns, pubs, nightclubs and lounges.
Heading to west to Wawa along the northern shores of Lake Superior, you’ll pass through some of Ontario’s most remote areas, filled with glistening lakes, soaring cliffs and endless dense forest. The town itself is renowned for its gigantic Canadian goose statue that overlooks the highway and is a popular base for fishing, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, four-wheeling and more. You might want to stroll along the boardwalk that follows alongside Wawa Lake, and perhaps dip your weary feet into the refreshingly cool waters. There’s a beach with pristine white sands that’s ideal for relaxing on while gazing at the surrounding scenery, and nearby at Sandy Beach Eco-Interpretive Park you can learn about the region’s First Nations’ history. The park also hosts a white sandy beach on the lake that’s framed by sand dunes, rocky cliffs and greenery. It’s ideal for swimming and sunbathing too.
Sault Ste Marie and Pancake Bay Provincial Park
Driving south along Lake Superior’s shores, you’ll reach Sault Ste. Marie. This incredibly scenic city has a picturesque boardwalk that ends at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site where you can watch the boaters inside the historic locks linking to Lake Superior enter the water or prepare to leave. Continue on, crossing the locks to view the St. Marys River rapids which contain an abundance of various species of fish. You can also take a tour of the locks, cruising the first original canoe lock. The city is also home to some great museums like the Sault Ste. Marie Art Gallery and Museum and the Bush Plane museum where you can explore the history of flight as well as forest fire protection. It features an astounding number of full-size aircraft that can be viewed, and you can even take a seat in a cockpit and climb in the hold of a water bomber. There’s plenty of scenery and outdoor adventure nearby too, including Pancake Bay Provincial Park which lies along the shoreline of Lake Superior. Get out on the Caribbean-like waters at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, paddling the picturesque shoreline of Lake Superior, or hike the Pancake Bay Nature Trail.
Manitoulin Island brings even more opportunities for recreational activities among jaw-dropping scenery as well as to delve into the area’s a rich cultural history. The world’s largest freshwater island, there are five First Nation reservations here and it’s also home to one of North America’s oldest settlements – it dates back some 10,000 years.
In the morning, you might go “lake-hopping,” as this geographic wonder hosts over 100 lakes, including Lake Manitou which has a number of lakes on its own. This is the ultimate place for activities like fishing, boating and even diving, but it also offers some fantastic hikes. Take the Cup and Saucer Trail where you’ll get a jaw-dropping vista over the escarpment, lakes and wetlands, and then Visit Bridal Veil Falls where you can capture a unique picture from behind the curtain of water. Cap off the day with a sunset canoe paddle.
Torbermory and Bruce Peninsula National Park
Travel to the south shore of the island to board the Chi-Cheemaun ferry which will bring you across the deep waters of Lake Huron to the harbour village of Tobermory and Bruce Peninsula National Park, which is actually made up of two parks one of which is under the water. On land, hike one of the many scenic trails and then, if you’re into scuba diving, you can dive down to see the marine park which preserves shipwrecks and natural diving obstacles.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, passing a beautiful 59-foot-high waterfall along the way known as Inglis Falls. The park itself sits on a narrow stretch of land between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Over time, the water has eroded the shoreline, creating overhanging cliffs and deep-sea caves like The Grotto. One of the most popular destinations in the area, it can be reached with a 30-minute hike. It’s an idea place for a refreshing dip, with the brilliant blue waters reached via a natural rock chimney.
This approximately four-hour road trip covers about 185 miles, with the stretch along the peninsula especially impressive. You’ll end up at Bruce Peninsula National Park, passing a beautiful 59-foot-high waterfall along the way known as Inglis Falls. The park itself sits on a narrow stretch of land between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Over time, the water has eroded the shoreline, creating overhanging cliffs and deep-sea caves like The Grotto. One of the most popular destinations in the area, it can be reached with a 30-minute hike. It’s an idea place for a refreshing dip, with the brilliant blue waters reached via a natural rock chimney.
Niagara Falls serves as the grand finale of this fantastic road trip. One of the great wonders of the world, it straddles the U.S. and Canada border in south-eastern Ontario with more than 750,000 gallons of water per second that thunders down the 167-foot waterfall, considered the most powerful on the continent. The Canadian side of the falls is often said to be the most impressive, and Horseshoe Falls, one of the three waterfalls that make up Niagara, also known as Canadian Falls, carries about nine times the amount of water the U.S. side has. It can be viewed from a variety of perspectives. You can feel their mist (or get completely drenched) by embarking on a boat tour, explore the hydroelectric tunnels going beyond the falls just before heading to the observation deck to feel the roaring sensation just steps away, or get a bird’s-eye view by going up in a helicopter.
There are other attractions here as well, like the Butterfly Conservatory where you can walk through some 2,000 butterflies that flitter about. Dining at the Revolving Dining Room at the Skylon Tower is especially unforgettable, providing awe-inspiring views
of the falls from 775 feet above.