Ontario Cottage Country stretches across the province and is home to a myriad of world-class travel destinations that showcase Canada’s breathtaking landscape. With so many to choose from, where should you explore first? This list of 10 must-see locations is the perfect way to find your beach.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Located along the north shore of Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County, Sandbanks Provincial Park is an unforgettable experience. It boasts two of the world’s largest fresh water bay-mouth sandbars and is home to not one, but three, gorgeous beaches. There are options for every type of vacationer. Outlet Beach has warm shallow water that’s perfect for swimmers and families. Dunes Beach had a steep drop-off that appeals to boaters and wind-surfers. And Sandbanks Beach offers a more isolated, less touristy experience for sun-bathers who prefer peace and quiet. Hikers can also stroll along the Cedar Sands Trail to experience the unique ecology of a dune forest.
Canada’s smallest National Park—a mere 20 square km at the southernmost tip of Ontario—is one of its most famous. Every year, over 300,000 visitors make the trek to this tiny national treasure. Jutting out into Lake Erie, Point Pelee is one of the largest remaining wetlands in Southern Canada, but its landscape is a unique blend of lush forests, savannah grasslands, and marshes. The park nurtures 350 species of migrating birds, a mecca for avid birdwatchers. Over 700 varieties of plant life also flourish in the environment. The beach at Point Pelee is another highpoint, it’s shape constantly shifting with heavy winds and storms—sometimes flat and wide, other times and steep and narrow.
Spanning nearly 900 km from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest footpath. It weaves through the Niagara escarpment, an expansive cliffside that has been classified as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Hikers will think they’ve died and gone to heaven! Attractions along the trails include beautiful waterfalls that flow over the escarpment, Canada’s largest natural limestone caves, and impressive old-growth forests
Bon Echo Provincial Park
It’s easy to understand why Bon Echo attracts hordes of artists and photographers. Its most prominent feature is Mazinaw Rock, an awe-inspiring 1.5km sheer rock face that rises 100 metres out of one of Ontario’s deepest lakes. Years before modern painters became enchanted by Mazinaw, aboriginal artists created more than 260 pictograph on its surface that are still visible today. For the most breathtaking view of the park, take a ferry across the lake to the Cliff Top trail and hike 2km to a spectacular lookout spot.
Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve
This privately owned reserve covers 70,000 acres of hardwood forest, rivers, lakes and wetlands. It’s a hot spot for hikers and mountain bikers, with lots of wide accessible trails. Haliburton is trout country and fishing fans could spend weeks trying their luck on over 50 lakes, ponds and streams. But for an unparalleled adventure experience nature lovers have to go on the guided tour through the Forest in the Clouds, a 500 metre boardwalk suspended above the tree canopy. It’s the longest of its kinds in the world. 10—20 metres off the ground, hikers can get up close and personal with white pines and soak up a new perspective on the forest.
For anyone looking for a relaxing beach experience in a gorgeous locale, Sauble Beach in Bruce Country is the place to go. Stretching 10km, it’s the second longest freshwater beach in the world and considered by many to be the nicest beach in Ontario. Situated on lake Huron, Sauble is blessed with crystal-clear water and wonderfully soft sand. During the day, it’s the perfect place to kick back and soak up the sun. Stick around for nightfall and witness one of the most amazing sunset views in Ontario. And once the sun has set, head to the strip to sip a Corona with your friends at one of the storied beachside pubs like the Sauble Dunes Bar & Grill.
Arrowhead Provincial Park
Nestled in the heart of the Muskokas, Ontario’s hugely popular cottaging region that was named one of the world’s must-see places by National Geographic Traveler, Arrowhead Provincial Park is an oasis of quiet tranquility. Its two lakes, Mayflower and Arrowhead are protected from harsh winds by the surrounding forests, making them an ideal spot for kayakers and canoers. All water is motor boat free to ensure that nothing spoils the peaceful atmosphere. Hikers on the footpaths will also get to check out the historic remains of 1870’s homesteads along the trail.
Georgian Bay Islands
Made up of 30,000 islands scattered across the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, Georgian Bay National Park is an iconic destination. Travelling to and from the different islands by boat can be a invigorating paddling experience for kayakers who are up to the task—or a more leisurely affair for people who prefer to motor over. There are tons of secluded beaches for swimmers and sunbathers to choose from and fishing enthusiasts can catch a wide variety of dinner options.
Wabakimi Provincial Park
With 2000 km of lake and river to explore, the world’s largest wilderness canoe reserve is a paddler’s paradise. There’s a lot of variety in the water journey, with spots for high intensity white water kayaking and areas for leisurely floating. Wabakimi is packed full of dense forests that are home to wildlife such as caribou, moose and wolves. It’s a popular destination for hunters and fishers who fly-in to set their traps and bait their hooks in the back country.
Located in the Grand River Valley, Elora is a can’t-miss adventure spot for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in their natural surroundings and get their adrenaline pumping at the same time. Thrill seekers can zip line across 22 metre-high limestone cliffs, rappel down the steep face of the gorge, or bounce along the rushing waters of the Grand River in an inner tube.