Highway 7 is one of Ontario’s oldest highways, and before Highway 401 was built, it was the main thoroughfare that connected Toronto to Ottawa. Now, it cuts right through eastern Ontario’s cottage country, winding around towns like Sharbot Lake, Kaladar, Madoc, and Peterborough. It’s a popular route for cottagers or just about anyone looking to escape for a weekend. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of nine stops along Highway 7. Whether it’s for food, fun, or just to stretch your legs, add these places to your list and experience all that the eastern part of the province has to offer.
Where: Highway 7A at Highway 12, southwest of Port Perry
Okay, technically this one’s not on the old Highway 7, but it’s close enough. After Highway 7 splits into Highway 12 and Highway 7A west of Peterborough, follow Highway 7A down to Port Perry. Just off the road is Haugen’s Chicken and Ribs, a hidden gem that is rumoured to be one of the best places for barbecue in Ontario. In operation for 70 years, it has been a community staple in Port Perry and the Lake Scugog area. They offer succulent barbecue chicken, ribs, burgers, sandwiches, and a whole lot more. Portion sizes are always large, and service is always friendly.
Where: New location at 2077 Ashburnham Drive, 5 minutes from Highway 7 in downtown Peterborough
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until late summer 2023 to visit the Canadian Canoe Museum, which is currently moving to a bigger and better location. They will reopen right on the waterfront in downtown Peterborough, which is a great spot to see not only the museum but the town itself. The Canadian Canoe Museum explores Canadian heritage and history through the unique lens of the canoe and other watercraft, which provides rich context to some of your favourite boating and paddling adventures. The museum boasts over 100 canoes, lots of Indigenous history, interactive galleries, a scavenger hunt, and puppet shows for kids. We also recommend exploring Peterborough, a scenic city that is the southern gateway to the Kawarthas and right on the Trent-Severn Waterway.
Where: Highway 7 and Regional Road 38
Rawr! Did you know that Ontario has its very own dinosaur park? Well, you can’t see real dinosaurs here, but they have life-sized, convincing replicas. Located east of Peterborough, Indian River Reptile Zoo and Dinosaur Park is a zoo and museum specializing in all things Jurassic. They have some great interactive galleries that the kids will love. You can walk or drive through the exhibits, which are mostly outdoors, but inside, they have a reptile zoo that doubles as a not-for-profit sanctuary for abandoned reptiles and other animals. All proceeds from ticket sales go toward the sanctuary, so if you want to support a great cause while having a fun-filled day, we highly recommend checking them out.
Where: Off of Highway 7 in downtown Norwood
Jack’s Family Restaurant in downtown Norwood offers tasty bites and wholesome homemade meals for affordable prices. It’s rumoured to have some of the best fish and chips in eastern Ontario, and other famous seafood options include fish tacos, clam chowder, and shrimp and chips. They also have burgers, poutine, ribs, and even fancier options, such as braised lamb shanks and liver and onions. We also recommend exploring the picturesque town of Norwood, which has many stately historical buildings, a well-maintained main street, and beautiful gardens in Lion’s Park.
Where: Highway 7 and Yarrow Lane, equidistance between Marmora and Madoc
The Iron Rooster is a motorcycle-themed rotisserie and grill located on Highway 7 between Marmora and Madoc. It’s known by locals for its delicious chicken wings, which their website claims are the best around town. But they also offer other delicious assortments of barbecue classics, such as chicken, beef burgers, and more than a dozen appetizers. Every year, they throw a huge block party hosted by a local Harley Davidson aficionado group, and the event has live music, a beer tent, a barbecue, a farmer’s market, and a raffle for prizes. It’s happening next in August 2023—if you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you must check them out!
Where: On Highway 41, 20 minutes north of Highway 7 and Highway 41 in Kaladar
This one’s a little far off the beaten path, but we promise it’s worth it! Located 20 minutes north of Kaladar off Highway 7, Bon Echo Provincial Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Ontario and one of the most popular for camping and RVing. It offers some of the best hiking trails in eastern Ontario, which range in distance and difficulty from one kilometre to almost 20 kilometres. The park is home to the legendary “Painted Rock,” which contains over 250 Indigenous pictograms that showcase the area’s spiritual significance. Painted Rock towers 100 metres over Mazinaw Lake, a stunning cliff that seems to rise straight out of the water—breathtaking!
Where: Highway 7 and Highway 43, 25 minutes south of Carleton Place
Nowhere in particular in Perth, just Perth itself! If you love small, kitschy, and rural Ontario towns, then you’ll want to explore downtown Perth for its quaint and quiet charms. Walk along the Tay River Trail, a historic portaging route from the early 19th century, and see the famous red bridge in Stewart Park. Every street corner offers cute shops, fine dining, and statuesque historic buildings. The Perth Brewery deserves a special shout-out for its fantastic selection of craft beer, and Rideau Antiques to the south of town deserves a visit for its huge offering of antiques and farm memorabilia in a country setting.
Where: On County Road 511, 10 minutes north of Perth off Highway 7
If you visit Perth, you might as well visit Balderson as well—arguably the cheese capital of eastern Ontario. Located only 10 minutes north of Perth off Highway 7, the Balderson Village Cheese Store is an iconic institution that’s been in operation since 1881. They offer a wide variety of premium cheeses, all made in-house and aged to perfection. Their specialty is cheddar in all ways, shapes, and forms, such as double-smoked orange cheddar, extra-aged white cheddar, and cheddar in mild and medium flavours. Don’t forget to pick up some meats, maple syrup, honey, jams, or other delicious spreads. They even offer pre-made charcuterie boards—score!
Where: On Highway 7 near Innisville, 15 minutes south of Carleton Place
The last (but not least) on our list is Mississippi Lake National Wildlife Area and Bird Sanctuary. Located on the small hideaway of McEwen Bay, Mississippi Lake’s wildlife area is a popular spot for fishing, hiking, biking, and birdwatching. If you’re in need of a quick stop to stretch your legs on the drive to the cottage, this is it. It’s also an environmentally important location in eastern Ontario, serving as a protected wetland and haven for species of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. It’s also been a sanctuary for migratory birds since 1959, and shelters more than 10,000 ducks during duck hunting season. If you’re a bird or duck lover, this is the place to see coveted species such as ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teals, green-winged teals, and hooded mergansers.
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