It’s almost summer, and while Ontario isn’t exactly a beachy destination, we have our share of nice sandy stretches on the Great Lakes and beyond. The problem? Everyone seems to hit the same destinations, all at once. Here’s a list of beaches that pack ‘em in—great if you’re looking for some people-watching fun, not so great if all you want to do is relax on the sand and forget the world exists.
Cobourg Beach, Lake Ontario
Ninety minutes east of Toronto, Cobourg Beach has lovely sand, a beautiful historic lighthouse, and lots to do. There’s a kids’ play area and splashpad if the little ones don’t feel like swimming in the lake, as well as snack bars and a boardwalk perfect for strolling. Sure, it gets busy, but there’s usually still plenty of space for everyone.
The Grotto, Bruce Peninsula National Park
The water may be super-cold, but that doesn’t stop people from flocking to this cave on the Bruce Peninsula famous for its crystal-clear blue water. On summer weekends, parking runs out quickly, resulting in crowds and long waits. It’s gorgeous, but consider going during the week to escape the crowds.
Wasaga Beach, Georgian Bay
Ontario’s equivalent to spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Wasaga Beach goes bananas on summer long weekends with 20-somethings cruising up and down the beach. You might get a kick out of watching the extended mating rituals (they seem to involve very high heels and loud car stereos) but if you actually want to enjoy the longest freshwater beach in the world without the spectacle, there are lots of options beyond the town’s main drag.
Sandbanks Provincial Park, Picton
Outlet Beach in Sandbanks Provincial Park is known for its shallow, clear water and regularly attracts a young, party-loving crowd—but all three beaches at Sandbanks can get crowded on sunny summer weekends. Get there early to score a good spot, and to avoid lining up for a parking spot. If you really aren’t into crowds and don’t need to swim, go during the week or wait until spring or fall to check out the beach and the dunes.
Grand Bend, Lake Huron
Definitely known as a party beach, Grand Bend is ringed with bars and restaurants—meaning the festivities can continue even after the sun goes down. If you do decide to check it out, consider parking closer to the main street and walking to the beach, as parking spots by the sand can be hard to come by. And if you get tired of the crowds, there are lots of great little shops to check out.
Sauble Beach, Lake Huron
It can be crowded, but those who love Sauble love it a lot. Along with 11 km of clean white sand, Sauble Beach also boasts a great community, with movie nights, classic car displays, and a friendly, small-town feel. Definitely more family-friendly than Grand Bend, Sauble is a happy kind of crowded.
Port Dover, Lake Erie
Don’t go on a Friday the 13th unless you’re on a motorcycle, and get there early on summer weekends for the best beach spots and a close-by parking spot. Warm water and restaurants that serve Lake Erie perch make Port Dover a great place to visit. For a truly classic experience, once you’re finished swimming, go to the Cove Room at the Erie Beach hotel, order perch, and gorge yourself on the hotel’s famous celery bread.
Crystal Beach, Fort Erie
Nice and warm, Crystal Beach is close to Fort Erie, so attracts both Americans and Canadians. The fun fair and roller coaster that used to be there are now long gone, but the clear water and people-watching opportunities provide more than enough stimulation for the senses. Parking is $10, and be prepared—there are restrooms, but not a lot of space to change.