The seven wonders of rural Ontario

Sleeping Giant, (Dorion, northwest Ontario)

Ontario may only have one of the seven wonders of the natural world (the northern lights!) but we don’t need the Great Barrier Reef or the Grand Canyon to figure out that nature is awesome—we’ve got some incredible natural wonders right in our own backyard.

Sleeping Giant (Dorion, northwest Ontario)

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Viewed from Thunder Bay, the Sibley Peninsula looks like a giant person, sleeping on its back. One Ojibwe legend says that the figure is the trickster Nanabozho, who was turned to stone after revealing the location of a silver mine at the tip of the peninsula. But while the sight from Thunder Bay is gorgeous, you can also experience Sleeping Giant up close and personal at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which boasts hiking and skiing trails on some of Ontario’s highest cliffs—all the better to get spectacular views of Lake Superior.

Kakabeka Falls (Kakabeka Falls, northwest Ontario)

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While you’re visiting Sleeping Giant, head a little west and stop at Kakabeka Falls, Ontario’s second-highest waterfall aptly nicknamed “the Niagara of the North.” Eroding the Precambrian Shield at the bottom of the falls, the Kaministiquia River has revealed 1.6 billion year-old fossils, some of the oldest in existence. The river forms part of a traditional voyageur route, with a mountain portage around the falls.

Ouimet Canyon (Dorion, northwest Ontario)

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Really, northwestern Ontario is a treasure trove of natural wonders. East of Thunder Bay, you’ll find Ouimet Canyon, a 100-metre-deep gorge crisscrossed with boardwalks and trails that connect to viewing platforms. Check out Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park or, if you feel particularly adventurous (and don’t mind paying a little more money), head to the privately owned Eagle Canyon close by and experience Canada’s longest foot suspension bridge (600 metres!) and the country’s highest, longest and fastest zipline.

Bonnechere Caves (Eganville, Ottawa Valley)

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Carved out of the limestone by acidic waters, the Bonnechere Caves were once the bottom of a 500 million-year-old prehistoric sea—which means not only are there great underground sights to be seen, but the caves are also a great place to learn about fossils. The caves also feature dramatic stalactites, as well as a resident population of bats. Guided tours of the caves, located about 90 minutes from Ottawa, are available from the May long weekend until after Thanksgiving. Make sure to bring a sweater, as the temperature in the caves stays a chilly 10 degrees.

Thousand Islands (Kingston)

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There are actually more than 1,800 islands that make up the Thousand Islands, which dot the St. Lawrence River as it makes its way out of Lake Ontario. Stretching about 50 kilometres downstream from Kingston, the Thousand Islands straddle the US-Canada border and were hotly contested during the War of 1812. Interestingly, Thousand Islands National Park is Canada’s oldest national park east of the Rockies. While there are lots of neat man-made sights to see, including several lavish “castles” from the turn of the 20th century, you can get a sense of the islands up-close by kayaking or canoeing and hiking.

The grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park (Tobermory)

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This sparkling cove of crystal-clear water hollowed into the Bruce Peninsula is one of Ontario’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. The stunning blue water is reminiscent of the Caribbean, especially in the sun, but don’t be fooled — the temperature of the water is chilly at best. Wear good shoes, since getting to the grotto requires a half-hour hike (longer if the closest parking lot fills up), but the scenery is beautiful enough to make the hike worthwhile. If you can’t get enough of the gorgeous water (or you want to avoid the climb down to the grotto), take a dip at Indian Head Cove. And while you’re on the Bruce Peninsula, take a boat to Flowerpot Island, the home of unique flowerpot-shaped limestone formations.

Niagara Escarpment (South-central Ontario)

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OK, we know the Niagara Escarpment actually extends from New York to Wisconsin—including 725 kilometres through Ontario—which means it’s not exactly something you can stand in one place and experience all at once. Once the floor of an ancient sea-bed, the escarpment’s limestone cliffs and caves extend from Queenston to Manitoulin Island. But whether you plan a hike along the Bruce Trail to see the many waterfalls in and around Hamilton, or check out the stunning view from Rattlesnake Point near Milton, or go mountain biking down Blue Mountain in Collingwood, the escarpment—named a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO — is a unique feature of the Ontario landscape.