Take a road trip to one (or all) of these charming destinations and you’re guaranteed to experience some of the best sights, experiences and meals the province has to offer.
Late spring is arguably the best time to explore Ontario. So, why not take advantage of the sunshine and warm temperatures by planning a weekend trip to the County of Brant, the Kawartha Lakes or the Haliburton Highlands? You’ll be able to get your fill of arts and entertainment, set out on a mouth-watering Butter Tart Tour and take in the natural beauty from hiking trails and lookout points at all these delicious destinations.
County of Brant
Home to Paris, St. George and more than 25 other quaint communities, the County of Brant offers over 250 acres of pristine parkland – which means you’re likely to work up an appetite while exploring. Start the day off right with brunch at the Sociable Kitchen + Tavern. (Try the chicken and waffles or barbecued brisket hash.) For locally-grown eats, like rhubarb and sweet corn, head to Brantwood Farms, where you can pick your own strawberries, too. Then, load up on tasty local eats, from cheese and sausages to organic coffee, at the 49-stall Brantford Farmers’ Market. For more take-home treats, stop by The Windmill Country Market for a homemade bumbleberry pie and apricot jam. Wind down in the tasting room at Steelwheel Breweries, where you can try local, small-batch brews like Norwegian oat pale ale and a sour-sauvignon blend. For dinner, Fume Resto Bar is an ideal spot for a date night. Try a limoncello thyme prosecco and tuck into some squash ravioli before calling it a night.
What to do: Take a one-hour tour at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, where you’ll learn the history of the Six Nations (Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Seneca, and Tuscarora). Seeing real artifacts and hearing stories along the way will bring the experience to life. Keep the history lesson going with a visit to the Bell Homestead National Historic Site, the home in Brantford where Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1874. The models of the first telephones are still there! If you’re up for a real adventure, make a reservation with the Grand River Rafting Company for a three- to five-hour Turbo Tubing tour from Paris to Brant Park. You’ll need to paddle in some spots, but the views make it worth the effort; and if you need a water break, there are even fresh springs you can drink from.
Where to stay: Betty’s Place Bed and Breakfast in Burford. The breakfast, which often includes Betty’s famous crescent bacon rings, is not to be missed. There’s even a chocolate shop on site with 21 kinds of German chocolate bark, which makes for a delicious souvenir.
An hour and a half northeast of Toronto, Kawartha Lakes is made up of 24 communities (including Lindsay and Fenelon Falls) with more than 250 lakes and rivers. Bobcaygeon, home to the first lock along the Trent-Severn Waterway, is an especially fun spot to explore. The Bobcaygeon Farmers Market is an ideal way to spend a Saturday morning. You’ll find local vendors including Martin Family Farm, which offers summer sausage, pies, tomato plants and more. Dessert lovers will definitely want to hit a stop or two on the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. Download a map online to check out the 50 spots you can visit for gooey, flaky tarts, including the Bobcaygeon Bakery. Or, cool off with a cone at the headquarters of Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream. This family-owned company is famous for its delicious flavours made with fresh cream from local farmers. Go for a classic flavour like Moose Tracks or try the newer Iced Coffee Sorbet. When evening falls, enjoy an Old Dog Brewery Single Malt Scottie by the fireplace at The Original Just for the Halibut Tap House and Grill. The restaurant is known for its delicious seafood dishes, including steamed P.E.I. mussels and pan-seared Ontario wild-caught pickerel.
What to do: Pick up a bicycle from the Bike Share program at Lock 32 and cycle the South Sturgeon Route toward Lindsay for some amazing views of Sturgeon Lake. The 36-kilometre route will take you by Kawartha Settlers’ Village, where you can walk between 20 historic buildings and get a feel for what life in the Kawarthas was like between 1830 and 1935. And you can’t leave Bobcaygeon without a visit to the beloved Bigley Shoes & Clothing. The legendary store has more than 40,000 pairs of shoes and 25,000 swimsuits!
Where to stay: For some well-deserved relaxation, reserve a cottage at Blue Pigeon Resort. With amenities like a saltwater swimming pool, boat rentals and designated campfire spots, the resort is an ideal place to slow down and take in some gorgeous sunsets.
The highlands are known for their stunning rock faces, lakes, valleys and unique outdoor activities. The population more than triples during the warmer months of the year, but there’s still more than enough space for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors. And there’s plenty of great food to enjoy, from woodfired pizza from Into the Blue Bakery at the Haliburton County Farmers’ Market to the Reuben sandwich of McKeck’s, a cottage country institution that was originally opened by Toronto Maple Leaf player Walt McKechnie. Beer lovers will want to chill out with a pint of Spruce Kveik – flavoured with locally-foraged spruce tips, of course – at award-winning micro-brewery Haliburton Highlands Brewing. And if you’re camping or renting a cottage, the fresh and frozen options at AM/PM Outdoor Gourmet are made with local ingredients, and can easily be heated and served. Try the sundried white bean salad and the Jamaican jerk wings.
What to do: Take in some incredible views on the Haliburton Forest Canopy Tour, a four-part adventure that begins with a scenic drive through the forest (in your own car). Next, you’ll canoe across a lake and go for a guided walk along the Pelaw River Rapids before the best part: climbing 20 metres up into the treetops. The canopy boardwalk is over half a kilometre long (the longest of its kind in the world) and offers breathtaking views of Haliburton Forest. Later, catch a flick at Highland Cinemas Kinmount, a museum and movie theatre in one. Get there early to check out the impressive collection of film memorabilia and projectors. The Haliburton Sculpture Forest is a great place to take in some local art in a beautiful, natural setting, and it’s budget friendly, too. The entry fee is donation-based and there are free guided tours in July and August. The collection is made up of works by Canadian and international artists.
Where to stay: The Lakeview Motel in Haliburton is the perfect place to unwind after a long day spent exploring, especially if you book a room with an outdoor jacuzzi! Its country-style rooms are cozy and comfortable – and pets are welcome here, too.
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This piece was originally published in the April 29th Edition of the Great Taste of Ontario Special Report in the Globe and Mail.