Ontario Road Trip Planner: 5 Regions You Need to Visit
Rich in history, summer fresh produce, urban sophistication and iconic landmarks, Ontario offers experiences that will make travellers want to come back again and again.
From the expansive wilderness north of Lake Superior to the dense big city life of the Greater Toronto Area, this beautiful part of Canada is full of unique adventures every kilometre of the way.
You could fit 162 provinces the size of Prince Edward Island into Ontario’s land mass, so don’t try to cover it all in one road trip. If you want to beat the summer heat and traffic, consider a visit in April or May. This guide will get you started.
Entering Ontario from the United States either by the industrial city of Sarnia, at the outlet of Lake Huron, or Windsor, just across the river from Detroit, head north along Highway 7.
Connecting eventually to Highway 21, the road traces sandy beaches along Lake Huron past summer playgrounds, like Grand Bend, Inverhuron and Southampton Beach on the way to the quaint hamlet of Tobermory, which sits at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula.
Dozens of well-preserved shipwrecks to explore
Tobermory, Ontario | Photo: Blue Heron Cruises
Tobermory buzzes in summer with tourists exploring artisan boutiques, tasting local craft beers and sampling great local pub food. The Fathom Five National Marine Park at the edge of town is a diver’s Mecca, with dozens of well-preserved shipwrecks to explore.
Just a few kilometres south, Bruce Peninsula National Park features popular swimming spots, like Boulder Beach and Indian Head Cove, and the famous turquoise waters and intricate cave structures of The Grotto. Make sure to reserve your parking spot in advance.
Niagara Peninsula/Niagara Falls
Heading straight south from Tobermory on Highway 6, it’s a 4 ½ hour drive through the heart of Ontario’s verdant farm country past Kitchener/Waterloo and Hamilton to St. Catharines. This lakeside city is at the northern terminus of the Welland Canal, which allows massive freighters to travel between lakes Erie and Ontario.
Over 100 Ontario wineries in the region
Wineries in the Niagara Peninsula region | Photo: Niagara Falls Tourism
It’s also the entry point to the Niagara wine region, where 100-plus wineries produce 10 million litres of world-class pinot noirs, chardonnays, Rieslings and cabernet franc. Stop for tastings on your way to the charming town of Niagara-On-The-Lake, home to the Shaw Festival Theatre and site of pivotal battles during the War of 1812.
Of course, no trip to the area is complete without a visit to one of the world’s most famous honeymoon destinations, Niagara Falls. North America’s largest waterfall by volume, its stunning Horseshoe Falls are dazzling by day or under spotlights by night.
Book a ride on the Maid of the Mist, which takes tourists right up to the edge of the falls or walk under the falls via the Cave of the Winds before heading downtown to shop in the city’s kitschy main drag, Lundy’s Lane.
From Niagara Falls, it’s a two-hour drive around the Golden Horseshoe on the multi-lane Queen Elizabeth Way to Toronto, Canada’s largest and most diverse city. Make sure you travel during off-hours to avoid bumper-to-bumper frustration.
There is so much to do in Toronto, you could spend a month. Start at the top of the CN Tower in the heart of downtown for a breathtaking view of the city and Lake Ontario. If you time it well, you could catch a Blue Jays MLB game at the Rogers Centre multi-purpose stadium.
More to see aside from the CN Tower
Casa Loma | Photo: destinationtoronto.com
Other must-see highlights include the massive 98-room Casa Loma, the historic Distillery District, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. The two-storey St. Lawrence Market on the waterfront is jammed with fresh produce and countless artisan outlets. A nearby ferry can also take you to and from the quiet Toronto Islands park, minutes from the waterfront.
Prince Edward County
After all that urban intensity, a drive east from Toronto is as soothing as an afternoon martini. At Port Hope – about an hour east of the big city – hop onto the mellow two-lane Highway 2, which traces the north shore of Lake Ontario until it spills into the St. Lawrence River.
As you amble at a leisurely pace past Kingston, you’ll reach the Thousand Islands, an archipelago of islands (actually 1,864 of them) that stretch 80 kilometres along the St. Lawrence. Take the time to catch a sightseeing cruise for a closeup look at the islands.
Prince Edward County | Photo: The Globe and Mail
No cook’s tour of Ontario would be complete without a visit to the nation’s capital, Ottawa, which sits on the Ottawa River on the border between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. But first, head to the town of Perth, which started as a military settlement in 1816. A guided walking tour of downtown will reveal many historic surprises, such as the fact that this was the site of the last fatal duel in Upper Canada.
Gothic Parliament buildings, Rideau Canal, and the Haunted Walk of Ottawa
Rideau Canal | Photo: iStock
Just an hour northeast lies Ottawa, home to the country’s Gothic Parliament buildings (grab a photo with an RCMP sentry). Other must-see attractions include several of Canada’s national museums, the Rideau Canal, the Royal Canadian Mint and fun tours, such as the Haunted Walk of Ottawa.
Over your tour, you will have covered about 1,400 kilometres (840 miles) and sampled some of the best the province has to offer.
Now, it's time to plan your Ontario road trip and download some worthy travel apps. Here are 9 of the Best Road Trip Apps You Can Download for Free.