There’s nothing quite like driving through Canada. The rise and fall of the mountains, the woodlands giving way to vast oceans and lakes. Luckily, roads weave through Ontario’s wilderness, unobtrusively but extensively enough to allow communities to stay connected and travellers to explore.
Hiring a motorhome in Canada is an excellent option for those who wish to get a little closer to nature on their holiday. From epic journeys covering over 1,300 miles to short but sweet highways passing some of the country’s most iconic natural sights, here are our favourite scenic drives around Ontario.
Perfect for: Seeing Niagara Falls and sampling wine
Despite being one of the shortest routes on our list at just 34 miles, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful. In 1943 Winston Churchill described the Niagara River Parkway as the ‘prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world’. It stretches out from Niagara-on-the-Lake in the north to Fort Erie in the south. With incredible views over the Niagara River and the chance to look down onto Niagara Falls, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to stop for photos.
Chelsey Tobin, travel media relations coordinator at Niagara Parks, told us what you can expect to see along the way: “The Niagara Parkway connects everything in Niagara Parks. Whether it’s our natural attractions (Journey Behind the Falls, the Whirlpool Aero Car and White Water Walk), our four heritage sites, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, our two golf courses, or our five Feast On certified restaurants. The Niagara Parkway stretches 56 kilometres along the Niagara River and passes directly in front of the falls.”
On the road you’ll pass through several towns, including the community of Chippawa, south of the falls. This picturesque village was founded in around 1850 and today forms part of the City of Niagara Falls. Although it’ll be a fairly quiet stop on your Ontario road trip, the town still offers beautiful buildings and parks. Film buffs will be interested to know that Chippawa was once the home of director James Cameron, who has made blockbuster films like the Titanic and Avatar.
As you travel along the parkway, whether you’re travelling from north to south or vice versa, you will have the opportunity to stop at Niagara Falls. The road passes right by the falls, so you really can’t miss them! But if you want to hop out of your motorhome to take in the views over a picnic, there’s no better time.
Exquisite wineries line the Niagara Parkway, so there’s no excuse not to sample the goods. Riverview Cellars is a tempting stop, offering wine tastings from just $5 per person. This option gives you a flight of three premium table wines recommended by their in-house experts, as well as a lesson on proper sampling techniques and wine pairings. Foodies may wish to upgrade their tasting to include cheese and charcuterie as well as a tour of the vineyard. Other wineries along the Niagara Parkway include Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant, Marynissen Estates and Reif Estate Winery.
Lake Superior Circle Tour
Perfect for: Active travellers
Travel all the way around the world’s largest freshwater lake on this epic Ontario road trip. At 1,300 miles, it’s the longest route on our list and it also crosses through the US states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. With so many miles to cover, the landscape changes before your eyes, passing crystal clear lakes for swimming, lighthouses perched on clifftops and fascinating historical sites.
Whether you’re an active explorer hoping to kayak through the lake or a history buff seeking out the story of the land, we’re sure you’ll love the Lake Superior Circle Tour. 1,300 miles is a lot to cover, so we’ve picked out just some of our recommended sights and activities. If you’re planning to drive the whole way in a hired motorhome, you may wish to get a copy of the Lake Superior Circle Tour Adventure Guide.
Kayak along the cliffs
While hitting the road to explore Ontario is amazing, it’s worth swapping the steering wheel for a paddle to kayak on Lake Superior. By booking a kayaking tour with organisations such as Naturally Superior, you can really make the most of your time on the lake. “For travellers journeying around the lake, we think it is absolutely essential that they experience Superior from the water,” said kayaking tour guide Jake. “My personal recommendation would be taking a Sea Kayak Day Trip around Michipicoten Bay. Paddlers will be up close and personal with a stunning waterfall, have lunch on an uninhabited island, and tour through the historic harbour, once a hub for fishing in this corner of the lake. All while accompanied by a knowledgeable and certified guide.
“Spending time on the lake gives a totally different perspective. As the swell rolls in, it feels almost as if the lake is inhaling and exhaling. As you look down into the crystal clear water you will see intricate geological formations created billions of years ago.
“The rugged plant life clings to these rocky coasts, surviving against all odds in a harsh climate. Contrast with beautiful sandy beaches found between the headlands lining the clean, cold freshwater and you realise this lake is like no other.”
Marvel at the Agawa Rock Pictographs
The fascinating Agawa Rock Pictographs site shows one of the largest collections of First Nations pictographs in Ontario. The drawings are remarkably intact and show canoes, moose, deer, bears and caribou. These beautiful illustrations, described by Lake Superior Provincial Park as “enduring messages from the past”, were created by generations of the indigenous Ojibwe.
You won’t regret stopping to enjoy the short trail to see the Agawa Rock Pictographs. The trail, taking around an hour in total, can be accessed just off Highway 17, north of Agawa Bay. Be wary of the water, however, as the pictographs can only be seen right on the water’s edge, meaning that it may be inaccessible in poor weather.
At 40 metres, Kakabeka Falls is the second highest waterfall in Ontario. Although it’s a 30 minute detour from your main route, it’s well worth it. Feel the full force of the falls as you walk along the boardwalk which wraps around Kakabeka. Its immense size has earned it the nickname ‘the Niagara of the North’, but you can decide that for yourself!
Prince Edward County
Perfect for: Slowing it down
While you could probably drive around Prince Edward County in a day, it’s definitely worth spending more time here. Not to be confused with Prince Edward Island, which is a province further northeast, this little island sits in Lake Ontario and is just a couple of hours from Toronto. The island is perfect for spending some quality time on Lake Ontario and boasts 310 miles of shoreline, including pristine white sand beaches.
Despite its many beaches, the county has a remarkably rural feel. It’s easy to forget you’re only two hours from Canada’s biggest city. In between seemingly boundless fields and sweeping beaches lie small communities, home to around 25,000 people. Picton is the utterly charming main hub of the island. Its quaint yet grand architecture, shops and harbour are hard not to fall in love with.
If you’re following the coast, you can expect to drive around 160 miles, but you shouldn’t miss exploring inland. “Our island community has retained a unique character that evokes fond recollections of days long past,” said Anne VanVlack, chief explorer and website curator of Visit The County. “Picturesque country roads twist through historic towns and villages, countryside dotted with farms and vineyards, past artist studios and antique shops, and along shorelines that border the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario. The county in recent years has become a top culinary and winery destination.
“Fall is a wonderful season to visit the county. The beaches are quieter and harvest festivals abound. Enjoy fall colour tours, cycling, marathons, wine and craft brew celebrations, grape and apple harvesting, pumpkin festivals, artist studio tours and country fairs.”
Anne also recommends trying the Loyalist Parkway route: “The scenic Loyalist Parkway (Highway #33), follows a pioneer colonial route that connects several historical settlement sites between Kingston and Trenton. If you’re arriving from the east, the Glenora Ferry shuttles cars to and from Prince Edward County at no charge. Get out of the car, stand at the railing, and watch the majestic landscape get closer.
“While driving the Loyalist Parkway, experience some of Ontario’s best boutique shopping, countless studios and galleries, quaint inns, home-grown B&Bs and fabulous restaurants and cafes. The Arts Trail, Taste Trail and Barn Quilt Trail add further interest to this route.”
Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory
Wildlife enthusiasts won’t want to miss Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory. Just outside the town of Picton overlooking Long Point, the observatory is a highly significant site for migrating birds. Bring your binoculars and look out for double-crested cormorants, black-crowned night herons, turkey vultures, ospreys, bald eagles, herring gulls, woodpeckers, flycatchers and plenty more.
Wineries and breweries
No matter where you are on the island, you’re never too far from an exquisite winery. For such a small island, there sure are plenty of places to sample delicious local wines, beers and ciders. Here are a few recommendations:
Waupoos Estates Winery – The oldest winery in Prince Edward County
Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard – Serves wood-fired thin crust pizza
Rosehall Run – Includes a shop selling products from local farmers and artisans
Parsons Brewing Company – Creates pilsners, pale ales, rye malts, stouts and bitters
County Cider Company – Family-owned estate specialising in hard cider
Fifth Town Cheese
For artisan goat, buffalo and cow cheese, head to Fifth Town Cheese. This delightful shop is the perfect place to buy some delicious local produce for a road trip picnic. The dairy is just a 20 minute drive from Picton.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks is the world’s largest bay mouth barrier dune formation. Its wide, sandy beaches and shallow waters are perfect for hot summer days, and its unique position on Lake Ontario means you’re likely to spot migrating birds in spring and autumn. This is a great place to stretch your legs if you’ve been on the road for a while. Anne VanVlack of Visit The County said: “Sandbanks is among the largest and most beautiful beaches in Ontario, with golden sand and sparkling water. Windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and boating compete with sunbathing and swimming as favourite park activities.”
Renowned for being home to many artists, Prince Edward County is a great place to enjoy live music. Agrarian Bistro & Speakeasy in Bloomfield hosts live music every Friday and Saturday night from 8pm. For live jazz, visit Huff Estates Winery on a Sunday. The Acoustic Grill also hosts up-and-coming musicians in Picton.
Georgian Bay Coastal Route
Perfect for: Nature lovers
For those looking for an escape from blaring car horns and train delays, a tranquil drive along the Georgian Bay coast might be just what you need. Hop in your hired motorhome and explore the peaceful beaches and forests surrounding the pristine waters of Georgian Bay. In the autumn, red, orange and gold leaves paint the coastline while in summer, the azure waters are perfect for swimming.
Georgian Bay forms part of Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Its vastness means many forms of wildlife can be spotted around the water, including red-tailed hawks, belted kingfishers, great horned owls and woodpeckers, as well as remarkable mammals further inland like arctic foxes, wolves and northern flying squirrels. Look out for some of these creatures while you’re driving the Georgian Bay Coastal Route.
At approximately 500 miles, this scenic Ontario drive is worth taking your time over. Along the shoreline, lighthouses in all shapes and sizes patrol the waters. While you’re likely to see heaps along the way, there are a few worth stopping for. Big Tub Lighthouse in Tobermory, Janet Head Lighthouse and Kagawong Lighthouse are among the most popular. For a full list of lighthouses in the south of Georgian Bay and nearby Bruce County, visit The Lighthouse Destination.
If you need to feel the sand between your toes, you can’t miss out on stopping at Wasaga Beach. Stretching for nine miles, it’s the longest freshwater beach in the world. For swimmers, the best places to take a dip are the lake’s rocky coves beneath the tree-lined cliffs. The Georgian Bay Coastal Route hugs the coast, but you’ll need to veer off slightly to find somewhere to swim. Try The Gap, a well-known swimming spot just five minutes from Tobermory, or Bruce’s Cooler, which can be found at the end of a 15 minute hike through the wilderness and a further 15 minute coastal stroll.
Ontario’s vast wilderness makes it the perfect province for a road trip. By renting a motorhome in Canada, you’re free to stop whenever and wherever you want. To help you plan your adventure, we’ve created the Discover Ontario Holiday, complete with an itinerary taking you from Toronto to Ottawa, Niagara Falls to Georgian Bay and beyond.
Image Credit: Robert Linsdell, Helena Jacoba, Tom Page, Gary J. Wood