Toronto is always buzzing, but beyond the city, there is plenty to discover. The surrounding area is made up of countryside, suburbs, and towns. Many of us Torontonians will venture to the countryside on weekends, because within an hour of driving one can access hiking trails, beaches, farms, and wineries. Oh, and one of the great natural wonders of the world. It is well worth it to rent a car and explore the outskirts of the city for a taste of greater Ontario.
Niagara Falls — The iconic Niagara Falls are truly worth a visit. Visitors can drive (about an hour and 45 minutes) or take the train from Toronto to the city of Niagara Falls. Making a return trip in one day is often done, but beware of the Toronto traffic jams. The Falls are over 12,000 years old and are made up of two waterfalls that conjoin to make one. It is possible to observe the falls from land, or get up close by taking a boat trip on the famous Maid of the Mist.
Other visitors might opt to get up close by visiting the Table Rock Scenic Tunnels. Regardless of how you enjoy Niagara Falls, the thunderous sound of the water tumbling will make for an unforgettable experience. The city of Niagara Falls offers casinos, hotels, and restaurants. Along Falls Avenue there are many options for lunch, some very touristy. Venture a few blocks away and you may find more interesting options, including a surprising number of Indian restaurants.
Niagara-on-the-Lake — This small town is across the river from New York State, and is aptly named for its location: The town rests at the point where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. The town is quaint, offering some insight into small-town Canadian life. Although it has several historic sites, the town is known for its summertime Shaw Festival, a series of theatrical productions. The surrounding region is famous for its wineries, and most visitors to Niagara-on-the-Lake will opt to hop on a winery tour to try local wines. Some well-known wineries include Peller Estates, Inniskillin, and Hinterbrook, which are all fantastic spots for lunch and a wine tasting.
Elora Gorge — Near the town of Elora, Ontario, the Grand River flows through a mile-plus-long gorge, surrounded by limestone cliffs that reach over 70 feet in height. The area is about a two-hour drive from Toronto. Just take Highway 401 west and then Highway 6 north. The park offers recreational activities including swimming, hiking, fishing, and camping, but the area’s real claim to fame is its tubing opportunities.
Visitors can rent tubes and safety gear, hike down to the river, and ride downstream over small rapids. A bus waits conveniently at the end of the tubing route to bring tubers back to the starting point. Keep in mind that this tubing trip isn’t for the faint-hearted. The water is occasionally rough, and you’ll likely be dunked into the river a couple of times. If you prefer to stay dry, there are trails alongside the cliffs of the gorge (with helpful barriers, if you’re afraid of heights) which offer beautiful views. For lunch, enjoy a packed lunch or head into the town of Elora to eat at the Cellar Pub and Grill, Boxcar Social, or enjoy a craft beer at the Elora Brewing Company.
Rattlesnake Point — This Ontario conservation area is less than a 1.5-hour drive from Toronto, offering easy access to the province’s beautiful nature. There are easy hiking trails, lookout points, and rock climbing crags for those folks who want to get out of the gym. Rattlesnake Point is known as a hotspot for geocaches, so make sure you’ve got your GPS handy and see if you can spot some.
Once a week, yoga is offered in the park for free. If you’d like to spend a night roasting marshmallows over a fire, camping is available. If you’re hungry, you can drive to the closest town, Milton, for a meal in a local cafe. EddieO’s Pourhouse offers classic pub food, or head to Luigi’s for lasagna or pizza. Otherwise, be sure to pack food. Oh, and don’t worry. The park is named for the way the escarpment snakes through the landscape, not for the presence of rattlesnakes.
Hamilton, Ontario — Hamilton is an industrialized port city on the western tip of Lake Ontario. The small city is easily accessible by car and train (one hour) and is a popular escape for Toronto locals thanks to its accessible nature and hiking. Popular spots in Hamilton include Christie Lake for swimming and easy walking trails, Dundas Peak for the adventurer, and Webster Falls for beautiful picture taking.
Fall is an exceptional time to visit Hamilton, as you’ll catch the leaves changing color. Once you’ve exhausted the outdoors, head into town to view some heritage sites and chow down in a local restaurant. Hamilton is famous for its oyster shucking, and you’ll see oysters available on many menus. Swing by Nique to try uniquely Canadian dishes in an eclectic setting.
Alpaca farms — Ontario happens to be home to many alpaca farms, and a visit to such a farm actually makes for a great day trip. Most of the farms are within a two-hour drive from the city and offer an array of activities that include taking an alpaca for a walk — yes, seriously — or learning about sustainability. These family run farms like to have notice, so be sure to contact a farm in advance if you plan to visit. Alpacas are friendly and curious animals, making them tons of fun to spend a day with. Some of the farms near Toronto include: SAMY’s Alpaca Farm, Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch, Hickory Lane Alpacas, and Meadowview Alpaca Farm.
Canada’s Wonderland — Canada’s Wonderland is technically in Toronto, but because of its location 25 miles north in the suburbs, it qualifies as a day trip for those staying in the city center. You can reach it by car or public transit in an hour, and a visit to the park is a good option for families. Wonderland is Canada’s largest theme park and includes a water park as well as an entire area dedicated to Canadian-themed rides. Called Frontier Canada, this part of the park is a fun way to learn some basic Canadian history. Keep in mind that the park is closed from November to May for the winter. The park is well equipped with many lunch options, and for those who prefer to pack their own food, there are designated picnic areas.