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Ontario the best in the world for cruising

Here are some of the best top down cruise trips in various parts of Ontario.

Published June 15, 2012

Lake Ontario — The scenic north shoreline cruise from Toronto to Kingston and beyond begins in Port Hope to the east of the GTA.

It is guaranteed to provide a top-down eyeful of interesting sights as it winds more than 300 kilometres through various eastern Upper Canada towns and cities, with numerous waterfront historical sites and pastoral rural areas along the way. Let’s face it; Highway 401 is a pretty boring route, but it is the only way to go if you’re in a hurry. Otherwise, the cruise along former Highway 2 is a trip in itself whether you want to take a day or a week to explore it.

Now known at various points as County Rd. 2 and Old Highway 2, it takes you through Brighton, Trenton, Belleville, Napanee, Kingston and Gananoque, where several of the communities have designated it as a “Heritage Trail,” highlighting various historic points of interest along the way.

The route continues along the 1,000 Islands Parkway, the area where Lake Ontario ends and the St. Lawrence River begins, before resuming on through Brockville, Prescott, Morrisburg, Cornwall and ending just shy of the Quebec border.

Huron County — Known as Ontario’s West Coast for its beautiful sandy beaches from Grand Bend north to Amberley Beach, the sunsets along Lake Huron have been rated among the most spectacular in the world.

It boasts some of Canada’s most fascinating historical sites and authentic mid-nineteenth century architecture. The picturesque countryside makes it an ideal top down cruise destination for a weekend or mid-week getaway.

Accommodations range from luxurious inns to cosy bed-and-breakfasts found in quaint hamlets and towns along the Lake Huron shoreline, which is dotted with boardwalks and piers.

It’s about a three-hour drive from Toronto, west on Highway 401 to Highways 7 and 8, taking you through the Kitchener, Stratford and Perth County areas. These are also lovely places to cruise through and take in the rich local culture, history and sweeping farmland.

Georgian Triangle — This area of South Georgian Bay includes Owen Sound, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Jackson’s Point, Midland and Penetanguishene.

It is a year-round destination location for tourists, skiers, cottagers, the beach crowd, divers, golfers, boaters, anglers, campers and hikers — and of course, motor cruisers.

Bordered on the west by the rocky rim of the Niagara Escarpment and Bruce Trail with the magnificent sandy beaches of Nottawasaga Bay on the eastern shoreline, the Georgian Triangle has numerous provincial parks, lovely tree-lined roads, rolling hills and winding rivers, quaint hamlets, fabulous lookout points, waterfalls, mountains and more.

There is so much to see and do that the Georgian Triangle Tourist Association has developed several interesting routes through the Purple Hills, Scottish High Country, Blue Mountain, Beaver River Headwaters, Big Sky and Great Falls areas you can cruise through. The region is about a two-hour drive northwest of Toronto.

Niagara Region —The awe-inspiring rush of water cascading over the Niagara escarpment is a thundering natural spectacle that draws 13-million tourists annually from all over the world, but it is just one of many sights to see in the region.

It’s also great area to drive with the top down, especially the 55 kilometre route of the Niagara Parkway, which hugs the great winding river connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario — a cruise Sir Winston Churchill described as the “prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.”

This scenic and historic river road winding its way through Chippawa, Niagara Falls, and Queenston to Niagara-on-the-Lake is such a picturesque route it has been referred to as “taking the long way back” by motorists heading home from the U.S. to Toronto, and vice versa.

After passing through Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the way from the Falls, take Lakeshore Rd. north along Lake Ontario to Port Weller, cross over the Welland Canal, the big ship route linking the two Great Lakes, and follow Welland Canals Parkway west to the Queen Elizabeth Way. It’s worth the drive.

Lake Erie North Shore — It has been hailed as Ontario’s “South Coast” because of the mild climate, marine and wildlife, historic ports and the communities of Port Stanley, Erieau, Kingsville, Port Dover and Pelee Island. There’s boating, beaches, cottages, fishing, hiking, and most important for our purposes here, great motoring to be had.

Lake Erie’s North Shore region was the earliest and most vibrant commercial wine growing area in Canada until the end of the 19th century. Today, as a Designated Viticultural Area (DVA), and with the number of wineries on the rise, it is producing some of the best wines in Canada. Sparkling water, sandy beaches, dunes, shoreline hamlets and vineyards make this a pleasant summer convertible cruise zone from Fort Erie at one end all the way west to Windsor.

Ottawa Valley — Known as the Whitewater Capital of Canada, it is a vast 2.4 million-hectare region bordered by the Ottawa River and Algonquin Provincial Park comprised of pristine waterways, rolling woodland, dramatic landforms, more than 900 lakes and four major rivers including the Ottawa and Madawaska.

That’s a lot of room to roam on four wheels with the top down from Eastern Ontario to Western Quebec, taking in the communities of: Mattawa, Deep River, Petawawa, Pembroke, Fort Coulonge, Shawville, Renfrew, Quyon, Arnprior, Ottawa, Rockland, L’Orignal, Hawkesbury and Rigaud.

The first recorded European to see the Ottawa Valley, between 1613 and 1615, Samuel de Champlain travelled the Ottawa River with Algonquin and Huron guides to pioneer the route used by French fur traders for the next 200 years.

Today you can follow the Ottawa River along Highway 17, which is part of the Trans-Canada Highway, from Ottawa to Mattawa (about 60 km east of North Bay) on a road trip that takes about five hours.

Algonquin Park — Stretching from Georgian Bay to the Ottawa River in Central Ontario, it is Canada’s oldest provincial park and one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country.

Established in 1893, the park has over the years increased to its current size of about 7,653 sq.-km., or about one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island.

The Highway 60 corridor runs through the southern part of the park and the Trans-Canada Highway stretches just above its northern boundary. Canoe Lake and the Petawawa, Nipissing, Amable du Fond, Madawaska, and Tim rivers connect to a raft of streams and more than 2,400 lakes within its borders.

A unique blend of northern coniferous forest and southern deciduous woods provide a wide variety of environments in the park to support a great diversity of plant and animal species. And naturally, this makes for a yet another marvellous place to cruise with the top down.

Enjoy the view, but mind the bears and other wildlife. It’s a mere three and a half-hour drive from Toronto and the Highway 60 route from the Lake of Bays in Muskoka to Madawaska Valley makes it a scenic two-hour woodland road trip.

North of Superior — The world’s largest freshwater lake occupies a prominent place in the centre of Canada and for the purpose of convertible cruising, it is blessed with having the Trans-Canada Highway follow close to its magnificent 700-kilometre northern shoreline from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay.

If you don’t stop to look it will take just over nine hours to drive, but why hurry when there’s so much natural beauty to take in along the way? From the road, the views are stunning.

The rocky cliffs and ridges, rolling hills of boreal forest, rushing waterfalls and cobblestone beaches are so breathtaking you really have to pull over every now and then to savour it. Terrace Bay, Marathon and Wawa (home of the giant Canada goose sculpture) are just three of the many towns where you can stop for food and lodging along the way.

Some travellers have been known to back track their way home to see it all again, but there’s always the option of heading south across the border to Duluth, Minn. and seeing the bottom shore in a round trip of about 1,700 kilometres back to the Sault, which 674 km from Toronto.

Haliburton Highlands — With Muskoka to the west and Algonquin Park to the northeast, this region shares some of the traits of both.

Billed as a natural work of art and located just a couple of hours north of the GTA, the Highlands offer a striking landscape of rock formations, waterfalls and more than 600 pristine lakes.

The region is a major cottage country destination, with numerous accommodation possibilities from camping to luxury resorts, and most of all the fantastic scenery provides the best reason to roll back the convertible top and cruise the areas back roads. Visit the towns of Minden and Haliburton as well as the surrounding smaller communities of Wilberforce, Gooderham, Irondale, Cardiff, West Guilford, Eagle Lake and Fort Irwin.

Numerous summer events throughout the area feature local artists, seasonal festivals and live entertainment venues.

Manitoulin Island — It’s where the Niagara Escarpment meets the Canadian Shield at the top of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, about 300 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

You have to take the ferry from Tobermory on the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula to get here, but it’s worth the boat ride. The largest freshwater lake island in the world, Manitoulin is Canada’s 31st biggest island and the 172nd largest in the world. It has four major rivers and 108 freshwater lakes, some having their own islands and several of these (islands within islands) have their own ponds.

Remarkably, Lake Manitou is the largest lake in a freshwater island on the planet with Treasure Island in Lake Mindemoya being the biggest island in a lake, on an island in a lake in the world.

It is rich in native culture and the site of historic Anishinabe and European settlements and its communities host some of the best Powwows and summer festivals in Ontario.

The islands spectacular shorelines offer some of the choicest canoeing, kayaking and fishing anywhere and the numerous back roads on Manitoulin certainly make it a great place for an exploratory top down country road trip.

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