With summer in full swing, driving in Ontario becomes a lot more enjoyable. Here are my top 10 local road trips to make the most of your time behind the wheel or gripping the handlebars.
All will have you home before dark; the shortest are first, longest are last. All distances are very approximate and increase as soon as you see an interesting road off to the side.
These aren’t definitive driving directions, so get your own map to follow along and go from here. I recommend the MapArt Ontario Back Road Atlas for clarity and ease of use. Don’t bother with a GPS — you’re looking for good roads, not quick routes.
This is not a complete list, of course — just my favourites, all in Ontario. And my very favourite is not here. I’m keeping that one to myself so that traffic stays away. I suggest you use these suggestions as a starting point to find your own favourite, too.
1) Belfountain (100 km): From Toronto, head north on Hwy. 10 for about 20 km past Brampton and then, before Caledon, turn west on the Forks of the Credit Rd. This is a 10 km stretch of winding road that runs alongside the shallow Credit River for a while; in the fall, it’s chock-a-block with minivans for the fabulous colours. Stop for an ice cream in Belfountain, or continue to Erin for a wider choice of country stores.
2) Hockley Valley (150 km): Just northeast of Orangeville, the Hockley Rd. twists east in wide curves all the way to Loretto. Stop near Airport Rd. for a break at the Hockley General Store. If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind gravel, climb north on the Third or Fourth Lines for wonderful views to the south. To return to T.O., make sure to turn south at either Loretto or Beeton and then head over to Hwy. 400 through Schomberg and the quaint village of Pottageville. Better still, stay on Hwy. 27 all the way down to Kleinburg before picking up the big highway.
3) Campbellville and the Escarpment (150 km). An hour west of the city just off Hwy. 401, the Ice House in Campbellville is a popular motorcycle restaurant on weekends, especially Sunday mornings. This can be a starting-off point on the Escarpment for the two trips above, driving on the 15th Line to Georgetown, then through Glen Williams and Terra Cotta to Belfountain and on up to Orangeville. Or it can be a start point for the south route along the Escarpment, taking either the Appleby Line up and over, descending at Rattlesnake Point, then down to Britannia Rd. and across to Kilbride, or Twiss Rd. straight into Kilbride, then south on Cedar Springs Rd. toward Hamilton.
4) Niagara Peninsula (200 km). Try to avoid just driving to the Peninsula over the Burlington Skyway, and instead stay on the 403 to exit north at Hwy. 6. If you can exit beforehand at Brant St. so that you get to Hwy. 5, then you can wiggle south on Snake Rd., all the better. This is a very winding road that has caught out more than its fair share of speeding motorcyclists.
From Hwy. 6, go back up to Hwy. 5 and head west for a few kilometres before turning south for Dundas on Brock Rd. Look for Mineral Springs and Sulphur Springs Rd. before leaving this area to bypass Hamilton on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, then pick up Ridge Road east along the edge of the rise (Hwy. 425, then Hwy 79) all the way to Grimsby.
If you’re up for a bit more driving past some picturesque vineyards, stay south of the QEW on King St. (Hwy. 81), which will take you to the expressway for home at St. Catharines. And if you really want to make a day of it, go up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and then wind down slowly on the manicured Niagara River Parkway to Niagara or all the way to Fort Erie, waving at all the Americans on the other side of the wide river.
5) Port Britain/Cobourg (250 km). This is east of Toronto, along the lake shore. Get yourself to Newcastle on the 401, then turn south on Newtonville Rd. (exit 448) down to Port Granby, where you pick up Lake Shore Rd. The road is paved from here east to Port Hope and on to Cobourg. On a warm, sunny day, this is a relaxing drive past broad fields that end on the cliffs overlooking Lake Ontario’s still blue water; on a late fall or winter day, stick to the 401 if you’re driving east.
6) Hastings/Rice Lake (300 km). This is hilly land north of the Ganaraska Forest, allowing for long steep ascents and descents past wide fields. Head north from Cobourg on Burnham St. to Gores Landing on the edge of Rice Lake, then follow Rice Lake Scenic Drive along the shore before driving on to Roseneath and up to Hastings at the east end of the lake. Return home on Hwy. 2 on the north side of the lake for more of the same.
7) Collingwood/Owen Sound (300 km). There are many ways north to Collingwood, but I suggest skipping the standard Hwy. 400-to-Wasaga-and-over route in order to avoid summer traffic. Instead, take Airport Rd. north, which will still be full of vacationers but at least the scenery is relaxing.
If you have all day, combine this with the Hockley Rd. trip in 2) above. Once at Collingwood, don’t stay by the shore but instead follow the signs to the scenic caves and climb the escarpment on Sideroad 15, which will take you to the top of Blue Mountain’s ski slopes. Here, you can return on Grey Rds. 19 and 13 before finding your way onto the twists of Beaver Valley Rd. then home on Hwy. 10 from Flesherton, passing Ontario’s highest point at Dundalk.
Or, with some more time, head north again to Thornbury and Meaford before cutting over to Owen Sound and following the coast around through Big Bay to Wiarton, then home on 10.
8) Picton ferry (400 km). Head east from Toronto and maybe cut south along the way to pick up 5) above though Port Britain and Cobourg. If so, stay to the south along Hwy. 2 to Brighton, but otherwise, just follow the 401 out to the Brighton exit. From Brighton, cut through to Carrying Place and then onto the Loyalist Parkway to Wellington and Bloomfield and Picton. The fields are broad and flat, but when the orchards are in bloom and the grapes are on the vines, this is a gorgeous cruising road.
At Picton, don’t cross right away on the ferry but instead, climb the hill just before the ferry on Route 7 and pause for a break at the Lake on the Mountain, and take some time to explore this area. You won’t get lost — all roads in Prince Edward County eventually end up back at Picton.
Cross back to the mainland on the Glenora car ferry then up to Napanee and home, but be warned: it’s just a little farther east to Kingston and a romantic weekend away.
9) Muskoka cottage country (400 km). Where to begin exploring the rocky Great Canadian Shield? I usually take Hwy 400 past Orillia and then turn east to Bala on the curving Hwy. 38, which is good practice for the much tighter cottage roads around Lakes Rosseau and Joseph. Once at Bala, head for Port Carling and Rosseau, then either up to Parry Sound or back down to Bracebridge. These roads are all full of relaxed vacationers, though — keep your speed down, despite the temptations of every twist and turn.
10) Bancroft and Rte. 509 (500 km). I’ve saved the best for last. I like to take this northern route when I have an entire day to get to Ottawa, but it can make for a great loop, too.
Basically, get to Bancroft, preferably on Hwy. 28 through Peterborough and Apsley, then head east on the wide curves down to Denbigh. The Swiss restaurant there serves great food and gets the Star so you can read Wheels. Go south from there on Hwy. 41, but turn off on the Buckshot Lake Rd. to the southeast and follow it all the way down to Plevna. This is the fabled Hwy. 509, which twists and winds east and then south through Ompah and Snow Road Station until it finally re-emerges at Hwy. 7 west of Lanark and Perth. Warning: Sportbikes sometimes come here to ride very fast. This will get you to within a couple of hours of Ottawa (another romantic weekend), or just a three-hour trip home again to the GTA. Your choice, but after a drive like this, if the weather is good, it won’t be an easy one.
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