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Ours to Discover

Ours to Discover: Make waves at these Ontario beaches

Soft sands and crystal-clear waters are a short drive away at these super summertime spots

By Jessica Huras Wheels.ca

Jul 23, 2022 4 min. read

Article was updated 16 days ago

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Whether you prefer a serene stretch of shoreline or a lively lakefront party, there’s no better way to beat the heat and savour the fleeting warm days of summer than with a visit to the beach. Southern Ontario may be far away from the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea, but the region offers swaths of sandy shoreline thanks to its abundance of freshwater lakes, including several of the Great Lakes. Pack your sunscreen, leave your cares behind, and trade the hustle-and-bustle of the city for toes-in-the-sand relaxation at these southern Ontario beaches.

For families: Canatara Beach

It’s not hard to see why families flock to this sandy beach located just outside of Sarnia, at the tip of Lake Huron. One of only 27 beaches in Canada to be awarded Blue Flag status for its commitment to water quality and environmental management, Canatara Beach features a one-kilometre-long shoreline bordering deep turquoise waters.

A short walk west along the coast brings you to The Cove, a sheltered swimming hole where you can take a dip without battling any big waves, making it an ideal spot for little ones. The beach is set within Canatara Park, which is home to a petting zoo, playgrounds, a mini train and other attractions that complete the ingredients for an ultimate family-fun day.

How to get there: Canatara Beach is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive west from Toronto along Highway 403 and located near Sarnia.

For tropical vibes: Port Dover Beach

If you’re searching for a tropical-style beach, Port Dover is a sure thing. In the summer, palm trees line this smooth stretch of sand on the north shore of Lake Erie. The shallowest and southernmost of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie offers warm waters and gentle waves, further enhancing Port Dover’s Caribbean vibes.

This picturesque beach also offers plenty to do beyond crisping in the sun: Rent a paddleboard, walk along the pretty pier, watch fishing boats returning with their catch or explore the cute downtown area. Local restaurants serving perch and pickerel fresh from the lake make for a satisfying stop after a day in the sand.

How to get there: Follow Highway 403 west from Toronto and then, from Hamilton, head south on Highway 6 to Port Dover.

Dover

For people-watching: Grand Bend Beach

Buzzy Grand Bend has just about everything going for it: shallow, warm blue waters, beautiful sunsets and an exuberant ambiance. Another Blue Flag beach bordering Lake Huron, Grand Bend’s 30 kilometres of shoreline welcomes throngs of visitors every summer.

The main beach is the centre of the action, attracting visitors of all stripes, from families to revellers. The bustling vibes stretch from the beach to Grand Bend’s main drag, where you can nosh on the usual concessions like ice cream between dips in the lake. Don’t miss the Wednesday morning farmers’ market and be sure to walk along the boardwalk to admire the lighthouse and lake views.

How to get there: Drive west on Highway 401 before turning onto Highway 8. The trip takes about three hours.

Grand Bend

For memorable scenery: Dunes Beach

Hugging the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario in Sandbanks Provincial Park, the aptly named Dunes Beach is known for its impossibly scenic shifting sand dunes. Formed by glaciers more than 12,500 years ago, the towering dunes span 12 kilometres and are touted as the largest bay-mouth dune barrier formation on the planet.

After some time on the sand, hit the nearby walking trails, which offer more vantage points for taking in the distinctive dune formations. Dunes Beach can get crowded, particularly in the summer, so it’s best to book a day pass ahead of your visit and arrive early.

How to get there: Dunes Beach is around a three-hour trip from Toronto, driving east along Highway 401 to Prince Edward County.

Dunes

For a secluded escape: Southampton Beach

For a quieter beach retreat, Southampton is as good as it gets. This four-kilometre beach on Lake Huron, northwest of Toronto, typically attracts minimal summer crowds, which means there’s plenty of room to sprawl out. The beach itself is pleasantly sandy, but you’ll want to bring water shoes if you plan to wade into the rockier terrain offshore.

The boardwalk, which takes in lovely views across the lake to Chantry Island and its Imperial Lighthouse, is perfect for long strolls before cooling off in the water. Hop on one of the tour boats running out to the island, which sits about a kilometre off the shore, and climb to the top of its 19th-century lighthouse.

How to get there: Southampton Beach can be reached in just over three hours by driving along Highway 410.

For the drive

Get in A Great Lakes mood by listening to “Unsalted,” a podcast highlighting interesting stories and people connected to the region. Hosted by journalist Allison Devereaux, who grew up on Lake Huron, the podcast’s back catalogue covers everything from Great Lakes ghost stories to an interview with a TikToker who has gained more than a million followers for her Great Lakes-centric content.

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