About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
Just an hour’s drive from Toronto, Hamilton offers a wealth of one-day getaway choices. Whether you’re a fan of hikes, exploring a castle or want to dive into the local culture, the Hammer will both surprise and delight. This one-day itinerary includes something for visitors keen on a bit of excitement, longing for the serenity of the natural world, or yearning to discover local history and culture. You might just find yourself planning a return trip so you can experience it all again.
In the morning: Leave Toronto around 7:30 a.m. driving west along the Queen Elizabeth Way. Allowing for some traffic, you should be in Hamilton in about an hour. If you are craving a little adrenalin-filled adventure, head for Treetop Trekking in the Binbrook Conservation Area. A morning here will see you climbing trees, swinging across rope bridges and scaling log-stacles all while high above the ground and safely tethered to overhead cables. It takes about three hours to complete the orientation and do the course, so this will comfortably fill your Hamilton morning.
For those looking for a more grounded experiences, start by hiking the Great Falls Loop, a 3.5-kilometre segment of the world-famous Bruce Trail. Park at Mill Street South in Waterdown and from there it’s a very doable hike on the Smokey Hollow Side Trail to the top of the Niagara Escarpment, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Before you leave, be sure to snap a photo of the cascading Great Falls before you leave.
Once you complete your hike, drive 10 to 15 minutes to the Royal Botanical Gardens, where more than 27 kms of nature trails, and five cultivated garden areas showcase a wide variety of plant species. If you only have time to explore one garden, we suggest the David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden, where you can wander down the sloping pathways of a beautifully landscaped valley until you’re completely surrounded by beauty.
Around noon: Picnics by the water are a warm weather must and Bayfront Park, located on Burlington Bay, is the perfect choice. Grab a burger and fries from the iconic Hutch’s Harbourfront or get a takeout order of the Three Meat Chipotle Mac and Cheese from the Harbour Diner. Be sure to get a bag of doughnuts for dessert from Grandad’s Donuts, located on James Street North near the park. If you have time, and love fresh produce and homemade goodies, make a quick stop at the Hamilton Farmers Market (open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays) to load up on treats.
In the afternoon: If history is your passion, start your afternoon at the HMCS Haida, located at Pier 9. Known as “Canada’s fightingest ship,” this tribal class destroyer served in the Second World War, the Korean Conflict and the Cold War. It is now a Parks Canada museum that gives visitors a chance to imagine what it would have been like to sail and serve aboard her. While you’re at the harbour, walk one pier over to get this summer’s must-have selfie — the famous Theodore Tugboat — now moored at Pier 8.
While you’re satisfying your yen for culture and history, make the drive to Dundurn Castle for an upstairs-downstairs tour of the 40-room Italianate-style villa. The structure was built in the 1830’s for Sir Allan Napier MacNab, railway magnate, lawyer and once premier of the United Canadas. His former home is now staffed by costumed hosts eager to show you everything from the lush kitchen garden to the Coach House’s Castle Shop, where you’ll find great Canadian handmade crafts, souvenirs and gifts.
The next stop on your Hamilton history tour is the Canadian Warplane Museum, located at the Hamilton International Airport 30 minutes away in Mount Hope. There, you’ll find 47 military aircraft, ranging from First World War-era prop planes to modern jet fighters. Look for the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire, both big players in the Battle of Britain. And don’t miss the Avro Lancaster, one of just two of the iconic Second World War bombers still flying.
If you prefer staying in the city instead of driving to the airport, you can make a stop at the elegant Hamilton Art Gallery. Wander through the more than 7,000 square metres of museum space and enjoy more than 10,000 works, many by Canadian artists, as well as important international contemporary creators.
In the evening: You’re probably getting peckish by now and the beautifully rejuvenated King William Street, near the intersection with James Street, has a wide array of welcoming patios and restaurants. Try Berkeley North for its famous fried chicken slider or order one of the standout pizzas at the Bread Bar, but whatever you do, don’t miss the truly fantastic ice cream at Chocolat on James.
If you have time after dinner — and they are still open — stroll James Street North and visit some of the city’s small galleries and boutiques, such as DeMontigny, where you should really treat yourself to a fragrant Lodge Soy Candle.
For the Drive
Start your trip in a meditative mood by downloading and listening to “Soundscapes,” a collection of recordings from the nature sanctuaries and natural areas in southern Ontario. You’ll hear birds singing, frogs croaking, insects whirring and much, much more thanks to the field recorders of the Hamilton Bioacoustic Research Project and the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club.
Covid-19 need to know
Restaurants, stores and attractions are now open in the Hamilton area, albeit with reduced capacities in many cases. For specific information, visit the websites for each place you plan to visit.
TIMELINE: Drive guide
- 7:30 a.m. Leave Toronto
Drive west on the QEW
- 8:30 a.m. Arrive in Hamilton
- 9 a.m. Treetop Trekking or the Great Falls Loop
- 10:30 a.m. Royal Botanical Gardens (or stay at Treetop Trekking)
- Noon Bayfront Park for lunch
- 1 p.m. HMCS Haida
- 2:30 p.m. Dundurn Castle
- 4 p.m. Canadian Warplane Museum or Hamilton Art Gallery
- 6 p.m. Dinner along King William Street
- 8 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only.