• Ours to Discover

Ours to Discover: Ontario Gems

Five places that wowed in 2021, Travel writer Heather Greenwood Davis recommends spots to experience in the year ahead

Avatar By: Heather Greenwood Davis December 28, 2021
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About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last 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 longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, ands show you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”

If you haven’t already, one day soon you may look back on the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 with a bit of bittersweet nostalgia. For all the difficulties and despair, there were moments where the light clearly shone through. As a travel writer, those moments for me tended to happen when my family and I found safe opportunities to hit the road.

Along with the much-needed change of scenery, those trips reminded us that there is so much of our home province we still need to explore.  These five spots are just a few of the places and spaces that wowed over the last few years. As you’re planning your next trip, these getaways a quick drive from Toronto may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Point Grondine Park

Many of us are just beginning to grasp how much work there is to be done to foster a new relationship with Indigenous communities. Events over the course of the pandemic drove that point home. Lesser-known spots, like Point Grondine Park in Killarney, had a chance to shine. The park is Indigenous owned and operated, and combines traditional outing opportunities (canoeing, hiking and camping) with educational offerings. My family explored the park with an Indigenous guide, as part of a tour with Wikiwemekong Tourism. You can also venture out on your own: Well-marked pathways and informative signage make it an easy one to explore with young kids. (grondinepark.com)

How to get there: Point Grondine Park is located a four-hour drive north of Toronto. Take Highway 400 north and continue as it merges into Highway 69. Exit onto Highway 637 and follow it west.

Niagara Falls

If you haven’t visited in the last few years, it’s time to head back to Niagara Falls. This iconic destination is so much more than the waterway that draws millions each year. There is incredible cuisine from spots like Old Stone Inn (stay for its “Blunch” and don’t skip the cocktail list) and reinvigorated classics like Table Rock House Restaurant, where you’ll have incredible views of the Horseshoe Falls while you dine on a menu of items that celebrate the region. Year round, the parklands that run along the water’s edge, the biking and hiking trails, and the historical connections — don’t miss the Land of Nations Memorial in Queenston Heights Park — offer something to keep everyone in your travel party happy. Next summer there will be a new reason to visit. The Tailrace Tunnel Experience at the Niagara Parks Power Station will take you on an underground route to the falls. (niagarafallstourism.com)

How to get there: Follow the Queen Elizabeth Way west from Toronto and around the shore of Lake Ontario. Take the exit for Highway 420. The drive should take roughly one-and-a-half hours.

Buxton National Historic Site

Sometimes you find a gem so good you keep going back. Buxton is that place for me. I first visited pre-pandemic on my own and the connections to Black history were so profound, I revisited with my mother shortly after. Then, just when things felt fairly bleak in the wake of the George Floyd murder, I packed up my two teenaged sons and headed back to this site near Chatham in southwestern Ontario. When curator Shannon Prince walks you through the Buxton National Historic Site, pointing out the 19th century schoolhouse and the artifact packed museum, you get a chance for an education that is long overdue. (buxtonmuseum.com)

How to get there: Drive west along Highway 401, or Highway 403 to where it meets Highway 401 in Woodstock. Continue to Highway 14 west and follow it to the site, which is on A.D. Shadd Road. The drive should take three hours.

Ours to Discover

Buxton, ON — Shannon Prince, Curator of the Buxton National Historic Site. & Museum,inside the historic schoolhouse located next to the museum. The museum preserves the history of the Elgin Settlement, which was established in 1849 as a refuge for fugitive slaves escaping into Canada via the Underground Railroad. Kelsey Wilson/Toronto Star

Wander the Resort

Finding a few nights for Prince Edward County is a summer must. But when Wander the Resort (located in Bloomfield) opened to winter guests during the middle of the pandemic, it provided a summertime vibe to those seeking a chic winter hideaway. The plush blankets and bleached wood decor take Canadian cosy to another level. There’s room for you to bring along the kids (or another couple) and you’ll find yourself noting brand names and scouring local shops for the chic accessories that fill your kitchen. The staff here are the best friends you need in a place like this, offering must eats, tempting activities and sip-able suggestions. Book one of its four lakeside cabins (there are 10 total) with a clear view of the water (or ice rink) and you’ll wake up wondering how you got so lucky. (wandertheresort.com)

How to get there: Follow Highway 401 east to County Road 40, following it south to Bloomfield. The total drive is roughly two-and-a-half hours.

Ours to Discover

Gananoque

It would be easy to miss Gananoque if you weren’t looking. Taking the time to swing off Highway 401 east and into the charming town last year was a fantastic surprise. It’s most known as the access point to the Thousand Islands (1864 to be precise) and getting out to see those is a must do when weather permits. But year round there is something for anyone craving a break. Choose from options like a scenic helicopter tour, a sculpture park stroll, snowshoeing the trails or settling in for a chat at a local bakery or brewery. It’s the kind of town where breakneck speeds don’t exist and a love of quiet and quaint is rewarded. (gananoque.ca)

How to get there: Drive along Highway 401 east for three hours and you will be in the Thousand Islands region.

Ours to Discover

Heather Greenwood Davis is a contributing writer at National Geographic. You can follow her travels on Instagram, @byheathergd, or at heathergreenwooddavis.com

COVID-19 need to know

Note that the government-mandated proof of vaccination rule is in effect. Check provincial and local guidelines before you head out on your road trip (ontario.ca).

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