Port Hope has such an abundance of rural charm and well-preserved architecture that it is surprising this town, once a bustling hub for trade and transportation, is a mere 80-minute drive from downtown Toronto. If you are yearning for a back-to-basics daytrip, then Port Hope is where you need to go. This one-day itinerary focuses on enjoying the simple things that Mother Nature offers, but there is also something for animal lovers and history buffs.
In the morning:
Leave Toronto by 8:30 a.m. and drive east on Hwy. 401. You’ll arrive at your first stop, Port Hope’s Haute Goat, a little before 10 a.m. to enjoy its morning Goat Schmurgle. Named after the sound your heart makes when you snuggle a baby goat, this experience will have you helping to herd the farm’s Nigerian dwarf goats into a fenced-in spot where you can enjoy a cuddle —these social animals love getting the attention. Although it’s wrapped up for this season, make note to return next year for its Milk a Goat, Make Goat Cheese experience to truly feel like you’re living in the pioneer era. After schmurgling — the entire experience is about an hour — you can explore the farm on your own, admiring its Icelandic horses, alpacas and chickens.
Road trips to rural towns never feel complete without making a pit stop at a chip truck. Piggies Fresh Cut Fries is a 15-minute drive east from Haute Goat on Northumberland County Road 74. It serves top-notch food truck staples (think burgers and hot dogs) but be sure to save room for some of its popular – and satisfyingly chewy – deep-fried cheese curds.
After, head south on County Road 28 to Stapleton’s Farm Market to pick up seasonal produce, butter tarts and its signature pickled veggies. If you head there now, you’ll also discover a quaint, seasonal pumpkin patch complete with corn stalks and straw bales.
In the afternoon:
With your hunger sated by your chip stand meal and local treats, it’s time to get moving again. For those who prefer to be in the forest and drinking in the autumn colours, drive five minutes from the market to the Sylvan Glen Conservation Area. The park is just shy of five acres and features quiet trails that are easy to hike, and, with the Ganaraska River running through it, there are plenty of pretty spots to grab a seat to soak in the views.
[caption id="attachment_162183" align="alignnone" width="2048"] If you are an architecture buff, you might want to visit downtown instead. You’ll find stunning 19th-century country homes on residential streets, while the downtown core is dotted with heritage buildings (along with friendly locals happy to share facts and tidbits about landmarks). A self-guided tour, available online from Visit Port Hope, provides the history of about 19 locales, such as the Smith Block, a building devastated by fire in 1980. The building’s façade was saved thanks to the efforts of Anita Blackwood and A.K. Sculthorpe, who rallied for its restoration. These two women are, in fact, credited with being at the core of preserving the town’s historical charm and appeal.
[caption id="attachment_162184" align="alignnone" width="1600"] If you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, pop into Happenstance Coffee Pub for a coffee or tea (and snatch up a loaf of its artisanal bread to bring home while you’re there). Need a snack? Cross the street and walk a block east to Dreamer’s Cafe to try its famous chocolate-pecan-caramel Crazy Cookie.
Next, hop back into your car and make your way to the Port Hope Fish Ladder. Until early October, upwards of 10,000 salmon make their way upstream to spawn (after which, most perish), followed by some 18,000 trout who make the migration from October through to mid-December. Expect to find yourself in awe of the circle of life as you cheer on their impressive efforts as they fling themselves up the Ganaraska River.
[caption id="attachment_162187" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Next, drive the countryside roads to check out some of Port Hope’s barn quilts. The painted quilts, installed on barns, create a fun, scavenger hunt-inspired way to explore the town’s agricultural history. Use the trail map from Port Hope Tourism to guide you to these hand-painted gems.
In the evening:
Your best bet is to make dinner reservations in advance. Try the Social Bar + Table for gastropub staples such as scotch eggs, fish tacos, fried chicken sandwiches and craft beer. Or try Beamish House Pub, where everyone besides your designated driver can enjoy one of the many beers on tap. Alternatively, before it closes for the season (usually mid to late October), head to the Port Hope Drive-in, which has been operating since 1947. Grab pogos and prings (their signature poutine made with onion rings) at its retro concession stand that looks straight out the movie “The Outsiders.” If the drive-in is closed, you can instead catch a flick after dinner at the Capitol Theatre, Port Hope’s historic venue built in 1930, which is one of the last atmospheric theatres – theatres decorated to evoke the feel of a specific era – still operating in North America.
For the drive
History lovers can get the lowdown on Port Hope and the surrounding area with the podcast “Discovering Yesterday,” a partnership between Port Hope Archives and Northumberland 89.7 FM. The 10-minute episodes feature guests such as the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and delve into topics like the Port Hope floods that devastated the town in the 1930s. Alternatively, download the audiobook “Never Cry Wolf” by Canadian writer and environmentalist Farley Mowat, who spent many of his final years in Port Hope.
COVID-19 need to know
Most restaurants, stores and attractions are open with reduced capacity. Note that the government-mandated proof of vaccination rule is in effect. Get more details from the Haliburton, Kawarthas, Pine Ridge District Health Unit at hkpr.on.ca
TIMELINE: Drive guide
Drive east on Hwy. 401
Piggies Fresh Cut Fries
Stapleton’s Farm Market
Sylvan Glen Conservation Area or Historical Self-Guided Walking Tour Downtown
Port Hope Fish Ladder
Barn Quilt Tour
Beamish House Pub or The Social Bar + Table
Port Hope Drive-in
Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only