As Toronto’s urban sprawl grows, so does the local appetite for rural respite. Artists, cooks and designers are increasingly opting to live in small towns and villages outside the city, and are injecting these locations with better food, drinks and shops.
Whether you’re seeking a refined experience among the vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a thriving port town in Hamilton or a nature retreat in Rouge National Urban Park, there’s no reason to confine yourself within Toronto’s Bloor Street boundaries. These great day trips will help you to explore the great Ontario outdoors.
Unlike its more touristy neighbor to the south, Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) is known for producing some of Canada’s best wines. Connoisseurs can hop between 20 different wineries or just admire the rows of grapevines that stretch for miles along Lake Ontario’s southern shore.
It’ll take about two hours to reach Niagara-on-the-Lake by car, but if you’re feeling flush, FLYGTA gets you from Billy Bishop airport to Niagara District Airport in a speedy 12 minutes for around 99 Canadian dollars each way. VIA Rail and GO also offer rail services into Niagara Falls and WEGO runs a seasonal bus shuttle to NOTL from May to October. This full-day tour departing from Toronto will take you around three wineries as well as a chocolate factory.
Located west of Toronto proper is Hamilton, a former port city that is shucking its steel-town roots – its arts, dining and music scene may soon rival Toronto’s. Better yet, there is an incredible network of a hundred waterfalls to explore, many of which are accessible from downtown. The area is also known for Dundas Peak, a trail that winds through Tews and Webster’s Falls and ends up with some glorious views of the surrounding countryside.
As plenty of Hamiltonians commute to work in Toronto, transit links between the two cities are plentiful. GO operates a weekday rush-hour rail service and there are plenty of bus options as well: Megabus, Coach, Greyhound and GO. It’ll take you about an hour to get from downtown Toronto to Hamilton.
Peterborough combines small-town conveniences with the advantages of countryside living. In the summer, you’ll find residents kayaking down the pristine Otonabee River or fishing in one of the dozens of secluded lakes.
Work up an appetite during the daylight hours, before tucking into a Michelin-recommended meal at The Chubby Castor. Make sure to save room for dessert – the bakeries of Peterborough and Kawarthas are known for their decadent sweet butter tarts. A sizeable student population from Trent University keeps the town young and vibrant.
It’ll take about 2.5 hours to reach Peterborough by car, or you can also hop on a bus (Greyhound or GO) or train (VIA or GO).
Rouge National Urban Park is located just east of Scarborough on the outskirts of Toronto. This patch of countryside offers locals easy access to hiking trails, rolling hills, verdant forests, pristine rivers, peaceful lakes and stretches of sandy beach. It’s also home to wild deer and eastern bluebirds. Those who want to rekindle their connection with nature can set up on the Glen Rouge Campground and wake up with a wild swim in the adjacent river – just make sure to book ahead.
The urban park is accessible via Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) bus routes. From Kennedy Station, buses 86A and 92 get you within a 10-minute walk to the park.
Cobourg is like the Hamptons of Toronto. Once a popular summer destination among Americans, this historic town is now a popular destination for architecture lovers. One of its most popular landmarks is the Victoria Hall Museum, which was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1860. A day of leisure will see you wandering along King Street, exploring hidden pubs and poking inside historic churches. A more active itinerary will involve a round of golf or perhaps even doing yoga on a paddleboard on Lake Cobourg. After working up an appetite, dine at Mill Restaurant and Pub, a 19th-century grist mill-turned-gastropub.
Reach Cobourg by VIA Rail – the journey takes just under two hours from Toronto and the downtown area is walkable once you arrive.
Pack up the little ones and head west of the city to the Milton region to explore idyllic pastures and farmers’ markets. Chudleigh’s Farm is a well-loved staple for its tasty apple blossoms (mini apple pies), a pick-your-own apple orchard, tractor wagon rides and a hay bale jump for the kids.
As the region is a bit more rural, public transit options are limited, so driving is recommended. It’ll take about an hour to get here by car, but the rural driving routes are picturesque, running alongside wide open fields.
The azure blue waters and sandy beaches of the Bluffs could fool you into thinking you’re in the Mediterranean. Take a dip in the water or throw some steaks on the barbecue by the waterfront at Bluffer’s Park (accessible via Brimley Road). Or drive up to the lofty Scarborough Bluffs Park (not to be confused with the aforementioned Bluffer’s Park), which offers vertigo-inducing views of the scene down below.
It’ll take just under half an hour to drive to the Scarborough Bluffs. To get there by public transport, take bus 102 from Warden Station, which drops you off a 20-minute walk away from the park. It’s also a flat and easy hour-long bike ride from the city along the Waterfront Trail.
Just three hours out of town from Toronto is Algonquin National Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park. The country escape provides ample opportunity for adventure: outdoorsy folk can paddle around canoe lake, swim in the clear, blue waters or dive off the cliffs that circle the lake. There are also a number of trails for all hiking abilities, but the most spectacular is the Centennial Ridges, a six-hour walk that culminates in a peak which looks out onto miles of unfettered forest – a sight best experienced in fall, when the foliage turns bright red. Transport can be a bit tricky to organise, but this day-long tour sorts all the logistics out for you.