Summer is here, vaccinations are rolling out, and Ontario is finally open again. After being cooped up at home for so long, it’s natural to feel the travel itch. The good news is you don’t have to go far to enjoy beautiful sights, embark on new adventures, or take in some history. There are many scenic and exciting road trips for seniors within driving distance of Toronto. A two-hour drive could land you in a quaint small town, wine region, tropical greenhouse garden, or world-class market. Don’t know where to start? Here are nine popular GTA (Greater Toronto Area) day trip destinations waiting for you to visit.
Small towns don’t get much more charming than Elora, located just north of Guelph. Its most famous attraction is the Elora Gorge, which boasts 350 acres of conservation territory including riverside trails with safety barriers, scenic overlooks of the Grand River, a multi-use picnic area, and one of the best spots to fish trout in North America. Nearby sits the Elora Limestone Quarry, which features a sandy beach and a popular swimming hole for locals and tourists alike. Surrounded by tall cliffs, it’s certainly one of Ontario’s most scenic spots to take a dip.
Art lovers will enjoy the Elora Centre for the Arts, which houses two galleries and a shop full of unique artisan finds that are either handmade or eco-friendly. Don’t miss the Elora Mill, a historic building turned hotel and spa with a manicure and pedicure room that overlooks the scenic gorge trail. The hotel also offers river-side dining with a menu influenced by weekly local farm harvests.
Distance from Toronto: 112 kilometres, approximately 1 hour 20 minutes
Many Ontarians know Blue Mountain as a GTA ski destination, but it’s an excellent summer one, too. The resort’s open-air gondola has 360-degree views that’ll make you feel like you’re in Switzerland, while its Mill Pond Activity Centre offers aqua tours by water trike or paddle boat for a more leisurely experience. Channel your inner child and let the good times roll with 30 metres of chutes and lumber ball run, a competitive game that requires little physical effort and is fun for almost all ages. There are multiple dining options in Blue Mountain to suit a wide variety of tastes, including a sushi bar, Italian eatery, taco joint, and Irish pub. It’s best to plan ahead and purchase passes before you go as COVID protocols mean reduced capacity for many of Blue Mountain’s attractions.
Distance from Toronto: 171 kilometres, approximately 2 hours
A nature lovers’ dream, the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Hamilton encompasses five cultivated garden areas, 27 kilometres of nature trails, 2,400 acres of nature sanctuaries, more than 2,400 individual plant species, and upwards of 310,000 individual plants. Make sure to check out RBG’s renowned lilac collection, as well as their herbaceous perennial collections. The property also features two canoe launch sites, for which you can bring your own craft or register for a guided tour. If you need a break and a place to sit down, venture over the Turner Pavilion Teahouse for light bites and a cup of tea surrounded by an idyllic rose garden.
Distance from Toronto: 69 kilometres, approximately 50 minutes
The Cheltenham Badlands, only a short drive from downtown Toronto, were closed to the public for years. Luckily, they’re back and as beautiful as ever. Reservations are required during COVID-19, and are most certainly worth it to take in the rolling hills of red soft rock devoid of any vegetation. If you need a reference point, think Alberta’s Badlands. The property contains two formal trails and an accessible boardwalk from which visitors can view this geological gem created by early farm practices that caused the land’s shallow topsoil to erode.
While you’re in the Caledon area, stop by the Spirit Tree Estate Cidery for artisan cider tastings, a bakeshop full of fresh-baked pies and locally sourced goods, and a rustic bistro featuring seasonal menus. Also in the area: Inglewood Antique Market, which is always packed to the brim with collectible and interesting finds.
Distance from Toronto: 64 kilometres, approximately 45 minutes
Calling all car lovers! The Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa features the country’s largest collection of Canadian cars dating back to 1900. It also has an impressive selection of American, European, and British vehicles, including the largest Rolls-Royce collection in the country. The museum also hosts walking automotive heritage tours in downtown Oshawa and frequent speakers on automotive history and culture. Kids or grandkids will love a full-size model of Pixar’s Cars character Lightning McQueen in the main gallery. Other nearby attractions include the Robert McLaughlin Gallery and Parkwood National Historic Site, a beautiful early 20th century estate just 15 minutes’ walk away.
Distance from Toronto: 80 kilometres, approximately 1 hour
If you’ve already done Niagara-on-the-Lake a thousand times before, you may want to check out Prince Edward County (PEC) instead. The destination has quickly become one of Southern Ontario’s most popular tourist attractions for good reason. The county is actually an island in Lake Ontario, which means it has plenty of beaches and attractions with gorgeous lakeside views. In the summer, PEC offers no shortage of hiking, biking, fishing canoeing, and kayaking opportunities. Best of all, the over 800 kilometres of shoreline are accessible to all with beach mats that help accommodate wheelchairs or strollers.
PEC is also quickly becoming known as one of Canada’s top wine and craft beverage destinations, featuring over 40 wineries and numerous beer and cider brewers. It’s also a foodie’s paradise, with restaurants that range from casual to fine dining and dozens of country farm stands alongside weekly farmers’ markets. From Sunnydale Farms, which grows, cleans, kettles, and packages its own popcorn to Creasy’s Apple Dabble Farm and Ruth’s Canteen contactless cookie cupboard, there’s a good chance you’ll bring a taste of PEC home with you.
Distance from Toronto: 175 kilometres, approximately 2 hours 15 minutes
Visit the largest farmers’ market of its kind in Canada, conveniently located just over an hour from Toronto. If you want quality foods or unique antiques, this is the place to find them. From local produce to fresh meats and cheeses, lovingly baked apple fritters, and international street food, there’s something here for picky and adventurous eaters alike. St. Jacobs Market District features over 300 vendors and an artisan market that sells homemade bath products, quilts, blown glass vases, jewellery, and more. Before or after you shop, hop on a horse-drawn trolley to tour Mennonite farms in the area.
Distance from Toronto: 118 kilometres, approximately 1 hour 30 minutes
Spend a day exploring the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, which offers a variety of activities for all ages and abilities. This spectacular national park located on the Canadian Shield is uniquely boat-access only, which means you must either take a ferry or water taxi from the nearby marina to reach it. Once you arrive, there are hiking trails, swimming areas, pristine beaches, overnight cabins, wooded cycling trails, picnic sites, and campgrounds. The wide variety of fish in Georgian Bay makes it a popular fishing spot, while amateur and professional photographers alike enjoy capturing the area’s natural beauty.
Distance from Toronto: 181 kilometres, approximate 1 hour 55 minutes
Not your average park, Hilton Falls Conservation area boasts stunning 10-foot waterfalls and old mill ruins dating back to the early 1800s, before it was destroyed in a fire. It also has plenty of trails for walking, hiking, and cycling, as well as multiple rivers, a reservoir, and hidden geocaches. Hilton Falls offers mountain biking trails for novices and more challenging rock gardens for experienced cyclists. Birdwatchers should keep an eye out for interesting species like the Hooded Warbler as they explore the site.
If you work up an appetite, consider finishing off your day with dinner at the Old Mill Toronto Restaurant, which just opened a brand new patio to complement its heritage building that dates back to 1914.
Distance from Toronto: 61 kilometres, approximately 45 minutes
Looking for more things to do near Toronto? Read our article on the best farmers’ markets around Toronto and Rocketman’s article on the best day trips from Calgary on transit.
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