A Local’s List of Things to Do in Ontario, Canada in All Seasons!
Whether you are a local looking up fresh ideas for places to visit in Ontario or a visitor looking for the best things to do, there is so much to see and do in Ontario.
With Eric having grown up in the province and driven around it numerous times for work and play, we like to think we can tell you about some of the best points of interest!
This post is designed to be a healthy mix of the best places to visit in Ontario (like beautiful towns and cities) as well as specific tourist attractions in Ontario.
We’ve also got things to do that are unique to Ontario and you can’t do anywhere else (or quite like in Ontario). That said, we know we still have lots of places to travel to in Ontario – and we’ll add to this article over time!cam
So, if you are wondering what to do in Ontario – whether this season or this weekend – we have got you covered.
From stunning wilderness and views to country stores and sightseeing in Ontario at popular tourist attractions, here’s our massive guide on the best and/or fun things to do in Ontario in all seasons!
This is a constantly growing article. Have we missed something great? Get in touch with us and we’ll be sure to look into it!
Things to Do in Ontario in Most/All Seasons
The top part of this Ontario travel guide is all about great ideas for things to do in Ontario in all seasons.
This means that the things to do below are all things that you can visit most or at all times of the year. Trust us, Ontario tourism is alive and well in all seasons and we’ve tried to include a mix of Northern Ontario with things to do in Southern Ontario!
For example, there are lots of places to go in Ontario that simply change what they offer from the summer season to the winter.
Lots of the best Ontario attractions – especially the outdoor ones – do this. For example, you can visit Gretzky Estates Winery to taste wine in the summer and enjoy their outdoor skating rink in the winter!
So, keeping that criteria in mind, you can find great places to visit in Ontario and things to do in all seasons below.
If there is a famous seasonal-specific event at any one of these places, we’ll mention them down below in specific things to do in Ontario by season so that you don’t miss them!
Visit an Ontario Wine Region
Starting off strong with one of our favourite things to do in Ontario – you can visit one of the wine regions. Many of them make for great weekend getaways in Ontario in any season.
Believe it or not, there are actually around four main wine regions with several emerging wine regions within Ontario. This makes sense since Ontario is right in the prime grape-growing climate region and the Niagara Escarpment also makes for fertile conditions!
There is nothing like heading to one of these regions for a day (or overnight) and visiting local wineries to do tastings.
Many wineries offer guided tours of their facilities and have food onsite so you can spend some time relaxing and enjoying! There are well over 150 wineries in the province so you’ve got some visiting to do if you like wine.
As for where to visit, we really like Niagara on the Lake. The region is one of the most beautiful places in Ontario to visit, has a small historic town (of the same name), and is close to Niagara Falls with lots of things to do.
Prince Edward County – between Toronto and Kingston – is another favourite wine region of ours.
This rural area on the shores of Lake Ontario is teeming with wineries. Head for Huff Estates Winery if you’re looking to get started. We’ve visited many times and written about other things to do and where to stay.
Of course, don’t forget about Twenty Valley (on the Niagara Peninsula), the North Shore of Lake Erie in Southwestern Ontario, and Grey County (south of Georgian Bay) if you are looking for other nice or up-and-coming wine regions.
Shop at a Farmers Market
Ontario has a rich agricultural heritage and produces a wide variety of products for itself, the rest of the country, and those abroad (maple syrup, anyone?). So, feel free to tap into those smells and tastes by visiting a local farmers’ market.
There are many farmers markets all over the place but you can usually find them in town and cities on specific days of the week.
From natural honey and cheeses to freshly grown fruits and vegetables or baked bakes breads, there is plenty of deliciousness to be tried.
If you are in Toronto, a stop by St. Lawrence Market is a great way to introduce yourself to the city and get a sense of what Ontario is all about. One of the best things to do in Guelph is to visit the Guelph Farmers Market that is open year round on Saturdays.
You can also check out the Kingston Public Market – the oldest market in Ontario – at Springer Market Square in downtown Kingston.
You’ll find antiques alongside the food items for sale. Wherever you live, there is sure to be a local market in your town or very close by. It’s also a great way to directly support local growers, too!
Go for an Ontario Hike
A sure-fire way to enjoy the vast Ontario outdoors is to go for a hike. To be honest, there are lots of places to see in Ontario if you are willing to put on shoes and walk a bit.
Hiking is great because there are so many trails around the province that you are sure to find something to suit your fitness level and time limits.
There are short hikes in Conservation Areas, longer hikes in Provincial Parks or National Parks, and free hikes along waterfronts for all to enjoy. These areas are particularly great in the summer sunshine or to enjoy fall colours, too.
We intentionally separated hiking from camping (even though both are generally done in Provincial Parks) because camping isn’t popular in all seasons. So, you can find camping in the “summer” section.
Hiking, on the other hand, can be done at all times of the year, trail conditions depending. Some of our best hikes have been chilly winter hikes through quiet, snowy forests like in Scanlon Creek or Thornton Bales Conservation Area.
That said, there are many great hikes in areas that are popular for their accessibility, views, facilities, etc. One of the most popular provincial parks is Algonquin Park and – besides camping and canoeing – you can find many day hikes here (accessible from parking lots just off Highway 60).
Ferris Provincial Park in Campbellford offers the Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge, while Hardy Lake Park and Huckleberry Rock Lookout in the Muskokas make for good short hikes in pristine nature that are easy to do.
If you’re planning on staying up in Muskoka, check out our detailed guide on the best areas to stay in Muskoka (with Muskoka resort and accommodation options).
Discover Niagara Falls
Even though we talk about Ontario waterfalls below, Niagara Falls – both the city and the waterfalls – deserve their own spot. This is because it’s one of the top attractions in Ontario and easily one of the best things to do in Canada!
To be clear, Niagara Falls is both the city in Canada and the name of the grouping of waterfalls on the Niagara River. The “main waterfall” everyone likely knows as Niagara Falls is called Horseshoe Falls due to its U-shape. It’s also easy to get to Niagara Falls via the highways so it can be a doable drive if you’re in southern Ontario.
In any case, the waterfalls are absolutely stunning to visit and there are many ways you can get up close like on the famous Hornblower Cruise, a Helicopter Tour over the Falls, and even on an Adventure Zipline with amazing Views of the Falls! The area offers hiking at the Niagara Glen and you can even get close to the raging river on the White Water Walk.
The city itself is also full of things to do and places to stay to make a whole weekend out of a trip there. Visiting Clifton Hill and playing tourist in Niagara Falls is definitely something you should experience at least once in your lifetime. And you can visit the Falls in any season since they don’t turn off the Falls in the winter… contrary to what some may think.
Visit the Big Apple in Colbourne
Are you a fan of apples and all things apple-related? Then a stop at the Big Apple is for you. Located in Colborne, Ontario, this country store is located just off Highway 401.
You can’t miss it – there’s a giant smiling red apple you can clearly see from the side of the highway. Of all the points of interest in Ontario, we’d say this one is pretty unique!
Known for selling millions of their famous apple pies, they have an onsite restaurant, dog area, sweet shop, brewery, and more. So stop in to stretch your legs if you are making a long drive to Kingston or Ottawa or just stop in if you are in the area to pick up a sweet treat!
Having passed the Big Apple many times (Eric lived in Kingston for years), we finally stopped to check it out and it didn’t disappoint.
You can read more about visiting the Big Apple here. There are plenty of other great roadside attractions around the province which you can visit, too!
Take an Ontario Scenic Drive
Given that Ontario doesn’t have a great public transportation infrastructure (outside the GTA, at least), you need a car to experience most areas. Luckily, there are lots of places to drive to in Ontario.
Many great driving routes offer views or peaceful countrysides while others feature markets, attractions, and nature along the way. You might even stumble across sights like the West Montrose Covered Bridge – also known as the “Kissing Bridge”!
We have a number of favourite Ontario driving routes that we jump at the chance to take when we travel from place to place.
We really like driving Highway 60 that starts in Huntsville and extends through parts of Algonquin Park before spitting you out in Barry’s Bay, Renfrew, and eventually Ottawa.
Another great drive is heading from Huntsville to Kingston on Highway 35 through Dorset, 118 through to Haliburton and into Bancroft before heading south on 62.
A drive a bit further north that is also quite nice includes driving through Lake Superior Provincial Park on the Trans-Canada Highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa.
You get these great views of the water as you crest the high clifftops and there are places to stop along the way.
Go Chase Ontario Waterfalls
We already mentioned visiting Niagara Falls – but there are many more Ontario waterfalls that you can discover.
Due to the unique geography that includes lakes and rivers, the Canadian Shield (rocky layer of the earth), and the Niagara Escarpment, there are waterfalls all over the province.
Many of them are located in parks or conservation areas while others can be spotted from the side of the road. Some are even man-made due to hydro projects.
It’s true that there are many waterfalls around the Niagara Escarpment Area that runs between Georgian Bay and Niagara Falls. With well over 100 waterfalls, Hamilton is a great place to start.
We got the chance to drive around for a day and experience some Hamilton waterfalls like the Devil’s Punchbowl. However, there are other great waterfalls that can be visited year-round, for example in the Hilton Falls Conservation Area or Kakabeka Falls outside of Thunder Bay.
While we are here: If you’re going to check out waterfalls, please follow the guidelines/ boundaries set out by the conservation areas. Crossing a barrier or going off-trail to get the perfect Instagram photo is not worth it.
This can be dangerous, hurts the area, and impacts others wanting to visit. (At the time of writing, Eugenia Falls was closed off to visitors because people got injured and had to be rescued due to crossing barriers).
Tour an Underground Mine in Sudbury
Dynamic Earth in Sudbury is one of the cool places to visit in Ontario. No, seriously – you can tour an underground mine which is around 13 degrees Celsius at all times!
As one of the top things to do in Northern Ontario, a visit to Dynamic Earth Museum – part of the Science North brand – is worth your time.
There are numerous exhibits all about the earth, rocks, nature, and the local connection to mining. This is also where you can find the famous Big Nickel which is the largest coin in the world!
The highlight of Dynamic Earth is definitely the underground mine tour. You’re led seven storeys underground and guided through a demonstration mine to learn about mining from back in the day to today! If you are looking for things to do in Ontario with kids, this is a top idea.
Attend an Ontario Festival
As the most populous province in Canada, Ontario has a vibrant festival scene shaped by art, music, cultures from around the globe, food, seasons, you name it! You can find festivals all around the province in big cities and small towns and at all times of the year.
As for food, culture, and heritage, there’s the famous Toronto Caribana or the Taste of the Danforth (also in Toronto) and farm festivals like the Carrot Fest in Bradford West Gwillimbury or the Bala Cranberry Festival.
There are even smaller festivals like the CeltFest in Almonte. Eric went to CeltFest a few years back (it’s a cultural festival) and the traditional music was amazing, the beer was good, and the small-town atmosphere was super fun.
We’ll be sure to breakdown more notable festivals by season when we add to this post!
Eat and Drink on an Ontario Food Tour/Trail
We already mentioned checking out an Ontario farmers market but if you want to bring the food to you, you can follow one of the numerous Ontario food trails!
These taste trails have been established in different regions and usually highlight an area’s specialty product. Basically, if you are a foodie and have a car, this is the thing to do for you!
Of course, you can find actual foodie tours in Toronto but this isn’t what we mean by Food Trails.
There are a number of self-guided food-themed routes in different regions with different stores, restaurants, and vendors acting as places to visit to sample the item in question!
More broadly, The Taste Trail is a Prince Edward County initiative where growers, restaurants, and wineries commit to “farm-to-table” practices and promote locally-sourced ingredients.
If you visit these establishments, you can be sure you’re supporting local businesses and getting local tastes! There are more food trails in Ontario and we look forward to following them.
Discover an Ontario City
Of course, what would Ontario be without its big cities! There are many great cities in Ontario – all of which make for great places to visit.
Even if you have been to a city before, there is often more to do and see. We are big into city travel because we like discovering places – so we’ve got a good handle on Ontario cities to visit.
If you are into history, head for Kingston with its historic buildings, lake views, fun things to do and great waterfront hotels. If you want to learn more about Canada, a trip to Ottawa – the nation’s capital – is loaded with things to do like visiting Parliament Hill.
You can also enjoy the Rideau Canal in summer and winter. Here’s how to spend one day in Ottawa, if you’re interested!
There are other great Ontario cities to explore like Toronto with all its tourist attractions and great places to stay. That said, you should explore smaller centres like Guelph, London, Hamilton, Windsor, and Waterloo.
Even Barrie – which acts as kind of a gateway to northern Ontario – is worth a stop through. If there are any really great seasonal things to do in Ontario cities, we will mention them below in the right “season section”.
Dive into Ontario Historic Sites
Geographically speaking, much of what is now Ontario was once part of the oldest settled parts of what was Upper Canada.
So, it makes sense that Ontario has a lot of history to be discovered – from bloody battles to famous people, cultural highlights, engineering marvels, and more.
There are a lot of interesting places to visit in Ontario so we’ve listed many below. We’d recommend a visit to any of them.
Learning even a bit about the backstory of Ontario (and therefore about Canada) is not only interesting but really important to pass along. You can visit many of these places year-round and they change up what’s going on for different seasons!
- Fort Henry National Historic Site and Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston
- Locks 1-8 of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa
- Laura Secord Homestead in Queenston
- Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Midland
- Brockville Railway Tunnel in Brockville
- Diefenbunker Museum – a cold-war era military bunker (a great Ottawa day trip)
- Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay
- Fort York National Historic Site right in downtown Toronto
Explore Ontario Museums + Galleries
If you want to stay indoors and take in some art or fascinating exhibits, an Ontario museum or gallery is a great place to do that.
Ontario is absolutely packed with museums on all different topics as well as art galleries that feature art from all over. Some places highlight works just done by Canadians!
A nice thing about these places to visit is that they are generally indoors which means they are good to visit at all times of the year.
Often, they have rotating exhibits or seasonal displays so you might find something different to explore if you ever want to visit a museum or gallery again another time.
Of course, the unofficial rule is usually that you can find major museums in the larger cities and small galleries in smaller towns.
This doesn’t mean the smaller ones aren’t as good. In fact, the smaller museums are usually on more local topics which is great if you want a deeper dive into an Ontario-related theme… like canoeing or boats!
Check out this very short list of great museums and galleries in Ontario:
- McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Vaughan
- The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto
- The Aga Khan Museum in North York
- The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto
- Thousand Islands Boat Museum in Gananoque
- Bytown Museum in Ottawa
- Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa
- The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough
Explore the Bonnechere Caves
Another unique thing to do in Ontario is to head out towards the Ottawa Valley near Eganville and back underground to explore the Bonnechere Caves.
This cave system was formed in the limestone millions of years ago and today serves as a fascinating place to explore on a guided tour. There are many fossils down there and as well as the river and trails around the area to make a day out of it.
The caves are open from May through to October so you can visit for more or less three seasons of the year with summer being the most popular (summer break, warm weather, etc).
They host numerous events throughout their season – you can even eat down there – so be sure to check out the website for more information.
Get to Know a Small Ontario Town
Ontario may have a bunch of nice cities to visit, but the province was built by the small towns. There’s nothing like a visit to a tiny town in Ontario to provide you with a relaxing backdrop to shop, eat, and explore locally.
While some towns are more well-known than others for their history, architecture, river views, food and breweries, or shops, we like to think that each town has something to discover if you look hard enough.
We can’t talk about small towns in Ontario worth visiting without mentioning Elora for the famous Mill, Paris for the photogenic buildings, Almonte for the donuts and inventor of basketball (true story), and Campbellford for the largest Toonie!
There are obviously more and we will write a whole post in the future about great towns to explore. Many of which make for great day trips from Toronto!
Just so we’re on the same page: When you visit a small town in Ontario, be sure to not show up and be a “silly tourist”. Do your best to learn about the place and support the community by shopping locally or going to a local brewery, restaurant, or coffee shop… and not to McDonald’s.
Visit Manitoulin Island
Another top thing to do in Ontario is something that gets overlooked quite often: visit Manitoulin Island. Considered the largest freshwater island in the world, there are many things to do on this island in Northern Ontario in all seasons.
It should also be noted that the island is home to a number of Indigenous communities so it’s likely to be different (in a good way) from other places you are accustomed to visiting.
There is top hiking, camping, and fishing here – the land is so large that itself has over 100 inland lakes.
You can also check out the Dark Sky Preserve at Gordon’s Park or appreciate Indigenous culture through art galleries and cultural centres. There are other points of interest like lighthouses to hike to, as well.
That said, Manitoulin is mainly known for nature. It’s a fairly remote place to explore in northern Ontario without going all the way up into Northern Ontario by car (shout out to the Pickle Lake, Ontario).
To get to Manitoulin Island, you can take the ferry from Tobermory in the warmer seasons and/or you can drive there if you head for Sudbury and take the only land route on Highway 6. To learn more, you can check out the Manitoulin Island tourism website.
Enjoy an Ontario Brewery
If you are feeling thirsty and fancy a beverage, you are in luck: Ontario is home to a number of breweries and newer craft breweries that you can visit!
In fact, there are so many craft breweries in Ontario. Usually, “drinking craft beer” wouldn’t be a thing you’d tell people to do unless it was important.
Well, Ontario had a craft beer Renaissance in the early 2000s and now there are over 250 beer breweries all across the province. It seems like every time you return to a city or small town there’s another brewery that popped up for you to visit!
Breweries are great because they are indoors – making for nice winter visits. When it’s warmer out, Ontario breweries often have great patios to enjoy the weather!
Now, there are definitely more established breweries in Ontario and we’ll give credit where it’s due. You can head for Flying Monkeys in Barrie, Steam Whistle or Mill Street in Toronto, and Creemore Springs in Creemore.
Engage with Ontario Nature & Animals
Given that Ontario has a deep connection to nature, it’s only fitting that you have the opportunity to engage with and appreciate that nature (and particularly with the animals).
Luckily, there are many centres around the province that cater to doing just that – and they can usually be visited year-round!
You might want to visit the Kortright Centre for Conservation which has programming for adults and kids all about nature. There are also countless other conservation areas (many mentioned in this article) to visit which offer education on local plants and wildlife.
If you’re in the right season, you might be able to catch a migration like the massive Monarch butterfly migration that happens in Point Pelee National Park.
You can also go to the animals at various farms and sanctuaries like The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada near Guelph or Cedar Meadows Resort and Wildlife Park up in Timmins. These places are usually open year-round which makes visiting easy to do!
Learn About Indigenous Culture
Related to the point about Manitoulin Island, another unique thing to do that I (Eric) bet you haven’t thought of is to make it a point to learn about Indigenous culture in Ontario. There are many ways you can do this.
For a hands-on experience, head to Petroglyphs Provincial Park in the Kawarthas to learn about the people behind the largest known grouping of rock carvings in Canada.
You can head to Smiths Falls and set out on a guided canoe tour with Voyageur Canoe Tours as the guides touch on Indigenous history or visit the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation on Manitoulin Island to see the museum, art, and attend cultural events.
If you’re really keen, there’s a museum/historical centre called the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre which is located west of Thunder Bay (almost in Manitoba).
Known as the Manitou Mounds, this area is known for the ancient burial mounds and village sites that date back millennia. Generally speaking, you can visit Indigenous Tourism in Ontario to learn more.
Get Thrilled at Canada’s Wonderland
If you are looking for a thing to do in Ontario and want to be thrilled, head for Canada’s Wonderland! This amusement park north of Toronto is actually really, really good.
Aside from the thrill rides and small attractions, the park has changed dramatically over the decades to include some roller coasters that are among the tallest and fastest in their category in the world. Just google “Leviathan” and tell us what you think!
The nice thing about Wonderland is that you can visit in three seasons (not winter) and there is something for the whole family.
In fact, you don’t even have to go on rides – the famous Wonderland Funnel Cake – a deep-fried batter loaded with ice cream, berries in sauce, and powdered sugar – might be reason enough to spend the money to get in.
Eric grew up not too far away so he spent many summer and fall evenings riding roller coasters as a kid. Good memories.
There’s also a water park which is popular in the summer. If you go, besides general admission, we’d recommend the “Fast Lane” Pass if you are short on time and/or don’t want to wait in the long lines.
For those looking for other amusement parks in Ontario, there are lots of Fall fairs that occur throughout the province (we will cover some in the Fall Section). If you’re close to Toronto, a trip to the Toronto Islands to go to Centreville Amusement Park is always a great activity to do with kids!
Attend a Sporting Event
Last, but certainly not least – if you are a local or a visitor to Ontario, a great way to experience the province is through a sporting event.
There are sports in all seasons and Ontario has it all: hockey (Leafs and Sens) and basketball (Raptors) in fall through spring, baseball (the Blue Jays) in spring through fall, Canadian football (yes, it’s different than American football) in the fall, major league soccer, lacrosse, and much more.
Of course, many of the sports teams are centred in Toronto but you can catch professional sports in Hamilton and Ottawa, too. You can also catch a junior hockey game in smaller cities and towns.
Check out Kingston for the Frontenacs, Barrie for the Colts, Guelph for the Storm, and London for the Knights, just to name a few. Usually junior hockey is good hockey and much, much cheaper than tickets to a Leafs game!
Things to Do in Ontario in Summer
If you are searching for things to do in Ontario this summer, welcome to our ultimate list! From amazing summer attractions in Ontario to ideas and spots for summer vacations in Ontario, we’ve got a comprehensive list of what to do in Ontario this summer!
For this part of this post, we’ve gathered up the best places to visit in Ontario in summer and some of the best summer activities in Ontario.
Keep in mind, these things to do in summer and places to visit in the summer are in addition to the things listed above in the general section because you can visit a pretty Ontario town, go on a hike, or visit a winery in basically any season.
However, the activities, trips, and getaways listed below are only done in the summer or best enjoyed in the summer season. For those thinking about visiting Ontario, if you want to be an Ontario tourist the summer season is one of the absolute best times to do it!
Summer is also a good time for Ontario day trips and longer Ontario getaways because you are more likely to have nice weather and the best possible driving conditions (compared to winter). So, if you’re looking for top things to see in Ontario and the best places to visit in Ontario in summer, read on.
Hop on a Boat Cruise
If it’s the summertime, there are few better things to do – for visitors and locals alike – than to hop on a boat cruise. Because of all the water available (more on that below), Ontario is absolutely loaded with great boat tours or cruises.
We love the idea of boat cruises because there are quite a few Ontario tourist attractions to see from the water that you wouldn’t otherwise see from land.
From the famous 1000 Islands in the St. Lawrence River to the 30,000 Islands in Georgian Bay or the Trent-Severn Waterway, boat cruises are a safe and often relaxing way to take in Ontario’s natural beauty.
There are even boat tours/companies that specialize in dinner cruises, sunset cruises, and cruises where you can learn about local history, geography, and even spot shipwrecks!
We’ve done a number of boat cruises in Ontario and would suggest checking out the 1000 Islands from Kingston or Gananoque, the Muskoka Steamships in Gravenhurst, the Hornblower Cruise right up to Niagara Falls or the classic glass-bottomed boat on Blue Heron Cruises in Tobermory!
Go Tubing on the Grand River
Of all the fun things to do in Ontario in the summer, grabbing a tube and floating down a river has got to be up among the best.
Luckily, southern Ontario is home to the Grand River, and you can definitely hop in a tube and go for a ride. It’s a great way to cool off and can be a bit of an adventure if you’ve never tubed before!
Tubing the Grand is a popular summer activity that you can actually do in a number of locations along the river.
Depending on the starting point/company, there are also many different route lengths you can sign up for. It’s a great summer attraction that draws visitors to the areas around Cambridge, Elora (for Elora Gorge Conservation Area), and even Paris.
Different companies are responsible for tube rentals and safety so be sure to check for the location you want to tube from.
Find a Local Swimming Hole
Nothing says summer in Ontario like going for a dip. Luckily, there are so many places that you can hop in the water in Ontario.
Ontario is packed with public pools but also natural waterways like lakes and rivers that you can swim in (more on lakes and beaches below). That said, there are also some more unique places to swim that might catch your eye.
The Quarry is popular because of the tall rock cliffs that extend from the base of the old rock basin. The waters of Georgian Bay (at the Bruce Peninsula) can be much colder compared to smaller lakes at most times of the year but the experience is worth it for many.
One safety tip, though: If you are unfamiliar with the place you want to go swimming, be sure to check online for the latest water quality readings and adhere to local health and safety signage by beaches and lakes.
Swimming spots in conservation areas are generally pretty on top of their open/closed swimming notifications.
Enjoy an Ontario Cottage
Whether you’re staying for the weekend, a whole week or longer, enjoying Ontario summer at a cottage is one of the absolute best experiences out there.
Maybe we’re biased having grown up with a family cottage – but we think cottaging is such a great way to spend a summer vacation in Ontario, and a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the province.
Renting a cottage in Ontario is a great way to experience nature, bring friends or family together, and even explore an area you might not have otherwise.
We have a cottage but have also rented in many places around the province (mainly around Lake Simcoe) and it’s always been great. You can find a more rugged place in the woods or a cottage right on a lake – it’s really up to you.
Of course, you can rent a cottage in the spring of fall but summer is just the best time to rent a cottage in Ontario.
Because of this, places to book up in advance so be sure to book ahead if you know you want to rent a cottage for a shorter stay or a week (or longer). We have a massive guide on renting a cottage in Ontario if you need more tips on this topic.
Tip: You might also be interested in renting a cottage which is within a cottage resort (maintained cottages you just show up and stay in). If this is you, check out our post on Muskoka accommodations for popular cottage resorts.
Stay at an Ontario Summer Resort
For those of you who like the cottage idea in the summertime but want to make things a little easier, booking a stay at a resort in Ontario can be a great call.
Of course, you can definitely visit a resort during most times of the year. However, if you want the hot weather to enjoy some time by the lake, a summer resort stay in Ontario is for you. It’s very different (but equally as nice) compared to a winter getaway with snowshoeing!
There are many different resorts in Ontario – some large, some small – spread out across the province that offer guests different amenities like spa services, beach fronts, access to water toys, full-service restaurants, golfing, and more.
The difficulty can be picking the right resort for you because some are great for families with kids while others are great for couples looking for a romantic getaway in Ontario.
We’ve enjoyed spending time at a number of resorts over the years but there are just so many in Ontario to choose from.
Popular areas for summer resorts include the Kawarthas (like Sunrise Resort), Muskoka (like Deerhurst Resort or the JW Marriott Rosseau), and Prince Edward County (Lake on the Mountain Resort), to name a few. Once again, you can read up on where to stay in Muskoka for a breakdown of resorts across that specific region.
Enjoy Ontario’s Lakes and Rivers
Speaking of enjoying the water in Ontario, a great summertime activity is definitely enjoying the various lakes and rivers the province has to offer.
There are so many ways to enjoy Ontario’s lakes and rivers: From having a picnic by one to swimming, boating, hitting the beach, paddling, fishing, camping, cottaging, and even hiking along them.
With over 250,000 lakes in Ontario – yes, actually – and many rivers, there’s more than a few to choose from.
Lake/water-related activities are among the best things to do this summer in Ontario because you can usually get some good distance between yourself and other visitors.
That said, lake areas in southern Ontario are definitely more popular with visitors. So when in doubt, just head farther north and you’ll be sure to find more space at a quiet lake.
As for which lakes to explore, we actually plan on writing a post on some of the best lakes in Ontario that we have experienced. It would be easy to say “explore the Great Lakes” but they are huge and one of them is entirely in the USA so that would be ridiculous.
These lakes we love will make the list for their beauty, accessibility, activities, and other reasons. For now, here’s a simple breakdown of the different ways you can enjoy some of Ontario’s lakes.
Go Boating in Ontario
With so much water, boating is a popular activity in Ontario. Remember, not all summer trips in Ontario have to be on land!
Aside from basically any lake with a boat launch/marina, there are famous waterways like the Trent-Severn which includes historical points like the Peterborough Lift Lock and the Kawartha Lakes. You might also want to boat the historic Rideau Canal that runs from Kingston all the way to the Ottawa River!
If you don’t have a boat, you can always rent a boat for a weekend or longer. There are loads of marinas to rent a boat from – it really depends on where you are planning to go. To boat in Ontario, you also need a license which you can learn more about here.
Popular areas for boaters include Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte near Prince Edward County, the 1000 Islands in the St. Lawrence River near Gananoque, Honey Harbour in Georgian Bay, and Lake Simcoe.
Of course, be sure to follow boating regulations for the province and adhere to local guidelines and rules around safety and speed.
Paddle on a Canoe/Kayak Adventure
If you want to remove the motor from the boat and engage in a more quiet, accessible, and cheaper water activity, you should head off on a paddling adventure. For this, a good ol’ fashioned canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard might do!
We’re big fans of canoeing and kayaking because it’s very easy to do – once you know how and where to go.
Time on the water can be done as a day trip or as an overnight trip in a park such as Algonquin. Depending on your skill level and location, you might also choose to just make up a route that doesn’t stick to the boundaries of a park.
Eric has been a part of several day trips and multi-day canoe trips over the years in Algonquin and areas north of Kingston. More simply, we also usually grab the kayaks at the cottage and head out for morning paddles just after sunrise. You usually hear the loons. It’s nice.
Generally speaking, if you are new to this, you can research routes in parks at their websites or learn from the outfitters if you need to rent a canoe or kayak. Just be sure to follow all safety guidelines for being out on the water.
For those who want to experience paddling without the fuss of organizing everything, there are lots of guided canoe day/multi-day routes with experienced outfitters like Algonquin Outfitters or the Madawaska Kanu Centre.
You don’t always need to head north in Ontario to paddle, though. There are many rental companies in towns and cities by most bodies of water – like Ahoy Rentals in Kingston and Speed River Paddling in Guelph to paddle the local rivers.
White Water Rafting in Ontario
If you’re wondering what to do in Ontario this summer and want a unique summer activity, have you thought about going white water rafting? We bet not.
Ontario is home to a number of great rivers – almost 100,000 kilometres of rivers – that offer up some decent rapids you can experience through guided rafting tours.
Fishing in Ontario
Another thing to do at an Ontario lake or river is to go fishing! Fishing in Ontario is a popular activity and there are plenty of places to fish around the province.
A good point about fishing is that you don’t always need a boat if you’re just casting into the river or lakes.
Ontario also has great conservation efforts that keep local species like pike, walleye, large and small mouth bass, muskie, lake trout, and many more at healthy numbers.
Eric has fished around the province a bit and – in his experience – the best fishing is up in Northern Ontario. One time, he met his quota (determined by the fishing license) for walleye in about 40 minutes.
If you want to fish in Ontario as an adult, you do need a fishing license which is inexpensive.
You can usually grab licenses (as well as rent rods and gear, if you don’t have your own) from local tackle shops near the lake or river you want to fish. Just be sure to follow the conservation rules stated by the license or else you can be heavily fined.
To make all of this easier, you can also just check out a local fishing charter to head out for a day with a guide. Any reputable fishing tour company will know the best spots and adhere to all those technical things like gear and licences.
Relax at an Ontario Beach
Speaking of water – if you’re heading for a lake or river in Ontario, you might get the opportunity to lounge at the beach. Ontario is absolutely packed with beaches.
Some are located in smaller inland lakes while others are along the shores of the larger bodies of water like Lake Ontario, Huron, and Erie. You can also find a variety across the province from sandy beaches, pebbly beaches, and “beaches” that are just a large, flat, bare rock!
Beaches often make some of the best Toronto day trips in the summer. But if you’re searching for summer vacation ideas and want to hit up the beach, try to go farther than just around Toronto.
Prince Edward County can be packed so go farther north, east, or west and make a whole weekend out of it to avoid the crowds.
Of course, many of the popular beaches in Ontario equate to the most popular Ontario vacation spots like Wasaga Beach, Sauble, Sandbanks, and Grand Bend.
However, there are also many beaches located within the boundaries of Provincial Parks or conservation areas which might be worth exploring – like Guelph Lake Conservation Area to name one example.
We plan on writing up an Ontario beach guide in the future since we’ve been to a number of beaches but want to highlight those that are lesser-known!
Go Camping in Ontario
Keen to explore the outdoors in Ontario? Go camping! Camping is easily one of the top summer activities in Ontario and one that can be done in so many different ways and so many different places. We have a whole detailed guide on camping in Ontario written by our expert wilderness guide!
We’ve done a mix of day-use and overnight camping at different places across the province so we know a little bit about camping.
Contrary to popular belief, camping doesn’t have to mean a tent and campfire. Sure, it’s a popular way to camp in Ontario at a campsite, but you can also camp with your car, trailer, or even RV.
You can also camp as part of a canoe trip if that’s more your style. Or you can go “glamping” which mixes rugged outdoors with more modern comforts. Fronterra Farms is well-known for glamping!
Camping is also very accessible to many people. If you don’t want to invest in all the gear for traditional overnight camping, you can try out day camping (more of a day outing at a campground) which requires less equipment. For example, Sandbanks Provincial Park has day-use parts as well as overnight camping grounds.
Now, you can camp in Ontario in other seasons but summer is very popular for the weather. There are also many campgrounds in Ontario that are basically only open for summer camping (unless you are winter camping – see winter activities).
That said, camping can be done in the fall when the colours are pretty but it can be much cooler in the evenings for the average camper. You can also camp in spring but it’s usually much wetter and the bugs can be atrocious in May and June.
Take a Ferry to Explore New Places
If you’re looking for a different kind of adventure than you might be used to, just hop on a ferry! Some of the best Ontario day trips in the summer might include taking a ferry so you should do just that.
The rationale here is that ferry crossings in Ontario generally take you to islands and there are lots of great islands to explore scattered across Ontario.
Plus, the ferry crossing itself is a neat way to see the landscapes from the water! The crossings themselves are often entertaining with great views. Depending on the length, some even have information/activities onboard.
There are some great ferries to hop on in Ontario: the Wolfe Island ferry to Wolfe Island just off the shores from Kingston, the different private boats to Flower Pot Island up by Tobermory, the Toronto Island ferry to the Islands (a great summer day trips), and even the M.S Chi-Cheemaun ferry up to Manitoulin Island from the Bruce Peninsula.
As for what to do when you get to any of these islands – that’s for another bunch of posts we’ll write soon!
Be Adventurous at an Adventure Course
If you’re looking for exciting things to do in Ontario that also mix in a bit of nature, there are some outdoor adventure activities across Ontario that are sure to thrill and challenge you!
From treetop trekking courses to high ropes, suspension bridges, and zip-lines, the Ontario outdoors are loaded with adrenaline-type adventures.
In fact, some of the top summer attractions for families with kids, couples looking to change it up, or groups of friends are ropes courses.
A popular one is Scenic Caves Nature Adventures in the Blue Mountains (close to Collingwood) where you get stunning caves, lookouts, and a suspension bridge to enjoy!
Back down in southern Ontario close to Lake Erie, Long Point Eco-Adventures has plenty to see and do such as visiting wineries and breweries nearby!
Of course, if you wanted to “go big or go home” then head up to Eagle Canyon Adventures close to Thunder Bay. They have one of Canada’s longest zip-line and the longest suspension bridge!
Go to the Drive-In Movie
There is no shortage of fun stuff to do in Ontario. For a classic summertime activity, why not consider a movie night at the local drive-in!
Contrary to popular opinion, the concept of the drive-in movie is not at all dead with numerous drive-in movie theatres all around the province. To be fair, recent events have seen drive-ins have a bit of a renaissance because they are a great way to socially distance.
Eric has been to The Stardust Drive-in Theater in East Gwillimbury north of Toronto but there are plenty of others like The Mustang Drive-in in Prince Edward County (there are multiple in Ontario called “Mustang”) and even the Muskoka Drive-in in Gravenhurst.
Recently, Toronto just got a new drive-in called City View which is located at Polson Pier. They offer a “contactless” drive-in experience and screen movies as well as have live concerts which you can enjoy from your car.
Go Ontario Berry/Fruit Picking
Another classic outdoor activity is fruit picking – specifically berries (strawberries) in the summer season! Eric used to go with his grandmother when he was younger for some “U-Pick” strawberries.
These days, berry/fruit picking – season depending – is a great way to get outside, get fresh produce right from the source, and support local Ontario growers. Win-win-win all around.
As we mentioned, summer is definitely strawberry picking season but there are other berries – mainly blueberries – in season around this time, too. Peaches and raspberries are also in summer, whereas apples aren’t until closer to the fall.
Honestly, half the fun of berry picking is driving country roads in an area like Simcoe County and looking for “U-Pick” signs pointing to smaller farms that would also be happy to have your business.
There are many other smaller operations around the province so you can Google your area if you are unsure. In time, we will write a longer list of great places to pick berries and other fruits in Ontario.
Shop at a Summer Village
For those looking to do a little shopping in Ontario, we’d recommend shopping locally for clothing, goods, gifts, and more.
Luckily, there are a few places to visit in the summer in Ontario that are specially made for summer shopping. Let’s call them summer villages – because they come to life the most in the summertime!
Up in Muskoka, Huntsville has a lively little downtown loaded with shops and the same can be said for Picton, Ontario in Prince Edward County.
Some of these historic little towns or villages have great boutique shops that you can’t find anywhere else.
Everything from sweets to clothing, antiques, and art await you in these storefronts. Plus, buying local is always a good thing. We’re big into exploring Ontario’s small towns and their history so we’ll link to more posts when we have them!
Enjoy Ontario Patio Season
Oh, is it summer in Ontario? That means it’s patio season! Patio season is defined as the warmest months of the year.
This is a time when locals and visitors alike can hang out on patios in the sunshine to enjoy a few beverages, great food, live music, friends and conversations – whatever it is that you do on a patio!
Luckily, there are lots of places across Ontario where you can enjoy the July and August sunshine. We have a few personal favourites (which we’re sure everyone does) that are usually overlooking a lake or river but we don’t always need a patio with a water view.
We’ve written guides on bars, pubs, and even breweries in different areas across Ontario (some with or without patios) so check out bars in downtown Toronto, the best pubs in Kingston, bars and pubs in Guelph, and great bars and pubs in Ottawa for some of our top spots!
In case you don’t want to wait, Bar Hop on Peter Street in Toronto has a great rooftop patio, the Barley Mow in Almonte has a riverside patio, and the Aulde Dubliner overlooks ByWard Market in Ottawa!
SCUBA Dive the Shipwrecks in Tobermory
For those looking to get under the water in the summer season, Ontario has some pretty good SCUBA diving. Part of the draw to Ontario is the number of lakes – because lakes with bad weather inevitably produce shipwrecks.
As such, there are shipwrecks across the great lakes with a high concentration around the 1000 Islands in the St. Lawrence River and a very high concentration of wrecks up in Fathom Five National Marine Park close to Tobermory. In fact, Tobermory has been dubbed the “SCUBA capital of Canada” with over 20 wrecks to explore.
If you are wanting to try SCUBA diving for the first time, you definitely need to seek out a training course with a certified instructor.
And if you want to see the wrecks up in Tobermory but don’t want to SCUBA, you can also rent a kayak from an outfitter like G+S Watersports Kayak Rentals in the harbour and embark on a mini-adventure.
Many of the wrecks can be seen from the surface which makes for a great day of exercise and sunshine. Just be sure your paddling skills are up to the potential challenges of Lake Huron.
Head to the French River Trading Post
Of all the places to see in Ontario in the summer, did you think we’d mention a seemingly random country store in the middle of nowhere?
If not, then you clearly haven’t heard of the French River Trading Post! Located up on the French River right off the highway between Parry Sound and Sudbury, this store is a classic stop in the summertime.
If you’ve ever driven through the region around Parry Sound or listened to radio stations in the area, you’ll know the classic jingle from the commercials saying “watch out, don’t miss the French River Trading Post!”.
This country store is a staple stop if you’re driving up to Sudbury. They have a massive country store full of Indigenous-made goods, Canadian souvenirs, books, food, gifts, games – you name it! They also have food onsite at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in case you are a hungry bear and want food or ice cream!
Celebrate Canada Day in Ottawa
Summer in Ontario is also special for the fact that you get to celebrate Canada Day. The Dominion of Canada was officially acknowledged on July 1st, 1867.
Nowadays we celebrate this day in lots of different ways from coast-to-coast. For a truly memorable experience, why not head to the nation’s capital city for the celebrations.
Ottawa becomes one of the top summer destinations in Ontario for the Canada Day weekend for the celebrations, the music, the fireworks, other cultural events, and the overall lively atmosphere.
The summer weather is also much nicer than the winter weather – although winter in Ottawa does mean ice skating, maple syrup taffy, and Beavertails. Tough call.
As a side, we believe that on July 1st it’s important to acknowledge Canada Day and also use the day to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples across Canada: the historical injustices faced and the inequities they continue to face.
We strive to advance the directives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (with actions, not just words) and always appreciate the vital influence that Indigenous Peoples had – and continue to have – in shaping the province of Ontario and Canada, as a whole.
Indulge in Ontario Ice Cream
You don’t always have to plan an extravagant summer getaway – sometimes just going on a mini-mission for ice cream is good enough! And let’s face it, you haven’t done summer in Ontario right unless you go for ice cream (unless you’re lactose intolerant – then try to find a dairy-free alternative).
We’ve had some great ice cream around the province but we know that there are some amazing local ice cream shops in places we haven’t yet visited. We wandered around looking for the best ice cream in Toronto and it was such a fun day!
As for outside Toronto, check out Kawartha Dairy with shops all over (Huntsville and Minden come to mind) as well as shops like The Nutty Chocolatier (with various locations, e.g. in Huntsville and in The Beaches in Toronto).
Next up on our Ontario ice cream list: Carp Custom Creamery in Carp!
Stop for a Burger at Webers
Of all the places to travel to in Ontario in summer, Webers is a true Ontario landmark. Opened back in the 1960s, Webers has been a popular hamburger, hot dog, and fries stop on Highway north of Orillia for decades!
These days, Webers is a popular stop for Muskoka-bound cottagers and locals (mostly cottagers, though). Thanks to a bridge over the highway, you can stop at Webers heading north OR south.
Eric used to stop at Webers with family driving up to the family cottage and recently brought Lisa for her first Webers experience. From the old train cars to eat into the picnic tables and massive outdoor green space, Webers makes a perfect stop on a summer road trip in Ontario.
Fun Fact: They even put in a Starbucks at the roadside stop for those who want it. You can check out the Webers Menu here.
They were also cash-only but to be fair we are not sure if they have changed that due to recent health events/regulations. Have cash just in case if you stop!
Enjoy a Nice Picnic
Speaking of outdoor green spaces, have you thought about having a picnic? A classic idea for a summer getaway in Ontario is to find some green space, bring some great food, and just enjoy being outside with friends and/or family.
As for where to go in Ontario for a nice picnic? Any outdoor space will likely do! You can find parks with picnic tables or benches. But if you know you are having a picnic, you can also bring a blanket to sit on the grass.
We have a bunch of spots in Ontario where we have eaten a snack or packed lunch: Lions Head Lookout in Huntsville, along the Kingston waterfront near Queen’s University (known as Breakwater Park) and the Gord Edgar Downie Pier, and the Agawa Bay Scenic Lookout off the highway if you are driving up around Lake Superior Provincial Park towards Wawa.
Visit an Ontario Summer Festival
If you are searching for Ontario summer events, there are lots of great places to visit in Ontario during the summer that revolve around a summertime festival.
Whether it’s about craft beer, food, something cultural, or musical, there are so many different summer festivals in Ontario to check out.
Often times, these festivals make for great little summer getaways in Ontario because you can plan a whole itinerary around it.
Off the top of our heads, Bluesfest in Ottawa in July is pretty big if you are into music while the Taste of the Danforth is a huge Toronto food/cultural festival in August. Of course, there are many, many more and you can search for Ontario summer festivals here.
With recent events, we recognize that many festivals and events will not go ahead as planned in the summertime.
However, things are always shifting and changing so be sure to check official festival websites for the most up-to-date information before you start planning a visit to attend one in the future. Some summer festivals are running with social distancing guidelines in place!
And there you have it – a rundown of ideas on the best things to do in Ontario. There are plenty more things to do and see in Ontario and we’ll continue to add to this post by season so it’s even more useful! Be sure to get in touch if there’s something else we should check out!
As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
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