There are Plenty of Great Things to Do in Prince Edward County, Ontario!
Trying to find a new area of Ontario to explore? Have you given Prince Edward County a go? You definitely should! If you haven’t heard about the place known as “The County” sitting between Toronto and Kingston on the shores of Lake Ontario, be prepare to get acquainted! As one of Ontario’s great wine regions, Prince Edward County makes a great day trip from Toronto – but there’s more to it than just wine!
We actually really, really Prince Edward County even though we have only visited a handful of times. Eric lived in Kingston for years and always drove by without giving it much thought. Years later, it’s becoming a top area for weekend trippers to explore – summer for wineries and camping and winter for the natural beauty. The small towns across The County – like Picton and Wellington, to name two – are great to explore and/or to go grab supplies.
In any case, PEC has a rich history and a booming identity that is no longer a well-kept secret. There is lots to do in Prince Edward County – from exploring the popular parks and beaches at Sandbanks Provincial Park and Lake on the Mountain to wandering the “Taste Trail” to learn about local food and drink. We’ve only just begun exploring the area so this post will grow and change as we experience more of this great region!
If you need more knowledge on Prince Edward County, check out our other PEC posts!
- Lovely Wineries in Prince Edward County
- Best Places to Stay in Prince Edward County
- Breweries and Cideries in Prince Edward County
Things to Consider Before Visiting Prince Edward County
Before we head off into The County, there are a number of things you might want to consider like the best time to visit, where to stay (if you choose to stay overnight), and how to get around – since the region is deceivingly large, made up of different “neighbourhoods”, and technically an island.
Best Time to Visit Prince Edward County
Of course, the answer to “when is the best time to visit Prince Edward County” is greatly dependent on what you are looking to do while there. The busy season for Prince Edward County is from May to September (basically following the warm weather) with a trickle of visitors into the fall for autumn colours, harvests, art galleries, and markets.
Summer is understandably the popular time for day trips to the wineries and breweries, for going to the beaches, being active cycling or out on the water, for camping, etc. Keep in mind, the prices in the heart of the summer season – June to August – can be pretty high. This is especially true when it comes to accommodations.
You can visit Prince Edward County in the winter for the tranquility and the natural beauty. The frozen shoreline makes for great photos and snowshoeing is a great way to explore outside.
Some places that cater heavily to the summer tourism industry do shut down or reduce their hours in the dead of winter, but many of the restaurants, wineries, and breweries stay open and make a great place to hang out and warm up in. There are also a number of winter festivals to aim for!
How to Get to/Around Prince Edward County
If you are looking for directions to get to Prince Edward County, you are in luck… we have them. The catch: You really need a car. Prince Edward County is located about 2 hours east of Toronto (traffic depending) and about 1 hour west of Kingston. You could drive down from Ottawa in under 3 hours, if you wanted.
Since The County is a geographical landmass than extends into Lake Ontario, there are only so many ways to get onto the island. A major route (from Toronto) would be to take Highway 401 east to Belleville, then head south on Highway 62 and cross over a large bridge (The Bay Bridge). You can then drive all the way to the heart of the County, Picton.
From Kingston, you can drive the Highway 401 westbound and get off earlier than the exit above to take County Road 49 south all the way to Picton. Or you can choose the fun option and take the Glenora Ferry into the County from Loyalist Parkway/Highway 33 from Kingston along the waterfront.
If you don’t have a car, you, unfortunately, have limited options. The ViaRail train runs from Toronto to Belleville, but then you would need to get a cab into The County since there isn’t a transit system in place.
Once you are in Prince Edward County, it’s also kind of important to have a car because the region is very spread out. A popular first stop is Picton or Wellington where you can find shops and street parking. You could also then rent bikes from one of these hubs and adventure for the day before looping back.
Another play is to park at a place like Sandbanks and explore the area on foot/bring your own bikes to go from there. If you are doing tastings, the wineries usually have large parking areas so at least that’s easy – but have a designated driver if you are doing this. In short, there is no one “right way” to get around because it depends on what you plan on doing!
Where To Stay In Prince Edward County
Given that Prince Edward County is a popular summertime destination, there are a number of accommodations to support the visitors. There are very few major hotels but there are a number of bed and breakfasts, inns, and holiday apartments in the centres (especially Wellington). There are also campsites, resorts, and even cottage rentals to consider.
Specifically, check out the Merrill House for a quaint hotel in Picton or Newsroom Suites for a cozy rental in Wellington. The June Motel is a popular trendy, boutique hotel if you are looking for one near-ish to Picton.
We have written a whole guide on Prince Edward County Accommodations so we will not get too much into the details here in this post. Our advice would be that if you know you are visiting, book ahead of time as much as possible.
Things to Do in Prince Edward County
Now that we have covered the basics like how to get around and where to stay, let’s dive into all the things to do and see in Prince Edward County. As we mentioned, this is not a master list…yet. We have loved our time in The County but we know there is so much still for us to explore. In fact, we are open to suggestions if you have any!
Explore Downtown Picton
If you have never been to Prince Edward County before, a great first stop is Picton. This is the largest town in the whole region and – as mentioned above – makes a nice place to explore. It’s also a great place to stop in for beach or camping supplies.
There is loads of street parking which makes it easy to just hop out and explore. The main town area isn’t too large so you can walk the whole length from Picton Harbour to 555 Brewing Co.
As you walk the main street, there are places to check out like the historic Regent Theatre and many different shops that make for great window shopping. We stopped into a number of places from antique stores to smaller boutique shops just to see what we could find.
That said, there are also some really great places to stop in for a bite to eat, a drink, or a treat. We really liked our coffee stop at Beacon Bike & Brew (shown above). There are some top restaurants like The County Canteen and The Acoustic Grill – but we will write up a whole restaurants post another time.
We have heard that Slickers County Ice Cream is absolutely delicious. They also have a shop in Bloomfield if you don’t make a stop in Picton. We wonder how it compares to Kawartha Dairy – one of the other top local ice cream brands in the province! In any case, Picton is full of things to check out before continuing on your County journey.
Visit the Wineries/Go on a Wine Tour
One of the top reasons people flock to Prince Edward County is for the wineries. The area’s unique geography, climate, and soil make it one of the best regions in the province for growing grapes. As such, The County has a “once-small but now kind of booming” wine industry with a few larger wineries and a number of smaller, more family-run operations.
We have a whole post on wineries in Prince Edward County which details our favourites. But while you are here we can definitely recommend a few stops. Huff Estates is known as one of the most established in the region. They have a great tasting room with an onsite restaurant/patio. The guided tour was interesting and they also have an art gallery on their grounds for you to explore.
Of course, a top wine stop is Sandbanks Estate Winery. Eric visited years ago and went back recently with Lisa and it was amazing to see the winery explode in popularity. Their Baco Noir is really, really good if you are looking for a wine to try. You might also look to visit very small wineries in the region like Sugarbush or Trail Estate!
If you are looking to do a wine tour of Prince County – like you would do a wine tour of Niagara on the Lake – then there are a few companies that cater to this. Some do a classic car/limo private tour for groups while others cater to guided bike tours around the region. We haven’t done a wine tour in Prince Edward County but when we do you know we will be back here to update this post on which one(s) we liked.
Sample At The Breweries And Cideries
Aside from wineries, Prince Edward County (an Ontario, in general) has seen a renaissance of craft beer in the recent decade or two. The County has a history of growing hops and other fruits needed for cider – such as apples, obviously. PEC makes a great stop if you are into craft beer and want to try what small-batch brewers can come up with!
We have a whole article dedicated to breweries in Prince Edward County but to give you a taste (see what we did there?) we really liked Lake on the Mountain Brewery for the beers, the free popcorn, and the nice wooded outdoor space.
We also really enjoyed our stop at Parsons Brewing Company, one of the major players in the brewery scene. The beer was nice and the food was also really good with a buzzing atmosphere if you want to be social. Of course, there are much smaller breweries you can check out as well.
Lastly, if you are more into cider, The County Cider is responsible for creating that delicious Waupoos branded cider you see on restaurant menus in Ontario. They also have other fruit ciders and a great tasting barn to try them all out. We liked the Pear Cider… as you can tell by the bottle we bought to take home!
Experience the Taste Trail
Loosely linked to the stops you might find above, if you are well into food and drink then you might want to make it a point to follow the Prince Edward County Taste Trail.
Noted by the blue signs (shown above), the Taste Trail is a designation given to restaurants, wineries, and breweries that make a significant effort to source and promote locally grown products in their dishes and drinks. They signify a nod to the area’s rich agricultural heritage and help to promote the “farm-to-table” movement that is so strong in The County!
A major stop would be Huff Estates Winery while the sign above was shot at Waupoos Estates Winery and Restaurant!
Visit Sandbanks Provincial Park
If there is one thing Prince Edward County is known for (besides wine), it’s Sandbanks Provincial Park! This unique park in Ontario (and Canada, for that matter) is so popular/cool because of its geography. The name is also a bit of a giveaway.
Sandbanks is home to one of the largest – if not the largest – baymouth barrier sand dune formation. This is science talk for when sand and sediment gets pushed by water currents to form a long barrier/island that shields another opening of water – in this case, actually forming a new separate lake (or more) altogether!
For visitors, all you need to know is that there is lots and lots of sand to explore in the shape of large rolling dunes and along the beaches. The area is also covered in unique marshland and woodlands that make hiking and camping possible. Overall, Sandbanks is a beautiful area to explore for lots of reasons.
Planning a visit to Sandbanks can honestly feel a little bit daunting but it’s not that complicated. There are Day-Use areas for those who want to just park for the day to hike and go to the beach. Then there are also overnight campgrounds in the park for those staying longer. We have never camped at Sandbanks overnight but plan on doing it soon for the experience. You can learn more about Sandbanks Provincial Park here.
Address for Sandbanks Office: 3004 County Rd. 12 RR#1, Picton, K0K 2T0
Of course, if Sandbanks is busy, there are a few other parks in the region – some of which we have mentioned in this post. Notably, check out North Beach Provincial Park (mentioned right below) for another nice beach.
Head For The Beach
Speaking of sand, if you want to enjoy a day at the beach in Prince Edward County, you have options! There’s also a good chance you will not be alone in wanting to enjoy the beach but hey, that’s summer sunshine for you. The region is loaded with great beaches – many of which are clustered on the west edge of the County close to where the Sandbanks meet Lake Ontario.
We only know the beaches in/around Sandbanks since Eric has been to two of them: Dunes Beach and Sandbanks Beach. The other beach of the three at Sandbanks Provincial Park is Outlet Beach. They get busy in the summer but they have good amenities and parking.
Dunes Beach – located off one of the “Day-Use” areas – is like being in another world. Walking the sand dunes is a strange but cool experience. You can learn more about the Sandbank Beaches here.
Of course, there are other beaches across the region that are not close to Sandbanks. Of note, you might want to check out these beaches as alternatives to Sandbanks.
- North Beach – in North Beach Provincial Park
- Wellington Beach – walking distance from downtown Wellington.
While much of the emphasis is placed on exploring Picton – the “hub” of the region – the other largest centre is Wellington. You can definitely stop there to check it out.
We mention a number of the things to do in Wellington in this post – there is a museum, brewery, top-rated hotel, and beach in the town. There is also a boat launch in the middle of town which makes it useful to visitors and locals. Fun Segway: Right by the boat launch is a lakeside restaurant called North Docks Kitchen & Drinks which is lovely. I (Eric) ate there years ago and want to take Lisa back for the food and views of the lake!
Bike/Hike the Millennium Trail
If you are looking to head to the County to get a little bit active and enjoy the country air, then a hike or bike ride might be for you. For this, The County has a number of trail options – but one in particular is unique to the region: The Millennium Trail!
This is a public trail – formed along an abandoned railway line that used to cut the region – that runs from Carrying Place all the way to Picton. Although the trail weaves through numerous centres along the way (Wellington and Bloomfield), the trail is mainly rural which allows you to enjoy the quiet and natural side of the region’s farming land.
The whole trail is just shy of 50 kilometres long so it would be a trek to do the whole thing on foot. Biking it could be done in the course of a nice day. You might even consider doing one portion of it at a time. Of course, if you come to Prince Edward County for the libations, there’s even a version of the route where you can turn it into a beer route. Just be sure to enjoy responsibly!
Having offered up the Millennium Trail, there are lots of other hiking and biking trails around the region – many of them located in the designated parks or conservation areas. For example, Sandbanks Provincial Park (mentioned above) has a number of trail loops. One, in particular, is called the Dunes Trail which you can access from the Day-Use Parking Lot.
Enjoy Lake On The Mountain
Speaking of trails, while there are a number of conservation areas and parks to explore in the region, there is one in particular which usually draws a crowd or two: Lake on the Mountain! The place is exactly what it sounds like – a lake that is located high atop a ridge well above Lake Ontario. The lake itself is clean and lovely – probably because motorized boats are not allowed on it.
The curious thing about the lake is that it confused geologists because there’s apparently no clear source of freshwater feeding it… so they didn’t understand how it formed and how it remains. In any case, you can park across the street and enjoy views of the lake from the walking paths.
Nearby in the little town, there is a resort by the same name that owns The Inn where you can go for a drink or a bite to eat with lake views. Down the road towards the Glenora ferry, one of our favourite breweries – Lake on the Mountain – is ready to welcome you for a flight of their freshly brewed craft beer! You can learn about visiting Lake on the Mountain park here.
There are some other conservation areas and parks around Prince Edward County. Some are large while others are just a few walking paths and a nice view but hold a “conservation area” distinction nonetheless. You can also check out places like:
- Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area – close to downtown Picton and home to “Birdhouse City”
- Little Bluff Conservation Area – known for the views of Lake Ontario below.
Discovery Local History
If you are not into indulging in wine and beer (or even if you are), another great way to learn about and appreciate the area is to have a deep dive into its history. The County was originally established in the late 1700s as a little growing settlement.
Today, there are a number of places you can visit around Prince Edward County that dedicate their existence to preserving and re-telling various parts of the region’s backstory. Shown above is the Wellington Heritage Museum which is right on the main street in Wellington. There you can learn about the region’s connection to the canning industry, among other things!
Another popular historic stop is the Ameliasburgh Heritage Village which – like many other heritage villages in Ontario – allows you to walk through and experience a glimpse of what life was like “back in the day”.
Go Antiquing Around the County
Given that there is such a rich history to The County, a popular activity among the locals and visitors is to go antiquing! There is a plethora of items from furniture to jewelry, toys, signs, and many other items to be found across the region.
Half the time you don’t even have to look up a place to go in advance. If you just drive around the County there’s a good chance you will come upon a barn by the side of the road with an arrow sign pointing towards it that says “Antiques”. Usually, this is a sign that you are welcome to stop in and have a poke around!
We went into a store in downtown Picton that was absolutely loaded with items from old cameras to metal signs. We’re looking forward to heading back to The County to check out more – ideally for furniture items with a bit of character.
We’ve also heard about a popular place – Dead People’s Stuff – which usually draws a crowd for the name and the collection of antiques. They are located in Bloomfield and we want to check it out for ourselves!
Discover Local Art
If you are looking to explore the local art scene, PEC should definitely be on your radar. The County is home to a very strong creative vibe forged by a number of artists that live in the area or travel to the area to create, display, and sell their works.
As such, there are a few art galleries, display shops, and numerous small artisan craft places dotted around the area – and not just centered around the town centres! You can find everything from handmade metal decor to glassworks, paintings, sculptures, and much more. Below are a few ideas for places to look into to get some inspiration for your visit.
And there you have it – some great things to do in Prince Edward County. Of course – as we mentioned above – this is not an extensive list of the things to do and see. We know there are more history museums, farmers’ markets, more wineries and breweries, and scenic spots to check out – this is just the beginning. We will make this an “ultimate” post as we go along! Have fun in PEC!
As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
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