Ontario is green and beautiful. Positioned above the Great Lakes in east-central Canada, its famed for fabled Niagara Falls, sophisticated cities like Toronto and the nation’s capital Ottawa, the Niagara wine region, Prince Edward County’s rural farm-to-table country, and swaths of open wilderness. Not surprisingly, there are many natural wonders to explore. Here are the very best ones that you really need to see.
The Bruce Peninsula
Sugar-white sand, grassy dunes, dramatic white cliffs, and Caribbean-like azure waters — that’s Bruce Peninsula National Park. On Lake Huron, the peninsula’s Georgian Bay is a treasured Ontario place of natural beauty. Make your own “Blue Lagoon” scene at The Grotto, a hidden swimming hole sheltered by tall, craggy cliffs and unusual white rock formations with plenty of sun-heated rocks for diving and tanning. Visit during the shoulder months of fall and spring to enjoy the nearby UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, too, without the summertime crowds.
Spot a fossil or two in the underground wonderland of the Bonnechere Caves, a network in limestone formed some 500 million years ago. The caves are in the rural Ottawa Valley, about 1.5 hours by car from Ottawa in Eganville. A guide will lead you on a tour through the 50-degree F subterranean landscape via stairs and trails, telling you about the stalactites, rock formations, sinkholes, resident bats, underground waterfalls, and history of the place. Once a year in September, you can even dine with linen and fine china by candlelight in the delightfully cavernous space.
Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin Provincial Park is rugged, wild, and classic Canadian wilderness. It was also Canada’s very first park, about three hours from Toronto in the middle of the province. Exploring parts of the enormous 2,955-square-mile park is a bucket list treat. Expect thousands of lakes, rushing rivers, and pristine forests filled with wildlife, especially moose, bear, and wolves. Go to camp, fish, canoe some 1,200 miles of rivers, and hike. Try the moderate Track and Tower Trail for panoramic views over Cache Lake, especially in autumn when the landscape turns crimson-gold. Get a guidebook before you go.
The Thousand Islands
Incredibly, a 50-mile stretch of the St. Lawrence River is filled with 1,800 pretty little forested islands. This area straddling the Canada-U.S. border with New York State was a playground for the wealthy back in the 19th century and the elite constructed stately shoreline mansions and Gothic castles here for fashionable getaways. The place still remains as sought-after today. Take a boat tour to visit the quaint heritage villages dotting the river at the mouth of Lake Ontario. Stay nearby in Kingston, touring historic Fort Henry, or Gananoque, taking advantage of all there is to do: Cycling, hiking, sea kayaking, scuba diving, and golf.
In southern Ontario, steel town-turned-trendy-it-spot Hamilton is known for its 100 waterfalls. Tew Falls is Hamilton’s largest: A giant, vine-draped bowl with ribbons of translucent water spilling over the edge that looks like something out of ancient Aztec mythology. It’s just a short walk from Harvest Road to the Spencer Gorge/Webster Falls Conservation Area and Logie’s Creek to get a peek over the precipitous edge looking down 328 feet. Go in early spring when the water is really rushing or in winter and watch — or join — the ice climbers scaling the cascade. Hike the Bruce Trail, too, through the area’s quintessential rocky Niagara Escarpment landscape.
If you want to see Canada’s biggest collection of petroglyphs, head to Petroglyphs Provincial Park. The place is named after the huge array of Aboriginal rock carvings 500 to 1,000 years old scratched into the stone at this sacred site northeast of Peterborough. There are 900 alone in one concentrated area, clearly showing humans, turtles, birds, and snakes. The Ojibway call them “teaching rocks” and you, too, can learn more at the visitor center. Another option is guided summertime storytelling outings to the site. You'll also find the eye-catching, half-blue-half-green McGinnis Lake here. The phenomenon is called “meromictic,” meaning water layers that don’t combine, and this is one example of only a handful in Canada.
Niagara, yes, but what about the second-highest cascade in Ontario? Kakabeka Falls in northern Ontario’s Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park is powerful and thrilling to see from the wrap-around boardwalk as it thunders through the rocky canyon. It’s never too crowded, either, especially in fall and spring when the scene is framed by blooming wild flowers or the spectacular changing autumn leaves. Depending the season, hike or cross-country ski the park’s nature trails and look for the 1.6-million-year-old fossils at the waterfall base. There’s also an inviting beach just up the river from the falls.
Take your time and be sure to visit at least some of Ontario’s top provincial parks, including more stunning waterfalls, of which there are many aside from the most famed of them all, Niagara.
Get inspired for your getaway at the Ontario Travel website.