Ontario in autumn? It’s hard to find anything more glorious than the maples, birch, and Tamarack all ablaze in crimson, orange, and gold. Imagine that reflecting off a placid lake with loons calling at dusk, plus sunny days and mornings with a crisp snap to the air. All you need is a canoe to complete the postcard picture. Here are the top 10 ways to savor the best of the season — from Toronto and Ottawa to Muskoka’s cottage country and romantic Niagara-on-the-Lake.
1. See the fall colors
Mid September to early October is prime time to see the changing leaves at their peak. Take a scenic drive or a stroll. Muskoka Cottage Country is the classic choice, but Algonquin Provincial Park’s fall foliage is also incredible if you’re looking for solitude in nature. Take a walk in a leafy Toronto park, especially Don Valley and High Park; picnic in the Caledon Hills; or cycle, paddle, or walk Ottawa’s iconic Rideau Canal. Check this site for the best spots across the province.
2. Get into nature
Hike, camp, and canoe at mid-province Algonquin Provincial Park: 2,955 square miles of wilderness dotted with thousands of lakes. It’s not too hot and the crowds have dispersed, so chances are you’ll have backcountry trails all to yourself. Fish, backpack along the clear rivers, and watch for wildlife. Grab a guidebook to plan your adventure.
3. Do a foodie driving tour
Fall is harvest time. Drive or bike through rural Prince Edward County in search of fresh produce, artisan cheese, small-batch cider, craft brew, and boutique wines. Follow the Taste Trail, stopping in at farms and vineyards along the country roads. Or, try the self-driving Rural Routes & Dirty Boots tour in greenbelt Durham for fall for tastings and local tours at mom ‘n pop places like Old Flame Brewing Co. and Ocala Orchards Farm Winery. Picnic in a pumpkin patch along the way.
4. Sip in wine country
Fall is crush time in wine country, the best season for tasting and touring Canada’s leading wine region, also the world’s top Icewine producer.
Plan your route with a map and this Wine Route Planner that will help you choose from 140 wineries on the Niagara Peninsula. Hit the icons — world Icewine leader and pioneer Inniskillin and Peller Estates with its sophisticated vineyard restaurant and 10Below Icewine Lounge. And don't miss the boutique labels like biodynamic Tawse Winery, 13th Street Winery and tiny cult fave, Five Rows Craft Winery.
5. Find bliss at the spa
Rejuvenate before the busy holiday season hits at one of wine country’s superb palaces of pampering. Retreat to Spa on the Twenty in a 100-year-old Colonial set amid gardens in charming Jordan Village, half an hour from Hamilton, for some vinotherapy. Another top rejuvenation destination with all the bells and whistles is 100 Fountain Spa at the Pillar and Post Inn Spa and Conference Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Unwind by the fireplace-lit lounge and take advantage of the sauna, 12 treatment rooms, saltwater pool, and the region’s only indoor/outdoor hot springs.
6. Celebrate traditional-style with the Mennonites
Rural Ontario’s Mennonite community does it the old-fashioned way. This means farming by hand, driving in a horse-and-buggy, sewing their own clothes, and cooking from scratch. The Harriston-Minto fall fair has been a fun way to get to know the community and get back to the land since 1859 — even if just for the day. Take home some handmade goods, fresh produce, maple syrup, and decadent butter tarts. St. Jacob’s is another welcoming community with a delightful traditional farmers’ market.
7. Retreat to the countryside
Slow down to savor autumn with a getaway to the Prince Edward County countryside amid the fall colors. Book a room at The Inn at Huff Estates winery, tasting included. Take in the lake breeze by the firepit at trendy Drake Devonshire Inn, a 19th century former foundry that feels like artsy summer-camp for grownups. Or in Cambridge near Guelph, sink into Old World luxe at stately Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, a Relais & Châteaux historic summer estate surrounded by woods and farms and furnished with period antiques. Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Riverbend Inn & Vineyard is another top choice: A Georgian manor set on 17 acres of gardens and vines.
8. Get the beach to yourself
The quiet shoulder season is the time to enjoy the beach. And Ontario is full of them, thanks to Hudson Bay on the north and the Great Lakes to the south. Bruce Peninsula National Park on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay is famed for its turquoise waters and white cliffs. Hike to the Grotto and explore the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve without the crowds. Other standouts are Singing Sands Beach, Sandbanks Provincial Park with gorgeous golden dunes, and Outlet Beach, with great birdwatching and hiking. On Lake Huron, Sauble is a classic beach with a seaside village nearby, plus this area offers a great hike along the Sauble Trail to a picturesque waterfall.
9. Go to the theater
Get cultured by taking in one of the Bard’s classics at the Stratford Festival, which stages the plays of Shakespeare plus all-time favorites like “Guys and Dolls” and “Treasure Island” through late October. There’s also Niagara-on-the-Lake’s internationally acclaimed Shaw Festival, North America’s second largest repertory theater company. Top global directors animate the works playwright George Bernard Shaw and others from the late 1800s in three venues through October each year. Combine three or four shows with a weekend of wine tasting, dining out, shopping, the fabled Niagara Falls, and sightseeing in the area.
10. Eat seasonally at a farmers’ market
Nibble on a fresh-from-the-oven muffin and sip your latte as you peruse Town Hall’s Orangeville Winter Farmers’ Market in rural Headwaters on a Saturday morning. In Durham, rub elbows with locals at the popular Port Perry Farmers’ Market. If you’re in Ottawa, don’t miss downtown’s historic ByWard Market for the region’s freshest produce. You’ll have 175 vendors to choose from, plus charcuterie, artisan chocolate, and craft cheese.
If Ontario is in your travel plans, fall is a stunning time to visit. Try one of these scenic drives or take up residence in a lakeside cottage and unplug.
Find more great vacation ideas at the Ontario Travel website.