If you’re like me and have teenagers who lucked into summer jobs, you may think its time to say goodbye to easy summer fun and so long to any chance of getting away. But if you live in southern Ontario, or anywhere near the GTA, there are tons of options for day trips that will fill up your summer calendar.
Here are my top ten favourite Southern Ontario Summer Road Trips:
1. Stratford Festival is featuring several plays this summer that kids and teens will enjoy, including Little Shop of Horrors, NeverEnding story and Billy Elliot, which is getting rave reviews. If you’ve never been to Stratford, go a few hours early and make a day of it. Our family always packs a picnic lunch then we head to one of the many picnic tables beside the Avon River where we eat while watching the swans float by. There is also lots to see downtown after your play. When it comes to our family, no visit is complete without a stop at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for ice cream. And be sure to check out the festival’s gift shop for lots of cute souvenirs.
2. Port Dover still has the same small town feel that makes you think you’ve stepped into the past and it’s still known for its delicious perch. No trip to Dover is complete without a visit to Callahan’s Beach House where you can enjoy some Lake Erie perch while looking out at the lake. After lunch, our family always wanders across the street to Knechtel’s for ice cream, then we take a stroll up the street and check out the stores. You can book tickets to see a play at the iconic Lighthouse Festival Theatre where they’re performing Alice in Wonderland from August 14 to 17. As for swimming, the lake is still open, and although the beach has been pushed back considerably due to high water levels, there are still areas where you can spread out a beach towel.
3. Paddling the Grand. When you think of Paris, you think of the city of lights but Paris, Ontario, may well be the town of delights. Bordering the Grand River, it’s the perfect spot for a rafting or paddling experience. Companies like Grand Experiences, an outdoor adventure company, are offering paddling, cycling and hiking tours in and around the area and with the help of guides, you can cycle along the riverside trail under a canopy or trees, or paddle down the Grand River in a canoe or kayak.
4. Biking in Niagara-on-the-Lake. If biking is your thing, then Niagara-on-the-Lake is a definite must for a day trip. There are lots of places to rent bikes in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and you can hit the trail at Butler’s Park and keep going. The trail stretches 650 km to the Québec border, with 900 km of signed trail. After your ride, you and the kids can enjoy a family lunch at one of the many eateries or wander through the stores.
5. Hamilton’s Waterfalls. Did you know Hamilton is home to more than 100 waterfalls? They’re tucked behind the trails of the Niagara Escarpment which cuts through the city, and they draw hundreds of tourists every year. The largest and most popular is Webster’s Falls, which has a curtain waterfall that measures 22 metres tall. Webster’s Falls is probably the most popular of all the falls in Hamilton. After your hike, you can stop for lunch at one of my favourite cafes, the Detour at 41 King St W. Their artisan bread and pastries are to die for.
6. Waitress the Musical. There is lots to do in Toronto, and you can plan a day trip there around going to a play. One of the best and most family friendly is Waitress, which tells the story of a young woman whose talent for making delicious pies changes her life. For those who haven’t seen the movie with Keri Russell, I won’t give away the ending except to say that it’s heartwarming and uplifting. You can book a matinee performance, which is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre on Victoria Street from July 9 to August 18, then head out to other sites.
7. Let’s go Blue Jays. Another great day trip in Toronto can include cheering on the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Watching baseball is a great family outing because it’s played at a slower and more relaxed pace. It’s no Raptors game but just as fun. The other bonus is that tickets are way more affordable and you can buy them for as little as $12. After the game, your family can venture over to the Ripley’s Aquarium or the CN Tower, or both!
8. Hamilton’s Museums. Many people’s view of Hamilton is from the Skyway Bridge and all they see is a lakefront littered with smokestacks and factories. Having grown up there, I can tell you that the real Hamilton is a place of culture and funky cafes and it also has a fascinating history. You can discover some of that history by taking a tour through Dundurn Castle, a 40-room villa built in the 1830’s and home to railway magnet Sir Allan Napier MacNab, who was Premier of the United Canadas from 1854 to 1856. From there, it’s a short drive to the beautiful Whitehern Historic House which was built in the 1850s. After that, you can visit the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology which tells a fascinating side of the city’s history. It’s an educational day trip that will leave your family feeling inspired.
9. Long Point Zipline. If you’re up for some athletic fun, check out Long Point Eco-Adventures in St. Williams, which offers zip lining during the day and night. During the two and a half hour ride, you glide through a Carolinian forest and cross sky bridges. In total, Long Point Eco-Adventures has eight zip lines, two suspension sky bridges, fourteen platforms and a 40-foot rappel. They also offer outings for stargazing, axe throwing, kayaking and zodiac boat tours and more. If you feel like making a night of it, you can try glamping in one of their luxurious wilderness suites.
10. Port Stanley. The historic lakefront town of Port Stanley is known for its large well-maintained beach, but the town itself is also worth a visit as it’s overflowing with boutiques, antique shops and art galleries. After a swim, the kids can ride an antique train, or you can rent a kayak then take a walk around the pier. It’s a two and a half hour drive from Toronto, but with so much to do, it’s worth the drive.
Looking for Southern Ontario summer road trips to lake country? Check out these Easy Ontario Escapes to Peterborough and the Kawarthas!
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