I admit our family’s Southern Ontario road trips don’t always begin particularly well. It’s usually an early start, so the kids grumpily gather their stuff for the car as their parents gulp down coffee like it’s water. But as the day progresses, spirits lift and smiles return. The change in scenery, the novelty of a new activity, or maybe even a gooey dessert, but most of all, time together, turns out to be exactly what we need.

Here are some Southern Ontario Road Trips to enjoy a break in routine and time with loved ones.


The Festival Theatre, Stratford Ontario

The Festival Theatre, Stratford, Photo Hailey Eisen

Home of the bard, day trips to this southwestern Ontario town have traditionally meant taking in a world-class show. But even when its stages are empty, Stratford merits a standing ovation for its charm, food and shops. Walking the trails along the beautiful Avon River, sampling shortbread on the Christmas Trail or enjoying a wood-oven pizza and a brew at Jobsite Brewery, you’ll almost (but not quite) forget about the performances.

Elmhirst’s Resort

Elmhirst's Resort -sleigh ride Southern Ontario Road Trips

Sleigh ride at Elmhirst Resort. Photo Courtesy Elmhirst Resort

Located in Keene, Ontario, near Peterborough, this 340-acre scenic property on Rice Lake is the ideal spot to escape for the day (or longer) with a smorgasbord of activities on offer. The Escape the Maze experience, a cross between a scavenger hunt and an escape room puzzle, is a clever and fun way to explore the grounds. Or indulge in a spa service like Tui Na Massage (deep tissue Chinese-style treatment), Oxgeneo Premium Facial or the I Feel the Earth Move Pedicure.   For more adrenaline-fueled pursuits, visitors can take to the skies on a sightseeing flight to view the land of shining lakes or try snowkiting. Of course, there are also more traditional winter activities like ice skating, sleigh rides and snowshoeing. Hungry after all these activities? Enjoy a farm-to-table meal at the Hearthside Dining Room.

Hamilton Waterfalls

Websters Falls Hamilton Southern Ontario Road Trips

Websters Falls,  Hamilton. Photo Courtesy Hamilton Tourism

The Hamilton Region is home to more than 100 waterfalls dotting the Niagara Escarpment that cuts through the city. Webster Falls is the largest and most popular though equally impressive is nearby Tews Falls with its 135-foot drop (second only to Niagara Falls). The Webster Side Trail leads to Dundas Peak, a lookout with jaw-dropping views of the valley.

Other waterfalls include Tiffany Falls, where a short walk along a forested trail and over bridges leads you to this beauty hemmed in by cliffs. Devil’s Punch Bowl (gotta love the name) consists of two separate falls that create one of the escarpment’s most impressive and geologically significant views with its layers of stratified rock.

Sandbanks Provincial Park

Southern Ontario Road Trips Sandbanks Provincial Parks Photo Jennifer Merrick

Sandbanks Provincial Parks. Photo Jennifer Merrick

Winter brings its own brand of beauty to this popular park in southeastern Ontario. Its trails are open year-round, and on windy days, you can watch the kite surfers. After working up an appetite, Prince Edward County offers culinary options galore at their restaurants, artisanal food producers, wineries and distilleries.  Treat yourself to s’mores by the fire and wine samples at Sandbanks Winery or a scrumptious brunch at the Drake Devonshire.

Halton Region Conservation Areas

Southern Ontario Road Trips Crawford Lake Halton Photo Jennifer Merrick

Crawford Lake Halton Photo Jennifer Merrick

 In the middle of Toronto and Hamilton is a protected greenbelt zone, where nature takes precedent over suburban sprawl. Six conservation areas offer interpretive trails and programming, and each offers something different to the visitor. Crawford Lake has a 14th-century Iroquois village to explore, in addition to the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk around the lake, where evidence of the settlement was discovered. Rattlesnake Point has 6 miles of cliff edge and forest trails with five panoramic lookout points. A highlight of Hilton Falls is a 32-foot waterfall that cascades over the Niagara Escarpment. Like neighbouring parks Mount Memo and Kelso, it offers hiking trails showcasing unique geological features and historical ruins.

For bird lovers, nearby Mountsberg is not to be missed. Its extensive wetlands provide a natural habitat for many native species, which visitors can observe at bird watching blinds. The area is particularly known for its birds of prey, and visitors can learn more about these majestic birds at the park’s Raptor Centre.