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Out-of-the-ordinary ways to discover Ontario.

Deidre Plotnick July 20, 2020
Elevated view of sunrise over rocky shoreline of Bruce Peninsula National Park.
We all know about the top touristy things to do while sightseeing in Ontario: soaring up to the top of the CN Tower, marvelling at thundering Niagara Falls, discovering the spectacular underwater life at Ripley’s Aquarium, and touring the impressive Parliament Buildings in our nation’s capital are just a few of these must-dos. Yet Ontario has so much more to discover! From jumping into a canoe and paddling off into the wilderness, to learning about our arts and culture, to immersing yourself in an Indigenous experience, there are so many unexpected and amazing ways to get to know this magnificent province that much better. 

Grab a paddle and jump in a canoe.

It is said that there’s nothing more Canadian than paddling a canoe. Little wonder, considering that the province’s name is actually derived from the Iroquois word meaning “shimmering waters”, and the fact that there are more than 400,000 lakes, rivers and waterways in the province. So why not follow in the footsteps of the Voyageurs and take to the water to explore the province from a totally different point of view

From day trips on more populated lakes to 15-day expeditions into the remote wilderness, Ontario has countless places to canoe, fish and even ride the rapids. And whether you prefer a campsite, an eco-friendly lodge, a remote outpost or a luxury retreat, there is something for every kind of paddler - including those who have never picked up a paddle before.

If you’re short on time, there is no shortage of lakes for day trips. Head for the Haliburton Highlands and spend a day paddling guided on the scenic Mattawa River where Voyageurs, trappers and loggers once roamed. Paddle the historic French River, where portages lead you along the same paths that predecessors took thousands of years ago, then end the day at a luxurious lodge. There’s also The Trent-Severn Waterway, where routes range from novice to hard core.  Follow the route where Champlain paddled back in 1615, and journey through a lock and canal system to make your trip that much more memorable.

Prefer an extended trip somewhere more remote? Ontario has plenty of those too, many of which are located in the province’s provincial parks. Quetico Provincial Park is a world-famous destination known for its back-country canoeing, towering rock cliffs and majestic waterfalls. Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is a paddler’s paradise offering more than 2,000 kms of canoe routes, ancient rock paintings by First Nations people throughout the park, and yes, many caribou. And of course there’s the well-known Algonquin Park’s many routes, lodges, campsites and lakes.

For the even wilder-at-heart, head to the North Shore of Lake Superior and join a guided adventure in a sturdy voyageur canoe to follow the same coastline the fur-trading voyageurs took two centuries ago. Bring your cameras because you’re almost guaranteed to spot caribou! Or, take a float plane and venture deep into Wabakimi Provincial Park, where you’ll witness wildlife galore over the gunwales. 

And finally, there’s the white water. Many adrenaline junkies head to the raging waters of the Wadawska River to get their fix. You don’t have to be a seasoned paddler to do this; just bring your adventurous spirit and an expectation to get drenched.
Teenaged boy carrying canoe paddles in forest. Dad and younger boy follow behind carrying yellow canoe and other paddles.

Expand your mind while on vacation.

Brush up on your knowledge of Canada’s culture, history, geography and art while you’re exploring the province; Ontario Travel has assembled a list of creative ways to learn while having fun.

Wildlife fans can immerse themselves in a classroom without walls: cross paths with everything from polar bears to beluga whales and even white coloured moose! Point Pelee Natonal Park is a choice spot to witness the stunning migration of the Monarch butterflies and songbirds, while the 80,000 acre Hailburton Forest is a great place to learn about wolves in their natural habitat.
White moose standing in the middle of dense forest.
Art buffs can follow in the footsteps of the Group of Seven, who 100 years ago, were inspired by the Algoma region’s magnificent landscapes. Visitors to the region will find convenient signage highlighting which artist painted what in each specific location; there’s also a Group of Seven route map and app to help you make the most of your trip.

Star gazers know that when it comes to learning, the sky’s the limit - quite literally! Gaze skyward without the interference of city lights and you may even catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis, also known as our Northern Lights. Ontario has a plethora of places to view the night sky: there’s the Lennox-Addington Country Night Sky Viewing Area, the Dark Sky Preserve in North Frontenac, Gordon’s Dark Sky Preserve on Manitoulin Island and Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve in Muskoka. Be sure to check individual places for operating hours and details.
Star-filled night sky streaked with vibrant blues and greens of The Northern Lights.

Unearth Ontario’s Indigenous roots.

Learn about a culture that believes the physical and the spiritual world coexist harmoniously as one. In Ontario, places to learn about Indigenous people abound, as do one-of-a-kind experiences. You can spend the night in a teepee on Manitoulin Island, visit the site of an Ojibway battle, discover one of the many places where ancient Indigenous pictographs have been found, even visit the magnificent waterfalls where an Ojibway princess was said to have protected her people from Sioux enemies.

Hike or paddle to discover stunning pictographs and petroglyphs; you’ll find more than 260 Indigenous pictures grazing the 100 metre high rock cliffs at Bon Echo Provincial Park. There are sacred Anishinabe pictographs at Quetico Provincial Park; in Petroglyphs Provincial Park you’ll find a sacred site of carvings of in white marble rock dating back 600 to 1000 years ago. There are also many ancient rock paintings visible throughout Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Be sure to check each place for their operating hours.

For those who crave an immersion of a deeper kind, immerse yourself in a wilderness retreat on Manitoulin Island is a great way to learn about the Ojibwe, Odawa and Pottawatomi culture. Follow a guide down the Amik Ziibiing interpretive trail, witness indigenous drum and song presentations, retrace ancient canoe routes, hear Indigenous legends and stories from long ago.
Ancient aboriginal pictographs at Agawa Bay on Lake Superior.

Discover the natural beauty that makes Ontario unique.

Fall for beauty. You may have visited Niagara Falls before, but have you ever experienced it from a bird’s eye view in a helicopter? Or, have you witnessed the raging waters from behind the Falls? However you decide to experience the Falls, be sure to hang around until dusk because that’s when the Falls get illuminated in a dazzling array of colours.

Water, water everywhere. Did you know that Ontario is home to more than one quarter of the world’s fresh water? Head for one of the province’s many provincial parks, national parks or conservation areas and discover a small piece of it firsthand. Ontario’s waterfalls and waterways make up 250,000 lakes, 100,000 kilometres of rivers, and 3,000 kilometres of coastline, giving you countless places to paddle, swim, fish, kayak and more.

Land lovers, rejoice. Ontario actually has four UNESCO designated World Biosphere Reserves: Long Point, Georgian Bay, Frontenac Arch and Niagara. Each of these have been recognized for its ecological, historical and cultural uniqueness, and has some pretty amazing experiences that go along with it.

There are actually a whopping 500 Conservation Areas in Ontario, with 300 of them being open to the public. These parks that stretch over 150,000 hectares are home to nature galore: forests, meadows, wetlands, rivers, lakes and streams, sand dunes, waterfalls, caves, and each park has different hidden gems to explore.

Ontario is also home to 6 breathtaking national parks: Point Pelee National Park, Pukaskwa National Park, Rouge National Urban Park, Thousand Islands National Park, Georgian Bay Islands National Park and Bruce Peninsula National Park.  Between these and Ontario’s 300 provincial parks, you can plan a lot of adventures and never repeat the same one!  Stay overnight in a park cabin, a yurt or a lodge or even a good old-fashioned tent in a campground. Be sure to check each individual park or area’s operating hours before heading out.

Rock on at the Niagara Escarpment, a stunning limestone ribbons of wilderness that stretches 725 kilometres long. A designated UNESCO World Biosphere, the area is great for hiking, rock climbing, wildlife viewing and more. Follow The Bruce Trail from the escarpment for 900 kms and find yourself all the way in Tobermory. The Canadian Shield is Canada’s largest rock formation; formed by ancient volcanoes, it covers over half of Ontario. Walk along a craggy cliff, descend into a rock cave, or scale a rockface; wherever you find yourself “rocking”, it’s sure to be fun.

Ancient volcanic rock formations on Georgian Bay in national park.

With all this to offer, is it any wonder Ontario license plates read “Yours to Discover”? There’s just so much to see, do and explore! If you need a little help planning CAA Travel can help with hotel bookings, and RV and car rentals. Plus, if you’re a CAA Member, membership gives you access to free guidebooks and TripTiks®. If you’re not, you may want to consider joining before you head off on a long road trip…CAA 24/7 roadside assistance would come in handy if you get a flat, need a tow or lock your keys in your car by mistake. Want to know more? Visit the CAA website for all kinds of handy info. Happy trails!