Tents, sleeping bags, S’mores, and freaky ghost stories by a crackling fire. They’re all synonymous with a cultural phenomenon that has lasted centuries. Well, maybe it’s more like several millennia. [Read more…]
I am always amazed by the sheer number of remarkable places here in The Great Waterway that are often hidden in plain sight. While touring the staple routes and attractions, it’s easier than you think for some truly captivating locations to slip right by.
While some readers may be familiar with a few of these, there are some that even I hadn’t heard of and – it’s inspired me to want to find them all. For now, here are over a dozen great places to check out during your travels!
Minutes away from Upper Canada Village is a primordial playground that owns a piece of my childhood. Prehistoric World has been captivating the imaginations of kids for thirty-five years now. Technically, they’ve been doing this since before Jurassic Park was even a thing.
This attraction offers a lovely walking trail through the surrounding forest where adventurers will come face to face with life-sized dinosaur statues. The statues are all designed by the owner and fashioned from wire frames with moulded cement bodies. It’s eerie how they loom among the trees and ferns which blanket the ground as you traverse the stone path.
This is a great place to take the family. Immediately upon entering the park, you’re greeted by the coolest sandbox ever – where kids (and adult bloggers) can dig around for fossils. Also in the central area is a series of picnic tables where you can relax and enjoy lunch in the company of giants. Be sure to have cash handy though, because the gift shop and admission counter do not have debit.
Doran Bay Model Ship Museum
Having opened in September of 2011, the Doran Bay Model Museum is a rather new gem along the waterfront route. Arranged within the beautifully restored 1880’s house is a marvellous collection of model ships.
This private collection is the largest I have ever seen in one place and also has a vast collection of hand painted military figurines featuring soldiers throughout the ages. Kids and adults alike will find this to be a fun and educational detour as they explore the 1000 Islands region.
Cardinal / Prescott
Battle of the Windmill Historic Site
Close to Prescott’s famed Heritage site: Fort Wellington – there is another site of significant historical value: The Windmill. In November of 1838, a group of nearly two hundred insurgents consisting of Canadians and Americans attempted to invade Prescott.
The invaders were confident that the locals would support their goal of ending British tyranny, only: they were wrong. It wasn’t long before a particularly bloody skirmish broke out between local militia and British soldiers – resulting in the eventual surrender of the would-be invaders.
The windmill, in which the attackers were holed up in and fought from over the course several days still stands. The windmill also withstood a lengthy bombardment from Navy gunboats which lasted over two hours.
Today, visitors can go inside, explore the windmill and learn more about this pivotal event in our nation’s history.
The Brock Trail
The Brock trail stretches out over six kilometres and is a prime cycling route for the family. The trail is also part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere and presents plenty of opportunities to observe several bird species, and explore several historical points of interest along the path.
The trail works its way north from Brockville’s waterfront and through the downtown area as it hugs Buell’s Creek. The terrain is mostly flat and ranks as an ‘easy’ trail – so it won’t be intimidating for kids or people who want a long but non-strenuous walk.
Brockville Railway Tunnel
While exploring the Brock Trail – make sure you check out Canada’s first railway tunnel! Constructed between 1854 and 1860 the tunnel completed a crucial link for the fledgeling Brockville & Ottawa Railway Co.
The addition of the tunnel had a profound effect on the town’s overall development. It’s proximity to the downtown area and waterfront makes this a really cool historical stop while exploring Brockville.
Old Stone Mill National Historic Site
North of Gananoque along County Road 42 lies Delta Ontario, a town famed for its annual agricultural fair – and a restored and fully functional stone mill. Originally built in 1810 this marvel of construction and engineering still works today!
During the summer months, the mill grinds heritage wheat flour using the original millstones that are over two hundred years old. Visitors can take tours and learn about the advent of Canada’s industrial transition. While a bit of a detour – this is most certainly worth the trip!
South of Jones Falls along Highway 15 is a visually stunning loop trail named Rock Dunder. Once the property of Scouts Canada the area was purchased in 2005 by Rideau Waterways Land Trust and has been available for hiking since.
There are three trails of varying skill level, but each is sure to offer some fantastic views, opportunities to observe local wildlife and take photos.
Sculpture Park (Confederation Park)
Mere steps away from Downtown Gananoque is a great little destination of the artistic variety. Located within the town’s Confederation Park is a collection of amazing sculptures.
After a scenic cruise or perhaps after dinner, this park is a great place to spend time and unwind. Share a romantic walk among striking artwork and picturesque fountained ponds as swans swim around like something out of a fairytale.
Land O’ Lakes
Canada’s Oldest General Store
Trousdale’s General Store in Sydenham makes for a nice detour while exploring the emerald and blue wonders of the Land O’ Lakes region. The store first opened in 1836 and has been owned by a member of the Trousdale family ever since!
This old-fashioned epic store has everything you would expect. The creaky floors, and the layout and décor of a lost period. The shelves are packed with interesting items ranging from old style toys and games to socks, soaps, and snacks.
Land O’ Lakes Rescue Petting Farm
The team at this dedicated animal rescue are happy to welcome visitors to their petting farm for tours. Here you’ll meet and interact an assortment of adorable creatures including ducks, rabbits, pot belly pigs, Llamas and more!
This remarkable rescue farm also depends greatly on the generosity of donors, and the funds gathered by their entry fees. A trip here will not only promise a lasting memory for your kids, but also continued hope for the animals under the care of the staff and volunteers.
Parrott’s Bay Conservation Area
Along the Loyalist Parkway between Amherstview and Bath, you will find Parrott’s Bay Conservation Area. This emerald parcel of land is an ideal destination for hikers, anglers and in the winter; cross-country ski and snowshoe enthusiasts.
There are two entry points; one located off Taylor Kidd Boulevard – and the other is off Bath Road. It’s important to note that this is a conservation area so stick to the marked trail to avoid poison ivy and the occasional patch of wild parsnip.
Prince Edward County
Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park
Referred to by the Mohawk Nation as the “Altar of the Gods” – the Lake on the Mountain presents an awe-inspiring if not enigmatic example of nature’s artistic design. While there are geological explanations for the lake’s formation – it remains a sacred and surreal place of spiritual significance and respect.
The park offers picturesque views of Lake Ontario to the south, as well as picnic areas and a lookout point. Motorized boats are forbidden on the lake. However, guests can bring a canoe should they wish to explore the lake.
Wellington Rotary Beach
While Sandbanks Provincial Park is likely the County’s best-known and popular summer destination, Wellington Rotary Beach offers a great alternative that is also fully accessible.
Wellington features a boardwalk which extends the length of the entire beach, and a parking area offers ramp access making this particular beach an ideal alternative for visitors with mobility challenges.
Photography enthusiasts will also enjoy the opportunity to take some amazing panoramas here as well, in addition to great swimming and relaxation on this charming beach only steps away from Wellington’s shopping & dining area.
Honey Pie Hives & Herbals
This quaint apiary was recommended by chance while visiting the County for this very article. (Thanks @TheCounty!) It also goes without saying, that if you’re allergic to bee-stings, you might want to pass on this one. If you aren’t, and have no fear of bees – the delicious mead(s) are more than worth your time.
Honey Pie’s parking area is flanked by a metropolis of bee hives arranged like little skyscrapers. It’s a surreal experience to stand among thousands of honeybees as they come and go about their various routines.
Inside the house is a lovely shop reminiscent of a bygone era with a certain Victorian atmosphere. Here you can taste their lineup of delicious meads – and browse their selection of herbal teas, herbs, lotions, and of course pure, unpasteurized honey. For more info – check out their website.
Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area
At the Southernmost tip of Prince Edward County is a secluded and fantastic wildlife reserve that is teeming with life. During migratory season this place offers a bounty of birdwatching opportunities, and also is host to a magnificent shoreline.
The sprawling pebble beach which embraces water’s edge is a fun place to have a picnic, search for fossils and explore. The water is so shallow and clear that it’s at times hard to remember that you are not somewhere in the Caribbean.
Little Bluff Conservation Area
East of Point Petre you will find Little Bluff; a great little conservation park which offers amazing views from an 18-metre high bluff made entirely of limestone. Also within Little Bluff is some great cycling, fishing, picnic areas and swimming. The waters are prime for a dip, but be aware that there are no lifeguards so be safe!
This list serves as but a small sampling of the near infinite list of things to do, taste and experience within The Great Waterway. To help you get started on planning your stay, our Destinations Page offers several convenient search filters to help plot your course.
Do you know of any hidden gems or favourite spots you would like to share with our community? Tell us all about it in an email, social media or hit up the comments below!
Go on, dig out those hiking shoes. The warmer temps are here to stay, and you’ve got more tracks than ever to choose from across The Great Waterway. Seriously, take your pick: easy strolls along old rail lines, moderate paths around big sand dunes, difficult routes up the Canadian Shield. Whether you’re an amateur stroller or pro hike head, there’s a trail for you out there. Here are 10 of the best, from west to east. (Photo: The Great Waterway)
1. Trans-Canada Trail: Corbyville to Stirling
Length: 25 km (or less)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
The Grand Junction Railway once ran from Belleville to Peterborough, but now it’s part of the multi-use Trans-Canada Trail. This stretch begins in Corbyville, a hamlet just north of Belleville that was once a booming distillery town. From the path, you can still see remnants of Corby Distilleries in old water towers, cement buildings, and rusted pipes and equipment. After Corbyville, the trail heads northwest for 15 km, mostly through farmlands, until Madoc Junction, where it splits and goes 25 km northeast to Madoc or 10 km west to Stirling. Since the trail is on a rail line, it’s easy on the body. tctontario.ca; thetrail.ca (Photo: Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance)
2. Sandbanks Provincial Park: Dunes Trail
Length: 2.5 km
Get up close to the world’s largest baymouth barrier dune formation at Prince Edward County’s renowned provincial park. On this short loop, you’ll travel through a rare and fragile dune habitat and along the edge of several small wetlands. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for some of the 240 bird species that have been observed here, including woodpeckers, orioles, black turns and blue jays. Watch out for reptiles and amphibians, too, like several harmless types of snakes and the rare musk turtle. Want the most informed adventure through the Dunes Trail? Consider a guided hike from a naturalist in the summer. ontarioparks.com (Photo: Eric Parker/FlickrCC)
3. Frontenac Provincial Park: Slide Lake Loop
Length: 21 km
This rugged hike in the most remote area of Frontenac Park isn’t for the faint-hearted, but the rewards for the willing speak for themselves: a series of waterfalls dropping 16 metres, barren rock ridges overlooking the surrounding landscape, a gorge crossing, and multiple lakes almost all to yourself. The trail also passes through forests, by marshes, and up and around Canadian Shield granite as it follows Buck Lake, Slide Lake, Doe Lake and Big Salmon Lake. Stop for panoramic views and pics of Mink and Camel Lakes, but remember that there’s only so much daylight: give yourself 7 to 9 hours to enjoy this challenge. frontenacpark.ca (Photo: Bobcat North/Flickr CC)
4. Hell Holes Nature Trails & Caves
Length: 3.2 km
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Millions of years ago, the Salmon River flowed through this area about a half hour from Kingston, carving the limestone into overhanging ledges, mushroom-shaped rocks, caves, gullies, potholes and sinkholes. It’s one of the most unique geological areas in Eastern Ontario, and because it’s now empty of water, you can hike it. Your journey will take you over a natural stone bridge, through a mini rainforest, across a gorge and, for the truly adventurous, down into “Hell Hole Cave,” which requires a 7.5-metre descent and a flashlight. When you’re done, play a round of mini golf or fuel up in the Log Cabin Snack Bar. ruralroutes.com/hellholes (Photo: The Great Waterway)
5. Cataraqui Trail
Length: 104 km (or less)
With 48 access points along a former Canadian National Railway line between Strathcona and Smiths Falls, the Cat Trail gives hikers the most diverse cross-section of The Great Waterway’s natural environment. From Smiths Falls to Chaffey’s Lock (42 km), it’s flat farmland and woods, but after, near Sydenham Lake, it passes along the Frontenac Axis of the Canadian Shield. The trail then goes through or around big lakes, swamps, hilly forests, and pink granite. Like it started, the last 40 kilometres are flat farmland, an area called the Napanee Plain. The terrain rarely gets very steep, and for most of the 100-plus kilometres the path has a gravel surface. cataraquitrail.ca (Photo: The Great Waterway)
6. K&P Trail
Length: 15 km
Once part of a rail line for steam trains, this track is now for non-motorized travellers. Hop on and off at six different access points, all within Kingston’s city limits. At one end is Little Catarqui Creek Conservation Area; at the other are vistas of the Glenvale Creek Wetland. In between, you’ll pass through meadows, farmlands, forests, rock cuts, marshes and plenty of stops of interest, including the site of the old Glenvale train station on the K&P line. Pack a lunch, and do the whole 15 kilometres in a day. Just keep in mind that this isn’t a looped trail, so have a ride waiting when you get to the end. cityofkingston.ca (Photo: Jordan Whitehouse)
7. Rideau Trail
Length: 327 km (or less)
Difficulty: Easy to difficult
This Ontari-famous hikers’ haven runs along the Rideau Canal and its tributaries from Kingston in the south to Ottawa in the north. Most complete the trail in sections (access points are dotted all along), but some do it all in about 9 to 16 days. Either way, you’ll be treated to the full range of the Rideau’s ecosystem, complete with farmlands, quaint villages and, of course, the hum of that historic waterway never far away. The elevation gain is only about 600 metres (2000 feet), and although some sections are flat and easy, parts of the trail are difficult, some may even requiring bushwhacking. rideautrail.org (Photo: Gordon Bell/FlickrCC)
8. Rock Dunder: Summit Loop
Length: 3.9 km
Pink granite formations like Rock Dunder are what remain from the Grenville Mountains, which towered over this area just south of Morton about a billion years ago. Rising 275 feet from Morton Creek, all of Rock Dunder’s 230 acres were once a wilderness Boy Scout camp. Now the area is open to the public and has three trails: one easy (1.3 km), one moderate (2 km), one more difficult. Take the last, the Summit Loop, if you can handle a short, steep climb. The trail runs alongside Dean’s Island, through thick forest and offers sneak peaks of the grand finale: a summit atop rocky cliffs overlooking the Rideau and beyond. rwlt.org (Photo: Frontenac Arch Biosphere)
9. Thousand Islands National Park: Jones Creek Trails
Length: 12 km
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
It’s those ecologically stunning islands that get most of the attention in the Thousand Islands region, of course, but don’t forget about the thick forests and all of that diverse wildlife on the nearby mainland. Get a glimpse at this 12-kilometre trail network within Thousand Islands National park, established in 1904 as the first national park east of the Rockies. There are nine different trails here, each between 0.7 km and 3.9 km in length. You’ll be taken from pine ridges to birch lowlands, and from creeks and wetland boardwalks to forests dramatically changed by beavers. Keep your eye out for rare species like the Black Rat snake and the Least Bittern bird. pc.gc.ca (Photo: Seyemon/FlickrCC)
10. Glengarry Trails
Length: 15 km
The four trails that make up this network and bird-waters’ refuge are found just east of Alexandria on the Gary River watershed. The 3 km Red Trail starts at Island Park and features hardwood and cedar forests, along with chickadees you can feed in the winter. Between it and the 3 km Orange and 2 km Purple loops is the Green Trail, a 5 km straight line that passes through wetlands and forests. Throughout the property are boardwalks, small bridges and interpretive signs, all built by The Friends of Glengarry Trails Association. glengarrytrails.com (Photo: Friends of Glengarry Trails Association)
“Look!” my son points out, “I can see where we just were! I can see the bridge we walked over.” We have just made it to the top of the mountain, and the view stretched out below us is beautiful. We gaze out over the lake, count the church steeples (six) and watch cars snake their way along the country roads. We are at Foley Mountain Conservation Area, up on “Spy Rock” looking out over the village of Westport, a small village found along the Rideau Heritage Route.
The village of Westport is nestled along the western shore of Upper Rideau Lake (part of the Rideau Canal) This quaint, somewhat sleepy little town is rich in history. It’s roots lie in milling; the first mill was built in 1828. When the Rideau Canal opened in 1832, the village (at the time named Manhard Mills) became accessible to Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal.
In 1830, the first store was established, it was the start of a new life for the village, more businesses were established, home and cottages were built, a town hall was constructed, Irish immigrants settled (including my husband’s ancestors) and the town was renamed Westport (possibly after a village in County Mayo, Ireland?)
Since then, Westport has become a tourist destination. For part of the year, Westport is a sleepy little village. But come summer, especially when boaters are travelling the canal, and again in the months leading up to Christmas, the town comes alive! I believe it is due to the many wonderful shops and boutiques; this little old mill town is now a shopping destination.
My Mom, who lives in Toronto, comes to visit early November every year, and a shopping trip into Westport is always on the agenda. The drive to Westport from Kingston is about 40 minutes and follows historic Perth Road. Once parked, we take to the streets and check out the shops. Shops range from furniture, to ladies wear, to general country store, as well a little boutiques featuring local art.
After our third trip back to the car to unload our packages, we decide all this shopping has made us hungry. There are a few options; The Cove Inn being one of them. This hotel features both fine dining and pub fare, as well as the nicest patio in the village, overlooking the lake. It’s a favourite spot for dinner, or to visit the pub when they have live music (which is almost weekly!) But for lunch, we will visit The Tangled Garden Cafe (they have a great kids menu!) where you can find a good, filling well priced meal-just the fuel one needs to continue on a shopping expedition.
After a trip to the Westport Bakery for some fresh bread and a sweet treat, we take a walk down by the harbour (in the summer months we always do this walk with ice cream cones, but alas they were not open on this November afternoon) and a climb up the mountain before we call it a day and head home. And we can officially say that we have begun our Christmas shopping!
Hiking is a great way to spend a day outside and enjoying nature in all its splendor. Since moving to The Great Waterway, it’s hands down (or is that boots down?) our family’s favourite way to explore the region. From flat, well-groomed public routes like Cataraqui Trail to the rugged beauty of Frontenac Provincial Park’s back country, there is a trail for every age and ability in The Great Waterway. Autumn is a magical time here, with the leaves trading their vibrant green shade for postcard perfect red, orange and yellows. I guarantee you will fall in love with these hiking trails, whether you are visiting us for a day or a week.
Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Established over fifty years ago by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, this 9,000 hectare is a haven for a variety of wildlife, but most notably our migrating feathered friends. More than 200 species of birds call the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary home, including waterfowl, song birds and birds of prey. In the fall, the popular bird feeding program draws visitors for unique interactions with Canada Geese, but don’t leave the Sanctuary without exploring the 8 kilometers of self-guided trails. A mature upland forest, early successional woods, old fields, wetlands and open water are among the habits you will hike through. Well-marked trails which are mostly flat or paved of varying distances make this one of the region’s most family-friendly routes and one of our favourite. Like Parks of the St. Lawrence on Facebook for special event updates.
Frontenac Provincial Park
Frontenac Provincial Park, located 40 kilometers north of Kingston 1000 Islands, has over 100 kilometers of trails in interconnected loops. Trails range from easy to difficult, which means you can bring along sure-footed children for a day of connecting with nature or perhaps gather a group of friends for a back country adventure. Arab Lake Gorge and Doe Lake are the most family-friendly trails, whereas the Cedar Lake Loop is best for experienced hikers. Up for a challenge? Join in on the Frontenac Challenge! This annual event offered by the Friends of Frontenac Park encourages hikers to complete each of the 11 loops throughout the months of September and October. New to hiking? Try the Frontenac Trek, which is conquering six of the Park’s trails. Check the Ontario Parks’ Fall Colours Report to time your visit with when leaf peeping will be at its finest.
Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area
Located outside of Picton in picturesque Prince Edward County is the local gem Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area. Don’t let the word “mountain” intimidate you, there are plenty of easy hiking trails here for both families and those wanting a more rugged outdoors experience. The soaring and rugged escarpment is one of the most notable features here, but the peaceful trails and famous Birdhouse City makes Macaulay Mountain a great day trip destination. There are over 20 kilometers of trails throughout the 178 hectare park, ranging from the nearly 15 kilometer bike trail to the accessible 1.5 kilometer Whattam’s Memorial Walkway. Pack a picnic and spend the day outdoors! Follow Quinte Conservation on Facebook or Twitter to keep up date on events at Macaulay Mountain.
All you need is a map (free from the PEC Chamber of Commerce), a bike and a sense of adventure to explore the backroads of Prince Edward County. Super accessible from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, the county is perfect for cyclists with its pastoral landscape crisscrossed by a network of quiet roads. Hills are minimal and the few in the area aren’t big so it’s a great trip for beginner cyclists. Allow at least two days to do the region justice – especially if you’re into wine tasting, coffee drinking and poking about galleries.
There are three main towns in the county – Picton, Bloomfield and Wellington. If you don’t have your own bike, you’ll probably want to start in Bloomfield as it’s the only place that offers bike rentals. Then it’s a question of what do you want to see and do. Options abound. It’s probably best to pull out the map and put a little thought into how you’d like your day to unfold.
With short distances between towns and attractions, it’s easy to cover a lot of the county in a day. Strong cyclists could easily bike 100 kilometres and include all the highlights. But this part of the world deserves to be explored at a slower pace – especially with all the diversions possible. Food and wine lovers will want to include as many stops as possible on The Taste Trail. Featuring some of the 35 plus wineries in the area as well as lots of the region’s best restaurants and food stands, you can rest assured you’ll never go hungry or thirsty. Don’t miss a visit to the Closson Chase winery for a taste of its delicious world-class wines.
A stop at one of the 29 galleries or studios on The Arts Trail is another way to break up your ride. You’ll find everything from pottery to blown glass; photography to hand made furniture and lots of paintings. It’s a great way to meet the artist and throw your support behind the local community.
If it’s a hot summer day you’ll want to include a visit to Sandbanks Provincial Park, home to the world’s largest freshwater sand dunes. Have a swim, walk the white sand beach and find some shade for a picnic. If you’ve got a tent you can camp here as well.
There are only a few roads you need to avoid in the county. Highway 33 and Highway 62 can get busy with traffic so they aren’t a lot of fun to ride. Every other road is fair game. There may be a few others with no shoulder but chances are they’re quiet and won’t present a problem.
Don’t Miss These Stops/Rides
- The Oeno Gallery at Huff Estates Winery has as much interesting art work outside as it does inside. The winery is excellent too and the grounds are beautiful. The Mad Dog Gallery just eight kilometres from Picton in a beautifully refurbished old barn is a fun place to visit for it traditional and contemporary art by local artists from around the county.
- Do a loop ride from Picton past Lake of the Mountain Provincial Park. The views across Adolphus Reach, a part of Lake Ontario, are extremely pretty. Carry on via very quiet side roads to Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. for cheese and picnic supplies. Before returning to Picton stop at Waupoos Winery and be wowed by their maple infused icewine.
- Join locals who have embraced the County Canteen in Picton for the “bounty of the county”.
- Check out Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area. Lock your bike up and explore some of the hiking trails or go for a swim on a hot day. During peak migration the area might be closed so check beforehand.
Not only is Prince Edward County a delight to cycle, it’s one of the few places of its size that doesn’t have any chain hotels. Instead you’ll find loads of B&B’s and historic inns. Combine that with its reputation for delicious local food and world-class wine, beautiful backroads and a host of interesting things to see and you can understand why two days only scratches the surface of what the area offers.
Click here to learn more about Prince Edward County and plan your trip!
If you’re a fan of unique adventures then you’ll love exploring the 202 kilometre Rideau Heritage Route by kayak or bicycle. Running between Ottawa and Kingston through a number of quaint, small towns the route – at least for kayakers is a mix of rivers and lakes and approximately 19 kilometres of the Rideau Canal itself. For cyclists there are many options including the full tour between Ottawa and Kingston; for something less ambitious you can choose from one of several scenic loops or an out and back ride.
The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and not because part of it is a fabulous skating rink in winter. Rather it’s considered to be the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America. Also, it’s the oldest, continually operating canal with the locks working in much the same manner they did in 1832. Built as a supply route alternative to the St. Lawrence River, it’s consider to be one of the 19th century’s greatest engineering feats. What this means for kayakers is that you can work your way from Kingston to Ottawa via a series of 47 locks and 27 lockstations. Novices and experienced kayakers alike can enjoy the adventure.
If you want to have the lock through experience, then your paddling trip needs to happen between mid-May and mid-October – though it’s possible to portage around the locks if they aren’t open. If you paddle in the off-season – May, June, September or October, it will be quieter with fewer power boats. While it’s suggested that you start in Kingston because the prevailing winds will likely be at your back, you really can start anywhere between the two cities, depending on how much time you have. In fact you could just do a day-trip to experience paddling through the locks. On most multi-day trips people paddle the canal in one direction only so a shuttle needs to be arranged. If you can’t do it yourself, Ahoy Rentals in Kingston can pick up or drop off at most of the lockstations along the canal.
Assuming you start in Kingston you will be lifted 50.6 metres from Lake Ontario to reach the high point on the route – Upper Rideau Lake. From there you descend via the locks 83.8 metres to the Ottawa River in Ottawa. While it doesn’t matter so much in a kayak, there is a well-marked navigation channel that is 1.5 metres deep. If you’re on a self-guided trip be sure to carry the two sets of navigation charts that cover the river.
The beauty of this kayaking trip is you have the choice of camping at the lockstations or staying in nearby campgrounds and even some charming, historic inns and hotels just a short portage away – depending on your budget. Even if you elect to camp, you can still take advantage of fine dining options near some of the lockstations.
With mostly flat-water paddling except when the winds pick up on the big lakes, no appreciable currents, over 1,000 kilometres of shoreline to explore, and a beautiful section of the Canadian Shield to cross along with the unique lock through experience, this is definitely a bucket-list worthy trip.
Cyclists have a lot more flexibility when it comes to exploring the region. For a self-guided option you can find loads of detailed routes on the Rideau Heritage Route website. The rides whenever possible take you on quieter backroads. If you choose to do the full Ottawa to Kingston ride you’ll be able to see all the area has to offer- provided you’re prepared to take several days and do a few side-trips. Highlights in the region, include the delightful town of Merrickville, Chaffey’s Locks and the Opinicon Lake boat tour, Delta and the Old Stone Mill, the Forfar Cheese Factory for squeaky cheese curds, and Kilmarnock Lock with its’ wooden swing bridge.
Whether by kayak or bike, the Rideau Heritage Route will charm you with its pretty towns and historic lockstations. Click here to learn more about the Rideau Heritage Route, or to start planning your trip!
By Leigh McAdam
By Leigh McAdam
With two pretty towns as bookends, cyclists will love the easy biking between Gananoque and Brockville on a section of Ontario’s Waterfront Trail. Plenty of access points ensure a whole lot of ways you can configure a trip. And with a 10 foot wide, newly paved (in 2014) mostly traffic-free trail, this is an outing the whole family can enjoy.
The approximately 45 kilometre section of the Waterfront Trail between the two towns parallels the 1000 Islands Parkway and the St. Lawrence River – one of North America’s longest rivers. As you cycle alongside the upper part of the St. Lawrence River, an especially scenic section, dotted with well over a 1000 islands, some of which are part of 1000 Islands National Park, you can gawk at the myriad of cottages. Many of them are eye-candy and great fun to admire – not only for their architecture but for the beautiful islands they sit on, some of which aren’t much bigger than the cottage itself.
But before you even get to the eye-candy you’ll have to decide in advance what kind of cycling experience you’re looking for. Do you want an out and back ride – in which case where should you start? Or would you rather just cycle a section between the start and end points of the 1000 Islands Parkway? There is also the option to cycle one way and overnight in either Brockville or Gananoque and retrace your steps the next day? Strong cyclists can certainly knock off the round-trip in about five hours but recreational cyclists might want to stop and swim, enjoy a picnic or admire the view from one of the lookout spots.
I’m partial to starting in Gananoque – as I love the waterfront and the choice of historic and very beautiful B&B’s to stay in before or after the bike ride. (It’s also a great place to take a boat tour post bike ride.)My inclination is to do and out and back trip.
In Gananoque you can park for a fee down by the marina on Water Street. Just be aware that the area can get congested on summer weekends so plan to arrive early. The actual car-free trail starts 2.5 kilometres east of town. Other places to start that are right on the trail include the Environmental Awareness Centre in Mallorytown Landing, picnic spots along the 1000 Islands Parkway and Brown’s Bay Day-Use Area (pay for two days if you leave your car overnight.)
There’s a short section of busy road you must contend with as you head east from Gananoque. Once on the parkway you pass through a pretty area around Ivy Lea before you head under the 1000 Islands Bridge to the US. This is one of the few areas where you need to exercise caution as there is a short section of narrow, busy road. From there continue to Rockport, a popular centre for boat tours. You’ll find a restaurant, fast food places and a store. Although it’s a good spot to buy cold drinks and food, especially since it’s at about the halfway point, picnickers would do well to stop at one of the many rest stops with picnic tables overlooking the river. If you’re like me and love slabs of pink granite and wind-swept trees with views of islands, then save your picnic for the 1000 Islands National Park further to the east and enjoy your picnic by the water. Don’t forget to buy your picnic supplies before starting out for the day.
Reach the Brown’s Bay Day-use Park six kilometres past the 1000 Islands Visitor Centre in Mallorytown Landing. The park is a great turnaround spot if you want to avoid cycling the nine kilometres of road into Brockville though there is the option to continue a further 2.8 kilometres on the car-free trail to Butternut Bay. And what better way to get refreshed for the return ride than a swim in Brown’s Bay Park. Just don’t forget your bathing suit.
Recreational cyclists can easily make a full day out of the bike ride. Everyone will enjoy not only the scenery but the prolific birdlife and the chance to experience the St. Lawrence River up close.
For detailed help in planning your trip check out the Waterfront Trail website with its interactive map that showcases places to stay, exact distances and the suggested bike route through towns along the way.
Growing up in Prince Edward County, I always knew I was living in an Eden. Up the road were the Sandbanks, for example, the largest bay mouth sand bar on a freshwater lake in the world. Near Picton: Lake on the Mountain, where clean, fresh water flows from no apparent source. And all across: rolling fields of corn, asparagus, tomatoes, you name it.
Thankfully that Eden still exists, and every day it’s getting lusher with the help of new transplants bringing more wine, craft beer, farm-to-table cuisine and accolades from the likes of The Globe and Mail, which called the County “the gastronomic capital of Ontario.” The artists flocking here, like musician Justine Rutledge, are spurring its growth, too.
All of which is to say, you might need a guide to point out the County’s best bounty. So keep reading.
Food and Drink
The County’s agricultural roots stretch back to the eighteenth century, and by the mid-1800s it was known as “Barley Days” around here for how lucrative that crop became for farmers supplying the American brewing industry (there’s now a brewery here with the same name). Later, when the grain trade collapsed, fruits, vegetables, livestock and dairy farms took off.
And then came the grapes — and all that wine — around the turn of this century. There are now over 30 wineries and plenty of cheese to pair all that vino with from Black River Cheese and Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. There’s now a booming restaurant scene as well featuring local, seasonal ingredients plated by some of Canada’s best chefs, like Drake Devonshire’s Matt DeMille. Seek out those ingredients yourself with this guide to locally-produced goods.
3 Best Food and Drink Experiences
From the Farm Cooking School: Pick the season’s best produce from local farms and then head to an 1830s farm house to learn how to cook it.
Wine Tour: Sit back, relax and learn all about County wine on a half- or full-day tour of wineries across the region. Accommodation options with dinner also available.
Take the Taste Trail: Can’t decide where to take those taste buds? Let the Taste Trail be your guide, linking you to sustainable farms, cheesemakers, wineries, cafes and restaurants.
Although the County has that quintessential laidback island pace, you won’t be lacking for options to explore its shorelines, forests, lakes, fields and wetlands. Sandbanks Provincial Park has the County’s best beaches, but don’t forget about nearby North Beach Provincial Park, which has 2 kilometres of the sandy stuff. There are also 14 conservation areas here, along with trails and parks — all perfect for picnicking, hiking, bird-watching, cross-country skiing and more.
Prefer to be on the water instead? Click here for everything you need to know about fishing, boating, diving, and other ways to explore the waters in and around Prince Edward County.
3 Best Outdoors Experiences
Sandbanks Provincial Park: The world’s largest bay mouth barrier dune formation; three large sandy beaches; a mecca for bird watchers; walking trails; daily interpretive programming. Need I say more?
Millennium Trail: Walk, run or bike all or part of this 49 kilometre trail that goes from Carrying Place to Picton, linking communities like Wellington and Bloomfield, and passing by farmers’ fields, marshes, creeks and forests.
Shipwreck Diving: Head to “The Marysburgh Vortex” off Point Traverse, where two-thirds of the shipwrecks that occurred on Lake Ontario during the schooner and early steam era can be found.
Arts and Culture
With all of that natural beauty, rural charm and creative culinary spirit, it’s not surprising that a thriving arts and culture scene is alive and well here, too. One of the pillars is Picton’s 95-year-old Regent Theatre, where you’ll see everything from Hollywood movies, to stand-up comedy, to opera beamed live from New York’s MET.
For music, try The Hayloft, The Acoustic Grill, The Speakeasy or The Barley Room. For theatre, you have plenty of options: Festival Players, The County Theatre Group, The Marysburgh Mummers and Prince Edward Community Theatre. And for visual art, hop on the Arts Trail to meet almost 30 talented artists and gallery owners from across the region. Don’t know what arts experience you want? Start with the Prince Edward County Arts Council.
3 Best Arts and Culture Experiences
The Hayloft Dancehall: An old-school dance hall in a rural barn. Re-opened this summer by the proprietors of Toronto’s Dakota Tavern. Expect guitar-heavy and alt-country bands, local food, brown liquids, and a foot-stomping good time.
Festival Players: Likely the area’s most popular theatre group, Festival Players matches plays with places in the County and performs them there in the summer.
The Regent Theatre: Once the setting for 25-cent movies starring Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, now a community gathering point for festivals, theatre, music and way more.
Festivals and Events
All of that food, wine and culture means Prince Edward County’s festival and events lineup is full no matter the time of year. In the spring, there’s an authors’ festival, Countylicious and the only pan-Canadian showcase of artisan cheese, for example. In the summer, there’s a lavender festival, a comedy festival and a salmon derby. Fall has the Picton Fair, Wassail and an indie music fest. And winter: Sandbanks SnowFest, Christmas Parades and Junior A hockey. This is just the tip of the County’s events iceberg, though, so stay tuned to this events calendar for everything that’s happening.
3 Best Festival and Events
TASTE!: A September showcase of the County’s fresh food and drink at Picton’s glass beauty, The Crystal Palace. Tastings, seminars, a Chopped-like competition and more.
PEC Jazz Festival: One of the most respected in jazz fests in the country. Performances at The Regent Theatre and 30 restaurants, wineries and churches across the County. August.
Maple in the County: A celebration of the first maple harvest. Sugar bushes and other hosts offer up everything from pancake breakfasts, to taffy on snow, to sugar bush tours, to food tucks, to a lumberjack show. March.
Cornwall and the surrounding counties have been about welcoming people no matter their backgrounds for hundreds of years. The post-contact population was a mixture of French Canadian, Ojibwe and Mohawk, and later United Empire Loyalist, Acadian, Scottish, Irish and Eastern European. It was even once home to former American slaves.
It’s not surprising, then, that that “open arms” spirit is still very much alive here. At Upper Canada Village, for example, history is the core, but there are pumpkin fests, light shows and more for non-history buffs as well. Likewise, the area’s restaurants feature classics like pizza, but there’s Thai, local perch and gourmet burgers too. Read on for a few more of the best ways the region is welcoming visitors today.
Native peoples have lived in this area for millennia, but Cornwall itself was first established in 1784 by United Empire Loyalists led by Sir John Johnson. That makes the city one of Canada’s oldest permanent settlements. Surrounding communities and villages in present day North & South Stormont, North & South Dundas and North & South Glengarry weren’t far behind, and you can see the march of that rich history at 94 heritage sites that dot the region.
A good way to start tapping into all of that history would be checking out the Native North American Travelling College, followed by a visit to Sir John Johnson’s home or St. Raphael’s Ruins—both National Historic Sites. From there, see what life was like around here in mid-1800s at Upper Canada Village, a nineteenth-century replica village and one of the biggest draws to the region.
3 Best History Experiences
Upper Canada Village: A 60-acre property with over 40 heritage buildings and costumed interpreters bring Upper Canada circa 1866 alive.
Historic Cornwall Jail: Take a guided tour through the holding cells, visitation and common areas, exercise yard, and the gallows of this jail built in 1834.
Sir John Johnson House: Built for the Loyalist leader who organized the movement of 3,776 Loyalists north, this is now one of the oldest surviving homes in Ontario.
With the St. Lawrence River at your doorstep, along with 105 kilometres of waterfront trail, 4 conservation areas and 5 beaches, you won’t be lacking for things to do outside here. There are also 12 golf courses scattered throughout the region, and the Summerstown and Glengarry trail systems offer up some of the best hiking and cross-country skiing in The Great Waterway.
Cycling is huge, too, and no wonder. The section of Waterfront Trail that runs through here is one of the most uninterrupted, plus many of the roads have plenty of shoulder and ample spots to take a break. And this isn’t even mentioning the welcoming communities and beautiful scenery all the way along. Visit the Ride With GPS website for road routes developed by experienced cycling enthusiasts.
3 Best Outdoors Experiences
Lost Villages Scuba Diving: When the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, 10 communities were submerged. See their ghostly remains and “Lock 21” on a scuba diving adventure.
Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary: A place for expert and rookie ornithologists alike. 9,000 hectares, 200 bird species and 8 kilometres of nature trails for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing.
McMaze Family Fun Farm: Always something to do no matter the time of year. Five mazes, including a 4-acre corn maze, Easter egg hunts, pumpkin picks, horse-drawn sleigh rides, farm animals and more.
Food and Drink
You might start your restaurant search with this handy guide put together by Cornwall and The Counties Tourism, which includes everything from a gourmet burger joint, to an oyster bar, to a bakery with some of the best butter tarts around. But don’t forget about The Quirky Carrot in Alexandria, one of my Top Spots to Chow Down in The Great Waterway.
Get a taste for what’s behind some of those local flavours at a farm, vineyard or market, and then try picking your own bounty at a nearby orchard. Those with a maple sweet tooth would be wise to head to Maple Ridge Farms or Sand Road Maple Farm.
3 Best Food and Drink Experiences
Chesterville Farmers’ Market: Spend your Saturday morning sipping local coffee, nibbling on a fresh-baked cookie and picking up some local produce at this farmers’ market along the Chesterville waterfront.
Nineteenth Century Dining at Upper Canada Village: Take your palate back in time at Willard’s Hotel for a period-style meal, or Cook’s Tavern for a ginger beer or sarsaparilla.
Beer at the Star Inn: Part of the Glengarry Pioneer Museum, the Starr Inn was a popular stagecoach stop in the 1860s. It’s now believed to have one of the oldest preserved taverns in Eastern Ontario.
Festivals and Events
From the more quirky Tubie Festival, which includes a tube race down the St. Lawrence, to the traditional Glengarry Highland Games, which has welcomed close to a million visitors since 1948, this region’s festivals and events are as diverse as its population. One of 2015’s biggest will be the International Plowing Match, coming up in September in Finch. Over 80,000 people are expected for five days of horse-, mule- and tractor-plowing competitions, dances, concerts, cooking competitions and over 600 vendors. Stay tuned to Cornwall and The Counties’ event calendar for up-to-date monthly listings.
2 Best Festivals and Events
Glengarry Highland Games: Scottish and Celtic culture at its biggest and best. Pipe bands, drummers, dancers, Scottish giants hurling hammers and way more.
Alight at Night: Upper Canada Village gets lit up with close to one million lights every December and January. Plus, concerts, carolling, dining, carriage rides, a sound and light show, and train rides.