Once again, ladies and gentlemen; we find ourselves quickly approaching that #festive time of year. The trees are being raised in every town square, colourful lights are hung from the lamp-posts with care – and that all familiar music suddenly fills the air. [Read more…]
The warm late winter temperatures brings our favourite time of year – maple syrup season. Headlining maple season in The Great Waterway are three family-friendly events: Maple in the County in Prince Edward County, Maple Madness in Kingston and an open house at Gibbons Maple Sugar House in Frankville. Consider these 9 amazing and authentically Canadian experiences for your maple “bucket” list this March.
1. Eat pancakes (with syrup!) in a sugar shack
Piping hot pancakes piled high, slathered with butter and drizzled (or drenched) in freshly made maple syrup. It’s the ultimate maple season experience, made better when enjoyed in the company of friends and family. Whether your chosen side dish is bacon, sausages or more pancakes, this maple syrup experience is not to be missed.
- Where to try it: Sweetwater Cabin/Hubb’s Sugar Bush (Rednersville, PEC), Gibbons Maple Sugar House and Museum (Frankville), Strictly Maple (Consecon, PEC), Sugarbush Vineyards (Hilliar, PEC), Fosterholm Farms (Picton, PEC), Waupoos Estate Winery and Sugar Bush (Waupoos, PEC), Walt’s Sugar Shack (Consecon, PEC), Three Dog Winery (Demorestville, PEC)
2. Hike through a sugar bush
With the crunch of snow under your boots and the refreshingly crisp smell of spring in the air works up an appetite for piping hot pancakes!
- Where to try it: Sugarbush Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (Kingston),
3. Dash through the snow on a horse-drawn wagon ride
The clip-clop of hooves and the jingle of sleigh bells is a familiar sound during maple season. On a horse-drawn wagon ride, take in the bustle of a busy maple forest and look for signs that spring is right around the corner.
- Where to try it: Sweetwater Cabin/Hubb’s Sugar Bush (Rednersville, PEC)
4. Snowshoe in a vineyard
A winery tour during the off-season is a winter wonderland delight (you may not have snow in your backyard, but we do!). Rent or bring your snowshoes for a peaceful walk through a lakeside vineyard. And just like hiking, you’ll be hankering for breakfast when you’re done! Weather permitting.
- Where to try it: Sugarbush Vineyards (Hilliar, PEC), and the Fido-friendly Three Dog Winery (Demorestville, PEC), Sandbanks Estate Winery (Wellington, PEC), Trail Estate Winery (on the nearby Millennium Trail, Hillier, PEC)
5. Eat maple taffy off of fresh snow
Nature’s favourite candy – maple taffy – is a sweet treat that is best enjoyed in the warm spring sunshine. Dipping thickened maple syrup into fresh white snow is a delicious and timeless syrup season tradition.
- Where to try it: Vader’s Maple Syrup (Cherry Valley, PEC), Walt’s Sugar Shack (Consecon, PEC), Norman Hardie Winery (Wellington, PEC), Gibbons Maple Sugar House (Frankville)
6. Visit baby farm animals
A sure sign of spring is the arrival of the most adorable baby animals in farms throughout the region. Cuddling with fluffy chicks, peeping ducklings and woolly lambs is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Children can enjoy pony rides at selected farms. Have your cameras ready for this cute photo op!
- Where to see them: Nyman Farms (Picton, PEC), Gibbons Family Farm (Frankville), Heal with Horses (Hillier, PEC), Waupoos Estate Winery and Sugar Bush (Waupoos, PEC)
7. See how maple syrup is made (from start to finish!)
Did you know that it takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup? When you visit a sugar bush, you will hear the fascinating history of maple syrup, see sap dripping into pails (or modern tap lines that zigzag through the forest) and peek at the giant evaporators where the magic of maple syrup happens! You’ll appreciate syrup so much more after hearing about the effort that goes into making this sweet treat.
- Where to see it: Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (Kingston), Gibbons Maple Sugar House and Museum (Frankville), Strictly Maple (Consecon, PEC), Sugarbush Vineyards (Hilliar, PEC), Nyman Farms (Picton, PEC), Vader’s Maple Syrup (Cherry Valley, PEC), Fosterholm Farms (Picton, PEC)
8. Indulge in delightful and unexpected maple syrup and local food pairings
The ideal experience for sophisticated palates! The spring season inspires farmers, artisan food producers and chefs to create flavourful maple themed meals. Caramel apples, haute mac and cheese, sausages, crepes, desserts, aged cheese, ribs, pulled pork, French toast and more tempt your taste buds with every stop along the self-guided Maple in the County route. Reservations required at some locations.
- Where to try it: The Drake Devonshire Inn (Wellington, PEC), Campbell’s Orchards (Rednersville, PEC), Clossen Chase Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), The Grange (Hillier, PEC), Harwood Estate Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), Sandbanks Estate Winery (Wellington, PEC), Keint-he Winery and Vineyards (Wellington, PEC), Trail Estate Winery (Hillier, PEC), Huff Estates (Bloomfield, PEC), 66 Gilliead Distillery (Bloomfield, PEC), Macaulay House (Picton, PEC), Jackson Falls Country Inn (Milford, PEC), The Country Canteen (Picton, PEC), County Cider (Picton, PEC), Black River Cheese Company (Milford, PEC)
9. Sip maple inspired wine, cider and craft beer around a cozy bonfire or tasting room
With a nod to the mighty maple, local wine and cider makers and brewers infuse this seasonal staple into their beverages for a delightful sipping experience. Some wineries and breweries, like Barley Days, Trail Estate and The Grange have seasonal wines, waters and brews to you to enjoy, whereas our other wineries welcome you into their tasting rooms for you to enjoy your favourite red, white or ale.
- Where to try it: Clossen Chase Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), The Grange (Hillier, PEC), Harwood Estate Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), Sandbanks Estate Winery (Wellington, PEC), Keint-he Winery and Vineyards (Wellington, PEC), Trail Estate Winery (Hillier, PEC), Huff Estates (Bloomfield, PEC), 66 Gilliead Distillery (Bloomfield, PEC), County Cider (Picton, PEC), Black River Cheese Company (Milford, PEC), Barley Days Brewery (Picton, PEC), Norman Hardie Winery (Wellington, PEC)
As we find ourselves in February, we can finally see that light at the end of that tunnel known as winter. The sun holds fast to the evening horizon as the days grow longer if ever so slightly, and yes, love is in the air.
This year, instead of the typical box of truffles, or Netflix and chill; why not drop the kids at grandma’s and whisk yourselves away for a romantic getaway here in beautiful Southeastern Ontario? Don’t have kids? Then my friend, your planning phase just got way easier.
For your consideration, I present this lovely list of amorous escapes and relevant romantic dinner suggestions that will make this year’s Valentine’s one for the history books.
Cornwall & the Counties
Auberge Chesley’s Inn, Cornwall
Auberge Chesley’s Inn is a beautiful Georgian style house and B&B that has quite an interesting history. First built in 1814, it has been host to many famous guests over the centuries including famed writer Charles Dickens himself!
The decor of the Chesley’s suites are akin to stepping into a long lost and romanticized era, but with all the modern amenities one would expect, including ensuite baths and rainforest showers.
In the morning, be prepared for some epic breakfast choices at Chesley’s Inn, ranging from lighter fare to a full-fledged French Canadian breakfast spread.
Russell Manor Bed & Breakfast, Morrisburg
Russell Manor is a glorious manse, first built in the early 1870s. The house is a striking tribute to French Second Empire architecture, with a warm and authentic Victorian-inspired decor.
I stayed here with my wife for a weekend in 2011 when we were in town for a Medieval Festival and were blown away.
Today, this elegant bed and breakfast is still going strong and has received nothing but positive reviews over the years. The owners; Michael and Ron are excellent hosts and serve what is, in my opinion, the best omelettes I’ve ever had, using herbs grown in their gardens.
Don’t wait to seize your chance to experience this one of a kind b&b in Morrisburg.
Brockville & 1000 Islands
Sir Isaac Brock Bed & Breakfast
The Sir Isaac Brock B&B is a painstakingly restored 1824 limestone Georgian-style house that today, offers luxurious suites in a unique and heritage styled atmosphere in Brockville’s charming downtown area.
This captivating B&B is only steps away from Brockville’s premiere attractions, shopping and dining venues making it a novel choice for a fun-filled escape for two. The Sir Isaac Brock B&B is also a 2017 Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice winner with rave reviews.
For dinner, I’d recommend a short five-minute stroll down John Street for a decadent meal at The Mill Restaurant. This piece of Canada’s history is a real labour of love that was brought back from the brink when it was purchased and renovated into the charming restaurant it is today.
The Noble Suites Experiences
Just one look at the Noble Suites in Brockville and you can feel a certain romantic tingle in the air. The ornate and ancient inspired ionic pillars which embrace the main entrance is a near mythical sight of which Cupid himself would be smitten.
The extravagant suites within are absolutely arresting in decor, and about as close as one can get to spending the weekend in a Victorian romance novel. This is definitely a destination for a private and personalized stay in a vintage style inn with modern comforts.
The Colonel’s Inn, Prescott
Situated in the beautiful riverside town of Prescott, The Colonel’s Inn is a breathtaking example of 19th-century construction. In 1835 it was the home of Colonel Alexander McDonnell and has close military ties. At one point, the basement was a temporary barracks for soldiers stationed at Fort Wellington National Historic Site.
Today, the Colonel’s former residence offers guests an incredible opportunity for a romantic getaway in true Victorian style and decadence. The rooms are classically decorated and feature a fabulous fusion of lavish furnishings and modern conveniences.
The most romantic, and eye-catching of the suites would have to be The Loft, which is located in a separate building that was once the carriage house. This spacious room features an en-suite whirlpool and private entrance.
Although the Inn does not do dinner on a regular basis, romantic dinners at The Colonel’s Inn are available with advanced notice for booked guests. If you are more in the mood for a restaurant, the management can suggest a number of options.
A full hot breakfast is served each morning with free flowing coffee and tea available throughout the day, and on-site parking is free. For more information visit the Inn’s website.
Rideau Heritage Route
Abbott Road Suites, Kemptville
Abbott Road Suites is a very private venue comprised of two magnificent suites of a more modern and refined atmosphere. Situated in a taking executive bungalow, the suites are equally luxurious and have private access.
I’d call dibs on The West Suite, however, which sports a fireplace, a heated tile washroom complete with separate walk-in shower, and a Jacuzzi.
For dinner, it’s certainly worth the short drive to experience Kemptville’s iconic and storied fine dining venue: The Brigadoon; for a mouthwatering Filet Mignon. If beef isn’t your thing, I hear that the Chicken Drambuie is to die for. At any rate, the Brigadoon’s menu more than speaks for itself.
The Baldachin Inn, Merrickville
Standing proudly in Merrickville since 1860, the stunning Baldachin Inn features a heritage designated interior with original stained glass windows, stonework, and other brilliant features.
The on-site restaurant & pub offers traditional old world inspired cuisine along with the warm hospitality and atmosphere associated with the timeline.
It’s large stone fireplace, and arched windows are beautiful and certainly help enhance an already unforgettable experience. One night here, and you’ll know why many refer to Merrickville as the Jewel of The Rideau.
The Lockhouse B&B, Westport
Situated in the heart of Westport, the Lockhouse B&B offers guests a pair of spacious and private suites only steps away from town. The suites are well-priced and feature private and comfortable accommodation.
The Lockhouse sports an attractive library and living space for relaxing; and serves a full breakfast with both vegan and gluten free options available. The Lockhouse B&B’s website is currently under construction, so for contact info visit their page on BB Canada.com.
The Tangled Garden Cafe is a short but splendid walk from the B&B and presents a versatile menu of delicious choices ranging from creative omelets to super sandwiches; as well as some great pasta dishes and entrees.
The Cove Restaurant & Resort, Westport
The Cove Restaurant & Resort has been a favourite spot for travelers since 1988. Current chef Joanne Edwards applies her passion and culinary talent, crafting home cooked dishes based on the now legendary menu items made famous by Mary Cowan, the Cove’s owner.
The ambiance and atmosphere of the Cove’s dining room are both memorable and inviting, making this restaurant a treasured element of Westport’s experience. The menu has items suited for every taste, from steaks to pasta; as well as the prized Westport original: The Growley Basket.
On top of the epic food, the inn itself is wonderful and has a luxurious spa conveniently located next door for all your de-stressing desires.
Be sure to check the Cove’s website to confirm vacancy.
Gananoque Inn & Spa
The fabled Gananoque Inn has a special place in my heart, not only for it’s rich and significant local history; but also because my wife and I spent our first anniversary there. This visually striking building that was once a carriage-works became a famous inn prior to the turn of the century.
The suites and interior of the building proper, boast an accurate and welcoming Victorian charm, with one of the most picturesque dining rooms I’ve ever visited: The Watermark. The atmosphere and accommodations are a living example of 19th-century luxury and service.
For accommodations and bookings, visit the Gananoque Inn & Spa’s website.
Rosemount Inn & Spa
This divine utopia of relaxation and luxurious accommodation is an all-in-one destination for couples looking to melt the stress away and unwind in style.
My dinner choice to accompany a night at the Rosemount would have to be Windmills Cafe, where fine dining and amazing local artwork intersect. The dinner menu is full of superb choices and covers a variety of tastes.
After returning to the Rosemount don’t forget to take advantage of their magnificent breakfast menu. I am told that the Welsh Toast is the stuff of legends.
Secret Garden Inn
The inn’s mesmerizing interior features a grand parlour with turret window seating, ‘fainting couches’ and furnishings made popular in the 1830’s set around an ornate fireplace. The lovingly decorated suites are evocative of an era when comfort and luxury were more of an artform.
For dinner, consider Stone City Ales, which is just a short walk from the inn. Not only is this one of Kingston’s famed craft breweries, but it’s also a favoured taproom and dinner venue serving up some amazing dishes. I’d recommend sharing a more intimate and interactive dish like their popular charcuterie boards, paired with a flight (or two) of Stone City’s excellent brews.
The Hochelaga Inn
Among Kingston’s most recognizable overnight options is the famous Hochelaga Inn. This arresting French Victorian Mansion features 21 rooms each different in their own way but sharing in the Hochelaga’s vexing Victorian theme.
The most famous suite is the Tower Room for obvious reasons. It’s almost mystical in a way with its tiny staircase that leads to a stain glass illuminated turret room that also has a ladder that leads to the tower proper, and a meditative room.
For dinner, I suggest the low-light ambiance of Megalos Restaurant. The menu is robust but not complicated and features a selection of really sexy sounding pasta dishes. For dessert, ask about the “Show Stoppers” and thank me later.
Frontenac Club Inn
The Frontenac Club Inn is an acclaimed bed and breakfast located in the heart of Kingston’s historic downtown area. Originally built in 1845 as a bank, this charming limestone building later became a gentlemen’s club in 1903.
Their suites are bright, lively in decor, and perfect for weekend retreats and exemplary comfort. Breakfast the next day will be an experience in itself comprising of locally sourced ingredients.
Not far from the Frontenac Club is the Brock Street Common and one of Kingston’s most popular dining choices: the Chien Noir Bistro.
This bistro has an ambiance that screams romance and comes with an equally fanciful menu. I highly recommend the poutine, which features Quebec brie, shredded duck confit, and a brilliant “green peppercorn cognac jus”.
The Green Acres Inn
Hidden in plain sight on Kingston’s West end is the Green Acres Inn. Positioned a short drive from downtown, and surrounded by prime shopping and dining options, this quaint but luxurious Inn has plenty in store.
One look at the suites is all you need. The Tulip Suite has a jacuzzi, and not one but two fireplaces; one of which is in the bathroom along with a television.
Now you can watch When Harry Met Sally while soaking in the hot tub and relaxing by the fire simultaneously. What a time to be alive!
When hunger strikes, Ramekins is a quick six-minute drive or cab ride away. For 20 years this local family owned establishment has been well known for casual fine dining at it’s best. The quiet and relaxed atmosphere is perfect for an intimate dinner for two. The menu is full of tantalizing choices and has the best price for a pound of mussels I’ve seen on this side of Halifax.
Bay of Quinte
St. John’s Inn and B&B, Belleville
Belleville’s St. John’s Inn and B&B is in a prime location that places this lovely stone house in proximity to several local attractions including the Empire Theatre, Spa 237 and the Pinnacle Playhouse.
Paulo’s Italian Trattoria is a mere nine-minute walk from St. John’s; and nothing quite says “amore” like a romantic Italian dinner. Paulo’s website is a bit old school, but their menu features a bounty of Mediterranean finery including pasta, pizza, steaks and more.
For more information and booking options, please visit St. John’s Inn’s BB Canada page.
Montrose Inn and Tea Room, Belleville
Reminiscent of the grand plantations of the American South, the Montrose Inn & Tea Room is an enchanting example of antebellum architecture, right here in The Great Waterway. The mansion was built in 1916 and still has several original features; over a century later.
The elegance of the suites only serve to enhance the overall experience with their authentic furnishings and extravagant decor. The room that caught my eye is the Adelina which boasts an en-suite ‘two-person thermal masseuse tub’, gas fireplace, spa robes and splendid furniture.
To add to the romantic energy, consider the eastern delights of the nearby Royal Haveli for a spicy and exotic meal of fine Indian cuisine. There’s something about Indian food that invokes a certain romance. Perhaps this is because it originates from the very same culture that produced the Kama Sutra.
Prince Edward County
The Waring House, Picton
Prince Edward County is regarded as one of Southeastern Ontario’s most famous destinations for romantic escapes, fantastic food, and arresting scenery. The Waring House is no exception to those claims, as you will soon discover.
This astonishing Inn is a memorable choice for couples seeking an unforgettable retreat. Among their splendid choice of suites, I have my heart set on the Vineyard View Cottage, because, that’s how I roll.
You won’t have to go far to find a delicious dinner at Amelia’s Garden which is located in-house. One glimpse at one of their sample dinner menus will have you scrambling to make a reservation.
The Merrill Inn, Picton
Nestled away in Picton, at the heart of the County is the elegant and historic: Merrill Inn.
Host to 13 wonderfully appointed suites, the Merrill’s accommodations feature original local art, pillow-top bedding and (depending on which room) jacuzzi’s and cozy fireplaces.
Stays include a complimentary hot breakfast and afternoon refreshments. Enjoy a sumptuous meal consisting of County bistro cuisine; created by the very talented: Chef Michael Sullivan, in the Merrill’s intimate on-site restaurant.
Angeline’s Inn, Bloomfield
Angeline’s Inn is a grand Victorian edification to the history and mesmerizing charm of Prince Edward County. The building dates back to the prosperous Barley Days era between 1860 and 1890 and has a rather extensive story of its own.
The management was kind enough to inform me that the in-house eatery is closed for January and February but suggested the nearby Saylor House Cafe for breakfast and lunch, and Agrarian Bistro for lunch and dinner.
Drake Devonshire, Wellington
Last but certainly not least is the Drake Devonshire. This epic destination takes ownership of its own unique blend of culture, community, and enriched hospitality.
The rooms feature a stunningly modernized design that clearly differentiates from more vintage themed inns throughout the region.
Dining at the Devonshire is always a treat, with a mouthwatering menu catering to brunch, lunch, or dinner. The only difficult aspect of staying at the Drake Devonshire is leaving.
You Deserve This
While we’re still a couple of weeks away from Valentine’s, there are still plenty of opportunities to plan for and arrange a much-needed escape. With our proximity to Montreal, Ottawa or Toronto, The Great Waterway offers a bounty of options here in Southeastern Ontario that are only a short drive away.
I hope that this collection of ideas inspires you and that special someone to treat yourselves to a truly memorable and refreshing retreat. This year, do something spontaneous and enjoy a romantic experience you won’t soon forget.
Your Romantic Escape Awaits!
Love it or hate it, winter isn’t going anywhere soon.
While some people tend to hunker down and hibernate the cold months away – others embrace the crisp winds of winter and take full advantage of the broad selection of things to do throughout South Eastern Ontario. Getting outdoors during the winter with friends and family is not only healthy, but a great opportunity to make an otherwise dark and dreary season into a collection of positive memories you’ll keep for life. [Read more…]
It’s safe to say that The Aquatarium is one of Brockville‘s most eagerly anticipated attractions. An ambitious $25 million dream five years in the making, the 27,000 square foot interactive learning centre is dedicated to showcasing the waterways and wildlife of the St. Lawrence and 1000 Islands. Excited by the prospect of peeking inside a warship, seeing river otters up close and trying out the ropes course, I recently visited The Aquatarium with my 6-year old daughter and 9-year-old son. While each of the exhibits garnered comments like “this is so cool!” from my children, we consider these seven to be must-sees at The Great Waterway’s newest family-friendly attraction.
Ropes Course and AquaDrop
If you’ve ever imagined climbing the rigging of a tall ship, the Ropes Course is your chance! My agile and fearless son loved the course, which features rolling barrels, narrow planks and a mast. Instructors fit you with harnesses and a helmet and give you a short lesson on how the carabiners work, plus follow along behind you to ensure your safety. When you’re finished, take the gentle slide or the much more exciting AquaDrop – the 40 foot harnessed and controlled drop to the ground. Age restrictions are enforced for safety reasons (no, your mature and tall 7 year old should not do the ropes course).
Power of Water
Two hands-on exhibits make a splash here (literally). At one, the St. Lawrence River is re-imagined as a kid-friendly water table, complete with the Thousand Islands Bridge, the Lost Villages and functioning lock systems – and children can float foam ships down the seaway. At the second, kids learn the complexities of generating hydro electricity as they try to harness the power of water with miniature dams (go head-to-head with another family to see who can generate the most power from their dams). Plastic aprons are available, but your kids will love getting wet here.
Salt Water Touch Tank
Sea stars, spider crabs, star fish, anemones and more are housed in the salt water touch tank near the Creation exhibit. While these creatures are not native to the region, it’s a rare and fascinating opportunity to see them up close. Knowledgeable Aquatarium ambassadors help small hands gently pick up tank residents – but mind your fingers with the crabs!
Singer Castle Library
Singer Castle is one of the River’s most recognizable landmarks and its mysterious library is recreated here (can you find the secret passage?). It’s a quiet escape from the busier exhibits, with colouring and activity sheets, iPads and quiet toys when you need downtime, making it a great spot for kids who are easily overstimulated.
A replica of the British warship that was shipwrecked on October 31, 1780, this version of the HMS Ontario is full of nooks to hide in, rope ladders to climb and the interactive Captain’s Table. Kids (and adults) will be amazed at the touch-activated artifacts that cue up videos about the region’s watery legends. Nearby is a sensory bin of kinetic sand that will keep wee hands busy while bigger kids explore.
The St. Lawrence’s most playful residents, river otters, are the stars of the show here. You are most likely to see the three otters during the 1:30 pm feeding, so you may wish to plan your visit accordingly. During our visit, one shyly poked her head out of the water and swam towards my kids during a break in the crowds.
As avid fishermen, we all loved this exhibit because it was a chance to see our most common catches up close. Three tanks representing the region’s lake, river and shore habitats house bass, perch, pumpkinseed and sturgeon. The crawl tunnels underneath Aquaria let kids (and curious short adults like myself) poke their heads up into tanks for a unique look.
Know before you go
Location: 6 Broad Street, Brockville.
Driving time: From Ottawa 1 hour, 15 minutes / From Kingston 59 minutes / From Oshawa 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Hours of operation: 10 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week
Best time to visit: We visited in the late afternoon on a weekday and the crowds had fallen off by 2:30 pm. Expect The Aquatarium to be busier during fish and otter feeding times.
Admission: Adults $19.95 / Senior (65+) $14.99 / Youth (13-17) $14.99 / Child (4-12) $9.99 / Child (3 & under) FREE / Groups (15+) $12.99
Ropes Course: admission fee + $7.00 (minimum age 8 years old, kids 8-12 years old must be accompanied by an adult)
Aqua Drop: admission fee + $5.00 (minimum age 8 years old, kids can do this one solo)
Save on admission fees: An annual Family Pass is $149.97, a worthwhile investment if you plan on visiting more than twice per year, a family of 5 or kids age 13-17. Brockville residents can checkout an Aquatarium pass at their public library with a valid City of Brockville library card.
Speed up the Ropes Course process: download the waiver forms here and fill them out before you arrive to minimize wait times.
Parking: There are several pay-per-hour parking spots within a short walk of the Aquatarium which accept credit cards or coins. Two-hour complimentary parking spaces throughout downtown Brockville are available, but you will spend more than two hours here and the parking bylaws are enforced (you will be ticketed if you exceed the time limit). Park in the facility’s heated underground garage (great for families with little ones) for $2 per hour.
Family-friendly factor: Elevators and family bathrooms are roomy for strollers and visitors requiring wheelchairs. Washrooms are all equipped with change tables. Exhibits for the most part are child-sized, and when they aren’t stools and benches help kids get the most from their experience. Staff go out of their way to make sure that you are having fun and learning.
What to (and not to) bring: Snacks are not permitted inside The Aquatarium, so make sure your children are well fed before starting your adventure! Your kids WILL get wet – a change of clothes and small towel will come in handy for the hands-on water exhibits. If you plan on doing the ropes course, bring a pair of running shoes (flip flops are not permitted).
In the spring, summer and fall, The Great Waterway offers endless road cycling adventures. Bike-friendly communities, combined with thousands of kilometers of quiet highways allow you to explore the region at your leisure. Of course, once the snow begins to fall, cyclists tuck their bikes away for the winter (and then begin counting down the days until spring). But fat biking will have you looking at winter cycling in a whole new way, and it’s not just those balloon-like 4″ tires that will make you turn your head.
“Fat biking is definitely getting to be more popular,” Roger Healey tells me. Healey, who works with his son Graeme at Frontenac Cycle in downtown Kingston, says interest in fat biking has grown steadily over the years.
Once a fringe sport, fat biking has hit the mainstream, giving cyclists and winter warriors a way to explore on two wheels year round. And in response to the “fattie” phenomenon, manufacturers have continually improved a fat bikes geometry and components: they’re lighter, more rugged and frames come in a range of sizes. Everything about a fat bike’s design – wide rims, hydraulic brakes, lower crossbar and handlebars that put riders in a more upright position – lends itself to hours of comfortable riding along snowy trails.
“Sure, you can ride a fat bike in the sand or on a muddy and sandy trail. But it’s in the snow where you really appreciate them,” says Healey.
The reason fat biking in the winter is so much fun is obvious: those massive tires. Acting as the bike’s built-in suspension system, riders practically float over navigate snowy, icy and bumpy terrain, making your favourite summer trail (or lake, bay and river) a fat bike winter wonderland.
Ontario By Bike‘s Micheal McCreesh attributes the growth of fat biking in the province to two things: the commitment by communities to improve their local trails, and the greater interest by consumers in more winter adventure-based experiences. “The tireless work (much of it volunteer-based) of trail associations to grow the number and length of trails in their communities, as well as making them more durable to winter riding can’t be overstated,” notes McCreesh.
“There also seems to be more interest in taking fat bikes out on frozen water, which is a pretty unique experience and encouraging as Ontario certainly has endless amounts of ‘Hard Water Cycling’ to offer!” adds McCreesh (although this winter’s mild temperatures has limited the number of ice biking opportunities).
Here’s everything you need to know about your soon-to-be favourite winter sport.
Gear up: where to rent and what to wear
In Kingston, fat bikes can be rented from Frontenac Cycle. With a fleet of 10 bikes in a range of sizes for adults, there’s a bike for everyone at the downtown bike shop. The bikes come with standard flat pedals and the staff will ensure you’re fitted correctly. Frontenac Cycle doesn’t offer rental delivery, so you’ll need to be able to transport the bike on your own. Note that standard roof racks don’t accommodate a fat bike’s wide tires. Price: $30/day. $50/weekend. frontenaccycle.ca
In Belleville, head to Ideal Bike (in their new location at 225 Front Street). From there, shop owner Ed Kraus will fit you with a Surley Pugsley or for kids, the Trek Farely 24 (because who says grownups are the only one to have this much fun on a bike). $60/day. $100/weekend. $30 delivery within a 30 kilometer radius. idealbike.com
As for what to wear while fat biking, you’ll need your helmet, gloves or mittens, sweat-wicking base layer, windproof outer layer and a pair of sturdy hiking or winter boots. Healey suggests adding a pair of gaiters (think: snow-busting legwarmers). You’ll work up a sweat, so be prepared to peel off a layer or two once you’ve been riding for a while.
Get out: where to go riding
The best thing about fat biking is that you can point your wheel in any direction and ride and the trails throughout The Great Waterway that lend themselves to spectacular fat biking. That said, fat biking is not permitted on the trails at Frontenac Provincial Park or at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Due to the sensitive nature of the dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park, fat biking is restricted on the beaches and dunes.
Cataraqui Trail. This 103-kilometer trail from Smiths Falls to Strathcona covers a variety of terrain, with the Canadian Shield, Frontenac Axis and peaceful farmland as your picture-perfect backdrop. You’ll share the trail with skiers, hikers and snowmobilers, as well as deer, rabbits, birds and foxes! Access points and trail maps throughout the region make this flat route perfect for beginners. cateraquitrail.ca
K&P Trail. At 15 kilometers long, Kingston’s K&P Trail packs a scenic punch. Stretching from just near the Cataraqui Creek to Orser Road, you’ll enjoy rugged rock cuts and pretty wetlands. Six access points and well marked trails make this a local favourite. cityofingston.ca
Millennium Trail. Once a railway, this trail in Prince Edward County is a great way to get used to a fat bike’s handling. Stretching 49 kilometers between Carrying Place and Picton, you can start and end your adventure at one of the 6 access points where The County’s signature great food, wine and beer await. prince-edward-county.com
MTB Kingston trail system. Just north of Kingston is a spectacular trail system maintained by volunteers from local bike club MTB Kingston. Guests (a maximum of 5 at any time) can ride the trail system provided they’re riding with a club member, have completed the required paperwork and are wearing a helmet. Trail conditions are updated frequently on their website. mtbkington.ca
Quinte Conservation Areas. Potter’s Creek in Belleville is the ideal place to head if you’ve rented a bike from Ideal Bike (the trails are an easy 5 kilometer ride from the shop). The tree-lined trails protect you from the wind, making this Conservation Area great for beginners. Scenic Macauley Mountain is a favourite destination for fat bikers vacationing in The County. quinteconservation.ca
Cataraqui Region Conservation Areas. Though most of the trails in these Kingston and Brockville conservation areas are closed for the winter, cyclists can still head to Little Cateraqui (north of Kingston) and Lemoine’s Point (in Kingston). At Little Cat, cycling is discouraged on the track-set cross-country ski trails, but you can still enjoy a scenic ride on the plowed service roads. At Lemoine’s Point, enjoy the views as you pedal through this urban gem (just stick to the marked cycling trails).
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“People freak out when you say you go winter camping, but it is really fun. When you are all done you feel like you really accomplished something. It is a great way to recharge your batteries and get outdoors,” says the Belleville resident, who for the past four years has hiked into the stillness of Frontenac’s snowy interior for a weekend of wintry solitude.
“Plus, there’s no bugs,” jokes Lambert.
For camping rookies who shiver at the idea of nothing but a layer of canvas or nylon separating them from the elements, Zabe MacEachren says that it helps to learn essential skills from more experienced campers. MacEachern is the Coordinator of Outdoor and Experiential Education at Queen’s University and has winter camped throughout Northern Ontario and Manitoba. This winter she teaches the perennially popular winter camping programs at Frontenac Provincial Park. The goal of the these wilderness skills survival programs is to help beginners plan a successful and comfortable winter camping trip.
“Many things can be learned on one’s own while out in the bush, but generally learning takes longer and you must be prepared for potential difficulties and new situations, especially in a cold environment when things can go from good to bad very quickly,” advises MacEachern.
And just how cold will you be? The answer might surprise you.
“Many people think they will be cold, but they learn to overcome this by altering the way they dress,” says MacEachern, adding that simple skill development plus learning how to correctly use a wood stove keeps you toasty.
But you need more than a roaring fire to keep warm while winter camping, and both Lambert and MacEachern emphasize choosing the proper clothing and equipment to ensure your safety and comfort. Layers of natural fibres (think: silk, wool and leather) plus a windproof outer layer will keep you dry, because believe it or not, you’ll work up a sweat while setting up camp.
MacEachern’s go-to gear includes light flexible footwear like mukluks, leather chaps and mittens with interchangeable wool liners. Stay away from synthetics, not only because they don’t insulate as well as natural fibres, but they will melt when you’re working around your fire. “And dry wool socks are sheer comfort wear,” adds MacEachern.
When it comes to tents, campers have a few options. Walled canvas tents are the tent of choice for most winter campers, and the type used by MacEachern during the Warm Winter Camping Overnight at Frontenac. These durable tents provide superior snow and wind protection and can be outfitted with a wood stove. Walled tents are typically larger and heavier than the nylon tents you take camping in the summer time, a key factor to consider if you use a pulk or other sled bring your gear to your campsite. For that reason, Lambert opts for a lightweight nylon 2-person tent.
“I would say a smaller tent is better. The small tents don’t take as long to get warm from your body heat,” says Lambert. The lightweight tents aren’t for everyone, but they do have the advantage of being able to be used year-round. “Three or four season tents are a must and the fly must come all the way to the ground,” advises Lambert, who takes an all-season approach to the gear he buys.
Of course, camping isn’t camping without food. But first, you need to have water. For that, Lambert brings an ice auger and SteriPens for water he gets from Frontenac’s waterways. “Melting snow might sound easy but it takes a lot of energy to melt water because the snow to water ratio is 10:1. That’s a lot of snow and wood to melt even 10 cups of snow to get one cup of water.” Lambert’s technique reserves wood for heat and fuel for cooking.
For mealtime, MacEachern suggests that campers head to the frozen food aisle of their grocery store, but not to shop! “I make my own version [of these meals] for camping from scratch with real ingredients,” she says, adding that meat and fat are ingredients that will keep you warm. And for dessert? “The fun part about winter camping is that you can make and have ice cream!”
A winter night sleeping under the stars is incredible experience itself, but MacEachern recalls one December at Frontenac Provincial Park that was particularly memorable.
“I had finished hauling my canoe and gear down the road to the lake. I arrived pleased that the lake was not fully frozen so I started testing the ice along the shore as I moved my canoe out to the open water. Suddenly I heard a “Hey you with the canoe” and turned around and saw a Viking-like figure standing at the top of the hill in bare feet. We had a great chat about winter and traditional equipment,” says MacEachern. “Meeting such interesting people and watching wildlife, like a marten exploring the shoreline, was clearly a memorable aspect of that December overnight in Frontenac Park.”
Book your back country winter camping trip at Frontenac Provincial Park on the Ontario Parks website or contact the Friends of Frontenac Park to register for their upcoming Wilderness Skills Training Programs, which includes winter camping planning sessions with Zabe MacEachern. Not ready to try winter camping? Try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in The Great Waterway instead with our list of places to go and rent gear!
A World Class Trails System– And we aren’t joking around. The work the County of Frontenac is completing on the K&P Trail North of Kingston is nothing short of amazing. The L&A Ridge Riders maintain the trail in the Winter, and with its recent revitalization you cannot miss out on the chance to ‘break it in’. The K&P is known for long straight stretches that make it feel you are traveling through a majestic piece of backwoods Canada.
The Unofficial Great Waterway Loop- Begin your day just North of Napanee and follow the E Trail north to Smiths Falls and Perth, looping back around to Sharbot Lake, and eventually back through Stone Mills Township to Yarker and Napanee. You will experience some of the best parts of the Land O’ Lakes Region and beyond as you fly through the Canadian powder. What’s unique about this loop is all the small communities you will discover along the way.
Perfect For the Whole Family- Perhaps the kids aren’t quite into the whole -10 degrees on a snowmobile thing. That’s alright, we’ve got you covered. Belleville, Napanee, Kingston, & Brockville all offer a wide range of downtown shopping experiences that will keep the rest of the family busy during the day while you are ripping through the wilderness. When evening arrives ,you can warm up at a local restaurant or take in a movie in the City.
Feed your National Pride- The Snowmobile is as Canadian as maple syrup, hockey, or the Beaver! Be apart of what it means to be Canadian and rent a Snowmobile for the weekend. Even if you’ve never tried snowmobiling before this is the perfect opportunity for you to ‘get your Canada on’ in The Great Waterway.
Cheap fuel prices- The Great Waterway has some of the cheapest fuel prices in the entire Province right now! Why fill up your machine elsewhere when we have the best trails and the lowest costs to fill your machine this winter! 90 Cents a litre sounds good to us.
Dust off those skis and snowshoes, and find your boots: winter is back. Forecasters say there should be plenty of snow to come, and one great place to take advantage of it is at a conservation area in the Bay of Quinte region.
Quinte Conservation owns and looks after over thirty of them here (each open from dawn til dusk) so you have some choice. A few are perfect for cross-country ski buffs while others are good for a slow snowshoe or a stroll through the woods. Most work for any fan of winter. To help navigate, here are five conservation areas you shouldn’t miss.
Quinte Conservation Area
Originally settled in 1815 and later turned into an orchard, this 346-acre property that runs north from the Bay of Quinte just east of Belleville is Quinte Conservation’s home base. Keep your eye out for remnants of the farm and the orchard as you hike, ski or snowshoe the conservation area’s six trails—Orchard Trail (2.3 km), Loyalist Loop (1.7 km), Wallbridge Loop (0.9 km) Creekside Trail Loop (0.8 km), Sumac Trail (0.3 km) and Pooch Path, a 0.6 km unleashed dog trail. By the time you read this, the new accessible trail that runs along the waterfront should be ready, too.
Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area
When I was a kid, this was the place to toboggan in the County for two reasons: the mountain’s 250-foot vertical drop and the wide path in the middle that made it safe enough to launch down it on a crazy carpet. I’m not in on the toboggan hotspots these days, but Macaulay Mountain has to be still up there. There are over twenty kilometres of skiing, snowshoeing and hiking trails here as well, each with its own set of hidden entrances, exits and side trails. For a bit of strange to round out your visit, head to birdhouse city at the bottom of the mountain to see about one hundred local buildings in bird size.
H.R. Frink Outdoor Education Centre and Conservation Area
This 341-acre property has about fourteen kilometres of trails and is located on the Moira River about 15 km north of Belleville. Named after Herbert Frink, a well-known local educator and conservationist, it’s been a hub for outdoor education programs since 1972. No trail is longer than a couple of clicks, and each is easy enough for anyone. My fave is the Drumlin Trail (1.9 km), where you’ll come across a sugar maple swamp (tapped every spring), pass through a deciduous forest, and come right up to the mighty Moira. Take the conservation area’s tree guide with you to learn more about the over twenty-five tree species you’ll come across.
Vanderwater Conservation Area
I learned to ski here, and I’m glad I did. Not only are the fifteen kilometres of trails diverse enough to suit rookies and veterans alike, but the environment makes you realize why most take up the sport. A steep ridge runs the length of the 635-acre property, offering up spectacular views of the land to the west and the mature cedar forests below. When the snow is deep and weighing down those cedars, it feels like a blanket was tossed over everything. Nearby, the Moira River cascades over limestone steps as it keeps flowing toward the Bay of Quinte.
O’Hara Mill Homestead and Conservation Area
This 85-acre conservation area and pioneer village puts you in the shoes of the O’Haras, one of the founding families of Madoc. Five of the family’s original buildings—the farmhouse, sawmill, carriage-house, shed and woodworking shop—remain in a restored condition. A few others, including two log cabins and a schoolhouse, have been relocated to the site. The buildings aren’t open in the winter, but you’re free to explore the grounds on the seven hiking trails that range from 0.1 to 2 kilometres long. ohara-mill.org
Stretching from Algonquin Park in the north to the Adirondacks in the south, the Frontenac Arch is a ridge of granite rock known as “The Bones of the Mother” in Mohawk tradition. A billion years ago, it was part of the largest chain of mountains in the world, and today you can still see remnants of those towering masses in the rugged cliffs that hug the region.
At the crossroads of it all is the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve (named so by UNESCO), a 2,700 square-kilometre area in the heart of The Great Waterway where five forest regions merge, lakes and wetlands dot the landscape, and the wildlife is, arguably, as diverse as anywhere else in the country. Bordered by Westport, Brockville, Gananoque and Sydenham, the biosphere is home to more than ten conservation areas, provincial parks and official trails open throughout the winter.
Read on for a breakdown of the winter trails at each and then head out with your boots, skis or snowshoes to get up close to this geological gem.
Charleston Lake Provincial Park
With a rocky lake, forest landscape and the highest peak in the county, Charleston Lake Provincial Park shows the arch at its most diverse. The park is closed for camping for the season but its seven trails are still open. Ranging from the easy 1.8 km loop known as the Beech Woods Trail that takes you through mature, mixed forest to the difficult 10 km Tallow Rock Bay that goes through meadows and rock barrens, there’s a trail here for everyone. friendsofcharlestonlakepark.com
Frontenac Provincial Park
At 70 square kilometres and encompassing 22 lakes, Frontenac is the largest provincial park in the region. Cross country skiers can explore the park on the Big Salmon Lake Road, an easy 3.5 km trail with gentle slopes and curves, or the Corridor Trail, a moderately difficult 4.5 km trail bordered by trees with several steep hills. Most snowshoers enjoy the moderate 3 km Doe Lake Loop and easy 1.5 km Arab Lake Gorge Loop. frontenacpark.ca
Murphys Point Provincial Park
Murphys Point is about 20 km south of Perth on Big Rideau Lake. The Tay Valley Cross-country Ski Club grooms and track sets 20 km of trails for skiing, including 4 km for skate-skiing, 14 km for classic skiing and 8 km for backcountry skiing. Two warm-up chalets are maintained. Suggested snowshoe routes are along the three other non-groomed hiking trails. ontarioparks.com/park/murphyspoint
Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area
Winter is the most popular season at this 394 hectare site that encompasses wetlands, fields, forests and, of course, Little Cataraqui Creek. There are 13 km of groomed cross-country ski trails here and even more for snowshoers. Equipment is available for rent at the Outdoor Centre, and they even offer cross-country ski lessons. crca.ca
Foley Mountain Conservation Area
Located atop a granite ridge overlooking Upper Rideau Lake and the picturesque village of Westport is Foley Mountain, one of the best spots for snowshoeing in the biosphere. There are seven trails of varying length and difficulty. “Some are flatter and others are more challenging with hills and rockier footing,” says Area Supervisor Rebecca Whitman. “There is a trail here for all levels of snowshoer.” rvca.ca
This 15 km trail, which you can hop on and off from at 6 different access points, is perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. It’s found within Kingston’s city limits and extends from Binnington Court Trailhead to Orser Road. You’ll pass through meadows, forests, rock cuts and wetlands. cityofkingston.ca
The Cataraqui Trail follows the former Canadian National Railway line from Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls — a distance of 104 km. Dotted with 48 access points, the trail gives hikers, skiers and snowshoers a diverse cross-section of the biosphere. This is also a popular trail for snowmobilers, so stay alert out there. cataraquitrail.ca
Passing through 387 km of terrain ranging from placid farmland to the rugged Canadian Shield, the Rideau Trail extends from Kingston in the south to Ottawa in the north. It is only intended for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Visit rideautrail.org for all of the access points. rideautrail.org
Jones Creek Trails
This 12-kilometre trail network ideal for cross-country skiing is found within the borders of the Thousand Islands National Park. There are nine different trails that range from 0.7 km to 3.9 km in length. You’ll be taken from pine ridges to birch lowlands and from creeks and wetlands to forests dramatically changed by beavers. pc.gc.ca
Triangle Ski Club
Located about 20 minutes from downtown Brockville, the Triangle Ski Club has 35 km of cross-country ski trails for beginners, intermediate and expert skiers. 17 kilometres of those trails are groomed. There are also three loops totalling 6 km in length for all ranges of snowshoer. Depending on the path you take, you’ll passing by lakes, wetlands, old pine forests and rocky crags. triangleskiclub.org