Whether you crave outdoor adventures or lively festivals, the village vibes of Québec City or the tranquility of the Great Lakes, this pocket of Canada has you covered:
Eastern Ontario: Dive in
Water, water, everywhere—that’s what you’ll find in Eastern Ontario, from the Kawartha Lakes around the city of Peterborough to the massive Lake Ontario, which borders bustling Toronto as well as the Prince Edward County wine region (which you can start exploring here!)
With some of the best beaches on Lake Ontario, lakefront Sandbanks Provincial Park is known for its giant sand dunes. The longest of the park’s beaches is Sandbanks Beach, which extends along Lake Ontario for nearly 11 kilometers (7 miles). Hike along the 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) Dunes Trail. Outlet Beach, on a sliver of land between Lake Ontario and East Lake, is popular with families; it’s a good spot to swim. Also check out Dunes Beach on West Lake, where the water is warmer than in Lake Ontario. The Outlet River is a good spot for canoeing. You can rent canoes at the Woodyard (mid-June-early Sept.), adjacent to the river.
Niagara: Yoga, wine, theater, and more wine
Want to work on your downward dog beside the rush of the waterfall? On several summer Sunday mornings Niagara Parks offers Namaste Niagara, a 45-minute yoga session on the lower deck at Journey Behind the Falls.
But there’s more to Niagara than just the falls. Here in Ontario’s major wine-producing region, you can sip new vintages or sample local produce, while the well-preserved town of Niagara-on-the-Lake stages the Shaw Festival, one of North America’s premier summer theater festivals.
The Niagara region’s wineries kick off the summer tasting season at the Niagara Homegrown Wine Festival (June) with two weekends of food and wine events. Every Wednesday in summer, more than 20 local food trucks, craft brewers, and winemakers join forces for The Supper Market (mid-May-mid-Sept.), a festive alfresco food fair that feels like a community party. There’s live music, too.
On a hot summer afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the sign for “ice wine slushies” may lure you down the lane to The Ice House, a small producer of ice wine. They make several varieties: white vidal, riesling, and a more unusual cabernet sauvignon. Sample them in their tasting room as you learn more about how ice wine is made.
Check out Niagara Parks for more inspiration.
Cottage Country, Algonquin Park, and the Northeast: Canoeing, eh?
Getting away to “the cottage” is a long-standing Ontario summer tradition, and even without a cottage of your own, you can escape to this lake district. Cottage Country and Northeastern Ontario are prime canoe trip destinations, with an extensive network of lakes. The highlight is Algonquin Provincial Park, one of the province’s largest protected green spaces, and it’s also one of the province’s best destinations for canoeing. Paddle on the numerous lakes and rivers or take a multi-day trip across the backcountry.
Plan your trip to Algonquin with these helpful tips from Ontario Parks.
Toronto: The ultimate culture trip
Canada’s most populous city is buzzing with activities in the summer. On Centre Island, the Boat House rents canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats for a taste of the outdoors in the big city.
Head to Summer Music in the Garden for a series of free one-hour classical and world music concerts. Theater fans shouldn’t miss the Canadian Stage in High Park (late June-early Sept.), a pay-what-you-can outdoor production (don’t forget to bring a picnic!).
Though it may not be as well-known as the similarly named South by Southwest festival in Austin, Toronto’s North by Northeast Music Festival (June) presents Canadian and international new and indie music, as well as avant-garde film and digital media.
One of the world’s largest LGBTQ pride celebrations, Toronto Pride Month (June) features marches, parades, and entertainment as well as a street fair and family activities. The annual Pride Parade is a highlight.
But wait, there’s more: Jazz aficionados converge for the annual Toronto Jazz Fest (June-July), featuring more than 350 performances at locations around the city. The Beaches neighborhood gets into the jazz act, too, with the long-running, free Beaches Jazz Fest (July). The Toronto Caribbean Carnival (July-Aug.) is a monthlong celebration of all things Caribbean, with music, dance, street parties, food, and a whopper of a parade. Toronto’s Greek community welcomes visitors to Danforth Avenue during the annual Taste of the Danforth (Aug.), a weekend of food, music, and kids’ activities.
Head to Tourism Toronto for dates and more information.
Georgian Bay: Embark on an epic hike
Spectacular scenery surrounds Georgian Bay, where more than 30,000 islands dot the waters. Besides three national parks and several beautifully remote provincial parks, you’ll find dramatic rock formations, Caribbean-blue water, and a network of lighthouses standing guard along the coast. On Manitoulin Island, the Great Spirit Circle Trail offers ways for visitors to experience First Nations culture.
Ontario’s Bruce Trail, an 845-kilometer (525-mile) route that extends from the Niagara region to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, is one of Canada’s most iconic outdoor experiences. How long does it take to complete the whole trail? If you hiked eight hours a day, covering about 30 kilometers (19 miles), it would take you roughly a month to hike end to end. However, far more end-to-end hikers complete the trail in a series of shorter excursions in two-day, three-day, or weeklong increments over several months or years.
Lake Huron: If you like long walks on the beach…
Lake Huron is famous for its sunsets. During the day, the blue lake and its beaches are equally compelling, since Huron is lined with lovely stretches of sand.
One of the most beautiful beaches along Lake Huron is just south of Grand Bend. At the Pinery Provincial Park, the 10-kilometer (six-mile) powdery sand beach, backed by the undulating dunes topped with waving grasses, feels like it goes on forever. While the beach is wildly popular in summer, the day-use area is divided into nine sections, so you can explore till you find a spot to lay your towel.
Ottawa: Canada’s biggest party
Summer brings a number of events to town, including the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival (June-July), RBC Bluesfest (July), and Ottawa Chamberfest (July-Aug). Ottawa’s Greek community welcomes visitors to join in GreekFest (Aug.), a 10-day party of music, dancing, and, of course, food. Culminating in a huge Pride Parade and outdoor concert, Ottawa Capital Pride (Aug.) has been celebrating Ottawa’s LGBTQ community since 1986.
But definitely save space on your calendar for what’s been called “Canada’s biggest party”—the annual Canada Day Celebrations (July 1) in Confederation Park, which include tons of free activities from official ceremonies to street performers to concerts. The nighttime fireworks show is a highlight.
Lake Superior: The great Canadian outdoors
Craving an eco-adventure? Head north to Lake Superior. Hiking trails crisscross rocky cliffs, while spectacular beaches line Lake Superior’s shores, and you can canoe, kayak, or sail to remote inlets and islands.
One of Ontario’s most beautiful outdoor destinations, Lake Superior Provincial Park stretches 115 kilometers (72 miles) along Lake Superior’s eastern shore. As you sit on a sandy beach or scramble up the rocky cliffs, you could be forgiven for thinking you were actually at the ocean, as surf crashes onto the rocks and the steely blue-gray water disappears into the horizon, with no land in sight. The Lake Superior region famously inspired the Group of Seven landscape painters in the early 1900s. Find your own inspiration with the Art in the Park programs, which might include painting or printmaking workshops. Throughout the summer, park staff offer guided hikes, kids’ programs, evening presentations, and other activities.
From Thunder Bay, you can set out on all manner of outdoor adventures. Three provincial parks—Sleeping Giant, Ouimet Canyon, and Kakabeka Falls—are within an hour’s drive of the city, and opportunities for hiking, kayaking, sailing, and other sports abound.
Heading to the east side of Lake Superior? Check out Sault Ste. Marie.
Québec City: Fête-hopping
Festival d’Été de Québec (Québec Summer Festival) is one 12-day-long concert. With hundreds of shows—some of them free—happening during the beginning of July, this event feels like a nonstop party. The biggest outdoor shows take place on the Plains of Abraham and in the past have featured musical acts such as Metallica, Arcade Fire, and Paul McCartney (early to mid-July).
Other summer festivals you won’t want to miss include Festival ComediHa! Québec, the International Pow Wow of Wendake (celebrating indigenous cultures), Festibière (for beer-lovers), Bordeaux Fête le Vin (for wine-lovers), and Fête Arcen-Ciel de Québec—literally “Rainbow Celebration”—Québec’s three-day gay pride fest.
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