Because of its close proximity to large urban centres such as Toronto, Kingston, North Bay and Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Cottage Country destinations require less driving and feature some impressive day trip locations. Even though this part of Ontario is heavily populated, major expressways leading to winding backcountry roads allow explorers to quickly get away from the crowds and discover some exceptional natural attractions, and those choosing to stick closer to the major cities will still find some interesting gems. Here are a few of our favorite Eastern Ontario and Cottage Country destinations.
Barron Canyon (Map 92/E3)
Located on the eastern side of Algonquin Park, Barron Canyon is considered one of Algonquin Park’s most spectacular sights. The canyon was formed 10,000 years ago as raging water from melting glaciers made its way to the Champlain Sea. Today, the Barron River gently courses through the impressive canyon. A 1.5 km long interpretative trail passes through pine forest to the rim of the spectacular 100 metre (330 ft) deep canyon. Canoeists also frequent the waterway. If you have opportunity to do both, it is possible to hike the trail in the morning and paddle the river in the afternoon. Day visitors can rent a canoe from Algonquin Bound, who have a location close by.
Bracebridge Waterfalls (Maps 35, 36, 50, 51)
There are 22 waterfalls around the Bracebridge area. Rather than pick and choose between the falls, we recommend getting a copy of the Waterfalls of Bracebridge map (available at tourismbracebridge.com) and spend the day visiting a few of them. Bracebridge Falls and High Falls are both located within Bracebridge, but many are found right along roads in the surrounding area, making them easy to visit.
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Bonnechere Caves (Map 75/D3)
The Bonnechere Caves are a series of underground caves that were carved into the limestone thousands of years ago by the rushing water of the Bonnechere River. Interesting geological features include stalactites along with coral and sea fossils that are remnants of pre-dinosaur life forms, with the theory being that the caves were once the bottom of a tropical sea over 500 million of years ago. Guided tours are required to explore the caves for a nominal fee from the beginning of May until October. The impressive fourth chute and picnic facilities are also found here. Visit bonnecherecaves.com for more information on the caves, found on Fourth Chute Road in Eganville.
Canadian Canoe Museum (Map 13/G1)
There is nothing more Canadian than the canoe and the Canadian Canoe Museum was started with the canoe collection of late Professor Kirk Wipper. Located in Peterborough, it now has over 600 boats with over 100 on display at any one time. The collection includes dugouts from the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, birch bark canoes, kayaks and many wood and canvas canoes manufactured by the giants in their heyday, including Peterborough, Chestnut, Lakefield and more. The museum is located at 910 Monaghan Road in Peterborough. Visit their website, canoemuseum.ca, for details on opening times, exhibits and more.
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Craft Beer Brewers
As the popularity of craft beer continues to grow, more and more small micro-breweries are popping up throughout Cottage Country. If you are in the Durham region, check out Old Flame in Port Perry or Little Beasts in Whitby. In the Ottawa Valley, favorites include Whitewater Brewing in Foresters Falls and Cartwright Springs near Pakenham. Many local establishments carry regional favorites giving visitors the opportunity to try a pint or two.
Old Flame in Port Perry
Located about 10 km east of Bancroft, Egan Chutes is a non-operating Ontario Provincial Park, meaning it is free to visit. Signage is pretty much non-existent so watch for the bridge over the York River and follow the road in immediately on the north-west side of the bridge. The impressive and wild falls drop in stages and then flow through a short gorge. There are no fences to keep people back so there are plenty of spots to get close to the falls but use caution, the water is both fast and powerful.
Gilles Grove Nature Reserve (Map 77/D5)
Gilles Grove is one of the last old growth pine forests in Ontario. Kept completely natural by the Gilles Lumber family, numerous trails crisscross the reserve where you will find Sugar Maple, Yellow Birch, American Beech, Eastern Hemlock and Basswood. However, the claim to fame here is the tallest tree in Ontario. This mighty Eastern white pine tree stands 47 metres (154 ft) high. The 22 ha (56 ac) property, located in Arnprior, was purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2001 and continues to be allowed to grow and die the way nature intended. Once finished exploring the grove, plan a visit to Wes’ Chips, an Ottawa Valley institution located on Madawaska Boulevard.
Hell Holes Caves (Map 28/F6)
A 3.2 km (2 mi) meandering hiking trail allows visitors to this park to discover some of the unique natural and geological features of the area that once served as an ancient pathway of the Salmon River. The park takes its name from a deep hole that was carved out of the rock and resembles a small cavern. In addition, after climbing a ladder down into the underground to investigate the cave, a natural stone bridge and notable vegetation can also be explored. The park is situated east of Centreville.
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Oxtongue River-Ragged Falls Provincial Park (Map 70/B7)
A great destination in itself, most visitors to Algonquin Park miss this small park just outside the west park boundary. However, the impressive Ragged Falls are well worth seeing, especially during the early spring runoff. The power and force of these falls can be seen up close from the base of the falls or the top. There are a number of large rocks right at the top of the falls that sure footed visitors can walk out on to get a close up view.
Petroglyphs Provincial Park (Map 25/E2)
The Learning Place at Petroglyphs Provincial Park was built to communicate to visitors the spiritual significance that the Teaching Rocks had to the First Nations people of this region. The centre features information panels, paintings and videos. Of course, once people have visited the Learning Place, most continue on to see the Petroglyphs themselves, which are now housed in a protective, temperature-controlled building. The park also offers over 17 km (10.6 mi) of hiking trails. Access to the park is on Northey’s Bay Road near Woodview.
This is just a small sampling of the attractions Eastern Ontario and Cottage Country offers. Road trips are also a great option with routes throughout Muskoka, especially beautiful in the fall, and the well-known Highway 511 drive, a scenic winding route between Calabogie and Perth through Lanark County, all leading to interesting destinations. Pick up our Cottage Country Ontario Backroad Mapbook, Ontario GPS Maps or Algonquin Provincial Park Waterproof Map and begin your adventure.
These are just a few of the many Backroad Adventures spread throughout Ontario. Did we miss your favourite POI? Let us know. Our Cottage Country Ontario Backroad Mapbook, Ontario GPS Maps and Algonquin Provincial Park Waterproof Map are excellent resources for exploring this area of Ontario.