Road trips and small towns are basically a match made in heaven.
This has certainly been the year for discovering things in your own backyard. We’ve all learned that escaping the city doesn’t necessarily mean extravagant weekends away. Small towns are full of intrigue, history, one-of-a-kind experiences, and some of the most beautiful views around – not to mention the friendly people. Get off the beaten path and discover that the biggest memories are sometimes made in the smallest places in South Eastern Ontario.
Please visit each location’s website, or connect with their staff via email and telephone, for updates on COVID-19 procedures and operations.
Sydenham is not only the home to Canada’s oldest general store, Trousdale’s, but also beauty at the unique stone beach: Sydenham Point. Nearby is the Limestone Organic Creamery, known for its organic milk in glass bottles and delicious ice cream. If you’re still hungry, the Sydenham Country Café cooks up tastes of home – with stone-baked pizza waiting for you. Sydenham is also near the intersection of the K&P Trail and the Cataraqui Trail. Look here for the Cataraqui Trail to cross a county road on an old iron trestle.
Verona has beauty around every bend along the back roads. Food Less Travelled is the place to enjoy a farm-to-table feast, where they source only local ingredients and raise their own animals and crops. Check out Nicoles Gifts, where you can find unique, hand-crafted items that are one-of-a-kind. From jewelry to decor and even nostalgic candy options, you won’t regret the visit. Paddle in at Depot Lakes Campground as it offers some of the best fishing in Eastern Ontario. With 20 interior sites sprinkled along the shoreline, as well as on a few of the tiny islands of Second Depot Lake, access to the sites is only available by boat, canoe or kayak.
Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory
Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, part of the Mohawk Nation, is a healthy, sustainable Kanyen’kehà:ka community, built on and united by language, culture, traditions, knowledge, and history. Venture down a quiet county road to the Chapel Royal of the Mohawks. This National Historic Site is one of only six Royal chapels outside of the United Kingdom and one of two in Canada. Look here also for a plaque commemorating Dr. Oronhyatekha’s (Burning Sky) grave – according to Bay of Quinte Tourism, he was one of the first Indigenous doctors in Canada and the first-known Aboriginal Oxford scholar.
Discover creations from local First Nations makers at places like Native Renaissance 2, Martin’s Beads & Craft Supplies, and Millside Ceramics. These stores sell art and gifts that pay homage to First Nations culture. After, stop at The Gallery Cafe for traditional fare like corn soup and cornbread, or the fan-favourite daily quiches.
Explore Ontario’s largest known cavern at the Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves. Get a close-up view of fossils that date back to 450 million years ago and toss a coin to make a wish in the crystal clear waters of the wishing well! Explore this treasure literally in your backyard! This is a safe, accessible, and eco-friendly experience for the whole family. After seeing the caves, tour the back roads and discover artists and galleries dotting the landscape. A treasure trove of one-of-a-kind creations!
Pop downtown this summer and explore shops, patios, maker spaces, and the vibrancy of community only found in the heart of a small town! The Grind and Vine serve up a little something to get you day started, or the perfect way to wind down at the end of a long day. This coffee house and wine bar is the perfect spot to meet up with friends in a curated but inclusive social environment. Next, stop into Wild Card Brewing Co, a small craft brewery that produces an eclectic mix of beer styles. Whether it’s patio beers or creating new hard seltzer concoctions, Wild Card Brewing ensures there’s never a dull moment. Treat yourself to something sweet at Wannamaker’s Bakeshop. Somewhere between hearing about the peanut butter cream donuts, oreo mint cheesecakes and glazed doughnuts stuffed with ice cream – we grabbed the car keys and started driving towards this mecca for sweet tooths!
If you could bottle up cute and fun, The County Emporium would be it with a stopper on top! This boutique general store smashes notions of what a store can accomplish. There’s even a licensed patio for yummy drinks after shopping (or before… we don’t judge). Once you’re done perusing at the Emporium, head over to Hoss’ Diner for fast, casual dining with a 1950s vibe. They just added quesadillas to the menu and they’re getting rave reviews! Why not work off your lunch and hit up the Millenium Trail next? Stretching from Carrying Place to Picton and backing onto farmer’s fields and vineyards, it’s a great way to experience the tranquility of ‘The County.’
Here’s the scoop: the ice cream at What’s Your Scoop is a local favourite! Choose from more than 20 different flavours of Kawartha Dairy ice cream and enjoy it on its own, as a milkshake, float or go old school and order a banana split! What’s Your Scoop is a gem in a rustic rural setting – and we hear they give generous portions, too. A little further down the road, berries are the name of the game at Brambleberry Farm, where they’re known for growing strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants and vegetables. You-pick and pre-picked options are available. Want to see something dreamy? Think three acres of specialty cut flowers. That’s what’s growing at Dahlia May Flower Farm.
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Spend the day in Merrickville, where charm, history, and creativity are melded into one along the Rideau Canal. The result is one of the most memorable villages you’ll ever explore! Make a day of it and start by walking a trail that loops through natural and historical surroundings – spy osprey, painted turtles, and even a 100-year-old cedar forest! Get mouth-watering takeout from one of the unique restaurants or food trucks in the village then spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic at the beach along the Rideau Canal or sit in the Blockhouse Park Gazebo to take in more nature. After lunch, push off in a kayak or canoe and experience locking through an internationally recognized World Heritage Site. Take a walking tour of the Merrickville Lock Station to learn more about the fascinating history. Finish the day with some shopping and visiting historic houses in the village with the historical society’s self-guided walking tour.
If you’re looking for a memorable shopping experience look no further than retail therapy in Westport. The historic waterway is the stunning backdrop to shops that cater to every whim – think antiques, beautiful artist studios, clever high-end culinary stores, one-of-a-kind home décor, and book nooks. Trendy boutiques in places like Westport mix effortlessly with historic artsy downtowns all with a trademark welcoming vibe. How many villages do you know of that have a brewery and a winery? Stopover at Westport Brewing Co and Scheuermann Vineyard and Winery and soak up summertime on their patios. Foley Mountain Conservation Area is a nature-lover’s paradise. With an amazing lookout high above the village, trails with remarkable wildlife, and even a beach.
Take a selfie with a donkey! Berry Homestead Farm is the place to dive deeper into donkey care and learn about these amazing creatures, brush them, and how to give donkey hugs (d’awh.) If you’re feeling peckish, drive over to Wendy’s Country Market, the epitome of local living. Savour the cheese made just down the road, meats, fresh produce, dairy and baked goods – it’s pretty much the ultimate place to create a legendary picnic. Cool off at Kendrick’s Park, relax on the sandy beach, wade into the lake and listen to the loons or find a shady spot under the trees and read away the afternoon overlooking the water. Could life get any sweeter?
The small but mighty Rockport offers a beautiful view from atop a large cliff overlooking St. Lawrence, accessible from the church parking lot adjacent to the village entrance. Rockport Cruises offers guests a stunning cruise along the St. Lawrence River and around Boldt Castle on Heart Island. The perfect spot for summer dining, Cornwall’s Pub, has stunning water views from the patio and even has a Tiki Bar. The 1000 Islands Tower on Hill Island is right around the bend and offers breathtaking, panoramic aerial views of the fabled 1000 Islands with a remarkably quick elevator ride. Three observation decks here provide a unique perspective on the St. Lawrence River and the 1000 Islands stretched out below.
Plan ahead! Please visit each location’s website, or connect with their staff via email and telephone, for updates on COVID-19 procedures and operations.
Can you say taste tour in a glass? BUSL Cider is a family-owned craft cidery in Mallorytown producing apple ciders with unique flavours. The 280 acres property is home to an apple orchard, lavender, haskap and more! The BUSL production barn is open to visitors with an intimate boutique to experience the ciders first-hand. Enjoy the sweeping views of their orchard while you savour a beverage on the terrace. Ask about the cider slushies!
After, hit the Jones Creek Trails at Thousand Islands National Park to escape the daily grind in a sanctuary of scenic lookouts, rugged rock faces and tall stands of pine. This is the quintessentially Canadian way to stretch your legs – trails vary in difficulty from an easy 20-minute walk to a two-hour hike. Stay along the shores of the St. Lawrence River in an elevated camping experience with waterfront oTENTik camping. A cross between a tent and a rustic cabin, Parks Canada oTENTiks are a relaxing, easy way to experience camping.
Explore the wreck of an 1812-era gunboat, or take part in military drill, witness a cannon firing, savour period treats cooked over an open fire, or play games from long ago! Fort Wellington in Prescott was first built during the War of 1812 to defend the St. Lawrence River shipping route from attack by the United States, also helping to thwart another American invasion during the 1837-38 Upper and Lower Canada rebellions. Experience Prescott’s pubs beckon! Indulge in dinner at O’Heaphy’s or the Red George Pub followed by a romantic, moonlit stroll along Prescott’s RiverWalk Park. If daytime is your thing, enjoy a lunch date at Katarina’s outdoor patio followed by a picturesque walk along the river to discover spring blooms in Shakespeare’s Gardens, which is part of the 1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Garden Trail.
Touring Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg is a magical experience, transporting you back in time to the 1860s. The experience is made complete by authentic buildings that make up the village, the activities that each housed, and of course, the people who lived there who are dressed in full costume. Make sure to bring your binoculars, too, because further down the road, the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary is wild – literally. Immerse yourself in 9,000 hectares of wildlife habitat and be rewarded with seeing diverse bird species in one place. The sanctuary offers self-guided hiking trails and nature awareness programs; see how many of the 150 bird species you can spot! Don’t forget to keep a keen eye out along the back roads here for something else too – antique shops which are a treasure trove of vintage finds!
If your crew likes sun, food, and the St. Lawrence river, then this is the road trip for you. Start the day at the Dentz Orchards and Berry Farm in Iroquois, partaking in the traditional summer rite of passage: picking strawberries in the field. Or, visit the farm stand to snag some other tasty field-grown produce like snap peas. Next, travel just up the road to the Upper Canada Creamery for an ice cream reward, squeaky curd or delicious yogurt all made on-site at this certified organic farm. With full bellies, head over to the sandy and picturesque Iroquois Beach along the St. Lawrence River to dip your toes or dive right in! Spend the afternoon relaxing along the waterfront at this family favourite beach. Head up to Iroquois Lock in South Dundas next, to see enormous tankers and ships passing through a St. Lawrence Seaway lock right before your eyes! Iroquois Point is a popular spot every summer with visitors marvelling at the massive lock.
Get back to nature at the Cass Bridge Conservation Area near Winchester. Launch your boat to explore South Nation River, go fishing, geocaching, play at the playground or check out the observation area and floating dock. Enjoy the tranquility. Better yet, grab a bite to eat from the nearby Copper Penny Food Truck and stretch out a blanket under the trees. We hear the loaded poutine at Copper Penny even has bacon and cheese sauce! Once you’re full and relaxed, head over to Rideau Auctions in SDG Counties to check out the huge outlet store with impressive prices. Look for housewares, lighting, electronics, jewellery and lots more. Look in downtown Winchester for a vibrant arts scene and for more boutique shopping, too! End the day with a visit to Smokie Ridge Vineyards down the road in Mountain. It’s a family owned and operated vineyard with more than 10,000 vines of hybrid “cold world” grapes. Go for a vineyard tour, wine tasting and food pairing! They sometimes pair yoga and wine here, too. Sign us up!
Head to Alexandria for the day with the family in tow! Alexandria Island Park is a great spot to while away a summer afternoon – with a beach, splashpad, play structures, and picnic areas and a nice place in the middle for parents to watch their kids of all ages. Next to Island Park, there’s also a skatepark touted as a massive state of the art park loved by North Glengarry’s youth. Be sure to see St. Finnan’s Cathedral with one of the most unique front facades around. Ever wanted to try glass blowing? Priest’s Mill Art Centre in Alexandria provides exhibition space, support and promotion for all visual, literary and performing arts by regional artists. Most recently, glass blowing classes were back in session and proving popular! A short drive away is the intriguing St. Raphael’s Ruins National Historic Site, the remains of one of the earliest Roman Catholic churches in English-speaking Canada. It was consumed by fire in 1970, but the outer walls were spared and its impressive scale and fine masonry work continues to attract the tourists to the site. While out touring the back roads, learn more about this historic area. Embrace rural and explore with the Glengarry Historical Driving Tour new for this year! This annual tour is going digital for 2021, and a ticket will get you a map and an audio file which you can listen to at your own pace from the comfort of your car. Local historians tell about seven sites like the Glengarry Pioneer Museum, Walking Tour of Historic Alexandria, the Peanut Line and more.
Did you know that Napanee is one of only two places in the world that experiences “seiche”? That’s when tidal changes of anywhere from six to 16 inches occur due to winds that blow southwest along Lake Ontario. Take the day and tour through small-town L&A County to discover more unique trivia that you can impress your co-workers with the next time you’re meeting on zoom! Start at Napanee’s Springside Park Trail and Falls to watch wildlife along an accessible path, the gently cascading waterfall, and trains passing along the trestle bridge.
If you need a boost, head over to Coffee Cravings for every indulgence from iced lattes to butter tarts and from lavender lemonade to summer fruit smoothies! The Loaf n’ Ale is a fun and festive British Pub with daily specials, drinks, and a tasty menu. This British-style pub in Napanee is known for its spirited and hearty welcome! Next up is a historic limestone building on the river that was brought back from being abandoned and underwent a complete renovation to now house up to 150 people. The Waterfront River Pub & Terrace is serving up delicious traditional Canadian pub comfort food. The best part: you can arrive by boat and dock right at the restaurant when you come to share a meal!
Bath is an endearing community with lots to discover. Start your day the small-town way: with coffee and community. They come together seamlessly at The Lodge Coffee House. From the yellow polka dots outside to the artisan café offerings inside, The Lodge is a local favourite. Serving espresso-based drinks, specialty teas, smoothies, scratch-baked goods and even hand-crafted sandwiches. Hop on over to Lakeside Studio Gallery where browsing new and exciting art is an experience. Lakeside specializes in emerging artists working nearby – and on-site. Culture continues at Books on Main, an independent, locally-owned bookstore in Bath’s historic downtown. Offering new books, bargain reads, board, and card games, and even local artisan products. When all the reading has made you peckish, head down to J&Ps Family Restaurant which is a local institution. It’s the longest-running restaurant in downtown Bath – for a reason! Serving up signature dishes and classic food, J&Ps is a little bit of comfort on a plate. Feeling thirsty? Quench your thirst and satisfy your need to get back to the land. MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company beers are brewed with ingredients grown right on the bicentennial family farm. Old Style Barbecue is obsessed with serving the best barbecue… ever. Look for them at Mackinnon Brothers Brewing Company this summer! Come see why the MacKinnon Brothers have won the hearts of craft brew lovers near and far!
Discover all the nooks and crannies of Tamworth. Devon Cafe & Five Corners Craft embodies small country prices with big city choice! The food at the Devon Café & Five Corners Craft in Tamworth is fresh and flavourful – made in the kitchen on-site and never frozen. The delicious food coupled with a one-of-a-kind shop, that features a large variety of clothing and giftware including Birkenstock, an extensive collection of pashminas, seasonal giftware, and decorations. Take that small-town charm to the next level and explore the Book Shop in Tamworth. Picture it: two floors of high-quality second-hand books in a Victorian coach house. Insert a contented sigh here! Thumb through everything from local history books to cookbooks to Can lit and mysteries.
Be sure to work in a visit to the Black Cat Café which started its nine lives as the Old Tamworth Hotel. Here visitors can find exceptional design details inside and out while enjoying specialty coffees, teas, treats, and legendary pizza on the patio! After a rest, seek solitude in the rugged terrain and natural beauty of Puzzle Lake Provincial Park. You can feel this place is special the minute you step out of the car. The peacefulness of wandering through the park is rejuvenating. At a whopping 9,000 acres, this unmarked area supports 16 rare species – the highest known number found in eastern and central Ontario.
Amherst Island is one of those places where you immediately feel like you belong. So, don’t be surprised if your back road tour on the island has you looking up real estate before you leave! It’s a slower-paced island feel here and Topsy Farms is no exception. This Canadian family farm specializes in connecting with the land. Topsy Farms on Amherst Island makes and sells 100% pure wool blankets, bedding, sheepskin products, as well as unique farm experiences in abundance! Be sure to ask about their authentic yurt stays and check out the Wool Shed.
Rent a bicycle from Amherst Islands Bicycle Rentals to get you around the island with ease. Cycling on the island is dreamy with water views abundant, and miles of beach to explore at Sand Beach Wetlands Conservation Area on the southwest end of the Island. With lots of galleries here, too, pedal power becomes the ultimate way to personally discover nature and creativity on Amherst Island.
Back roads are the best roads for unique discoveries. Head out for fun and big adventure in small towns across South Eastern Ontario!