A road trip guide to making the most of Ontario’s fall colors

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Fall is a wonderful time for road trips in Ontario. Here’s how to get the most out of it

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Summer is beautiful and all, but when it comes to road trips in Ontario, fall is here. The crisp air and changing colors of the leaves make the many great pastimes our province has to offer even more enjoyable, from exploring local food and wine to enjoying outdoor activities. air like hiking and bird watching, or even just taking a long drive with a seasonal latte warming your hands.

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Here are some of our top tips for making the most of this glorious time of year.

When to see peak fall colors

The precise timing of fall colors changes every year based on weather conditions throughout the summer and fall months. This year, leaves are already peaking in the central part of the province, while southern areas will peak closer to mid to late October. To get an idea of ​​the conditions in an area you might like to visit, check out the Ontario Parks Fall Color Map, which is updated weekly with the color and leaf fall status for parks in Ontario. Province. Even if your travel plans don’t involve a provincial park, this map will help you get a feel for what’s going on in your area of ​​interest.

The best places to visit in autumn

The cardinal points below are based on the Greater Toronto Area, but of course these are great places to visit from any direction.

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Head south for waterfalls and wine.

Panoramic photo of a waterfall in Hamilton, Ontario, part of the Niagara Escarpment.
Panoramic photo of a waterfall in Hamilton, Ontario, part of the Niagara Escarpment. Getty photo

Hamilton is home to over 150 waterfalls, which creates two opportunities: visit the most popular for the best fall views – they’re popular for good reason, as they tend to be the most scenic – or dig a bit and pick one darker place that could be less crowded. The most popular viewpoints are in the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area, where you’ll find Webster Falls, Tew Falls, and the Dundas Peak Lookout. Advance reservations are required.

From there, continue south into the wine region. With nearly 100 wineries between Beamsville Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake and surrounding areas, the spectacular beauty of this region in the fall is no secret. But instead of turning back on the QEW to get there from Hamilton, instead take Ridge Road, which follows the top of the Niagara Escarpment from Stoney Creek south of Grimsby. A walk along the Niagara Parkway from Fort George to Niagara-on-the-Lake in the south to Niagara Falls is also worth skipping some wine tastings. (The wine is wonderful, but please don’t drink or drive.)

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Head east for waterfront views… and more wine.

Prince Edward County - These sandy hills in Sandbanks Provincial Park in the West Lake area.  Its sandy hills make the park a popular destination
Prince Edward County – These sandy hills in Sandbanks Provincial Park in the West Lake area. Its sandy hills make the park a popular destination Photo by Phil Norton /The Gazette

Speaking of wine country, Prince Edward County is no secret either. But if you want to make it a fall weekend, find a designated driver so you can take a wine tour at PEC on Saturday, then continue east on Sunday. The Thousand Islands Parkway joins directly with the 401 and provides access to the mainland areas of the Thousand Islands National Park, which are full of magnificent hiking trails. Check out the Lookout Trail at Landon Bay for breathtaking views of the river and islands. Consider returning after dark to stop at Fort Henry in Kingston, which is hosting its Pumpkinferno Walking Halloween Experience for the first time this year. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

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Head west for apples, cheese and butterflies.

Melissa Muscedere, of Muscedere Vineyards and President of the Essex Pelee Island Coast Vineyard Association, serves a wine sample at the launch of the EPIC Tasting Pass at Devonshire Mall on Friday June 21, 2019. (DAX MELMER / Windsor Star)
Melissa Muscedere, of Muscedere Vineyards and President of the Essex Pelee Island Coast Vineyard Association, serves a wine sample at the launch of the EPIC Tasting Pass at Devonshire Mall on Friday June 21, 2019. (DAX MELMER / Windsor Star) Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

If food is more your speed, you’ll want to head west to County Oxford and the Cheese Trail, where you can spend an afternoon enjoying cheddars, goudas, fresh curds and more. made in Ontario. Along the way there are half a dozen apple orchards to pick yourself, so this is the perfect opportunity to make a day to stock up on fall delights while enjoying the beautiful colors. Rattlesnake Point and Kelso Conservation Areas lie just west of Milton and make excellent stopping points for nature walks and back roads along the route.

If you’re ready to venture a little further – and yes, I’m talking wine again – Ontario has a third wine region to explore on the north shore of Lake Erie west of Leamington (now sometimes referred to as EPIC or Essex Pelee Island Coast). This region is also home to Canada’s southernmost point, Point Pelee National Park, which means the leaves are reliably turning a little later than elsewhere in the province, making it an ideal destination. if you’re a little late. Point Pelee is particularly spectacular for birding and monarch watching, as they use it as a staging point before migrating south across Lake Erie. On the right day, you may see hundreds or even thousands of butterflies hanging from the trees near the tip. County Road 20 from Leamington to Windsor, with a detour to County Road 50, is the most scenic driving route in this region.

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Head north for the best driving.

Classic VW Beetle following Highway 60 through Algonquin Park on the Maple Mille rally.
Classic VW Beetle following Highway 60 through Algonquin Park on the Maple Mille rally. Photo by Elliot Alder

If you’d rather see the colors while still being comfortable in your car, you’ll want to head north. Highway 60 through Algonquin Park is one of the best-known fall roads in the province. Whether this is your tradition or you just want to experience it for the first time, it is important to note that access to this route has been changed for 2021, including the requirement to purchase a vehicle permit in advance. Ontario Parks has put together a guide for fall visitors to Algonquin Park, including great tips on how to access the park from less busy gates to avoid traffic jams, which you can find here.

If Algonquin is further than you would like, Muskoka has some great roads too. Muskoka Road 17 between Gravenhurst and Bracebridge has some sections that are covered like an awning, and there is a park in between where you can stop to take in the view of Lake Muskoka. Or try Muskoka Road 13, a wonderfully dynamic section of road that provides access to Torrance Barrens, a Crown Land and Dark Sky Preserve. Muskoka Tourism offers many other suggestions here.

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Closer to the GTA, just to the northwest, you’ll find three hugely popular fall hiking spots. Forks of the Credit Provincial Park has some great hiking trails, and Forks of the Credit Road is one of the area’s best-known roads. (Note that there are speed bumps and this is a residential area; please respect the locals.) Further north, just past Orangeville, Hockley Road crosses the Hockley Valley, which you can walk its entire length from Hwy 10 to Hwy 50, then go back for more beautiful hike at Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. Cheltenham Badlands is a geological wonder and has a short trail and part of the Bruce Trail on site. All of these parks are well worth a visit in the fall, but they are popular and require advance purchase of time-guaranteed access permits, so be sure to plan ahead.

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