10 Must-Have Experiences in Ontario

Awaken your inner adventurer in Ontario, Canada, where sunken ships, swimming caribou, and 250,000 freshwater lakes await.

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Thousand Islands Region in Ontario.
Thousand Islands Region in Ontario.
Courtesy Destination Ontario

Ontario is Canada's most populous province, and yet, with vast wilderness areas and over a thousand waterways there’s plenty of room to roam—and unlimited opportunities for discovery. Whether you’re craving high-energy adventure, backcountry solitude or something in between, make Ontario the launchpad for your next great adventure.

Island Hop on the Saint Lawrence River

Unleash your inner explorer in southern Ontario’s Thousand Islands National Park. Located in the St. Lawrence River along the border with New York State, the park encompasses 20 of the region’s more than 1,800 granite islands and three mainland sites. Rent a kayak or join a guided tour to explore parts of the Thousand Islands Paddling Trail: a series of winding channels, sheltered bays, and open water routes taken by pirates and prohibition bootleggers. Camp under the stars on the islands or stay in a historic inn or bed and breakfast in Kingston. The charmingly hip shopping and cultural hub sits on the shores of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. While in Kingston, tour Fort Henry, part of Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Rideau Canal, and indulge in the booming foodie scene: more restaurants per capita than most other Canadian cities.

Ride the Rails to a Remote Canyon

Rumble 165 metres (500 feet) down into a remote canyon on a day-long rail-to-trail adventure. The Agawa Canyon Tour Train combines a 114-mile (each way) train ride from Sault Ste. Marie north to Agawa Canyon Park; jaw-dropping views of towering granite formations and cascading waterfalls; and a 90-minute stopover to explore on, around, and above the canyon floor. Dial up the adrenaline level by climbing the Lookout Trail: 372 steps and a gravel path up to bird’s-eye views of the canyon.

Explore the Agawa Canyon by train in summer and autumn to discover the area’s spectacular scenery.
Courtesy Destination Ontario

Paddle into the Wilds of Wabakimi

Escape to a road-free wilderness where life unfolds at nature’s pace. Stretching 2.3 million miles across northwestern Ontario, Wabakimi Provincial Park is an off-the-grid paradise rich in First Nations Culture, wildlife, and water—more than 1,200 canoe routes crisscross the park. Unplug and explore Wabakimi with Wilderness North, local specialists in paddling excursions rooted in First Nations’ traditions and Canadian canoe culture. Trip options range from rugged, self-guided canoe treks to guided tours complete with meals, activities, and cozy lodging.

Discover an Underwater Wonderland

Take a deep dive into Fathom Five National Marine Park to see what lies beneath the sparkling surface of Georgian Bay. Recognised as one of North America’s top freshwater dive destinations, the park boasts 22 well-preserved shipwrecks, as well as orchid-speckled islands, dolomite cliffs, and flowerpot-shaped rock pillars. Bring or rent diving or snorkeling gear for the best views of the sunken vessels and submerged geological formations. No swimming is required to see two 19th-century shipwrecks on the park’s glass-bottom boat or zodiac tour.

Scuba-lovers will enjoy the park’s submerged geological formations and 22 dive-able historic shipwrecks. Non-divers can see the shipwrecks from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat or zodiac.
Courtesy Destination Ontario

Experience Muskoka’s Legendary Lakes and Algonquin Provincial Park

Hit the pause button to relax and unplug in Muskoka, the heart of Ontario’s iconic 'cottage country'. Stretching from the more than 1,500 lakes of Algonquin Provincial Park in the east to the 30,000 islands of Georgian Bay Islands National Park in the west, Muskoka is brimming with opportunities to play on, in, and around water. Rent a boat or Sea Doo to zip across Muskoka Township’s biggest glacial lakes: Muskoka, Joseph, and Rosseau. Paddle a water trail. Explore unspoiled Georgian Bay by kayak, canoe, or SUP. Venture deep into rugged Algonquin Provincial Park—dazzlingly scenic in fall foliage season—on a self-guided or organised canoe expedition with Algonquin Outfitters. Follow the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery trail to view more than 90 mural replicas of iconic 20th-century Canadian paintings inspired by Muskoka and Algonquin Park.

Road Trip through Ontario’s Wine Country

Expand your wine horizons on a driving—and tasting—tour through Canada’s top wine-producing province. Ontario is home to more than 180 wineries, many of which offer tastings, tours, and other activities, such as vineyard walks and guided tours. Use Wine Country Ontario’s Wine Route Planner to chart a leisurely course through Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore, making stops at major operations, such as Inniskillin (try the cab franc icewine), and boutique vineyards like Stratus, the world’s first fully LEED-certified winery.

A vineyard in Ontario’s Wine Country.
Drive through the awe-inspiring beauty of Ontario’s Wine Country and sample wines for every taste.
Courtesy Destination Ontario

See Rare Caribou

Venture out to the Slate Islands, a rocky archipelago few tourists ever visit. Located about five miles off Lake Superior’s north shore, the Slates are home to Ontario’s largest concentration of woodland caribou—descendants of an early 1900s herd stranded due to thawing lake ice. Blissfully cut off from civilisation and predators, the deer freely roam and swim in peace. Paddle, camp, and hike among the caribou on a five-day sea kayaking trek with Naturally Superior Adventures.

Pilot Your Own River Canal Cruise

Channel your inner boat captain (no experience required) on a leisurely cruise down the historic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site and North America’s oldest operating canal system. Le Boat provides luxury houseboat rentals and instruction, and offers a variety of self-guided cruise itineraries departing from Smith Falls. Travel at your own pace, stopping to hike the Rideau Trail, birdwatch, fish, picnic, and visit Merrickville and other charming canal-side villages. The 10-night Nature Lovers Long Break cruises to Canada’s capital city Ottawa and back. On shorter trips, add a capital stopover before or after the cruise.

Take a 10-night boat cruise down the historic Rideau Canal.
Courtesy Destination Canada
Skating on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Ottawa, Ontario.
Photograph by Charrongolf, GETTY IMAGES

Explore the Canadian Canoe Route

Celebrate indigenous history on an epic paddling-and-driving trip along the Canadian Canoe Route in Ontario's Highlands. Madawaska Canoe Centre specialises in high-adventure and soft-adventure Canoe Route experiences. Earn a Canadian Canoe Route certificate on Madawaska’s five-day Toronto to Peterborough itinerary, which, depending on the options you choose, could include stops at the Canadian Canoe Museum and Aboriginal Experiences, paddling lessons, lodging and meals, and guided whitewater canoeing.

Enjoy a Car-Free Outdoor Getaway

Escape to Blue Mountain, Ontario’s largest mountain village resort and a one-stop destination for outdoor adventure. The resort puts a world of family fun—from big-thrill zip lining, free-fall jumping, and caving to more leisurely pursuits like golfing, wellness and spa services, and paddle boating—within walking or shuttle distance. Park the car, stay, and play in naturally cool outdoor spaces, such as 10-mile-long Wasaga Beach, the world’s largest freshwater beach; Ontario’s largest lift-accessed mountain bike park; and nearby sections of the 500-mile long Bruce Trail, the historic footpath providing access to the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Some of Ontario's best bike trails can be found in the northern part of the province. Waterways, rocky elevations and stunning scenery await.
Courtesy Destination Ontario, Goh Iromoto

Maryellen Kennedy Duckett is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.

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