Toronto is a great city to live in. It’s also surrounded by beautiful countryside and smaller cities and towns with tons of seasonal attractions. Autumn festivals and fall colours make southern Ontario all that much more attractive.
If you're looking to escape the city and enjoy all that the province has to offer this fall, there's no shortage of stunning destinations. In honour of the Thanksgiving long weekend, have a look at seven terrific places to take in the fall foliage and enjoy the season within three hours' drive from Toronto.
Muskoka is magical almost any time of year, but fall is quite special as the leaves start to change colour. The Muskoka Steamships offer great fall rides on the lakes of Muskoka, with fabulous views of autumn colours all around.
Johnston's Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery also has some 27 acres of property in Bala and grows ripe, red cranberries, which are harvested in the fall. On-site activities include wagon tours, wine tasting and more. For even more cranberry fun, the Bala Cranberry Festival takes place from Oct. 14-16, with food, local vendors, live music and other treats.
Try a drive along Southwood Road (it runs between Highway 11 and Highway 169) for great fall colours at a leisurely pace. Top resorts include the JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa and Deerhurst Resort, near Huntsville.
This quaint region is filled with family-friendly activities, like Forget-Me-Not Alpacas, a farm in Beaverton where you can mingle with the animals and feed them. The Sunflower Farm is also a great spot to enjoy nature and find that perfect shot for Instagram.
In town, check out The Underground Bake Shop or fresh bread and sweet treats, such as The Love Child, which the staff refer to as the product of an affair between Madame Muffin and Monsieur Croissant (a butter croissant rolled in salt and sugar and baked in a muffin tin). The Shortiss Café Bar is right downtown and serves up great coffee, and feels like a trendy spot in Toronto or New York.
Not far away is Banjo Cider, a premier cider making spot that often has live music. Try a stay at Villa Vida Loca, which has a small cabin you can rent for the night, a farm stand with great local food, and special dinners with top local chefs.
The Kitchener–Waterloo Oktoberfest is an annual festival about an hour west of Toronto. Based on the original German Oktoberfest, it is billed as "Canada's Greatest Bavarian Festival," and is said to be the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world. It’s the perfect way to ring in the fall for beer and pretzel lovers, and there’s usually live music and dancing, running until Oct. 15.
Grand Experiences offers guided canoe and kayak trips down the Grand River, which has excellent fall foliage. The Walper is a terrific, boutique hotel in Kitchener and makes for a great base for Oktoberfest. THEMUSEUM is a few steps away and has terrific exhibits.
In Waterloo, The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum is top-notch, and is located next to Doon Heritage Village, a collection of historic buildings in a forest of pretty trees. Don't miss the St. Jacob's Farmers Market — one of the best, and biggest markets in Ontario.
Niagara on the Lake has a great, new, modern hotel called 124 on Queen Hotel and Spa, and it’s quite different from the usual chintz-laden inns. Head to Treadwell Cuisine next door at the Gatehouse Hotel for some of the best food in Ontario, as well as local wines.
Just south of town, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery has a stone pizza oven and offers luscious wines, including Cabernet Franc and a lovely sparkling wine. Wayne Gretzky Estates offers up both wines and spirits, including a fine whiskey.
In Niagara Falls proper, the Hornblower II offers terrific catamaran rides that take you to the base of the thundering Horseshoe Falls. Try a hike down to the river at Niagara Glen for great fall colours, or check out the views from the Whirlpool Aero Car, which takes you across the river and back in a small cable car.
The Mount Nemo Conservation Area is one of the most rewarding walks in southern Ontario; an easy stroll on flat ground to a wondrous lookout from the top of the Niagara Escarpment in north Burlington. You’ll get sensational views of Burlington and Mississauga, and, on a clear day, downtown Toronto. Reservations are required, so plan ahead.
Springridge Farm is a delightful family spot nestled up against the Niagara Escarpment in Milton. It’s a fourth-generation farm that’s still in the Hughes family, and you can feel the sense of pride.
Kids will love checking out the goats, bunnies and other animals. They also have slides, a massive, covered sandbox with dozens and dozens of bright yellow trucks, rubbery animals the kids can bounce on, a viewing platform on the escarpment, and wagon rides. There’s a large shop with everything from apple pies to butter chicken and lasagna, as well as coffee and fresh pastries.
The Hockley Valley, northwest of Toronto, is an outstanding place to see the glory of a Canadian fall. Start out in Orangeville and take Highway 10 north to Hockley Road and turn right, then go as far as you like.
Airport Road offers a roller coaster-like, dipsy-doodle drive through the Caledon-Headwaters region, with astonishing colours. The Hockley Valley Resort has good food, spacious units and an excellent golf course. Next door is Adamo Estate Winery, which has a sunny, large patio and very nice wines.
Foxingham Farm Bed & Breakfast is run by a lovely couple and is across the road from the Mansfield Ski Club in Mulmur. Stop at Heatherlea Farm Shoppe in Caledon for fresh baked goods, beef, and tasty sandwiches.
Located just outside Bailieboro, ZimArt Rice Lake Gallery is one of the most surprising places in southern Ontario, a deep-in-the-woods garden with hundreds of Zimbabwean stone sculptures. The owner of the place, Fran Fearnley, brings in Zimbabwean stone art pretty much every year, and also brings a Zimbabwean artist over to show off their work. It’s traditionally open from around June 1 to Canadian Thanksgiving.
Bailieboro also is home to Doo Doo’s, a bakery that has won multiple awards for the best butter tarts in the province. North of Peterborough, Petroglyphs Provincial Park displays amazing rock art painted by local First Nations people.