Photo: Algonquin National Park
Outdoor activities, road trips, and off the beaten path places near Montreal
In the previous post, we proposed places within the province of Quebec that were reachable by car from Montreal. In this post it is all about outdoor activities in Ontario province (and in a decent distance from Montreal). It might feel that Ontario is farther than other places in Quebec, but it is actually not true. There’s a lot of interesting places in Ontario you can reach in less than a 10-hour drive (yes I know, 10h is still a lot, but Canada is huge!)
The list below is all about non-touristy places you can go if you are planning a mini road trip from Montreal. We would recommend at least 3 days to spare a visit to those places as the drives are in general a bit longer than the ones included in the previous post.
The range of possibilities to do outdoor activities in Ontario is very wide. From canoeing to expeditions of unexplored territory, from easy to extreme difficult hiking, or fishing and climbing… the range seems to be endless. The goal of this post is to propose outdoor activities that are feasible for fast-paced travelers or amateur adventurers that want to discover what Ontario has to offer.
Although there are literally hundreds of places to visit in Ontario, I just summarized a few of them according to the proximity to Montreal and the balance among distance, beauty and overall experience.
1. Algonquin Provincial Park (5h)
Why: Wildlife, lakes, rivers, and the best backcountry campsites.
Be aware of: During weekends and holidays it can get busy, however, it doesn’t feel wrong at all.
Algonquin Provincial Park is about one-quarter of the size of Belgium and it is one of the most popular provincial parks in the province and the country. Over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers are located within the park.
– Wikipedia –
This park is ideal for canoe-camping — the most Canadian experience. The problem is that there are so many lakes, rivers, and streams you could go, that it is very hard to plan your visit. To make it a bit easier for you, I propose 3 options.
- If you have enough time, you could ask for info at the visitor’s center. They always have a lot of information, maps and tips. So you could improvise your canoe-camping trip after talking with them. That also means that some areas are already booked, so you might need to wait one or two nights.
- Check out Algonquin Park website for route maps and campsites. If you don’t have experience in canoe-camping, it won’t be easy (which doesn’t mean it is impossible) to find a route, but certainly, you will need to use common sense. Some places can be very isolated and sometimes even dangerous. There are wolves, bears, deers, porcupines, etc.
- There are some stores around the park that rent canoes. They specialize in renting but also they have prepared routes for you to explore. In my opinion, this one is the best option.
- Portage Store. Check out this store and their proposed routes. They can also deliver canoes at your campground.
- Algonquin Bound. There is plenty of information on their website (better than the Park itself). They offer rentals, canoe delivery, and shuttles. They offer a very interesting option — a 1 to a 5-day self-guided trip package. This means the rentals, shuttles maps and info are all included.
Backcountry and hiking:
Based on my experience, I would divide the park into two areas: the commercial area and the backcountry area. The hiking or “walking” trails —as they usually say— would be included in the commercial area. They tend to be more familiar and easy to do. Usually, the ones where there are panels with info along the trails, are usually the most touristy too. I would recommend walking these trails only if there’s something really specific that you might want to do.
What is interesting in Algonquin Park is the backcountry or trekking. With more than 1200 campgrounds within the park, it is just a matter of choosing the right trail and head to the desired campsite. Make sure to make a reservation and pay for your spot in the visitor center. You could also book a campground beforehand by phone, but I guess with such a high number of possibilities, there is always going to be vacancies in any of them.
The park is a very good place to spot wild animals. When you plan your backcountry camping, you can check on their online maps where’s best to find them. Be careful if you do!
- If you are planning to go during autumn, check the foliage status.
- There are no free available trail maps, so you could buy one or you can check other resources.
2. Bruce Peninsula National Park (8h)
Why: Mediterranean Coast in Canada. Rough coast and crystalline waters.
Be aware of: Try to go during the week and avoid holidays. It can get very busy. The popularity of this area has created yearly problems.
The Bruce Peninsula is a key area for both plant and animal wildlife. Part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, the peninsula has the largest remaining area of forest and natural habitat in Southern Ontario and is home to some of the oldest trees in eastern North America. An important flyway for migrating birds, the peninsula is habitat to a variety of animals, including black bear, massasauga rattlesnake, and barred owl. – Wikipedia –
The Bruce Peninsula is the Mediterranean of Canada. I know, it sounds crazy, but I got this feeling. The Lake Huron is so big that could perfectly be a sea. The crystalline waters and the pleasant coast with its rocky beaches could fit in the Costa Brava or Dalmatian Coast.
Make sure to check the numerous caves and grouts. There is also a shipwreck visible thanks to the transparent waters.
Walking and Hiking:
There are some trails that go around the roughed coast. All of them are very easy and are very well indicated. Check the park website for more info.
Canoe and Kayak:
Also, if the weather allows it, a very impressive way to enjoy this beautiful place is by kayak. You will see hidden beaches and for sure you will see fewer people. Check the website for more info.
Climbing and bouldering:
If you like climbing or bouldering, Bruce Peninsula is just amazing. Not because there are many walls or much variety, but the caves and landscapes are a dream. Also, the lake is never too far, so you can have a refreshing swim after. Check the website for more.