Follow me on a 10-day road trip in Ontario! This itinerary is taking in some of the most beautiful landscapes of southern Ontario: the bustling city of Toronto, the gushing Niagara Falls and a canoe camping getaway in Killarney Provincial Park you’ll never forget!
I fell head over heels for Canada the first time I stepped foot in this country. That was in 2012 and it was my first big backpacking adventure. Then, British Columbia and Alberta dominated my itinerary, but I figured out pretty quickly, that I wanted to see more of this wonderfully diverse country.
Four years later, I had the opportunity to explore a different province – I would embark on a road trip through Ontario for 10 days. When I put the itinerary together, it was not hard to get ideas together. I wanted to see Toronto and the Niagara Falls, but also get off the beaten path and into the forest, and finally try canoe camping.
The bigger problem with Canada, quite literally, is its size. Even though Ontario is just one province, it covers such a huge area, that it becomes impossible to see everything in one trip. And so, I focussed on southern Ontario this time, keeping places like Algonquin Provincial park on my bucket list for a future adventure.
Yet, I managed to squeeze a lot into my 10-day road trip around Ontario; from the bustling city of Toronto to the quiet corners of Killarney Provincial Park – here is my suggested itinerary for 10 days in Ontario.
How to get around Ontario
I would have been lost without a rental car. While there are buses crisscrossing the province (especially towards the many national and provincial parks), their services can be limited. For the ultimate flexibility, I recommend hiring a car, getting a SatNav and hitting the road!
My road trip began in Sudbury. Rather than starting and finishing in Toronto, I decided to fly further up north to Sudbury and get a one-way car rental from there to Toronto. This is a little more expensive, but the amount of driving it saves you is worth the expense!
Distances in Canada are massive and coming over from Europe it can be quite a shock to look up routes and driving times. Note, that this itinerary includes a decent amount of driving!
My 10-day Ontario itinerary
Killarney (2 days)
2-hour drive from Sudbury Airport, 132km
From Sudbury, I drove south to Killarney, a quaint town on the shores of Georgian Bay. Not many people live here year-round, but there are lots of holiday cottages, and many people come to Killarney by boat – some even all the way from the US, crossing Lake Huron and into Georgian Bay. It is quieter here than in other holiday regions in Ontario; likely, because it is quite a long drive away from Toronto.
Killarney is all about the outdoors. The picturesque harbour town is not so much the draw, as is the wilderness around it. And so I embarked on two mini-adventure starting right at the doorstep of my waterfront hotel, the Killarney Mountain Lodge.
On day one, I explore on foot – the Eastern Lighthouse is a mere 45-minute walk away from the hotel, even though it takes me much longer to reach it. Too pretty are the views of the Great Lakes, too peaceful the atmosphere to walk past the many beautiful viewpoints. I stop often to take pictures or to just sit still and breathe, the sun tickling my nose. Even though it is still early in the day, the sun is strong and makes me sweat a little on this easy walk. The trail is marked with little arrows on the ground or orange flags in the trees, pay attention to those and you won’t lose your way.
The next day, I join one of the boat tours offered by the hotel. From the water, the landscape changes yet again. I now see the low hills that surround the village, giving the hotel its name. The region was once dominated by a high mountain range, slowly carried off by the glaciers on top. Today they’re mostly covered in lush green forests, but here and there the bright white rock shines through the trees.
We sail past beautiful lodges – summer cottages that are worth millions of dollars – and chat about native fishing rights in the Great Lakes. Quickly we leave the big open water of the Georgian Bay behind and enter smaller bays, navigating smaller islands around Killarney.
I reach behind me to stick my hand into the water. It’s cold – maybe not the right time for a dip in the water…
Canoe camping in Killarney Provincial Park (2 days)
10-minute drive from Killarney, several hours of paddling
From Killarney, I make my way to Killarney Provincial Park, a short drive back up the highway. I meet my local guide Mike at Killarney Outfitters, an outdoor shop that rents out canoeing and kayaking equipment, but also offers fully-guided tours around the Great Lakes or the lakes of the Provincial Park.
Mike and I set off with everything we need for two days – the Provincial Park is far off the beaten track, and as soon as we leave behind the main beach at George Lake, we’re on our own. And it’s bear country.
Our goal for the day is Killarney Lake, the third in a wide-spread system of lakes among the mountains of the park. After crossing George Lake, we carry our canoes across a short portage to Freeland Lake, and a longer portage into Killarney Lake after that. While we meet few others on the lake, it is necessary to acquire an overnight permit for the park in advance. There is a limited amount of campsites dotted along the shores of the lakes, and you may only camp if you have the respective permit. You won’t be allocated a specific campsite, so the earlier you leave George Lake, the higher are your chances to get a good spot. We manage to find a beautiful campsite, a sheltered clearing in a light forest, surrounded on three sides by water, and pitch our tents. This would be our home for the next two nights.
To find out more about my canoe camping adventure with Killarney Outfitters read the full article about the experience linked below!
Muskoka County & Haliburton Forest (1 day)
5-6-hour drive from Killarney PP to Haliburton Forest, 350km
This was by far the longest drive of my trip, and it felt like forever doing it on my own. Most of the way I followed a monotonous highway, but by the time I reached Horseshoe Lake, my SatNav directed me off the main road and into Muskoka County. This region is a popular holiday region for Torontonians and is world-famous for being the home of the comfortable Muskoka chairs.
The roads get smaller and smaller (in Canadian terms) until I finally find myself at the edge of Haliburton Forest, a privately-owned forest near Algonquin Provincial Park. I check in at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, which is run by the same family who owned the land around it; 100,000 acres of forest and it only keeps growing. They bought the land with the specific aim to make a living off sustainable forestry, while at the same time protecting the biodiversity of this very special forest.
By the time I reached the lodge, I had just about enough time to join the annual end-of-season BBQ, watch the locals line dance and have a few beers in the sunset.
The next day I explored the forest. Near the lodge, there is a wolf centre, where you can learn about the local wolf packs, and if you’re lucky, even spot some of them nearby. On a canopy tour, I learnt more about the challenges of caring for this forest and get close up with the giant trees at its heart. The tour included a brief walk through the forest, a quick canoe ride across a lake, and finally, a long walk high up among the treetops, on a purpose-built course with viewing platforms.
Accommodation at Haliburton Forest is in two- or three-bedroom cottages as well as log cabins more suitable for groups. If you can, I highly recommend spending more time here and maybe even venture into Algonquin Provincial Park for a few days!
Niagara Falls (1 day)
4-5-hour road trip, 380 km
After exploring Haliburton Forest in the morning, I made my way down south. You can either drive all the way to Niagara Falls in one day or stop overnight in Toronto and drive to the waterfalls the next morning. Either way, you will have a full day exploring the area around the Niagara Falls, as it is just a short drive from Toronto.
Niagara Falls Helicopter Flight
My first glimpse of Niagara Falls was from the air – a helicopter flight over the waterfalls is a brilliant way to really grasp their size and impact on the area. You can clearly see the difference between the Canadian and the US-American side, but also the greenery supported by the large river delta leading up to the falls. Flights with Niagara Helicopters cost from £85 (CAD$ 145) and last about 12 minutes.
Book your helicopter flight here!
Niagara Falls Boat Tour
The second unmissable way to experience the Niagara Falls is as close up as possible – on a boat tour with Hornblower Niagara Cruises. Equipped with a thin red rain poncho you can choose to spend time in the protected lounge or the outer observation deck – guess which one I chose!
The boat tour lasts about 20 minutes and costs around £17. The route goes past the Bridal Veil Falls and the American side of the Niagara Falls, until you reach the famous horseshoe-shaped waterfalls on the Canadian side. The boat does not just stop in front of them, but goes right into the spray and the mist, leaving you wet, poncho or not. Make sure you pack away your camera and bring waterproof pouches. A GoPro is an ideal camera to take photos of the Falls and yourself up close.
Book your boat tour here!
The small town of Niagara on the Lake is an ideal way to end your day, not only because you will find less touristy restaurants than by the Falls, but also because the area is rich in vineyards waiting to be explored!
Of course, you can’t drink too much, since you’re driving, but even just tasting a sip of the famous Ontario ice wine is worth the detour!
There are also guided tours from Toronto that save you driving and include both, a Niagara Falls experience and a winery tour. Check it out here.
Toronto (3 days – or forever)
1.5-hour road trip, 130km
The final stop of my Ontario road trip was Toronto. I actually spend over a week here, to really get to know the city, but I think three days is enough to give you a taste of the city. I suggest, that each day you discover a different side of Toronto.
Day 1: Toronto Sightseeing
Spend your first day in Toronto like a real tourist. Whether you hit up the museums, like the Bata Shoe Museum or the fantastic Royal Ontario Museum, visit the top of the CN Tower or the stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays, there is an attraction for everyone!
My personal favourite was the sunset cruise with the Tall Ship Kajama which opens up a completely different perspective of the Toronto skyline.
Day 2: Toronto for Hipsters
Toronto is an incredibly cool city, and your trip would not be complete without learning some bits and pieces about the local street art culture, hanging out in coffee shops, strolling across the markets and vintage shop until you drop!
My favourite areas for shopping were Kensington Market and West Queen West, an uber-trendy part of town, where you can find one vintage shop after the other. The Distillery District was also very nice for shopping and restaurants, but overall a bit more touristy than the other neighbourhoods.
I went on a street art tour around Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue with Daniel from Tourguys, who explained everything from the key players of street art in the city to the legal situation of graffiti in Toronto. He took me to back alleys and lanes, pointed out street art that is well hidden in the busy city landscape and told me the stories behind the artpieces. I can only recommend doing this tour!
The best thing about Toronto for hipsters is the abundance of cool coffee shops, either to work in or simply cure your hangover (from drinking or shopping). I wrote an article about my favourite coffee shops here.
Day 3: Get outside in Toronto
Finally, Toronto might be a bustling urban jungle, but it is also surrounded by some wonderful nature! Here are some ideas to get outside in Toronto:
- Rent a bicycle and make your way to Toronto Island. The views across to the city are amazing, and there are many bike paths to explore. You could also rent a kayak or canoe and paddle around the shore of the island.
- Take a bus towards Cliffside and hike through Scarborough Bluffs Park. The park northeast of central Toronto is famous for its crystal clear waters and bright white cliffs overlooking it!
- Make your way to Woodbine Beach and rent a SUP board from WSUP Toronto. On the board you can paddle towards the Toronto skyline, try some yoga poses or simply relax in the sun away from the beach crowds.
My road trip to Ontario was an incredible adventure and I still can’t believe how much you can see in just 10 days. Still, the route I described here only covers a small area of southern Ontario, so if you’ve got more time, make sure to cover even more ground!
Traveling solo through this incredibly beautiful province with the kindest people and most serene landscapes made me fall in love with Canada all over again. I wish I could have had more time to see even more, spend another night or two in the tent and find more lakes to jump into, but alas the dream was over way too fast.
Canada, you did it again!
My Ontario road trip video
// This trip was supported by Ontario Travel. //
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.