The Northern Draw

Unspoiled forests, lakes, and rivers north of Ontario lure travelers searching for a mix of adventure and relaxation.
By Brian Coughlin
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Aerial view of Collingwood, Ontario
ONTARIO FROM ABOVE: A playground of countryside, shoreline, and wilderness (Clay Dolan)
Northern Ontario in Focus
Take a bird's-eye view of this region with this map of Northern Ontario.
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Anyone who's visited Toronto, Ontario's capital and the country's largest metropolis, knows that this alluring city can swallow weeks of an urban-centric itinerary. But stick solely to the city limits and you may miss the land of quaint towns, quiet valleys, scenic mountains, crystal lakes, and rolling farmland that resides just north of this mega-city.

Heading northwest out of the city, you'll enter the Georgian Triangle, an area that wraps around the Georgian Bay, and home to Canada's longest footpath. To the east sits the region of Muskoka, where 1,000 lakes mirror the sky. Even further east, there's 3,500-square-mile Algonquin Park. Together, these areas promise a world of outdoor activities that you can cram into a week or soak up for a month.

The Georgian Triangle

A 90-minute drive northwest of Toronto takes you into the Georgian Triangle (GTA) where quaint towns, villages, and hamlets blend into the natural beauty of the pristine Beaver Valley. Collingwood, the region's epicenter, is a vibrant, all-season town situated on the southern shores of Georgian Bay in the shadow of the Niagara Escarpment, a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve stretching 450 miles from Lake Ontario (near Niagara Falls) to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula (between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron). During the fall, no better vantage point takes in the red, yellow, and golden hues of the sumacs, oaks, and aspens that cover the escarpment.

The Bruce Trail is Canada's longest and oldest footpath, and some of its best hikes cut through the GTA along the escarpment. The Loree Forest Loop, measuring in at a healthy 4.5 miles, offers spectacular vistas of Georgian Bay with stunning ridge views to the north. Just one of many hikes along the trail, it provides an intimate encounter with an abundance of native flora and fauna.

In the hot summer months venture into the cooler environs of the (Scenic Caves), just a short drive up the mountain from neighboring Collingwood, where you can take a self-guided tour into the darkest reaches of Blue Mountain. Natives once used caves like the aptly named "Refrigerator" for food storage during the summer months, while "Fat Man's Misery" offers a narrow pass-through of only 12 inches…the claustrophobic need not apply. While there, skim across the tops of 200-year-old oak trees on a zip line or take in views of Georgian Bay from Ontario's highest suspension bridge.

Blue Mountain, the largest ski resort in Ontario, rises between the escarpment and the bay. During winter it offers some of the best skiing in the GTA. In the summer and fall, visitors ride the gondola or hike to the top to take in the stunning views, while mountain bikers challenge themselves to navigating the route below. The Village at Blue is at the base and offers shopping, dining, and Plunge—a popular year-round water park for kids.

Neighboring Creemore, located in the rolling hills of Clearview Township further inland from Georgian Bay, offers sprawling views of the water. It is alive with a popular farmers market in the summer, and the Purple Hills Color Studio Tour is a fall highlight. Don't forget to stop by the Creemore Springs Brewery for a sampling of their urBock, a seasonal release.

For beachgoers, the nearby town of Wasaga Beach is a summer haven and home to the world's longest freshwater beach.

How to get there:
Several major highways lead into the Georgian Triangle from other southern Ontario cities. Less than two hours northwest of Toronto, the area can be accessed by car from many U.S. cities or via Pearson International Airport.

You can make your way via the heavily traveled Highway 400 North to Barrie, then east along Provincial Route 26. The more picturesque Airport Road takes you through Ontario's scenic farmland, a winding and hilly drive that travels through the scenic Hockley Valley.

Where to stay:
The Westin Trillium House Blue Mountain borders the vibrant Village at Blue Mountain. It caters to families and business travelers, offering everything from a 10,000-square-foot aquatic center and a conference center of equal size. Fall rates range from $149 (Canadian) for a deluxe room to $429 for a two-bedroom suite. The 222 suites are situated beside a three-acre millpond.

Where to eat:
Both Collingwood and the Village at Blue offer a wide variety of dining options. Catch 22 in Collingwood places an emphasis on fresh seafood in a casual and fun atmosphere.

For a dining experience that is a destination unto itself look for Eigensinn Farm, located outside Collingwood in Singhampton. Renowned chef Michael Stadtlander holds court on his farm.

Scenic drive:
Start from the Village of Blue Mountain, the center of the Blue Mountain Resort. Exit the village and turn right on Grey Road 19, right on Mountain Drive, and left at Scenic Caves Road where it climbs the ski hill at the south end of Blue Mountain. At the top of this road is the Scenic Caves Nature Adventure Park. Follow this road until it reaches Banks and turn via the Loree Forest to Grey Road 2. Turn left on 2 through Ravenna until you see Grey Road 19. Turn left here and follow Grey Road 19 back to Blue Mountain. Dramatic views of Georgian Bay highlight this route.


Published: 15 Apr 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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