KILLARNEY PROVINCIAL PARK
Killarney is one of Ontario’s crown jewels. This majestic, mountainous wilderness of sapphire lakes and jack pine ridges so captivated Canada’s ‘Group of Seven’ landscape artists that they persuaded the Ontario government to make it a park. From the campground at George Lake, canoeists and hikers can explore birch, maple, oak and pine forests among the ancient white quartzite rocks of the La Cloche Mountains. The canoeing and kayaking is superb, while in winter this is a paradise for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Animals roam wild here, so expect to catch a glimpse of moose, deer, foxes and otters. If you are really lucky, you may see the odd bear. The Killarney Mountain Lodge (www.killarney.com) offers a programme of guided activities every day – including hikes, canoe trips, kayak trips, shore lunches and sailing trips – all tailored to participants' fitness levels. Killarney is a five-hour drive from Toronto, but expect to feel a million miles from anywhere in this magical spot. (www.ontarioparks.com).
Try This: Granite Ridge Trail
An easy, one-hour, 2km trail provides views of the rocky ridges of the La Cloche Mountains. This two-billion-year-old ring of mountains once towered higher than the Rockies, before being worn away by four ice ages!
THE FRENCH RIVER PROVINCIAL PARK
An historic route of ‘the voyageurs’, from early French explorers to settlers and fur traders, the French River links Lake Nipissing with Georgian Bay along a 105-kilometre span of lakes, gorges and rapids that provide a variety of water routes, scenery and leisure water activities. Nipissing is derived from a native language meaning ‘little water’ but for much of its length, the French River is a broad, treelined expanse of open water, although it also features falls, rapids, and steep, narrow gorges. Where steamboats once journeyed, canoes and motorboats now travel the waterway, lodges and cottages dot the landscape, and anglers and hunters enjoy their sport. There are also numerous campsites where paddlers and boaters will find opportunities for fishing, swimming, photography, or just relaxing. (www.ontarioparks.com)
Try This: Lodge Living
For the complete Canadian experience, take a canoe trip and stay in one of the cosy lodges or cottages found along the river. For the more intrepid, there are 230 backcountry campsites.
ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK
Algonquin is the oldest, most famous park in Ontario. An average three-hour drive from both Toronto and Ottawa, it’s a wilderness playground for city-dwellers and a popular choice for visitors combining a city break with nature. Algonquin is best-known as a canoeing and kayaking paradise, but is ideal for mountain biking and hiking (there are 19 ‘interpretive’ walking trails). In winter, you can go dogsledding and snowshoeing. Accommodation in and around the park ranges from campsites, cabins, lodges and even yurts, to resort-style properties such as the JW Marriott Lake Rosseau Resort and Spa. The scenery is captivating: rocky outcrops, glacial valleys, and an abundance of lakes. And, of course, there's the park's wildlife, including moose, bear and wolf. Algonquin is unequalled in Ontario, perhaps even in North America, for moose-watching. (www.algonquinpark.on.ca)
Try This: Calling the Wolves
On Thursdays during August, park naturalists help visitors learn about wolves with a ‘wolf howl’, which wolves may respond to.
LAKE SUPERIOR PROVINCIAL PARK
One of Ontario’s largest parks, Lake Superior Provincial Park is celebrated for its rugged landscape. Rushing rivers plunge from the interior highlands to the Lake Superior shoreline, creating rapids and dramatic waterfalls. The steep-walled valleys of Agawa Canyon and Old Woman Bay provide breathtaking scenery. A short hike to Agawa Rock, which towers 98ft above the lake, is worth doing to see the Indian rock paintings that decorate the cliff – many are centuries old. The Agawa Canyon Tour train (www.agawacanyontourtrain.com) skirts the eastern edge of the park. Travelling 114 miles alongside lakes and rivers and through awesome granite rock formations and vast mixed forests, it's one of the most popular railway journeys in North America. (www.lakesuperiorpark.com)
Try This: ice-climbing
In winter, if you’re made of tough stuff, head to Batchawana Bay on Lake Superior’s eastern shore. The Batchawana Bay-Agawa Canyon area has more than 10 separate ice climbing areas featuring a variety of graded routes ranging from 10m to 200m.
GEORGIAN BAY ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Often referred to as the sixth Great Lake, Georgian Bay doesn’t do things by halves. Within its waters are more than 30,000 islands and it has 2,000km of shoreline. Windswept pines, towering cliffs, endless beaches and clear blue water all create a serene destination. Relax on a beach, or explore the great outdoors by road or water. Take the Georgian Bay Coastal Route and discover the rich marine heritage and lighthouses that dot the coastline. On the water, Georgian Bay is perfect for experienced kayakers. Beausoleil Island is the largest of the islands that make up the national park, with three camping areas to choose from.
Try This: Geocaching
Geocaching is a fun, outdoor treasure-hunting game. You use GPS units to find hidden containers called caches. When you find one, you will learn why that place is so important! (www.geocaching.com)
WASAGA BEACH PROVINCIAL PARK
Just 90 minutes north of Toronto, Wasaga is a great destination for families. The recreation park is nestled at the southernmost point of Nottawasaga Bay and boasts the longest freshwater beach in the world. This 14km safe, sandy beach attracts thousands to enjoy swimming, boating, kite surfing, fishing, hiking and biking. Nottawasaga Bay is suitable for many types of water craft, including motorboats, sailboats and windsurfers. Boats can be rented from one of several marinas at Wasaga. In winter the park becomes an adventure playground for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. (www.ontarioparks.com)
Hike This: The Blueberry Plains Trail
Wasaga has the largest number of parabolic sand dunes in Ontario, which make for a challenging yet rewarding climb with unforgettable views. Around 700 different types of plants and 230 species of birds can be seen in this fragile dune area.
HALIBURTON FOREST & WILD LIFE RESERVE
Two and a half hours from both Toronto and Ottawa lies a privately-owned forest on more than 70,000 acres of rolling hardwood trees, beautiful lakes, meandering rivers and extensive wetlands. In the summer, you can observe wild grey wolves at the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre or go hiking and mountain biking along 300km of well-prepared trails. In the winter months, Haliburton is covered in a blanket of snow, ideal for winter sports such as cross-country skiing, orienteering, dog-sledding and snowshoeing. Ontario has the world’s largest interconnected snowmobile trail system with more than 30,000km of wilderness trails, and more than 350km are in Haliburton, which is rated as one of the Top 10 snowmobiling destinations in North America. (www.haliburtonforest.com)
Try This: Canopy Walk
A Haliburton highlight, the Walk in the Clouds canopy boardwalk is one of the longest in the world, winding through the treetops for more than 500 metres.