“Let’s go tubing in the Elora Gorge!” I said to Henk one Saturday morning towards the end of the summer. “It’ll be fun!” And so off we went to Elora, Ontario, bathing suits and sunscreen in the car, not knowing that the day would turn out to be something entirely different than what we had planned.
The day started off more or less on-track, with an early wake-up call for the hour-long drive from Toronto to Elora, so we could get to the Gorge early enough to book our tubing adventure. But being the breakfast lover that I am, I thought we’d stop for breakfast en route in Guelph (a girl’s gotta eat after all), figuring that would still leave us plenty of time to call dibs on our inner tubes.
First Stop, Food at an Artisanal Bakery in Guelph
Consulting Yelp and searching for top breakfast places in Guelph yielded exactly what I was looking for: With the Grain, an artisanal bakery/cafe in a cute little corner shop where the smell of fresh-baked-deliciousness greeted us the instant that we opened the screen door.
Relying again on Yelp to dictate my menu choice, I ordered the most popular item recommended by other reviewers, the ‘BATH’ (the Bacon, Avocado, Tomato and Havarti wrap). I have to say when it first arrived, I was a little surprised at the $9.50 price of what looked like a very ordinary – and lonely – wrap whose only friends on the plate were a few pieces of fruit. However, I was very, very wrong to think that a good breakfast must come with loads of home fries or other filler, because this wrap was DELICIOUS! Worth every nickel and then some.
So, first item on the agenda taken care of (my stomach), we continued on our way to the beautiful Elora Gorge, where the Grand River flows between 22-metre high cliffs on top of which are hiking trails, scenic overlooks and even a pretty campground managed by the Grand River Conservation Authority.
Tubing at the Elora Gorge: River Fun for All Ages
The Elora Gorge Park is one of few places where visitors are not just allowed to enter the chasm, but actually encouraged to jump into the river and float downstream on big comfy inner tubes. A family-friendly activity, there are tubes of all sizes to rent, including larger ones for grownups, as well as helmets and life jackets for those who don’t bring their own.
Unfortunately, my morning BATH detour meant that Henk and I were SOL when it came to our tubing plans. (Apparently, when the website says to ‘get here early’ to reserve your equipment, the rental desk means early.) One look at the lineup, and we knew that our plan to leisurely float down the river all day wasn’t going to happen after all, so we needed to come up with Plan B.
Fortunately, Elora, Ontario has plenty to offer when it comes to things to do outside of the Gorge itself. So after an hour or so hiking the trails and walking alongside the river watching other tubers bouncing through the shallow rapids, we decided to visit Elora’s historic downtown.
Art and More in Elora: Ontario’s Most Beautiful Village
Billed as ‘Ontario’s Most Beautiful Village’, Elora, Ontario is one of those charming little towns that warrants a visit at least once a year (much like its neighbour, St. Jacob’s, known for its Mennonite community and famous Farmer’s Market). In Elora, however, the shopping is less about farm-to-table, and more about art-to-table, as this town may be small in size, but large in culture, and there’s always something interesting to see…
Elora’s Sculpture Project Garden
The newly-built Sculpture Project Garden is an urban art garden right in the centre of town, where modern sculptures and art installations are on display from May to October every summer. These pieces change every year, offering local artists the opportunity to showcase their work, many pieces of which are for sale. It’s all part of the Elora Sculpture Project, launched in 2010.
This year’s collection featured a central 15-foot high figure which I nicknamed the ‘scolding sculpture’ (because standing under him, you can’t help but feel like you’ve done something naughty.) Located right at the main intersection of town, this urban garden is a nice place to admire the art or just grab a seat and watch the visitors go by.
Art Galleries are Plentiful in Elora, Ontario, Too
On the opposite corner to the sculpture garden is one of my favourite stores, Styll, a Fine Craft Gallery where artisans showcase a wide range of one-of-a-kind objects ranging from live-edge harvest tables, to steampunk clocks and whimsical ceramic creations.
Less intimidating than a fine art gallery, I always see something here that either makes me drool or makes me smile. This time it was this fish out of water.
Elora Makes it Easy to Shoppe Till you Droppe
Another interesting store for antique hunters and curiosity seekers alike, is the Mermaid in Elora on Metcalf Street, which you can’t miss because of its dark navy exterior, white gingerbread trim and sunflower-filled planters decorating the outside. Inside you’ll find a treasure-trove of antiques, objets and curiosities to suit any collector’s taste or budget.
Mill Street is the other must-shop street, named after the historic Elora Mill which was operated as a restaurant and inn until 2014, and has recently been renovated by a developer restoring it to its former glory as the town’s new centrepiece, the Elora Mill and Spa.
Mill street is small enough to shop end-to-end, with an eclectic mix of restaurants, clothing and decor stores, and of course, ice cream! Be sure to walk east past the main intersection, too, where there are more stores and galleries to explore.
And Ice Cream, Too.
All this shopping was making me peckish (again!) so Henk and I indulged in a little ice cream before deciding to head back to Toronto. Because as grownup, we ‘are the boss of us’!
Making a Full Day of This Day Trip from Toronto
Somehow we had managed to fill an entire day exploring Elora’s many charms, even without riding the rapids of the Grand River on an inner tube. (Proving once again that sometimes when you travel, the Plan B that results from circumstance can often turn out to be as good or better than Plan A.)
TIP: Elora, Ontario has a thriving arts community that is active throughout the year, organizing several Studio Tours and Open Houses (in conjunction with nearby Fergus), including a Fall tour and a Holiday Show and Sale. Check out their Facebook Page to stay up-to-date with current events.
TUBING: IF you are planning to go ‘tubing’ in the summer months, plan to be at the Park before 9am, since the early risers really do get the tube. (There is a $6 Park Entrance Fee, but if you want to save a little money, bring your own helmet, life preserver (and even tube). Pricing details can be found here.