The summer of 2020 is shaping up to be a year for local travel. Which means that road trips and day trips close to home may be the way many Canadians will spend their weekends and vacation time. Luckily for us, there are plenty of hidden gems in Canada within a couple of hours’ drive of most major centres, and this is the perfect opportunity to discover them. Here are some suggestions for day trips from Canadian cities, wherever you happen to be!
COVID-19 NOTE: Each province and attraction will have its own health and safety measures in place in order to restrict the spread of the virus, so be sure to check with each place before heading out so you know what’s open, what’s closed and what to expect.
Day Trips from Victoria, Vancouver Island
1. Cowichan Bay (“Cow Bay”)
As cute as its nickname suggests, Cowichan Bay is a waterfront community that takes ‘local’ very seriously. You won’t find any chain stores or Starbucks here, as all the inviting boutiques on the main street are independently-run and sell goods that are as unique as the entrepreneurs who run them. Sample some local goodies, shop for interesting merchandise, dine at one of the waterfront restaurants or discreetly stroll the docks amongst the colourful floating homes. The people who live here share a common goal: a life that is slower and away from the rat race. In fact, after chatting with some of the locals who live on one of the pretty floating homes, it’ safe to say that a bit of hippie culture still thrives in Cow Bay – and that’s a good thing.
Distance from Victoria: 55km
2. Merridale Cidery
Half an hour north of Victoria is where you’ll find Merridale Cidery & Distillery, one of the Island’s premier destinations when it comes to sampling true local ‘spirit – literally. Because not only does Merridale take farm-to-table seriously in their restaurant and food offerings, they also have mastered farm-to-glass with artisan ciders and a distillery that boasts a variety of gins and vodkas. Go for a tour and sample some of the libations (even if you are not a gin fan, they might just convert you with their ‘low-juniper’ flavours!).
For a unique experience in the orchard itself, Merridale offers a Little Red Wagon picnic where you can book a wagon full of goodies like artisan bread, an assortment of local cheeses and charcuterie, antipasti and fresh fruit, then wheel it out into the orchard and enjoy a picnic. You’ll look just like all those people you see posting photos on Instagram, only this scene will be authentic! A Red Wagon picnic costs $25 per person (minimum 10 people), and you can even add some grownup drinks (cides, cocktails, beer or wine) for an additional fee. Sounds like a perfect excuse for a day trip to me.
Distance from Victoria: 47km
3. Qualicum Beach
Sometimes referred to as Vancouver Island’s ‘Garden Village’, Qualicum Beach on the Island’s northeast coast is only about 2 hours from Victoria, half an hour or so up the coast from Nanaimo. Qualicum and its neighbour Parksville are home to artisans of all types who love its laid-back lifestyle and proximity to nature. (We visited the studio of one artist, Jason Marlow, who is a woodturner and whose wife is a ceramicist. Both artists are incredibly talented and we ended up commissioning a piece from Jason.)
Qualicum Beach offers everything a nature lover could ask for and is home to several provincial parks. Enjoy waterfalls, swimming holes and shaded trails at Little Qualicum Falls Park, go caving in Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park on your own or as part of a guided tour, or if you want to forest bathe or hug a tree, head to Qualicum Beach Heritage Forest to see old growth giants.
TIP: If you want to turn this day trip into a unique and memorable over-nighter, plan (well) ahead for a stay in a suspended spherical treehouse at Free Spirit Spheres! Read all about it here.
Distance from Victoria: 158km
When it comes to creative communities on Vancouver Island, Sooke may just be the Island’s artsy-est town (which is certainly saying something here.) Many of its 11,000 residents are artists and the town is home to the annual Sooke Fine Arts Show, the Island’s premier juried art show (for 2020 the juried show will be going online). But even if you don’t choose to browse the many studios, galleries and artisan shops here, you can enjoy the beautiful setting of the town any number of ways.
Hike a piece of the iconic West Coast Trail, or enjoy a less intense stroll on the Oceanside Trail at Ed Macgregor Park right downtown. For an adrenaline rush, you can zipline over the forest, or in the heat of the summer take a hike to the Sooke Pot Holes Provincial Park for a dip in these refreshing pools, one of the province’s favourite natural swimming holes.
Offering equal part arts, culture and nature, Sooke is a great day trip from Victoria for whatever reason suits you best.
Distance from Victoria: 40km
5. Avatar Grove
Old Growth Forests are few and far between these days, so discovering a ‘new’ one to explore is a rare treat. While Avatar Grove certainly isn’t new given the age of its magnificent trees, it was only identified as an area of old growth forest in 2009, and as such is still a well-kept secret from many people. Home to ‘Canada’s Gnarliest Tree’, a magnificent burly red cedar, Avatar Grove is near Port Renfrew, definitely off-the-beaten path, but absolutely worth the effort to get here. Even the most cynical city dweller may find themselves hugging a tree.
After a couple of hours hiking through the peaceful forest (we recommend doing both the upper and lower trails off the road), transition back to civilization by stopping in at the Pub at Wild Renfrew resort for a meal and a glass of wine before heading back home.
TIP: Avatar Grove is about 15-20 minutes outside of Port Renfrew, but it’s tricky to find. So visit the Ancient Forest Alliance website for a downloadable map and directions. You’ll also want a vehicle that can handle rough dirt roads. Expect a hike that is more challenging than Cathedral Grove’s easy walking paths, as Avatar Grove’s trails are more rugged, with lots of roots and ups and downs to navigate. But the effort is well worth it!
Distance from Victoria: 119 km
Day Trips from Vancouver
1. Othello Tunnels
An abandoned railway line that cuts through the spectacular Coquihalla Canyon has found new life as a walking trail/attraction called the Othello Tunnels, not far from the town of Hope, BC. Visitors can now ‘walk the line’ through a series of tunnels carved through the granite, between which you can admire the intimate views of the cliffs and roaring Fraser River below.
Because it was an old railway line, the trail itself is a flat hike, and only about 3.5km round trip, so it’s a great option for people who may not want a strenuous trail experience, but still are looking for amazing scenery. The area is so impressive, in fact, that Sly Stallone used the Tunnels as a location to film Rambo, First Blood, so you know it’s got to be photogenic. (Just don’t try hanging off any of the 300-foot high cliffs the way Rambo did!)
TIP: Bring a flashlight, or use the app on your phone to help light your way through the tunnels, as some of the longer tunnels can be quite dark inside. For driving directions and more trail information, click here.
Distance from Vancouver: 160km
2. Lynn Canyon Park
While the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver certainly deserves the attention it gets as a top Vancouver attraction, the crowds there can make it a very touristy experience. Locals prefer a much smaller suspension bridge that is one of the area’s best kept secrets: the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. At 50 meters above Lynn Valley, the bridge offers all the bouncy, swaying excitement you love about suspension bridges, and gives you access to the trails within the Park where you can find swimming holes and pretty waterfalls. And the best part? It’s free!
Distance from Vancouver: 15km
Day Trips from Kelowna
1. Nk’Mip Cellars in Osoyoos
Because wine. That’s what makes a day trip to Osoyoos special. Located in the Okanagan Valley, Osoyoos is smack dab in the heart of BC’s wine country, and nothing makes for a better excuse for a grownup day trip than a wine tour. But Osoyoos offers something unique: Spirit Ridge Resort, a resort/spa/winery located on the sacred lands of the Osoyoos Band. This is the home of the first indigenous-owned-and-operated winery in North America: Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced inkameep).
As wineries go, Nk’Mip has gotten it right. Consistently ranked among the best wineries in BC and the country, Nk’Mip Cellars wines reflect the unique terroir in this part of the province: a Sonoran desert climate that provides the perfect growing conditions for reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Whites are no slouch here, either, like their award-winning Quam Qumt (kw-em kw-empt) 2017 Chardonnay. The full-service resort offers dining options as well, so you can pair your favourite vintage with the delicious food available, including at the winery’s own Patio restaurant.
Whether you come for the wine and food, come to hike the desert surroundings, or come to spoil yourself at the spa, this is a day trip definitely worth the drive.
Distance from Kelowna: 123km
Day Trips from Calgary
If you believe Tom Cochrane that “life is a highway”, head out on the one that takes you to Drumheller and the Badlands. From the flat grasslands you’ll slowly descend into a valley that is home to the iconic Hoodoos that were part of Cochrane’s music video. Sculpted by wind into organic sandstone pillars capped by flat stones, these hoodoos are a geological formation that are millions of years in the making. They aren’t huge (standing about 5 to 7 meters tall at the most) but they are one of the most unique features of the Badlands, and interesting to photograph and hike around.
Of course, no day trip to Drumheller, the ‘Dinosaur Capital of the World’ is complete without a trip to the Royal Tyrell Museum. Serious dino-philes can explore the artifacts and exhibits or even go digging on site looking for more fossils. For fans of quirkier attractions (count Henk and I in), spend $4 to see the World’s Largest Dinosaur right in Drumheller. You can actually climb up the 100 or so stairs to stand in the mouth of the 86-foot tall giant! That’s a photo op we just can’t NOT do!
Distance from Calgary: 135km
2. Grotto Canyon
Avoid the crowds hiking Johnston Canyon with a trip to Grotto Canyon instead, about 10 minutes outside of Canmore. Don’t let the fact that this trail is close to an industrial plant put you off because once you are enter the canyon proper you’ll discover a true hidden gem.
The sheer walls on either side of this narrow canyon reach hundreds of feet above you, and you’ll feel like you’re in an ancient passageway (you are). In fact, an ancient Hopi legend speaks of a clan who travelled north to a land of ice and rock centuries ago (hello, Canada!). Some archaeologists believe that proof of this journey can be seen not far from the canyon entrance where on the left side about 4 metres high there are 1300 year old rust-coloured pictographs, one of which appears to show a flute player – a dead giveaway that the artists were Hopi people, as they are the only ones who use this Kokopelli symbol.
TIP: The hike to Grotto Canyon is around 4km round trip and takes about 2 hours. Wear proper footwear for hiking the rocky trail and remember not to touch the pictographs, as they are hard to replace!
Distance from Calgary: 93 km
Special thanks to Alex Ross, CEO of FreshAdventures, who provided this hidden gem of a day trip from Calgary.
Day Trips from Edmonton
Alberta would seem an odd place to find the French Mural Capital of Canada, but Legal, Alberta also holds the title of French Mural Capital of the World, as of 2011. Its 37 murals have been the visual culmination of a longstanding relationship between the town and the Central Alberta L’Association canadienne-français, and the town’s Mural Walk is a popular way to discover them all.
With subject matter that includes the French history of the community, the region and the country, the murals are displayed throughout the town on buildings and in parks, celebrating the town’s French culture which dates back to 1894 when the first settlers from France came here. Although small, this community of around 1400 is fiercely proud of its roots with18% of its population identifying themselves as Francophone. Meaning this is a great place in Alberta for you to practice speaking French!
Distance from Edmonton: 53 km
Day Trips from Saskatoon
1. Little Manitou Lake
You’ve heard about the Dead Sea in Jordan and how easily it is to float in its mineral-rich waters. Well, Canada has its very own lake with similar properties, about 2 hours from Saskatoon: Little Manitou Lake.
With high concentrations of minerals and salts, Little Manitou Lake offers the opportunity to float like a rubber ducky – even hanging vertically in the water – plus the waters have healing properties that are good for the body as well. The sulphur in the water can ease aching joints and the lake’s mineral salts help boost the immune system. Whether you come for the floating fun or the physiological boost, a Little Manitou Lake therapy goes a long way to reviving body and soul. (And couldn’t we all use a little of that right about now?)
Driving directions to Little Manitou and more can be found on the website.
Distance from Saskatoon: 118 km
Day Trips from Winnipeg
For a little taste of Iceland, (and I’m not talking about Skyr yogurt), head 90 minutes north of Winnipeg to Gimli, the largest Icelandic community outside of – you guessed it – Iceland. The first thing you’ll want to do here is take a photo with the 5-metre tall Viking statue (strike a heroic pose yourself for best effect) because that’s what most visitors do and let’s face it, Vikings are hot right now, plus it’s kinda fun.
Once that’s taken care of, you can explore more of the town. For $7 you can take a more in-depth look at the whole Icelandic heritage at the New Iceland Heritage Museum. Or find a spot on Gimli’s huge beach and soak up the sun. You’ll probably also want to stroll the waterfront’s seawall and admire the murals on this outdoor gallery created by local artists. Before heading back home, though, be sure to try a slice of Vinaterta, a Manitoban-Icelandic cookie-cake.
Distance from Winnipeg: 90 km
2. Pinawa Dam
The Pinawa Dam was the first hydro electric station to be built in Manitoba back in 1901, but today is just a ruin following years of decay after it shut down in 1951 (it didn’t help that it was used as a target for artillery practice by the Canadian Armed Forces afterwards, either). But still, this is a unique place to explore, and the site is now part of the Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Park. Take the walking tour along the concrete structures’ remains where interpretive signs explain its history, plus you’ll get great views of the scenery around it. Or if it’s a hot day, do as the locals do and go swimming near some of the smooth rock in pools that are close by. Better yet, bring your canoe and paddle under the ruins!
Distance from Winnipeg: 120 km
Day Trips from Brandon
If you’re the kind of person who will drive somewhere specifically to take a photograph, there’s no more iconic shot than one of the historic grain elevators in Inglis, Manitoba. They’re known as the Five Prairie Giants, and as the last remaining row of elevators from the ‘golden age’ of Canada’s grain trade, they were designated a National Historic Site in 1997. Information onsite tells the history of the elevators and there is a self-guided walking tour that you can take even if you visit the site off-season.
Plan to come for ‘golden hour’ when the light is best and with any luck, you’ll capture a photo of these grain elevators that will be worth the 2 hour drive from Brandon.
Distance from Brandon: 200 km
Day Trips from Sudbury
1. Manitoulin Island’s Hiking Trails
Manitoulin Island is hardly a ‘hidden gem’ to locals who live in Northeastern Ontario, but gem it is nonetheless and there is always something here to discover, depending on when you visit. Summer is perfect for hiking the Cup and Saucer Trail, but the views get even better in the fall when the autumn colours are out.
October is also the perfect time of year to catch the salmon run at Bridal Veil Falls, (which is definitely something to see!). The Falls’ location just off the road with a staircase down to the water’s edge gives you an easy-access, front row seat to observe the fish thrashing and fighting their way upstream to the base of the falls.
Distance to Cup and Saucer Trail from Sudbury: 145 km
Distance to Bridal Veil Falls from Sudbury: 165 km
2. Chi-cheemaun Cruises from Manitoulin Island
What many people don’t know about Manitoulin Island is that the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, which typically is used to shuttle passengers between Tobermory and the Island, also offers dinner cruises during the summer months from its South Baymouth dock on the Island. Some of these cruises include concerts, as well and there are even select afternoon cruises that feature special guests from storytellers to musicians. Stargazers will enjoy the night sky astronomy cruise, too. (Prices on these cruises range from $45-$75). Check out all the options and make your next visit to Manitoulin Island a different kind of day trip.
Distance to South Baymouth ferry dock from Sudbury: 185 km
3. Point Grondine Park
The Killarney area in northeastern Ontario is home to one of Ontario’s most beautiful provincial parks, but it is also one of the region’s most popular and it gets fully booked by campers and day trippers alike. But a new park opened recently in the exact same area that offers a much less trafficked experience and an indigenous perspective: Point Grondine Park. Located in the Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, the Park has been used by the Anishinaabek people for generations for hunting and harvesting of its abundant natural resources. A few years ago, the Wikwemikong Development Commission completed the development of this 7000 hectare area as a park and it is now open for visitors to explore .
Along with opportunities to canoe, hike, and camp in this unspoiled region, visitors can participate in guided group hikes, tours and experiences with indigenous guides, and learn more about the relationship between the land and the Anishinaabek people. If you thought you knew everything about Killarney, now’s the time for a day trip from Sudbury to see the area’s newest park! Read more about Point Grondine here.
Distance from Sudbury: 85 km
4. The Ranch House at Killarney Mountain Lodge
The Killarney region is second to none when it comes to Group of Seven-inspired hiking, but if you want to top off a day of hiking with a glass of chilled wine on a patio, and not a thermos on a picnic bench, head to Killarney Mountain Lodge.
Over the last several years, the Lodge has undergone a massive, multi-million dollar makeover, renovating, building and restoring the property. They’ve updated iconic structures like the octagonal-shaped Carousel Lounge bar that overlooks the property, added a large outdoor patio to the great room and built a pretty impressive wine cellar off their main dining room.
Enjoy a drink and a more casual bite on the outdoor patio as you relax after a hike and watch the boats sail by. Or if you want to make your day trip from Sudbury more of an evening trip, book a reservation at The Ranch House, the Lodge’s premier steakhouse that opened in the brand new conference centre. The Centre’s massive log construction is impressive itself and the views from the dining room out to the North Channel are absolutely stunning.
Distance from Sudbury: 108 km
Day Trips from North Bay
1. Screaming Heads
When you talk about off the beaten path, Screaming Heads near Burk’s Falls is about as far off as you can get, both literally and figuratively. This expansive private property is part home, part art installation for owner Peter Camani, a retired high school art teacher who bought a rundown farm and turned it into an outdoor studio for his own creativity.
Camani has populated his fields and forests will all kinds of concrete art works he has built, many of which are ‘faces’ bearing an expression similar to Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream and from which the name ‘Screaming Heads’ was no doubt inspired. There is even a kind of stonehenge arrangement of these heads that you won’t want to miss.
If the gate to ‘Midlothian Castle’ (as Camani’s house is known) is open, all visitors are welcome to wander the property for free, but there is a donation box near the entrance. And last time we were there, it looked like you could purchase a T-shirt or two if you wanted. To learn more about the experience and see more photos, read about our visit to Screaming Heads.
Distance from North Bay: 105 km
2. Caribou Mountain Watch Tower, Temagami
If you’re looking for a good excuse for a day trip from North Bay (and you’re not afraid of heights!), how about the chance to climb up an authentic fire tower? Just head north to Caribou Mountain in Temagami, take a right on O’Connor drive and another on Jack Guppy Way which leads to the watch tower. There’s a small parking lot and short path to the tower where there’s a large cantilevered deck near the base of the tower that overlooks the area below. Behind it is the tower, a metal and wood tapered structure that rises 100 feet above you. It may appear intimidating but the tower is solid structurally, and climbing it is safe and encouraged. Once at the top, you can imagine yourself as a forest ranger surveying the horizon, in this case not for fires but for the perfect photo.
After descending the tower, if you feel like exploring a little more of the mountain at ground level, the White Bear Trail at the foot of the tower is a great hike through an old growth pine forest, one of the few remaining in the region.
TIP: The Caribou Watch Tower is a great thing to visit in the autumn, too, as the panoramic views of the fall foliage interspersed with shimmering blue lakes are second to none
Distance from North Bay: about 100 km
Day Trips from Toronto
1. Port Hope
Port Hope came as a ‘big little’ surprise for us one weekend when we were looking for a day trip from Toronto and decided to head to this small town of 16,000+ residents, just over an hour east of the city. What we found was an historic downtown (one of the best preserved main streets in Ontario) with unique galleries and shops filled with the works of local artists and artisans. We were so impressed with some of the items we saw that we actually ended up buying a one-of-a-kind table that is one of our favourite pieces in our home.
At the time of our visit, I didn’t know about Primitive Designs, outside of town, which boasts everything from giant robots and dragons made from salvaged bits and pieces, to live-edged furniture and driftwood sculptures. It has become a huge attraction for visitors because of its unique collection of stuff, so perhaps it is best that I didn’t know about it (as I probably would have done more damage to my credit card!) There’s even an Iron Throne, and given my obsession with Game of Thrones experiences, this could have been one expensive day trip from Toronto!
Of course, if you don’t want to just shop, there are walking tours you can take, including a short stroll that will take you right to the shores of Lake Ontario, restaurants where you can enjoy lunch or a glass of your favourite adult beverage, and plenty of quiet places and parks if you just want to relax and wander.
Distance from Toronto: 107 km
If you are thinking of a summer day trip from Toronto and you have Orillia in your sights, be sure to time your visit after the middle of June, when the town’s annual Streets Alive art festival is happening. (June 13 – October, 2020) Downtown sidewalks become the site of dozens of art installations created by the local craftspeople and artisans who live in the area. Each year, artists are challenged with a theme for their ‘canvas’, which has ranged from creative interpretations of doors, to this year’s theme of Hippie Vans (a nod to the 60th anniversary of the Mariposa Folk Festival). The show is juried and the art pieces remain on the streets all summer, with the winners being announced in late August.
Don’t miss strolling Orillia’s pretty waterfront park where you can admire the boats and the views (better yet, grab some goodies from the Marisposa Bakery on Main Street for a picnic on the grass). For a small town, there are plenty of things to do in Orillia, and it makes for a perfect summer day trip from Toronto.
Distance from Toronto: 143 km
If your idea of a day trip from Toronto includes a little ‘antiquing’, head to the little town of Shakespeare in Perth County. On a per capita basis, the town is an antique mecca: the main street here is home to a number of great antique stores, where you can pick up everything from architectural bits and bobs salvaged from old Victorian homes or barns here in Ontario, to more exotic pieces from Europe and Asia.
And once you’re done spending money on old stuff, there’s a cute little tea house called Harry Ten Shilling where you can indulge yourself a little more with a traditional afternoon tea or other savoury dishes. If cold beverages are more what you’re after and you would prefer to wet your whistle with a local craft brew, stop by the Shakespeare Brewing Company. Their whimsical names (like The Classy Cow or The Grumpy Goat) are all inspired by the Bard’s works! (Read more about eating and drinking in Perth County.)
Distance from Toronto: 148 km
For such a tiny town, Elora offers something for just about everyone, whether they are outdoor enthusiasts, shopping mavens, or finicky foodies. The town’s mainstream is filled with cute boutiques and art galleries, artisan goods brought in by the local Mennonite community, and plenty of restaurants from casual outdoor spaces to more elevated options. In fact, the Elora Mill Hotel & Spa has undergone a massive multi-million dollar renovation that includes the addition of brand new luxurious accommodations, a beautiful spa overlooking the river, and fine dining at their restaurant (which is open to all visitors, not just hotel guests).
If a little outdoor fun is what you’re looking for in your day trip from Toronto, head out early to secure a spot (and your equipment) to go tubing down the Elora Gorge, one of the region’s most popular summer activities. On a hot day nothing beats floating down the river between the cliffs, one of the highlights of any day trip to Elora.
Distance from Toronto: 116 km
5. Milton Lilac Farm
Who says you have to go to the south of France to see fields of purple lavender? Terre Bleu Farm near Milton is Ontario’s answer to Provence, and one of the prettiest – and most fragrant – day trips from Toronto that you can take.
Terre Bleu is the dreamchild of Ian and Isabelle Baird who were inspired to start the farm after falling in love with the idea while on vacation in Québec. They planted their first 10,000 plants in 2011 and 3 years later opened the farm to the public. Today the farm produces all kinds of unique lavender products from health and beauty products to food (including ice cream!) that are available for sale on the property. Visitors can join tours of the property, or just wander on their own, following the Yellow Bench Trail for a photo op in the middle of the lavender rows beside the farm’s signature yellow door.
Distance from Toronto: 76 km
6. The City of Waterfalls (ie. Hamilton)
Hamilton is known as the City of Waterfalls, something the locals know full well, as they’ve been exploring their region’s 100+ waterfalls for years. But many of their near neighbours have never come to the region specifically to discover these waterfalls, so what better excuse for a great day trip from Toronto?
Webster Falls is one of the most popular of the area’s cascades, partly because of its easy access in the historic village of Dundas, and partly because it is one of the largest in the region. In fact, several of these more popular waterfalls (Webster, Tiffany, Billy Green Falls) are even illuminated for different occasions during the year.
But there are other waterfalls scattered throughout the area, some of which require a bit more of a hike, like the Devil’s Punchbowl near Stoney Creek or Buttermilk Falls near Albion Falls. All these waterfalls are a little different, but depending on the season and the amount of water flow, some of the smaller ones may even temporarily disappear, so it’s a good idea to plan around these conditions as well. To plan your day trip of waterfalling (yes, it’s a word!), and for a complete list of the waterfalls, visit this site.
Distance from Toronto (varies by waterfall): around 75 km
7. Long Point
The only thing longer than the road/causeway that takes you out to Long Point proper are the sandy beaches that await you when you arrive in Long Point Provincial Park. But don’t rush to get to that beautiful beach right away: it is worth stopping along the road that leads there, as it cuts through wetlands that are an ideal habitat for all kinds of birds. Photographers and bird-watchers will want to get here early, of course, to find their spot to observe their feathered friends, but even casual observers will enjoy stopping at the sheltered observatory platforms along the birding trail.
As for the beach itself, Long Point’s soft sand, shallow waters and sand bars make for an ideal spot for sunning, swimming, wading, or just playing in the water. In fact, Long Point is considered by many to be one of the province’s prettiest beaches, not just one of the longest. (Even UNESCO recognizes the area as a World Biosphere Reserve!) If you’re looking for a great beach for your day trip from Toronto, it doesn’t get much better than Long Point.
TIP: Ticks are known to be present in this area of Ontario, so wear the proper clothing and take the normal precautions to avoid them. To learn more about how to protect yourself, consult the local health unit’s information
Distance from Toronto: 178 km
Day Trips from Montreal, Québec
1. ObservÉtoiles (Sutton)
Get away from the city lights of Montreal (and I mean really away!) to some of the darkest skies in the province where you can gaze at the stars in a one-of-a-kind outdoor planetarium called ObservÉtoiles, just outside of Sutton. Located on the Au Diable Vert property where you can also overnight in unusual accommodations like treehouses and airstream trailers, ObservÉtoiles is located in a part of the province that is exceptionally devoid of light pollution, and it was for this reason that the owner of Au Diable Vert decided to construct his state-of-the-art outdoor amphitheatre to admire the heavens.
The admission price of $46 includes an augmented-reality headset that helps identify the constellations (which can be used with software at home as well). Astronomer hosts help to guide guests on their tour of the heavens as they relax on heated seats under starry skies. This revolutionary outdoor planetarium is so unique, National Geographic has become a partner – so you know it’s something truly special.
Distance from Montreal: 125 km
2. North Hatley
A popular getaway for Montrealers, North Hatley may not exactly be a ‘hidden’ gem, but a gem it is nonetheless. If you aren’t lucky enough to own a property here as an escape from the city, you can at least make a day of it by coming for a visit. The charming downtown lives up to its name as one of the ‘prettiest villages in Québec” as its location is picture-perfect on the shores of Lake Massawippi. There’s a photogenic pier (former railway trestle) and a gazebo that is perfect for a stroll, and the town offers a collection of restaurants and boutiques that are fun to browse. On weekends in the summer there are farmers’ markets as well where you can shop for locally-made treats and crafts.
To really spoil yourself, head to the Manoir Hovey, a former private estate that has been converted into an exclusive Relais and Chateaux property. Enjoy lunch and a drink on their outdoor verandah overlooking the lake, while keeping your eyes open for ‘Wippi’, the legendary lake monster that is the Eastern Township’s answer to Loch Ness’ Nessie.
Distance from Montreal: 142 km
Day Trips from Québec City
1. Scenic Drive on Hwy 132 to Kamouraska
If a scenic drive is what you’re after in a day trip from Québec City, then head east out on highway 132 towards Kamouraska, one of the province’s most beautiful roads that hugs the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.
This trip is really about the drive and the views of the river, islands and north shore opposite, but along the way there are some places of interest to stop : for maritime history buffs, the tiny town of L’Islet-sur-Mer is home to the Maritime Museum of Québec; Saint-Jean-Port-Joli a bit farther east is a great place to stop for a bite at one of this town’s charming cafes or to stroll the galleries (this town is known for its sculptors). There is also small motorcycle museum here for 2-wheeler aficionados.
Once you do arrive at the tiny village of Kamouraska, there are some delicious rewards waiting for you: sample the baked goodies at the Boulangerie Niemand housed in a Victorian house, or truly spoil yourself with chocolate confections at la Fée Gourmande chocolate factory. (Henk and I chose to indulge with some gourmet poutine at a local restaurant) There’s also a cute General Store that is fun to poke around in.
Distance from Québec City: 170 km
Art galleries, cafes, microbreweries, patios and fine dining. If these things appeal to you in a day trip from Québec, then head to Baie-St-Paul, about an hour and a bit east in the picturesque Charlevoix region. This charming town is definitely a treasure to explore, so allow time to explore main street, browse the shops and sample the local cuisine (Bistro La Muse and Le Mouton Noir are great options for dining).
Or take advantage of the Charlevoix region’s natural beauty: Baie-St-Paul is right on the coast of the St. Lawrence with a beautiful beach and there are also hiking trails for those who want to stretch their legs. A popular choice is the 7-km Parc du Gouffre hiking trail that takes you from downtown Baie-St-Paul along the Gouffre river and out into the country (with observation points along the way where you can stop and admire the views.)
Distance from Québec City: 94 km
3. Île d’Orleans
You don’t have to go far to feel far away from the tourists crowding Quebec City’s historic city centre: head to Île d’Orleans just east of the city and immerse yourself in the best of rural life. Small communities, centuries-old houses, farmers markets, farm-to-table dining and picturesque views of the St. Lawrence are all within an easy half hour drive.
A visit to Île d’Orleans is the chance to explore several of the province’s ‘most beautiful villages’ all in one place: the village of Saint-Jean has a collection of historic homes dating back to the mid 1800’s; Sainte-Famille has a large concentration of stone houses and a church from 1743 with 3 bell towers; Saint-Laurent earned its pretty village designation for its stellar view of the river and the Appalachians beyond; and Saint-Francois, the smallest community on the island, is known for its own stone houses dating to the French period.
If you want to pair your history with the best of the island’s farms, stop by one of the many farmers’ markets on the island and pick something fresh to bring home. Or leave the prep to someone else, and enjoy a locally-sourced charcuterie plate and glass of wine at Sainte-Pétronille’s Auberge La Goéliche on the western tip of the island. With romantic sunset views of the St. Lawrence it’s a great place to finish off your day before heading back to the city.
Distance from Quebec City: 35 km
Day Trips from Moncton or Saint John
1. Minister’s Island
New Brunswick Tourism campaigns promise that you can ‘walk on the ocean floor’ at places like Hopewell Cape, but did you know you can also drive across the ocean floor in this province, too? That is the case with Minister’s Island, a 500-acre ‘sometimes-island’ that lies just off the shore near St. Andrew’s, NB. When the famously extreme Bay of Funky tide is low, the island is linked to the mainland via a 1km stretch of ‘road’ that is exposed, so if you time your visit right, you can drive across that ocean floor for a visit. Time it wrong and the sand bar will be under 14 feet of water. (You definitely want to check the tidal information here before heading to or from the island!)
Once on Minister’s Island, you can explore the historic buildings, including the house of Reverend Samuel Andrews (the minister who purchased the island, giving it the name). There are tours of the other outbuildings, as well as 20km of walking trails if you just want to explore on your own. (Just be sure to make it back to the mainland while the tide is still low so you can enjoy the bragging rights that you drove on the ocean floor, not “I got stuck on Minister’s Island!”)
Distance from Saint John: 78 km
Distance from Moncton: 200 km
Speaking of tides, you’ll want to plan your day trip to Alma so that you can see both high and low tides in this tiny fishing village. Why? Because when these extreme tides go out, the boats at the pier are left ‘low and dry’ – so low, in fact, that they are sitting on the exposed ground, 15 feet or so below the wharfs. The fishermen are prepared of course, with sawhorses to support the boats until the water returns. It’s quite a sight.
While you’re waiting hours for the tide to do its thing, enjoy a lunch at one of the many popular seafood restaurants or take a hike (one of the entrances to Fundy National Park is located close to the main street.) Or do both, since you’ll need to fill about 6 hours. Again, check with the government site for tide schedules.
Distance from Saint John: 132 km
Distance from Moncton: 79 km
3. Cape Enrage
Close to Alma is another great spot for a day trip (or to kill time between tide extremes): Cape Enrage, a rocky promontory that juts out into the Bay of Fundy. Although the name is a forbidding one, the location is an ideal vantage point for views of the water and for observing the extreme tides which can rise and fall as much as 50+ feet. The Cape is also home to a still-operational lighthouse that was established here in 1838, and if you happen to be visiting on a foggy day, you’ll hear its foghorn blare out a warning from the towering cliff. We heard its call through the mists when we were exploring the Cape Enrage beach, another cool spot for hiking at low tide.
Distance from Alma: 20 km
Distance from Saint John: 150 km
Distance from Moncton: 76 km
Day Trips from Halifax
1. Mahone Bay
If you’re a fan of the TV show The Curse of Oak Island, you’ll recognize Mahone Bay as the place where the treasure-hunting team members take a break from looking for some long-lost buried treasure and go for a beer at one of the town’s local pubs. Which is exactly what you might want to do if you set your sights on Mahone Bay for a trip out of Halifax.
Mahone Bay is about as photogenic as it gets, with its distinctive main street (Edgewater St.) with 3 churches and colourful clapboard-sided historic homes sitting practically on the water’s edge. So you’ll definitely want to bring your camera. You might also want to bring your appetite so that you can dive into some of the local treats at one of the cafes and restaurants in town (maybe even lobster ice cream!). And don’t forget your wallet, since there are a number of boutiques that sell modern-day treasures that may not date back to Templar times, but will tempt those who are interested in artisan crafts, handcrafted decor or unusual gifts.
TIP: If you want to follow in the footsteps of treasure hunters past and present and visit Oak Island, you’ll have to sign up for one of their Oak Island treasure/history tours since the island is privately owned. (At almost $50 per person, these tours may be the only real money-making venture the brothers Lagina have discovered during their as-yet fruitless, multi-year quest to find treasure here!) Tours fill up fast, so another option would be a boat trip around the island with Salty Dog Sea Tours who also provide great insights into the island’s history.
Distance to Mahone Bay from Halifax: 86 km
2. Hirtle’s Beach (Lunenburg region)
Three kilometres long, with sands that move and change with the tides, you might say that Hirtle’s Beach is never the same beach twice. What is the same, however, is the rolling surf, sand, rocks and ocean views that you’ll find here, something that a few savvy homeowners know well, as they have built residences here designed to take advantage of those views. (Drive the small road that runs behind the beach and you can see some of these homes, each with its own unique character and design.)
If you want to go even further off the beaten path, hike the 7km round-trip marked trail to Gaff Point on the southwestern end of the beach where you will get great views of the cliffs here (and a little exercise as well). This trail is part of a protected wilderness park and winds through different terrain from forests and grasslands to the impressive cliffs at the end. Nature lovers, bird watchers and photographers may know this place, but you definitely won’t find crowds here even in the summer months.
Distance from Halifax: 116 km
3. Blue Rocks
If you like Peggy’s Cove, but are looking for something a lot less touristy, check out Lunenburg’s answer to a picturesque cove: Blue Rocks. A small fishing village about 6 minutes east of Lunenburg. Blue Rocks is so named for the slate rocks on the shore that have inspired artists and photographers alike. Their most poplar subject: the fish shack perched on a rock in the cove here.
There may not be a lighthouse, but when the tide is in and the shack seems to be floating in the ocean, it makes for a perfect focal point nonetheless.
Distance from Halifax: 106 km
4. Bear River
If creative communities are what you are looking for in a day trip from Halifax, head to Bear River, a village of about 800 residents that is situated in a pretty glacial valley on a tidal river that bears the same name. Because Bear River is off of the Bay of Funky, the tides here can change by about 25 feet and the businesses and homes that were built close to the shore required a little creative ingenuity in their construction: stilts! Come at low tide and you’ll see these structures perched high and dry above the rocky riverbed, but if you catch the village at high tide, the river will appear to flow under and between the buildings. (While you’re waiting for the tide to do its thing, you can always enjoy a drink in the Tall Sips on Stilts Teahouse & Tavern, located in one of these remaining buildings.)
Creativity lives in Bear River in many other forms too; in fact, this community is home to dozens of artists and craftspersons who live and work here. Check out some of the galleries to admire their work, or purchase a unique treasure. Whether you come here to make your own photographic art, or browse artwork by some of the local artis sans, this day trip from Halifax gives you a great excuse to indulge your creative side.
Distance from Halifax: 219 km
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Day Trips from Charlottetown
1. Thunder Cove’s Tea Pot
The north coast of PEI is typically known for its red sand dunes and beaches. But the red sandstone found here takes on other forms as well, including red rock cliffs and pillars sculpted by the water and wind. One of this area’s hidden gems is a beach called Thunder Cove just outside of Kensington. It’s here you’ll find a single sea stack with a unique shape that has earned it the nickname the Tea Pot. (I think it looks more like a tea cup with no handle, but hey, creative licence!)
The Tea Pot is known well to locals and is accessible at low tide when the base is exposed, but climbing it is strongly discouraged as it is dangerous to both climber and the Tea Pot’s sandstone is equally fragile. Photographing it, however, is definitely encouraged. The best angle? Through a natural arch in the nearby rocks when the tide is low and the sea is calm (early morning).
UPDATE: Sadly, when Hurricane Fiona ripped through Canada’s Eastern Provinces in September 2022, one of the casualties of the storm surge and high winds was PEI’s favourite little Tea Pot.
Distance from Charlottetown: 66 km
Day Trips from St. John’s
1. Ferryland Lighthouse Picnic
If you’re feeling for a day trip from St. John’s that includes a unique lunch spot, Destination Canada offers one of their Signature Canadian Experiences at the Ferryland Lighthouse, about an hour or so south of St. John’s: a ‘Lighthouse Picnic‘. Guests who reserve their lunch can enjoy a basket full of home made goodies while they lounge at the foot of the lighthouse, admiring the view of the wild Atlantic below. The Lighthouse cafe makes all the picnic goodies onsite, including fresh pastries and breads, salads and drinks, and when you book you can list any dietary restrictions that you might have. However, there is a limited number of spots available, and you’ll want to get your reservation confirmed before heading out. Oh, and BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket this year, because, well, Covid-19.
TIP: This day trip from St. John’s also includes a bonus hike, as you will need to walk to the lighthouse from where you park your vehicle (about half an hour or so on a gravel trail) so wear comfy shoes.
NOTE: The Lighthouse is open from 11:30 – 4:30 and closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Distance from St. John’s: 80 km
Day Trips from Whitehorse
1. Robinson Roadhouse
For a glimpse into the Yukon’s gold rush past, head out on Hwy 2 to visit the Robinson Roadhouse, the remains of a once-bustling way point on the historic Klondike Route. This location was a sideline off the main White Cross railway line where trains could pass one another and was operated as a flag station until 1983. But back in the day, Robinson became a gathering place where gold miners came to pick up mail and freight and ship out their ore. In 1906, an enterprising duo (William Grainger and Herman Vance) saw this opportunity and claimed 160 acres on either side of the railway stop to turn into a townsite.
Some of the remains of that townsite are what you can still see at Robinson today, including the Gold Hill Roadhouse and saloon which was run by entrepreneur Louis Markel and his wife. There are interpretive plaques that explain the history of the site and although the buildings are falling down, they make for a great photo opportunity. The grounds are mowed, and there are picnic tables and outhouses, so why not pack a lunch and enjoy the peaceful setting.
Distance from Whitehorse: 38 km
2. Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert
The Yukon is home to spectacular and varied landscapes, and this single day trip can take you to see two places that could not be more different from each other: a jewel-coloured lake and the smallest ‘desert’ in the world.
“Emerald” Lake only begins to describe the stunning colour of this lake, located right beside Highway 2 on the west side less than 1 hour south of Whitehorse. The colours of this white silt-bottomed lake run the spectrum from brilliant greens and turquoises to azure, and set with the surrounding tree-covered hills, Emerald Lake sparkles like the gem that it is. Conveniently, there’s plenty of room to pull over and admire the views, because the second you catch a glimpse of the colours of this Yukon lake, you’ll be pulling over to take a longer look.
Five minutes farther west along the highway on the opposite side you’ll find the opposite to a lake: a sandy, dune-filled basin called Carcross Desert.
Technically not a desert, Carcross is actually what’s left of a post-glacial lake, and the sand is what remains of the sediments that were once at its bottom. But with the winds sculpting those sands into large dunes, and the unique geography that traps the sand between the surrounding hills, Carcross has many of the characteristics of a desert in a place you’d least expect to find it: Canada’s North.
TIP: Extend this day trip from Whitehorse to include the town of Carcross as well, which offers more things to see and do.
Distance to Emerald Lake: 60 km
Carcross Desert: 70 km
3. Thunder Egg Mountain
There are no shortage of hiking opportunities in the Yukon that can reward you with spectacular vistas, but only one location near the entrance to Kluane Park’s Alsek Valley boasts a unique geological formation you find in few places in the world: spherical rock ‘balls’ known locally as Thundereggs.
Known as ‘concretions’, these balls are found near ThunderEgg Mountain beside the Creek of the same name, and they vary in size from baseball-sized to the diameter of bowling balls. The balls are formed when material accumulates around organic matter at its centre or a chip of shale. These ‘clusters’ are hidden within a hill made up of a different type of sedimentary rock. As that surrounding rock gradually erodes, these spheres are revealed. ‘Extruded’ over time, the spheres eventually tumble down the side of the hill.
To learn more about how to get Thunderegg Creek, get detailed directions and trail details here.
Distance from Whitehorse: 175 km (about 20 km from Haines Junction)
Day Trips from Yellowknife
1. Cameron River Ramparts
The Northwest Territories are big. So it’s a good thing the summer days are really long, because you can easily use up all of those extra hours of daylight driving and still find yourself between places! However, if you want a day trip from Yellowknife that won’t require a marathon drive, head to the Cameron River Ramparts.
Cameron Falls may be the attraction that draws most tourists, but a little farther upstream is where you’ll find the Cameron River Ramparts, a much less trafficked spot where you aren’t likely to run into too many snap-happy tour groups. And unlike the hike into the Falls, this short trek doesn’t require navigating difficult terrain.
While these rapids are lower and some might argue less spectacular than their steeper cousin downstream, the ramparts are pretty nonetheless. Word has it that the fishing is good here, too, but the real reason to come is the lack of visitors. Which is what you want in a peaceful escape from town.
Distance from Yellowknife: 58 km
Hidden Gems in Your Own Backyard
We often tend to look far afield when it comes to planning travel adventures, seeking the exotic, the foreign, or the unusual. Yet Canada offers so much diversity, culture and beauty right here in our own backyard, that all we have to do is cast our gaze a little closer to home and we will discover it. Hopefully these day trips from Canadian cities will inspire you to do just that, no matter where you happen to live.
Got a great day trip from your city? We’d love to include it!
Tell us about your favourite day trip and why you love it and we’ll add it to our list! (leave a message in the comments below, or email [email protected]!)
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.