Small towns are so charming, and during the summer, they come to life. Whether it's street festivals, markets, or events on the water, small towns create that classic, nostalgic ambiance we're all looking for this time of year.
Plus, road trips and small towns are basically a match made in heaven. That cinematic image where you and your friends happen upon an adorable small town after getting lost on your journey is just so iconic - who wouldn't want to recreate it in real life?
If you're feeling some serious wanderlust and are ready to let yourself get lost (then found, I promise), keep these amazing little Ontario towns in mind when you set out on your adventure.
1. Port Hope
If you've ever driven to Toronto, you may have seen the sign for Port Hope, since this town lies just 100km before the big city. With its relative proximity to Toronto, it's impressive that Port Hope has maintained an authentic, small-town feeling.
An escape for city slickers and destination for tourists en route, Port Hope is a well known small town for a reason: it has the charm and serenity we're all looking for. The downtown area of Port Hope is actually the best preserved 19th-century era spot in the province, and the Capitol Theatre is popular for plays and shows. Escape to Port Hope on your way to or from Toronto and relish in the calm.
2. Prince Edward County
This gem of a small town - actually, it's a county, but regardless- is responsible for my fondest childhood memories, because it is home to Sandbanks Provincial Park, where I went camping with my family and friends every single summer from the ages of two to thirteen. The photo above depicts a section of the sand dunes, which, as you can see, are incredible natural wonders right in the park. So if you were on the fence, Sandbanks is absolutely worth the trip alone.
But, that being said, Prince Edward County itself is wonderful - if any place encompasses the quintessential small town vibe, it's this region. The architecture is full of old-world charm, and the farmhouses add to the feeling of being nestled in the countryside.
But don't be too quick to judge PEC as traditional; there are world class restaurants, amazing wines to try, and theatre houses that locals and tourists enjoy year round. If you want the small-town experience that has it all, Prince Edward County is easily the best choice.
3. Wolfe Island
Having spent my University years in Kingston, a ferry ride away from Wolfe Island, I can attest to its beauty and small-town charm. Wolfe Island has large, sprawling farms, tall white windmills you can see all the way from the opposite shore, a huge, relatively private beach, and a seriously killer bakery. If you need a break from the big city, or just life in general, spend some time on the lake here and all your troubles will melt away.
What I love most about Wolfe Island is the strength of the community, and the grassroots hippie culture that underscores the vibe of the island. Between cool music festivals, local eateries, and hanging out on the water, Wolfe Island is sure to open its arms wide and give you the best visit possible.
Perth is beautiful in every way; from the architecture, rolling fields, and calming river running through the downtown, you can find your zen here, trust me. The town is home to some great Bed & Breakfasts, so it's perfect if you're just passing through for the night or want to spend a simple weekend away.
Restaurants and cafes are also in abundance here, so if you happen upon Perth on the way to your final destination, make this your rest stop - forget highway roadhouses, treat yourself to a beautiful meal by the river and relish in small town beauty. Bonus: Perth is surrounded by gorgeous cottage country, so if you're looking to rent a place somewhere, keep this region in mind.
I think if my summer dreams could be captured in a photo, it would be this one. And yes, you can do this in Elora, which is home to both an awesome quarry for swimming and cliff jumping, and a beautiful gorge that draws tons of tourists, especially in the summer time.
While the natural aspects of Elora are certainly worth a trip, their historic downtown centre is also a marvel on its own. The buildings are very old, and have maintained their Victorian-era essence. There are also tons of world-class festivals and events, such as the Horse & Hound parade, that draw huge crowds for an unforgettable spectacle.
If you're familiar with the name Huntsville, it's probably because this small town is in the heart of Muskoka, the famous cottage country region North of Toronto, that is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Canada. Tons of people own cottages in and around Huntsville, so if you want to rent a place, definitely look here - this beloved Muskoka town will not disappoint. And it's not just cottages either; there are resorts and other types of lodges to stay at if a cottage is not your style.
If you're road tripping around this area of Ontario, however, the town of Huntsville itself is a great stop-off. The cottage country charm is embedded in all aspects of the town, and the little home-grown shops and restaurants are no exception. Overall, Huntsville is what so many people are looking for in the summer; a quiet place to escape and be on the water.
Too broke to go on a Europe trip this summer? No worries, the adorable Paris, Ontario has you covered. This little gem has previously been voted the "prettiest town in Canada", and when you take in the simple beauty, you'll see why.
A large river flows right through the town, one that you can spend the day hanging out beside and swimming in. There are also award-winning fine dining restaurants, and the town has a unique European flair in its buildings and shops. Aside from the picturesque photo-ops, you can also do some great outdoor activities, such as hiking, kayaking and white-water rafting. I know I know, Paris has your heart already.
That waterfall, though, am I right? Almonte, a small town close to Ottawa, perhaps isn't as picturesque as other towns I've mentioned, but it's the surrounding nature that makes this place worth a visit. Aside from the waterfall in the photo, there are hiking trails that lead to other sets of rushing rapids and small falls that can lull you into serenity just by sitting near them.
Almonte can be easily incorporated into an Ottawa trip, or as a place to spend the day when you're tired from driving and need to rest. Find your quiet corner in this little town, put your feet up, and enjoy.
You should recognize the name of this town from the famous Tragically Hip song, "Bobcaygeon," and if not, please get acquainted with both the song and this awesome small town. Cottage country and lakeside living at its finest, Bobcaygeon is everything Canadian wrapped into one perfect little spot in Ontario.
There is also tons of history in this town, and you can go on many different heritage tours, learning about the early settlers of the Kawartha Lakes region. But, best of all, there are great public beaches to hang out at, cycling routes, and a charming downtown where you can get lost in antique shops and art boutiques. Do the Hip justice, and visit Bobcaygeon.
Any discussion about small towns is incomplete without the gorgeous Niagra-On-The-Lake, one of the most picturesque places in Ontario, bar none. Tons of people vacation here, get married here, have their honeymoons here... the charm is in abundance and so are the tourists.
But don't let the hordes of people shy you away from this wonderful place, because it's truly world class in every sense. Perhaps the most famous aspect is the abundance of local wines (Niagara brands are wildly popular around the country) and wine tasting adventures you can do. And what goes best with wine? Food. Lots of it. This town doesn't disappoint either on the restaurants - there are actually foodie tours you can go on.
All in all, Niagra-On-The-Lake proves that small towns can truly deliver on style, fun, entertainment, great dining, and of course, drinking. Time to raise your glass, friends.