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10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Toronto

Toronto is well situated in southern Ontario, with culture, nature, and small-town charm just a short drive from the city. In less than three hours, road trippers can find themselves shopping in quaint towns, exploring lakes and wilderness areas, enjoying an adrenaline adventure at an amusement park, taking in a performance at the country's most well-known theater festival, or soaking in the magic of Niagara Falls. Some of the main attractions are seasonal, with amusement parks and lake areas drawing crowds during the summer months, while others, like Niagara Falls and Blue Mountain, are popular destinations year-round, and possibly even at their best during the winter months. While most of these adventures are self-driving day trips, organized tours to some of the most popular places are available from Toronto.

1 Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls
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One of Canada's most famous and wondrous sites is less than a two-hour drive from Toronto. For many travelers, seeing Niagara Falls is the highlight of their visit to Toronto, or even Canada. This amazing spectacle has been wowing visitors since the early explorers came through in the 1600s. Today, there are many ways to see the roaring falls, from boat trips to the base of the falls to feel the mist on your face, to wandering tunnels behind the falls for a glimpse of the backside of this curtain of water. One of the most popular options is a trip up the Skylon Tower for a bird's-eye view over the falls and the entire area.

As a day trip, Niagara Falls can't be beat. There are countless things to do here for all ages. The town of Niagara Falls, located right at the falls, has long maintained a carnival-like atmosphere, making it a fun spot for families.

From Toronto, there are a variety of tours offering excursions to Niagara Falls. Usually these tours are combined with a visit to the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Some tours also offer a chance to see the falls lit up at night, either staying overnight or returning after dark. One of the most popular tours is the Niagara Falls Small-Group Tour from Toronto. This is a full-day trip with pickup and drop-off at Toronto hotels, and includes transportation, a Hornblower cruise to the base of the falls, optional lunch, free time to explore the town and falls, and a stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake on the return drive.

For visitors driving themselves, pay parking is available at the falls, near the water's edge. The town, the falls, and many of the various attractions are all within walking distance of the car parking area.

2 Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake
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This lovely historic town, once the capital of Upper Canada, is one of Southern Ontario's small treasures. All of the structures are either from the 18th century, built following the destruction that occurred during the War of 1812, or designed to look as if they were built during that time period (1815-1859). As a result, the town is a National Historic Site of Canada. Although it is very small, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a full-on tourist town, with horse-drawn carriage rides, souvenir and tourist shops, and a beautiful decked-out main street, always decorated in season. The historic Prince of Wales Hotel, on the main street, is one of the town's prime attractions.

Just 20 minutes from Niagara Falls and one hour from Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake is often visited in conjunction with a trip to the falls. The scenic Niagara Parkway follows the Niagara River from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the shores of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the river. For those looking to get a little exercise, a paved pathway runs beside the Niagara Parkway for most of the route between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Biking the parkway during the warm weather months is a popular activity. The ride is mostly downhill from the falls to the town.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is beautiful any time of year but has a particular charm in the fall when the autumn colors are peaking, and the red and yellow leaves line the streets and sidewalks. From spring until fall, the town hosts the annual Shaw Festival. This festival has been running for more than 50 years, featuring the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Shavian playwrights. It is a summertime tradition in southern Ontario, drawing theater goers from all over the region.

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3 Algonquin Provincial Park

Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin Provincial Park
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Algonquin Provincial Park is Toronto's go-to park for escaping the city and experiencing nature. Lakes, forests, and rivers attract canoeists, kayakers, campers, hikers, and nature lovers in general. Wildlife is abundant, with wolves, bears, moose, deer, loons, and other small critters calling the park home. Most visitors will see at least some wildlife, especially on hikes or canoe trips. One of the park's most popular programs is the Wolf Howl, which takes place on Thursday nights in August and early September. For this unique wildlife interaction, naturalists take participants out to howl to the wild wolves that inhabit the park and listen for the wolves to howl back. This is an event that lasts about three hours and attracts literally thousands of people over the course of the month.

The park is open year-round and has a number of key attractions depending on the time of year. In the early spring, when the salt from the roads runs into the ditches, moose come to the roadside for the salt and can be seen regularly in the mornings by passing cars. During the summer months, the park rents canoes for visitors to explore the lakes and rivers. This can be as simple as a couple hours of paddling or a longer multi-day trip. The park has all kinds of backcountry campsites for canoers and kayakers spread throughout the park. Hiking trails around the lake shores and to high points with lookouts are also popular day tripping activities. In the fall, thousands of day trippers come here to see a spectacular display of autumn colors as the trees turn yellow, orange, and red. Bus trips run almost nonstop from early or mid-September to mid-October. And anyone heading into the park from the west gate should stop at Ragged Falls for at least a quick look at these large waterfalls.

The drive time from Toronto to Algonquin Provincial Park's west gate, the most convenient entrance from the city, is just under three hours. The main corridor, with many of the hikes and campgrounds, is Highway 60, which runs through the park from west to east. To return to Toronto, the options include turning around and driving back the same way, or continuing on and doing a loop, heading south on Highway 127 towards Bancroft, and following several other highways on the way back through Peterborough and beyond to Toronto. This is a much longer route than simply backtracking through the park.

4 Blue Mountain and Collingwood

Blue Mountain and Collingwood
Blue Mountain and Collingwood
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The ski resort of Blue Mountain, just outside of Collingwood, is a perfect day trip almost any time of year. About 2.5 hours northwest of Toronto, this Intrawest Resort is always full of families who come here to ski, bike, hike, and play in and around the Village of Blue Mountain year-round. With a reputation for being the best ski hill in Southern Ontario, the appeal of this place in winter is obvious. But those who venture up here in the summer will find the village equally crowded, with fine dining, shopping, outdoor events, mountain biking on the hill, a climbing wall, zip lining, and more. In winter, the resort offers outdoor skating on the Mill Pond Skating Rink; snowshoeing; tubing; and the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster, for a little downhill fun on a track. Also in the area, and open year-round, is the Plunge Aquatic Center with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, rope swings, and lounging chairs for relaxing.

The nearby town of Collingwood, on the shores of Georgian Bay, is another popular summertime destination. This lively town has its own schedule of events, including the very popular annual Elvis Festival, some good bike shops with information on the local mountain biking trails, waterfront walking areas, and all kinds of dining options. To the east of Collingwood is Wasaga Beach, a small town with a beautiful and lively stretch of beach that turns into a true beach scene during the summer. About 25 minutes south of Collingwood is the village of Creemore, with a population of only 1,300 people, but a large number of high-quality restaurants and numerous artists shops and other stores that draw a crowd year-round.

5 Stratford Festival

Stratford Festival
Stratford Festival Ben Laufer / photo modified
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One of Ontario's most famous cultural events, the Stratford Festival is a celebration of theater that runs from May to October, with performances held at multiple venues around the town of Stratford. With Shakespeare as the foundation of this festival, there is always a Shakespeare play happening, but the festival is much more, with a mix of classical and contemporary theater performances. The Stratford Festival is a summertime tradition that has been running for more than 50 years.

Stratford is approximately a one-and-a half-hour drive from Toronto in the rolling countryside surrounded by farms. Many people come just to soak up the pastoral scenery or spend a night at one of the many quaint little B&Bs found in and around Stratford. The downtown area itself has some interesting old buildings, cute shops, good restaurants, and is a nice place to wander around after a performance.

6 Canada's Wonderland

Canada's Wonderland
Canada's Wonderland Oliver Mallich / photo modified
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Just an hour north of downtown Toronto, Canada's Wonderland is the country's premiere amusement park, with some of the best roller coasters in Canada, along with other rides, games, circus shows, and the smell of candy and carnival food wafting through the air. Splash Works is the place to be on hot days, with water rides, a lazy river, and the largest outdoor wave pool in Canada. Special events are held regularly, from acrobats to stunt shows. The level of excitement is always high here, perhaps because this amusement park is a seasonal event, open only from spring until fall. It's what kids wait for when they know summer is coming. Families come to visit Canada's Wonderland from all over Ontario and across the country.

Address: 1 Canadas Wonderland Drive, Maple, Ontario

7 Gravenhurst and a Cruise on Lake Muskoka

Gravenhurst and a Cruise on Lake Muskoka
Gravenhurst and a Cruise on Lake Muskoka
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The town of Gravenhurst lies on the shores of Lake Muskoka in the heart of southern Ontario's cottage country. This famous lake, with summer cottages owned by some of Canada's most well-known film stars and personalities, is a beautiful introduction to Ontario's wilderness landscape. Two steamships, the RMS Segwun and the Wenonah II, offer tours of the lake to see the exposed rocks and towering pines, as well as the lakeside cottages, many of which are multi-million dollar mansions. These cruises last between one and four hours depending on the type of tour. Options include a basic one- or two-hour cruise, a lunch cruise, a sunset dinner cruise, and a Millionaires Row sightseeing cruise. Specialty cruises also take place on holidays.

Gravenhurst is a typical Ontario town, with shops and restaurants lining the old main street. The waterfront area offers lake-view dining along the harbor front. For nature lovers, the municipality maintains a number of hiking and walking trails in the area, and on the edge of town is the Buckwallow Cycling Center, with well laid out mountain biking trails through the forest.

Gravenhurst is about two hours north of Toronto. Beyond Gravenhurst on Highway 169 is the little town of Bala, another popular summertime destination in cottage country, with an ice-cream soda shop, a bakery, a couple of restaurants, the Bala Falls, and frequent live entertainment by well-known bands.

8 Marineland

Marineland
Marineland
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Another favorite summertime amusement park is Marineland in Niagara Falls, about two hours outside of Toronto. Featuring everything from killer whales and belugas, to one-of-a-kind thrill rides like the park's famous Sky Screamer, this is a hit with most families. Key attractions are Active Cove, where visitors can feed beluga whales, and Friendship Cove, for up-close viewing opportunities with the orcas. Marineland is open from mid-May to mid-October, with reduced hours in the spring and fall.

Address: 7657 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, Ontario

9 St. Jacob's and the Farmers' Market

St. Jacob's and the Farmers' Market
St. Jacob's and the Farmers' Market Rod Brazier / photo modified
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The village of St. Jacob's lies in a beautiful country setting about two hours west of Toronto, near the town of Waterloo, in an area known for its large population of Old Order Mennonites. The most famous attraction here is the year-round farmers' market, where local farmers come to sell their goods. The farmers' market is more than just fruits and vegetables, with artisans displaying one-of-a-kind pieces of art, crafts, and home décor, along with prepared foods. The food court alone is worth the trip, with local specialties and well-known favorite dishes on offer. Depending on the time of year, there are often vendors set up outside the market hall with clothing and seasonal items for sale.

In the village of St. Jacob's, a variety of stores also offer arts and crafts, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and gift items. St. Jacob's Outlets have all the latest brand names in fashion and home decor, while the Market Road Antiques has everything in the old department. The town is particularly popular with shoppers at Christmas.

10 African Lion Safari

African Lion Safari
African Lion Safari
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This fun outing, about a one-hour drive west of Toronto, is not a typical trip to the zoo, and it's not just lions. Visitors drive their own cars, at their own risk, through the park to see all kinds of exotic and domestic wildlife. Encounters with animals may be more than just viewing from a distance, with baboons hopping up on car hoods to fiddle with windshield wipers and peer in at passengers. New vehicle owners beware!

This is a chance to see wildlife in a setting that is not the wild but also not a zoo. Some of the animals that call the African Lion Safari home include lions, elephants, giraffes, white rhinos, cheetahs, zebras, bison, and many more.

Address: 1386 Cooper Road, Hamilton, Ontario

Official site: http://www.lionsafari.com

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