11 Best Lakes in Ontario
Ontario is Canada's 4th largest province, with over a million square kilometers of land. Within that huge space are over 250,000 lakes just waiting to be explored. The Great Lakes of Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario are the ones that come to mind for many people. And while these lakes have a lot going for them, it's the smaller lakes that often stand out.
Lakes in Ontario come in all shapes and sizes. Some have amazing beaches; some are perfect for sailing; others are renowned fishing destinations; and some have clear waters, ideal for canoeing and SUPing. You can access portions of the lakes from towns or Ontario parks.
Which one will be at the top of your summer itinerary really depends on where your interests lie. Begin with our list of the best lakes in Ontario.
1. Lake Huron (Georgian Bay)
Lake Huron has two distinct personalities. The western portion is shared with the United States and has long beaches and limestone shorelines. This part of the lake is relatively shallow and warm with extensive development along most of the coast. Along this stretch, you'll find great camping at Pinery Provincial Park and summer good times in the beach town of Grand Bend.
The eastern portion, called Georgian Bay, is entirely in Ontario. With the exception of the Bruce Peninsula, it is rugged, with granite shorelines and, in some cases, smooth pink rocks. A beautiful area to enjoy Georgian Bay is in Killarney and Killarney Provincial Park, where you'll find a beautiful campground and excellent hiking trails.
The water in Georgian Bay is deep and cold. One of the highlights of Georgian Bay is the incredible beach at Wasaga. It is the longest freshwater beach in the world. If you want to start a lively debate, just ask a local which is the most beautiful section.
At the top end of Lake Huron is Manitoulin Island. This huge island is the remnants of the northern end of the Niagara Escarpment.
Recreation opportunities are limitless no matter where you go. Pleasure boating, sailing, canoeing, and swimming are all popular activities. Fishing is also popular, but you really need to know where to go and, in many cases, that is a long way offshore with specialized equipment.
The lake has some good camping opportunities, and one of the best places is Killbear Provincial Park near Parry Sound. This park has a large campground, several excellent beaches, and hiking trails. Another great spot is Bruce Peninsula National Park.
A fantastic family vacation can be had by driving a circle route around Georgian Bay. A ferry connects Tobermory with Manitoulin Island and from there, you can head east until you reach your starting point.
2. Lake Superior
The granddaddy of all the Great Lakes is Lake Superior. This massive, deep, cold lake has an ominous history of sinking ships. In the days of the Voyageurs, it was the one they feared the most. For most Ontarians, it's a place for fun and relaxation or even adventure.
In the summer months, especially in July, the lake can be as flat calm as a mill pond. Lake Superior is nature at its best. The rugged shoreline is stunningly beautiful and was the inspiration for many of the Group of Seven's most famous works. In some areas, smooth pink rocks descend into impossibly clear water.
Lake Superior also has some of the finest beaches in Ontario. The long arcing beaches at Pancake Bay and Batchawana Bay look like something from a glossy Caribbean magazine — minus the palm trees of course. The water is clean and clear and, in the shallows, quite warm. Move out a bit farther to the cooler water, and you will most likely retreat fairly quickly back to the shallows.
The lake is rich with history, and one of the must-see sights are the Agawa Bay pictographs. Created by the Ojibwe people, the images range in age from 150 to 400 years old. The pictographs can only be visited on calm days when the waves are not crashing in on shore. Access is via a pleasant hiking trail through the forest.
If you are driving the north shore route, be sure to stop in at the Terry Fox Memorial. The view from here out over the lake and to the Sleeping Giant is one of the best on the entire lake.
Campgrounds are available along the shorelines; some of the best are located in Lake Superior Provincial Park, Neys Provincial Park, Pancake Bay Provincial Park, and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Some of these parks are also among the best places for camping in Ontario.
Two of the key cities that line the shores of Lake Superior are Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. Smaller towns include Marathon, Terrace Bay, and Rossport.
3. Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the warmest and shallowest of all the Great Lakes. The northern border is well developed, especially the section near Niagara Falls. It is perhaps the gentlest of all the lakes — not too big, not too deep, and not too many places to get into trouble.
Lake Erie is one of the best lakes for recreational fishing. Walleye and bass grow to incredible sizes in this lake due to the copious quantities of bait fish available. Perch fishing is also popular here.
A good spot to hit the beach is near Fort Erie at Crystal Beach. The township does charge for access but has recently invested in new facilities, and beach patrols are provided.
Another good spot to access the beach is at Port Dover; here, you can grab an ice cream and walk out on the pier.
4. Lake Ontario
If you live in Toronto, Lake Ontario is on your doorstep. The lake runs for 300 kilometers from the city of Hamilton in the west to where it drains out to the St. Lawrence river in the east. In between is the city of Toronto.
The lake is clear and cold, but that shouldn't stop you from venturing out into the water at one of the many beaches along its shore. Some of the most popular beaches are right in Toronto at Woodbine and on Toronto Islands. In Mississauga, Jack Darling Park is another popular spot for lounging on the sand.
Sailing is popular on the lake, as there are no maritime obstacles to run into, except other boats. Races take place most Wednesday nights, and the view out onto the lake, filled with white sails, is quite spectacular.
Like most lakes, the best experience you can have is by actually getting out on the water. Boat rentals are available at most marinas. One of the most enjoyable experiences is watching the sun reflect off the skyscrapers as it sets in the evening.
You may be surprised to learn that salmon thrive in Lake Ontario. Giant king salmon are caught on a regular basis. Charter fishing boats operate out of several marinas, including Port Credit in Mississauga.
5. Lake of the Woods
Just over the Manitoba/Ontario border near the town of Kenora, Ontario is Lake of the Woods. Dotted with more than 14,500 islands, this massive lake is spectacularly beautiful and, apart from the areas near town and a smattering of cottages, is mostly uninhabited and just waiting to be discovered.
Clear waters lap the shoreline of exposed ancient granite, backed by a mix of white pine, jack pine, and poplar trees.
The bustling town of Kenora is the jumping-off spot for trips. A fun way to get a feel for the lake is to take a two-hour tour around the lake on the MS Kenora.
The lake is well regarded as a good spot to fish, with catches of walleye, bass, northern pike, lake trout, and many other species, including the occasional muskie to spice things up.
Accommodation options are varied: you can stay at a luxurious resort like Totem Lodge, rent a cottage, or stay in a hotel in Kenora overlooking the lake. Other access points are Sioux Narrows and Nestor Falls, both with a range of accommodation options as well.
6. Rainy Lake
Straddling the US-Canada border near the town of Fort Frances, Rainy Lake is one of Ontario's undiscovered treasures. Giant white pines and red pines line the rugged shorelines, home of bears, moose, wolves, beaver, and all manner of waterfowl.
The lake has good fishing, primarily for walleye, bass, and northern pike. If you know where to go, you'll have a good chance of landing a trophy size of any of these three.
The water is clear and warms up each summer. Although beaches are not found all over, some of your best bets for a dip on a sandy shore are at Pither's Point Park in Fort Frances or Sandpoint Island if you are boating.
The lake has several highlights worth visiting on both sides of the border. Some of the main sights are two mermaid statues and Kettle Falls, all of which are popular boating destinations. The lake is also home to cottages, although they are spread out and seem to be very few and far between.
Access to Rainy Lake from Fort Frances is excellent, with a marina and good launch close to downtown.
7. Lake Simcoe
Lake Simcoe is a large body of water easily reachable in under an hour from Toronto. The lake has three provincial parks on its shorelines: Mara, McRae, and Sibbald Point. All of these parks have beaches and campgrounds.
The lake is known for its warm, clear, and relatively shallow waters. Small towns line the lake, but some of the most easily accessible areas are from the cities of Barrie and Orillia, or the small town of Beaverton. In all locations, you'll find waterfront parks with green spaces, boat launches, and places to swim.
Pleasure boating reigns supreme here. On warm summer weekends, hundreds of boats are out on the lake cruising around and soaking up the scenery.
One popular activity is to stop for a swim at shallow, sandy spots. These can be found near Fox Island and Snake Island, just look for all the boats anchored just offshore.
Fishing in Lake Simcoe is popular with anglers interested in catching perch. This is best done in the winter, when ice hut rentals are readily available in Beaverton.
8. Lake Nipissing
Sitting around your campfire you may hear the echos of the songs of the mighty Voyageurs. This is because Lake Nipissing was a major link in the chain of lakes that allowed these brave men to undertake the fur trade.
The lake extends from North Bay for 65 kilometers to the west side, at which point the French River drains out to Georgian Bay. The lake is unique in the fact that it is only, on average, 4.5 meters deep. This ensures it warms up nicely each summer, and the large number of sandy beaches and sandbars make for ideal day trip destinations.
Fishing is decent on the lake for walleye and northern pike, but strict conservation limits are in place.
Accommodation options in the area range from hotels and motels in North Bay to luxury boat-in lodges along the French River on the western end.
9. Lake Muskoka
The famed Muskoka Region, a few hours north of Toronto, is worth exploring to see how the rich and famous spend their summers.
Lake Muskoka is a lovely lake with granite shorelines dominated by towering white and red pine trees. What you'll also notice is that those same shorelines have spectacular cottages and boathouses.
One of the best ways to experience the lake is to take a cruise on either the RMS Segwun or Wenonah II. These boats leave from Gravenhurst, the main town on Lake Muskoka. The cruises take you around the lake, including the famous "millionaire's row."
If you have your own boat, the lake is well marked for obstacles, and launches are available at all the marinas on the lake.
10. Mazinaw Lake
Mazinaw Lake is located in Bon Echo Provincial Park, about an hour and a half north of Kingston. This stunning lake is most well known for the amazing 100-meter-high Mazinaw Rock on its eastern shoreline. Along the base of this impressive rock face are over 250 pictographs.
The lake is also unique for the fact that it is almost cut in half by a peninsula. This feature ensures that if there is a north or south breeze, at least one part of the lake is calm. This makes the lake perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports.
Two sandy beaches provide easy access to the lake, but be forewarned, the water in this deep lake can be chilly, even in the middle of summer. The lake also provides a decent opportunity to wet a line and try your luck for walleye, northern pike, lake trout, and smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Bon Echo's campground is set just back from the lake and is one of the best in the province. Picturesque campsites are set beneath tall white and red pine trees.
11. Lac Seul
If you want to catch fish, and lots of them, head north to Lac Seul. The lake is about 5.5 hours northwest of Thunder Bay and is reachable by good roads.
The lake is massive, over 240 kilometers from end to end, with nearly 5,000 kilometers of shoreline. It's a boating paradise, with countless islands and coves. The fishing here is spectacular, with record-setting walleye, northern pike, and jumbo muskie.
One of the more popular ways to explore the lake includes renting a fully outfitted houseboat. These range in length from 19 meters to 22 meters in length and have every conceivable amenity, including running water and electricity.