Has Covid-19 hijacked your summer plans?
I don’t know about you, but I was supposed to be exploring castles in the Loire Valley and sunbathing in the French Riviera right about now. Have I been mourning lost macarons? Oui. Have I spent too much time morosely watching Paris travel vlogs on YouTube? Oui.
But hey–summer is here to stay, and there’s no sense in moping about at home when there are so many stunning spots in the Great Lakes region to visit.
Many of the pristine destinations in the Great Lakes region are off the beaten path, making them the perfect place to go if you want to keep a safe distance from others while still enjoying your summer. In fact, many Great Lakes spots rival—and dare I say outshine—their international counterparts.
Note: Due to Covid-19, there may be limited parking or availability at some of these destinations. Always check online for Covid-19 closure updates before making the trip, and maintain a safe distance while outside.
The vast Ouimet Canyon in Thunder Bay offers breathtaking, panoramic views of the 150-metre-wide gorge and its 100-metre-tall cliffs. Traverse the trail and boardwalk that connect two spectacular lookouts. Enjoy barrier-free access at the 1-kilometer lookout trail.
Keep an eye out for mosses, Arctic wintergreen, and Alpine Bistort. These three species of Arctic plants are generally only found 1,000 kilometres north, but thrive in the deep, cold canyon.
The pictographs on Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park are between 150 and 400 years old. They depict animals like moose and bears alongside figures of myth, like Mishibijiw: ‘the Great Lynx.’
Learn more about the Agawa Rock pictographs here
For even more exciting remnants of the past, Petroglyphs Provincial Park holds Ontario’s largest collection of Indigenous petroglyphs, with hundreds of rock carvings etched 600 to 1100 years ago.
The Scarborough Bluffs are a massive and ancient wonder. They extend 100 meters skyward and run 15 kilometers along the shore near Bluffer’s Beach. Bluffers Beach is a Blue Flag beach with strict water quality and safety criteria, as well as accessibility features for those with wheelchairs or strollers.
The Bluffs play host to the geological history of the region, visible through their various sedimentary and glacial deposits. You can access the beauty of the Bluffs through Bluffer's Park, Cathedral Bluffs Park, and Crescentwood Park.
The Beaches Boardwalk boasts an endless supply of fun for people of all ages (and pets!). The boardwalk, along with Woodbine Beach, spans over 8 kilometers along the picturesque shore of Lake Ontario.
With sandy Kew-Balmy Beach, scenic views, a paved bicycle path, plenty of benches, and a contained off-leash dog park, this destination is perfect for everyone. If all the fresh air makes you hungry, Queen Street is only about a 10 minute walk from the boardwalk, and it has many eateries with take-out or patios.
Both Woodbine Beach and Kew-Balmy Beach are Blue Flag beaches.
Port Stanley was known as “the Coney Island of the Great Lakes” in the early 1900’s. This harbour village is famous for its long sandy beach, boutiques and antiques, galleries, and dinning.
Like Bluffers, Woodbine, and Kew-Balmy Beach, Port Stanley Beach is a Blue Flag beach. To avoid crowds, check Port Stanley’s Central Elgin Beach Rescue page, which has real-time updates on how busy the area is.
The majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes are named after the Indigenous legend of Sleeping Bear. The dunes were shaped by glaciers thousands of years ago. This natural wonder features kilometers of sandy beaches and sand dunes that rise up nearly 140 meters from glacial moraines.
Today, the area has diverse habitats that are home to an array of plants and wildlife. Inland, you’ll find smaller lakes and streams surrounded by lush forests.
The Grotto is a natural cave in Georgian Bay with vivid blue water and magical sights. From Georgian Bay, an underwater tunnel goes through the cliff to the pool inside. On sunny days the light hits the water just right, making it look like it’s glowing.
Although you can’t climb into the Grotto right now (the space does not allow for physical distancing), you can admire the Grotto’s beauty from above. The Grotto is often crowded during summer months. Make a reservation for the 4 hour Grotto parking time slots before you go.
Sadly, the Grotto is a threatened destination due to climate change. Learn more about threats to the Grotto, and find 7 things to do on the Great Lakes while you still can.
Once upon a time, Kingston’s waterfront was unsuitable for swimmable, having been polluted by urban development and neglect.
In 2018, the Gord Edgar Downie Pier opened in Breakwater Park. The pier is named after Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, a long-time advocate for swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters.
Not only is the Gord Edgar Downie Pier a symbol of what happens when people reclaim and fight for swimmable waters, it’s also Canada’s first fully accessible deep water urban swimming pier. In Breakwater Park not far from the pier, you’ll find headlands, pebble beaches, and an upland sandy beach.
Watch: Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip shows you how to swim safely at the Kingston pier
Water crashes down a staggering 40 metres from the top of Kakabeka Falls, making it the second highest waterfall in Ontario with year-round viewing access. At the bottom of the falls, the Kaministiquia River has worn away rocks, unearthing fossils that are 1.6 million years old—some of the oldest fossils in the world.
A boardwalk wraps around the falls, offering awe-inspiring views and tons of photo ops. Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park has two accessible trails: the Boardwalk Trail and the Mountain Portage Trail.
Fathom Five National Marine Park is Canada’s first national marine park. Here, you can explore 22 shipwreck sites by scuba diving, snorkelling, canoeing, or kayaking. You won't want to miss the fascinating shipwrecks lying just below Lake Huron’s crystal clear waters.
At Fathom Five National Marine Park, you can also check out historic light stations, rare orchids, a limestone cave, and Flowerpot Island, which is best known for its stunning 18-meter tall rock formation.
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