The last time we had so much snow on the ground in the Greater Toronto Area during the Christmas season was a long time ago. Remember the snow storm of 1999 that hit just after Christmas? With the early snowfall in December, and continuous lake-effect flurries, there’s a beautiful winter north of Toronto… as well as in southwestern Ontario to explore.
While some will hunker down at home to hibernate the winter away, we enjoy taking occasional road trips on weekends with great weather.
If you wake up early, get your gear and emergency supplies into your car quickly, you can easily take a long drive through areas such as Orangeville, Beaver Valley and further north to Wiarton and Lions Head in Grey and Bruce Counties. The drive through these areas is an eye-opener. On one of our past trips through these towns, we realized that weather and temperature changes can occur in less than 100 km and can have a completely different affect on the landscape.
While many who live along the warmer shoreline of Lake Ontario in the Greater Toronto Area may not have too much snow on the ground, if you head just a bit north of Highway 401 and Highway 407, it’s a completely different situation. Head up to the Wiarton area and there’s way more snow and ice.
Here are some places north of Toronto you can visit in the winter for a break from the city winter scene:
Island Lake Conservation Area – Orangeville, Ontario
Island Lake Conservation Area in Orangeville is located right by the city, making it an oasis for avid hikers, skiers and snowshoers. The scenery is absolutely stunning in the winter-time after a fresh snowfall. Trails are well-marked and you will find the occasional dog and owner walking early in the morning. It’s not too far from Toronto (about a hour’s drive in early morning weekend traffic, depending on which route you take).
Admission ranges from $3 to $5 depending on age during most of the season.
Location: 673067 Hurontario Street South, Orangeville
Beaver Valley (Kimberley, Ontario)
Lower Valley Road is one of our favourite places in this area of the Beaver Valley. We’ve driven it in the summer, fall and winter and always find it to be quiet and picturesque. In the winter, you will find it snow-packed and somewhat treacherous – just take your time and it will lead you to county roads passing through the small village of Kimberley, Ontario. The whole area here is full of hills and the Niagara Escarpment and is ideal for a winter drive on a sunny day.
Inglis Falls in the Winter
The roar of Inglis Falls gets louder as you step closer to the look-out point, perfectly situated for photographers who want to stay dry and safe. During our visit, the ice and snow build-up at the base and sides of the falls was impressive. A few insane individuals decided to walk out onto the ice pack, despite the potential of it cracking and a fall into the extremely fast-rushing water.
This is a spot for a brief stop to take photos and view the wonder of waterfalls in the winter-time (if you don’t want to deal with crowds at Niagara Falls).
Inglis Falls is located south of Owen Sound, off of Highway 6 and Grey Road 18.
Head northwest from Owen Sound on Highway 6 and you reach Wiarton, Ontario – the home of the famous groundhog named Wiarton Willie. In the winter-time, there’s not much to do and see in this small town, but it’s the perfect spot to stop for lunch and stretch your legs before heading back to Toronto. Taking a drive along Colpoys Bay in Wiarton, you can see the frozen waters of the bay and depending on the time of the year and weather conditions, you’ll witness a fog along the shoreline.
The whole point of a mini-road trip north of Toronto in the winter is to see a change of scenery, to stop and stretch your legs on a short trail, and to explore. Here are a few tips to consider before you head out:
- Be prepared! You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without an emergency kit, blankets, food and water etc. Bring a thermos with coffee or tea to either enjoy during your trip or in case of a car breakdown. A charged-up cell phone is a must, but be aware that you may be in areas where there’s no reception. You may have to wait for a kind passer-by to help out.
- Side roads may not be cleared of snow and ice in sections. If you have a car that normally gets stuck in more than 5 centimeters of snow, stick to major county roads.
- Know your general route and list of destinations – share them with family or friends in case you get stuck in a difficult situation.
- Check the forecast in advance to know if you should expect snow squalls or lake-effect snow off of Georgian Bay. This area often gets blasted with snow, so know what kind of potential conditions you will face.
- Make sure your gas and windshield washer fluid are topped up.
What are other places to visit in the winter-time north of Toronto? Share your secret destinations with us!