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30 Of The Best Things To Do In Southwest Ontario

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario

If you’ve driven the rather boring section of Highway 401 between Toronto and Windsor, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s not much to see in southwest Ontario. But drive off the main highway and you’re in for a treat. Not only that – there’s so much to do in southwest Ontario that you could visit every weekend for months and still not experience everything.

Southwest Ontario is home to a thriving and growing wine industry. It’s full of cute towns and quiet backroads that are perfect for cycling. There are places to paddle and nature in abundance especially in the numerous parks scattered throughout the region. You’ll find everything from cheese factories to art galleries, fine dining to local cafes.

And the beaches are some of the nicest in Ontario.

Wineries are popping up all over southwestern Ontario
Wineries are popping up all over southwestern Ontario

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Here’s a sampling of 30 of the best things to do in southwest Ontario

Looking for birds on a paddle through Canada's Amazon
Looking for birds on a paddle through Canada’s Amazon

Paddling in Southwest Ontario

Paddle 15 – 20 minutes over to Peche Island from the pop-up offices of Windsor Adventure Company. You can rent a kayak or join a guided paddle and explore the marsh, parts of which are within sight of the Detroit skyline.

Birding is excellent. Stretch your legs on a hike of the island, noting the ruins of the former Hiram Walker mansion.

Note: I stayed at Little Gem B&B and loved my room and the breakfast.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Paddling the marsh of Peche Island
Expect to see swans in the marsh
Expect to see swans in the marsh

Go kayaking

Enjoy several hours of kayaking on Big Creek with Long Point Eco-Adventures. The easy paddle that’s perfect for beginners as well as advanced paddlers takes you through Carolinean forests (look for the 300 wood duck boxes in the trees along the route) teeming with birds.

This quiet waterway has been termed the Canadian Amazon as it’s internationally recognized for the marshes and wetlands.

Paddling the gentle waters of Big Creek
Paddling the gentle waters of Big Creek
I counted 20 Canada geese chicks
I counted 20 Canada geese chicks

Spend a couple of hours paddling the Grand River and explore the Dunnville area’s marshes where you’re likely to see blue herons, kingfishers, snapping turtles and massive carp.

This paddle that leaves right from the dock of Grand River Kayaking is perfect for families.

3Paddling the quiet waters of the marshes in Dunnville
Paddling the quiet waters of the marshes in Dunnville

Towns, restaurants and places to stay you don’t want to miss in southwest Ontario

Plan an overnight in Kingsville. It boasts a couple of cute places to stay including the historic but completely renovated and very hip Grove Hotel as well as retro rooms, beautifully done at Inn 31.

After enjoying a farm to table meal on the wrap around porch at Jack’s Gastropub, rent one of their bikes and check out this quiet town on the shores of Lake Erie. Or visit nearby Point Pelee National Park for not only the fine birding, but the beaches and the hiking.

Read: Things to Do in Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

My room at the Grove Hotel in Kingsville
My room at the Grove Hotel in Kingsville
 You'll find a stuffed monkey on the bed in every room at Inn 31
You’ll find a stuffed monkey on the bed in every room at Inn 31
 You'll find lots of local farm fresh items on the menu at Jack's Gastropub
You’ll find lots of local farm fresh items on the menu at Jack’s Gastropub

Check out Dunnville, a small town on the Grand River that’s full of little B&B’s and cute locally owned stores. You’ll smell Sweet Retrospect before you see it – a store famous for candy and different flavours of Chicago style popcorn.

Pop into Cheap Shabby Chic a few doors down and look for locally made charcuterie boards. Don’t miss a chance – either by car or on a bike – to see the Port Maitland pier. Go early in the morning to see all the fisherman on the pier.

 Beautiful pastoral scenery on the road out to the Port Maitland pier
Beautiful pastoral scenery on the road out to the Port Maitland pier
Check out the pier in Port Maitland
Check out the pier in Port Maitland
Impressive
Impressive assortment of candy at Sweet Retrospect – bring on the sugar high

Need a caffeine hit? Stop at the Carolinean Café in Cayuga for delicious coffee and one of their home-baked treats. Starting in summer picnic baskets to go will be an option.

Order one and then head to nearby Ruthven Park National Historic Site to soak in the natural beauty of the area. The site, formerly owned by five generations of the Thompson family, sits on approximately 1,600 acres along a scenic portion of the Grand River.

Take a tour of the Greek Revival mansion and then explore the property via one of the many hiking trails. Depending on the season, you may see the bird banding station in action.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Order a picnic basket at the Carolinean Cafe in Cayuga
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Beautiful walking trails on the grounds of Ruthven Park National Historic Site

Bike around Sarnia if you want to change your preconceptions of the city. Sure, its got a big industrial area but its also got loads of first-rate multi-use trails.

Pick up a rental bike at The Bicycle Shop and head for the waterfront along the St. Clair River. Cycle under the Blue Water Bridge, stopping to gape at the wild river currents. Explore Cantara Park and if you have time hang out on the beautiful beaches of Lake Huron.

Cycling in view of the Blue Water Bridge joining the US and Canada
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Looking towards Lake Huron
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Stopping to marvel at the big ships tied up along the river

Visit the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery in downtown Sarnia. I spent a solid 90 minutes in here – enjoying their collections especially the exhibit – Homage: Donald Stewart in which 41 neck pieces were created and on display to celebrate Canadian women – from political activists to writers to hockey players.

It’s one of the most interesting exhibits I’ve seen in a long time!

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Interactive display – What best represents your view of Canadian identity? Choose from maple leaf (red), beaver (rusty-red), hockey (blue), wilderness (green) or politeness (yellow)
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
I learned a lot about Canadian women and marveled at the creativity in the neck pieces

Go glamping at Long Point Eco-Adventures and explore the area on bike, on foot or via zipline. Eat breakfast in the large dining room with a view over the marsh, grab a bite from the onsite food truck for lunch and walk across the street to Burning Kiln Winery for dinner. Be sure to order a glass of their Cabernet Franc.

Read about my experience here.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Glamping tents with outdoor showers at Long Point Eco-Adventures
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
You even get electricity in your ‘tent’
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Biking quiet roads in Norfolk County
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Enjoy a view of the marsh

Head to Sandbar on the Beach in Turkey Point, just minutes from Turkey Point Provincial Park. Grab a burger and beer while you enjoy the view of Lake Erie.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Enjoy this view with your beer and burger

Spend at least a day in Oxford County – what I would describe as the centre of cheesemaking in southwest Ontario.

Follow the Oxford County Cheese Trail (beware – many of the businesses are often closed on Sundays) and be sure to include a tour of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese. Get your cheese curd fix at Bright, Mountainoak or Gunn’s Hill.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Inside Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese

In the town of Ingersoll stop in for a taste of cheese at the Ingersoll Wine Cellar & Cheese Shop. You may end up walking out with one of their beautiful charcuterie boards.

Then stroll around the corner and meet Cindy Walker at Chocolatea. You’ll want to perform a taste test or two on both the hand-crafted chocolates and their tea. If you need a more substantial lunch or a cup of coffee finish up at The Olde Bakery Cafe on Thames Street South.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Meet Annelies Vanittersum at the Ingersoll Wine Cellar

Check out the mammoth cheese replica at the Ingersoll Cheese and Agricultural Museum. The cheese which was made from 35 tons of milk visited the New York State Fair and toured Great Britain in 1886.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
A cheese that weighed as much as five cows

Explore Oxford County on a bike. The local tourism organization has put together a number of routes – of varying lengths and difficulties which you can check out here. 

Expect predominately quiet roads through pretty pastoral countryside as you’ll see in the photos below. You could easily spend several days in this area exploring.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Cycling past a sea of peonies on the backroads of Oxford County
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
New crops catching the evening light
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Cycling through a tunnel of trees
30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Be sure to stop at Otterville Falls in Otterville

Plan a stay at the R Wee Inn in Otterville. While it can accommodate four people with built in bunk beds, it’s a lovely place and comfortably roomy for two.

Aesthetically everything seemed perfect and really well thought out. Breakfast fixings are provided. You can eat dinner at the nearby Otter Creek Golf Course. And while the cycling in the area is rolling, it’s very pretty.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Inside of R Wee Inn, Otterville

Tour the southwest Ontario wineries

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to wineries in southwest Ontario. In the Windsor – Essex – Pelee Island area alone there are at least 18 wineries. There are three in the Huron region (east and northeast of Sarnia) and ten in the Norfolk County – Elgin County area.

Over a week I stopped in at three wineries in the Windsor – Pelee region, one in the Huron area and the Burning Kiln Winery in Norfolk County. They all offer very different experiences, with some being more  low key than others. All that I visited offered meals, usually in incredibly pretty settings.

In the Windsor – Essex area you can rent bikes or join a half or full day tour with Farm Dog Cycles. This is flat country so the cycling is easy but very pretty.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
The grapes have started – Oxley Estate Winery

Oxley Estate Winery

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, the family owned Oxley Estate Winery grows 12 grape varieties so there’s plenty to taste. The tasting room located in a beautiful bright barn is a far less intimidating spot that many, staff are very helpful and there’s a nice patio for a meal.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Lunch is offered every day on the patio and dinner on weekends

Viewpointe Estate Winery North

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, the Viewpointe Estate Winery North is the largest of the wineries I visited. It’s got a grand view of the lake from a dining patio and a large tasting room so it’s perfect for big groups.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
There is the option to rent a bike and cycle between wineries

42 Degrees Estate Winery & Serenity Lavender

Sitting on an acreage that is ground up Canadian Shield, the husband and wife team that run the 42 Degrees Estate Winery and lavender farm benefit greatly from three generations of a farming background along with the fact that Martin (husband and co-owner) is a microbiologist.

The onsite restaurant produces divine food with the must-have dish the most beautiful charcuterie plate I’ve ever seen. Choose from 16 wines including a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc and a store full of great smelling lavender products.

 There's a lavender farm and shop attached to the 42 Degrees Estate Winery
There’s a lavender farm and shop attached to the 42 Degrees Estate Winery
Phenomenal charcuterie plate
Their phenomenal charcuterie plate

Alton Farms Estate Winery

I have so much respect for Marc and Anne, the hard-working co-owners of Alton Farms Estate Winery who had never farmed a day in their lives before jumping into their wine making adventure.

In addition they have an outdoor seating area for enjoying their thin crust pizzas (made onsite), as well as about 30 new lambs. Where they find the time to do it all is beyond me.

As Anne said on numerous occasions over the course of a tour, “every time they upgraded or automated a piece of equipment it was a marriage saver.” Go check these people out as a good portion of their wine is only available onsite.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
I drink for pleasure – and business – how about you?

From a previous trip to the area I can also highly recommend a visit to Point Pelee Island – but do it over a couple of nights. 

Although not technically in southwest Ontario – if you’re anywhere close to Dundas (near Hamilton) try hiking Dundas Peak. It’s located in a scenic area with vistas and waterfalls; come fall the colours are particularly glorious here.

Over a week as a guest of Southwest Ontario Tourism I barely scratched the surface of what you can do. Take these 30 ideas as a starting point for more exploration of this unique corner of the province.

Further reading on things to do in southern Ontario

Click on the photo below to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

30 of the Best Things to Do in Southwest Ontario

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. The images are very beautiful and eye-catching. I hope i would travel this place once a day and turn my visuals into reality

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