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The top 10 places in and around Toronto to get away from it all

Posted by Derek Flack / April 5, 2014

Toronto get awayToronto might be one of the most livable cities in the world, but sometimes one feels the need to get away from it all, to escape the bustling metropolis for a change of both pace and scenery. Fortunately in a city like ours, there are opportunities for mini-escapes of this type without even crossing the border into the GTA. But if you have the time and means of transportation, a sea of day-trip and getaway options exists within a short drive of Toronto. Whether you have 45 minutes or all day, the following destinations will offer a temporary reprieve from city life and the restorative power of an escape from routine.

See also:

The 10 most serene spots in Toronto
Toronto spas with no phone policies

Leslie Street Spit (Tommy Thompson Park)
The Leslie Street feels like more and more of an escape the further you go out, particularly if you stick to the eastern side, where the view of the lake and distant Scarborough Bluffs seems somehow unfamiliar and serene all at once. If it's a complete escape you're after, head to the spit bright and early in the morning before the crowds show up. Ride your bike. It's the fastest way to put some distance between you and the skyline.

Rouge Park
While there are plenty of ravines and green spaces to enjoy in (relatively) central areas of Toronto, the jaunt to the eastern edge of the city and Rouge Park is well worth it should have more time to explore and less desire to see obvious signs of civilization. While the Rouge River Valley is only about 20km from downtown, the river still follows its original course to its floodplain (unlike say the Don), which gives the area a topographical diversity you tend not to witness closer to the core. The park is also huge, so there's plenty of area to explore should you have the time.

The Palm House at Allan Gardens
Allan Gardens still seems to suffer from a bad reputation born of the years in which the park saw its far share of drug trafficking. That's kind of a shame insofar as the Palm House and other greenhouses are an inner city sanctuary, particularly in the dead of winter when everything outside seems frozen over and lifeless. Yes, there's even palm trees. And, no, you probably won't run into Liam Neeson, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

Le Neuf Cafe
OK, let's say you're in the midst of a hellish day and all you can think about is that trip to Paris you took five years ago when everything was relaxing and filled with the type of optimism that accompanies life on the Seine in springtime. Assuming you're not willing to hop on a plane and abandon life in Toronto, a visit to Le Neuf Cafe might be enough to get you through the day. From the old building to the cafe's location on Clarence Square to the authentic baguette, this is a little slice of France in Toronto.

Ward's Island Beach (on a weekday)
Despite the obviousness of the selection, the Toronto Islands have to make this list. The key here is to take the ferry ride midweek when the visitor traffic is low. As for your choice of beach, that's at least somewhat subjective, but if it's an escape from the "city" you're after, Ward's is my choice. Not only does it face southwest (and hence away from the city), but it's also one of the quietest on the Islands.

Beamsville Bench
I can think of few more relaxing day-trips than a drive out to wine country. You could do Prince Edward County or Niagara-on-the-Lake, both of which have numerous merits, but the Beamsville Bench is the closest, and it might just have the best wine (though that is a matter of some debate). Should you want to register that you've escaped the city, head to deck at Fielding Estate with a glass of wine and gaze out at the Toronto skyline across the lake 50 kilometres away.

Elora Gorge
Located just over an hour to the northwest of Toronto, the Elora Gorge is a rugged little paradise that's easily accessible to the curious explorer. While there's various camping options in the area, you needn't spend the night to get the most out of the Grand River. Descend down the gorge wall and swim in the shallow waters or, for those with a bit greater sense of adventure, you can snag an inner tube and float down the river. Just make sure you start upstream.

Scandinave Spa
You can do the whole circuit spa thing in the city at any number of fine establishments, but the game changes when you're outdoors surrounded by the smell of trees and burning wood. The first time I went to Scandinave I was dubious at the prospect of enjoyment, but after an hour of cold and hot baths I was about as chilled out as I get. Blue Mountain is a rather family-focused place, but the spa is where the adults go to get away from it all.

Prince Edward County - Drake Devonshire Inn
The once-quiet roads of Prince Edward Country are slowly attracting more visitors as the area becomes a fully fledged wine region, but you really know you've made it when the Drake Hotel chooses to plop down in your yard. While the opening date is still under wraps, it appears that the Drake Devonshire Inn will make its debut in the next couple of months, and with it a whole new era of cool will descend on PEC. And when the Starbucks eventually arrives, well, you know how that plays out.

Shanti Retreat on Wolfe Island
You'll want to make a trip to Kingston's Wolfe Island a weekend getaway based on its distance from Toronto (just under three hours of driving), but for Yoga enthusiasts looking for the ultimate Ontario escape, Shanti Retreat is the ticket. Less dogmatic than some other yoga-based trips out there, this is a place where rest and relaxation are as much a part of the concept as perfecting your downward facing dog. If yoga isn't your thing, Wolfe Island is also known for its good cycling roads, and Kingston is surprisingly charming so long as you stick to the old part of town (mostly east of University).

BONUS

Try a conservation centre
There are numerous conservation areas spread across the GTA, many of which offer a cheap way to escape the city for a day. Some of my favourites include Kelso (mountain biking), Rattlesnake Point (fall colours), Kortright (maple syrup), Boyd (picnicking).

Got a favourite day-trip from Toronto? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks to Focus: Life Gear by TRIDENT for sponsoring this post. Focus: Life Gear by TRIDENT is a fashion line that blocks your mobile connectivity, allowing you to embrace a lifestyle of focus.Focus Trident

Photo by BruceK

Discussion

24 Comments

W. K. Lis / April 5, 2014 at 09:30 am
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Where are the nearest underground cave?
Blood / April 5, 2014 at 09:33 am
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Best you'll get around here is the Dance Cave
E. Toby Coke replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / April 5, 2014 at 10:23 am
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Try the Toronto Caving Group. And make sure you are physically fit.
Rusty / April 5, 2014 at 10:50 am
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Some of these descriptions mention, in a rather annoyed tone, how busy they've become with floods of tourists. Then, why post these here at all?
Eddie / April 5, 2014 at 10:54 am
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Edwards Gardens should be on this list! The main part can be crowded at peak hours, but the trail South to Wilket Creek is paradise.
UnderGround Dweller replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / April 5, 2014 at 11:19 am
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It's probably not the closest but the Warsaw Caves east of Peterborough comes to mind and it a great place to check out.
Water into beer / April 5, 2014 at 01:26 pm
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Are you nuts? Wolfe island is now a forest of ugly, noisy wind turbines.
picalily / April 5, 2014 at 02:14 pm
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STOP GIVING AWAY ALL MY SECRET HIDING SPOTS!!!!
nb / April 5, 2014 at 02:25 pm
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peterbeau!
MC replying to a comment from Eddie / April 5, 2014 at 05:03 pm
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The problem with Edward Gardens is that if you're walking, the bicyclists treat the place like a racetrack & there's not too many places anywhere near to get food or drink except for that tiny oft-closed cafe and the gas station.
Moaz Ahmad / April 5, 2014 at 05:49 pm
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Colonel Samuel Smith Park at the south end of Kipling Ave.
EveryBlogTOreader replying to a comment from MC / April 6, 2014 at 10:03 am
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What is this blasphemy? Bicyclists can do no wrong!
Brett / May 22, 2014 at 01:03 pm
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ELORA GORGE IS NOT NEAR TORONTO .... this is the stupidest one on here.... wake up idiots .....
Brett / May 22, 2014 at 01:07 pm
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Lets stick to places in Toronto that are easily accesible by people who live in Toronto.... Elora Gorge, Beamsville Bench are not easily accessable.... worst recommendations ever ....
Peter M / May 25, 2014 at 10:15 am
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Grange Park is a great escape in the middle of the city.
David Pylyp / May 25, 2014 at 10:23 am
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All good selections promoting our great city

You have really been posting TOP Drawer Toronto Comments.
One poster mentioned Colonel Samuel Smith Park that is part of the Martin Goodman Trail...

Great walking and rollerblading paved walkways. Be careful of the bicycle racers.

Bythewater is great!

in Mimico and New Toronto
Leslie / May 25, 2014 at 12:17 pm
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Earl Bales Park on Bathurst just south of Sheppard. It's an excellent mix of wide open spaces and natural wilds that dip down to the river. In the winter they have a fully operational ski and snowboard center, complete with a chair loft and groomed x-country trails.
Labianca / May 25, 2014 at 02:08 pm
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50 grams to cups water
Nash / May 26, 2014 at 01:48 pm
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Highly recommend Colonel Samuel Smith Park (near Lakeshore Blvd W and Kipling) and also the Humber River Trail from Weston to Lakeshore!
Stephen Douglas / May 26, 2014 at 06:32 pm
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I agree with @Nash, bird watching at Samuel Smith Park should be on this list. According to eBird, 237 different species of bird have been recorded in the park. Each morning I check on the two pairs of red-necked grebes nesting in the bay and the swans nesting in the marsh. The whimbrel return each May, there is a resident snowy owl, coyotes, mink, beaver, and the occasional deer. It's extraordinary! And in the winter, the artificial skating trail at the Power Plant is a real joy for kids and adults.
Getoutsidenow / May 28, 2014 at 07:38 am
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@brett the title is top 10 places in AND AROUND Toronto. Not just in. I for one am very happy for the recommendations within an hour or so drive. Great list BlogTO!
Pamela Capraru / May 31, 2014 at 11:32 pm
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The south shore of Lake Simcoe, north of Sutton and Keswick: Jackson's Point, Island Grove, et al. Easily accessible by GO bus via Newmarket if you don't have a car. If you drive, it's just 45–50 minutes straight north on the 404 and Woodbine, an quick day trip to cottage country with far less traffic both ways than the 400.

Snake Island, just offshore with around 300 cottages, is private, but the view of it from the mainland is lovely. Good fishing off the public dock, great spot for a day on the lake if you own a boat, although not much parkland for picnicking and such. And it's reputedly the world ice fishing capital for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

My family has been fortunate to own a heritage log cabin on the island for over 40 years (please don't hate me). I'm surprised that no one else mentioned it. Perhaps our island paradise remains a well-kept secret.
Andy / June 22, 2014 at 11:49 am
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There are plenty of places to stay that aren't the stupid Drake Devonshire in prince edward county. Places owned and operated by people who are actually from the county and aren't sleazy, pompous Toronto windbags.
Cory replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / July 20, 2014 at 02:15 pm
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Ontario caves.
http://www.ontariocaves.com/

I used to cave in Alberta but some have since been closed due to the problem of the bat white nose syndrome. Alberta has been closing cave to help stop the spread of the disease in bat population.

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