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The top 10 cheap weekend escapes from Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / June 26, 2014

cheap weekend escape torontoThe top cheap weekend escapes from Toronto are perfect for those of us with plenty of stress and not a lot of money. While nothing comes even near-free these days, if you've got a couple hundred bucks lying around, you can be one of the privileged cavalry stuck on a 400 series highway on a Friday afternoon, too. Yippee! More seriously, we live in a ridiculously beautiful province, and why should this rugged, lake-dotted landscape be reserved for those with deep pockets? It shouldn't. So go to the Falls (so cheap and so good), do the cottage thing like you own one (thanks Ontario Parks), or pitch a tent under the stars.

Here are my picks for the top cheap weekend escapes from Toronto.

Go camping at a Provincial Park
This one is a no-brainer. Provincial parks are the poor person's cottage, and in many cases, every bit as fun. Prices typically range between $25 and $50 a night depending on the location of one's camp ground and what amenities it has to offer (showers, electricity, etc). What park you choose will, of course, be determined by a number of factors, but personal favourites include Balsam Lake (relatively close to Toronto, nice beach), Killbear (rugged Canadian landscape and lots of private camp sites), Sandbanks (in Prince Edward County, great beach), and, of course, Algonquin for its true wilderness experience (note: backcountry camping rates are much lower than car-camping rates).

Be in awe of Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is one of the best cheap weekend getaways in the province. Just over an hour away from Toronto, you can get there cheap if you hop on the Megabus for less than 20 bucks, stay at one the city's many cheap motels (top picks include the Advance Inn and and the Cadillac), and skip the Keg in favour of the Flying Saucer, a true gem of kitsch in a city that's known for such things. While there, you can people watch along Clifton Hill (don't bother with the attractions except the Ferris Wheel), hit up the Butterfly Conservatory, and fall in love (once again) with the Falls.

Rent a cottage or cabin through Airbnb
Although nowhere near as robust as its urban listings, Airbnb does have a selection of cabins and vacation properties on offer throughout Ontario, some of which look absolutely fantastic. There are roughly 230 current listings for vacation-type properties on the site, a number which is split between rooms for rent (kinda creepy) and entire buildings (much better. One of my personal favourites is this rustic treehouse-like space in Plantagenet, which comes in at roughly $75 a night.

Hit the beach at the Breakers
The Breakers is one of the resorts that you count yourself lucky to have come across. It's clean, the accommodations are nice (if basic), it the resort is based right on one of Ontario's nicest beaches in Cobourg. The resort offers both motel-style rooms (though they're typically a bit nicer than what you might associate with motels) and two-bedroom housekeeping cottages complete with gas fireplaces and jacuzzi tubs. Rooms (with kitchenettes) start at $105 in the low season, while cottages start at $150.

Go camping - but with a roof
Here's a confession: I hate sleeping in tents. In mid-summer, they get brutally stuffy and I never wake up without some ailment or another from sleeping on the ground. I'm just prissy that way. This is why the roofed accommodations at Ontario parks are so appealing. Almost invariably cheaper than renting a private cottage, the many cottages and cabins offered at provincial parks are a step above car camping that still won't blow the budget. Rates start at $55 for a ranger cabin in Algonquin Park and go up from there depending on how much space you need. Note well: you need to book early to have any chance of securing one of these places.

Try out an oTENTik
If you're not into the tent thing, but you also don't need much by way of amenities, another option is to try out one of Parks Canada's oTENTiks. These structures are a combination of a cabin and a tent, and make rainy days and snooping bears way more bearable than paltry tent. For now these hybrid structure can be found at Thousand Islands National Park, though our fingers are cross that they're coming to Rouge Park in the near future. oTENTiks are $90 a night.

Do Muskoka on the cheap
The rugged beauty of Muskoka will generally cost you an arm and a leg, but there are a few exceptions to this rule, one of which is the above linked Spring Lake Resort. Something between a motel and a bonafide lakeside resort, it's a way to partake in cottage country without going broke. A standard room starts at $109 in high season ($79 if you don't mind cool weather), and offers you access to the lake, AC, an extra bed, and WiFi. This ain't the Ritz, but the setting is beautiful and you can drink until your heart's content. Sold.

Hamilton Calling
A few years ago, the average Torontonian looking to get away for a weekend would look at Hamilton as a smoggy roadside vista while crossing the Burlington SkyWay on the way to Niagara Falls. Not so anymore. Hamilton is a contender. While an NHL team might not be in Steeltown's future, the food scene is booming, live music ain't no slouch, and West Queen West could learn a few things about how to foster a gallery scene. You know, Hamilton is also kinda beautiful, located, as it is, on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. Go, enjoy -- you might buy a house there when it's all said and done. In the meantime, rent a cheap motel or B&B as par of your reconnaissance.

Witness the rebirth of Detroit (before it all changes)
Depending on how (un)sanitized you wish your vacation to be, Detroit might be the three-hours-from-Toronto destination for you. Here you can explore the ruins of the US industry and the burgeoning spirit of a America, one that's driven by the an enterprising drive that delights in opportunities like a bankrupt city. Sure, the rebirth of Detroit (tenuous as it is) ain't built off of the egos of the city's fore-bearers, but maybe there's such a thing as second chances? Go super-cheap at the Detroit Hostel or hit up the St. Regis (it's not quite as nice as it sounds) for something budget but not cheap. The Airbnb options are plentiful as well. I hear the food scene is on the serious rise.

Plan a staycation
This isn't a cop-out. Playing tourist in one's hometown is amazing if you know what you're doing. Toronto hotels aren't generally cheap, but there are exceptions to every rule. And if you're looking to spend a bit because you're saving on travel costs, two solid local options worth noting are One King West (oh, the view) and the Gladstone. When was the last time you looked at this city with strange eyes? Explore our top notch beaches, hang around the lake, have a picnic in a ravine (don't forget a knife), or dine at a new restaurant. Toronto -- it's yours to discover. Do it.

What did I miss? Plug your favourite cheap weekend escapes from Toronto in the comments below.Ford escapeThanks to Ford Escape for sponsoring our weekend escapes.

Photo of an oTENTik

Discussion

22 Comments

MeMe / June 26, 2014 at 03:35 pm
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I was like Detroit? Really? Then I say your sponsor. Roger that BlogTO
junio replying to a comment from MeMe / June 26, 2014 at 03:38 pm
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I second that! Seriously, is Detroit a place to celebrate when they city is shutting off water to people who can't pay their bills? They are cutting off water to children and babies!!!! Tourism to look at a train wreck, maybe. But nothing to celebrate.
MeMe replying to a comment from junio / June 26, 2014 at 03:52 pm
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Like the Post-Katrina tours. Wanting to see that kind of thing is one thing, promoting urban decay tourism is morbid.
mike in parkdale / June 26, 2014 at 04:19 pm
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I know a lot of people who've gone to Detroit as tourists and have had a great time. Most of them go more than once. I'm sure BlogTo isn't promotion a Metal Scrapper Tour of Detroit - there's lots of pleasant things worth seeing.
wanttoknowmore / June 26, 2014 at 04:41 pm
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which park and accommodation is in the picture?
mibh / June 26, 2014 at 04:43 pm
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Can BLOGTO please start captioning its photos with what they are - which one of the services noted is the picture showing - it looks great!
CaligulaJones / June 26, 2014 at 04:53 pm
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Hamilton is "kinda" beautiful? You do know its called "The City of Waterfalls" for a reason, right:

http://cityofwaterfalls.ca/

Does Toronto have even one? Not counting that cheapy one by the SkyDome?
mrm / June 26, 2014 at 04:59 pm
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Problems and all, Detroit is a beautiful city with a lot to see. And I don't think residents will complain about people travelling to spend money there.
Steph K / June 26, 2014 at 05:02 pm
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Okay, I was in Detroit yesterday. There's lots of stuff to do, but MOST of the touristy stuff is in the neighbouring cities like Macob and Hamtrak.

Also, other than Niagara Falls 'n Detroit, are any of these places accessible without a car?
? replying to a comment from mibh / June 26, 2014 at 05:38 pm
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Come on man.

Every lead pic is reference at the bottom of the article on BlogTO. Been that way forever.

"Photo of an oTENTik"
mibh / June 26, 2014 at 05:51 pm
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hadn't seen it but thanks for that. Would it be easier for people to just shift it to its logical place under the photo though? Just sayin' :)
Patti Pokorchak / June 26, 2014 at 06:17 pm
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Sugar Ridge Retreat Centre http://sugarridge.ca is like a few of the above. But small (only 10 cabins), peaceful and very dog friendly.

July 13 from 1-4pm is their open house with free yoga and other classes. Check out their events!

http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/family-fun-day-open-house-at-sugar-ridge-retreat-center-registration-422894890
Owen / June 26, 2014 at 07:54 pm
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Umm...September 5-7. All you can eat (with meals prepared by amazing Toronto chefs), drink (including alcohol!), and all the summer camp activities that you would expect (kayaking, zip-lining, capture the flag, movie nights...

http://www.twoislandsweekend.com

Jeanne / June 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm
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There is one thing you left out about Hamilton...The 140 waterfalls !! Hidden , Hamilton is nothing but trails and waterfalls :)
Derek / June 27, 2014 at 08:31 am
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Regarding the Detroit recommendation: 1) the advertiser had no input in the creation of this list, 2) Detroit is a fascinating place right now as its culinary and arts scenes are on the rise as creative and enterprising people take advantage of low rents in central areas to try out interesting projects. Yes, there are serious economic problems facing the city, but unless you're unimaginative and boring, it's hard to argue that this isn't a place worth visiting right now. Some recommended reading:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/travel/as-detroit-flounders-its-art-scene-flourishes.html?_r=0

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/revitalized-food-scene-giving-detroit-boost-morale-economic-strength-180950276/?no-ist

http://www.cntraveller.com/recommended/food/detroit-restaurants-cocktail-bars

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2014/01/09/bankrupt-detroit-art-city-of-the-future-prepares-to-supplant-new-york/
joe louis / June 27, 2014 at 10:01 am
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Detroit.
Fairlane Mall.
Short bus ride/cheap taxi to Dearborn.
Puts Walden Galleria Mall in Buffalo to SHAME!
Such good shopping! Worth the trip in so many ways, most of all not a lot of tourists to drive prices up.
Colette / June 28, 2014 at 03:40 pm
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After seeing Jarmusch's latest film, I want to go to Detroit more than I ever did before. Not to mention they've got a kick-ass art gallery.

Though I see why it wouldn't appeal to those people who take guests visiting Toronto to the CN Tower.
HelenInTO / June 29, 2014 at 11:25 am
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Great post! I'd add Sibbald Point provincial park - just an hour from TO, straight up Markham Road. Also: Centre Island. :)
N. Penner / June 29, 2014 at 06:01 pm
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Up state New York - almost anywhere. The Adirondacks are just one hour from Cornwall. Buffalo is not boring. Check out Chautauqua , the arts and nature combined.. Fabulous architecture and history.
tt / June 30, 2014 at 09:07 pm
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Regarding Detroit, I just came back from one of the excellent organised tours of Detroit put together by Spacing magazine: http://spacingstore.ca/products/detroit-urbanism-road-trip

The next one is planned for September I think. Great way to cleanse oneself of any misconceptions about Detroit... (guilty as charged).

Both Buffalo and Rochester are also entirely underrated. Great vibe, beautiful cities, magnificent architecture (there are no less than six remaining Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Buffalo alone), great museums (the George Eastman house in Rochester is one of the leading museums of photography, just sayin). The jazz festival in Rochester is pretty cool and relaxed. Like you can drink beer outside, with your food, while listening to the music like God intended, without being fenced-in like in the ridiculous "drinking lounges" of Toronto festivals.
Plus, it's cheap. And the people are nice. Buses go there, and both cities are much more bike-able than Toronto. Although a car makes everything there more convenient, granted.
Sarah / August 1, 2014 at 11:16 pm
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Great list! Thanks for all the insight including many of these comments. New to Toronto and it's hard to figure out fun, unique and inexpensive ways to enjoy the surroundings
Deez / October 4, 2014 at 08:48 pm
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Detroit Rep!

You left off the DIA which is better than any art museum in Toronto and cheaper. Go on Friday for wine and jazz as you look at the Diego Rivera murals. The food is not as good as Toronto but getting better and definitely cheaper. Plus Michigan beer is better than in Ontario. Bells and Founders FTW.

But more seriously, if you're interested in urban planning, Detroit is one of the most interesting places there is not. The slate is completely clean and people are being really creative. It is also interesting to understand how a city of 2M can fall to under 800,000 due to the double punch of race riots in the late 1960s and the implosion of the US car industry in the early 1980s.

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