toronto weekend getaway

The top 10 outdoor weekend escapes from Toronto

Ontario is spoiled for choice when it comes to outdoor weekend escapes and getaways. Thanks to the Niagara Escarpment, our hundreds of lakes, and ample forests, there's a wide variety of activities and adventures to embark upon just outside of Toronto. From rock climbing to white water rafting to scuba diving, the daring spirit will find something to get the juices flowing.

There are, of course, more relaxed outdoor excursions on offer as well. There are few better places for canoeing in the world than Algonquin and Killarney parks, and you can even rent a ranger cabin or a yurt if sleeping in a tent fails to appeal. What's the licence plate motto 'round here again? Ontario -- Yours to Discover. Yup, sounds about right.

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

Reach new heights rock climbing
Thanks to the Niagara Escarpment, the area around Toronto is actually full of rock climbing opportunities. That said, unless you're already an expert, it can be risky to head to one of the hundreds of routes in Southern and Central Ontario. If you're relatively new to the sport, a guided rock climbing adventure probably makes more sense. In that vein, check out On the Rocks, a climbing guide company that runs numerous adventures on Metcalfe Rock in the Beaver Valley.

Go white water rafting
If tubing in the Elora Gorge is too leisurely for you, then up the ante with some white water rafting. Close to home there's the Nith River, which is most fun in the spring but also action-filled after a heavy rainfall in the summer. Further afield, the Ottawa Valley is the prime destination for white water rafting in the province (if nothing else). There are a number of adventure companies that do guided tours and who provide instruction, but if you want to stay and play in the same place, check out the River Run Rafting and Wilderness Resort.

Hit the trails on a mountain bike
There is some superb mountain biking within a two hour radius of Toronto (and, in fact, much less than that). Both Blue Mountain and Horseshoe Resort offer good stay and ride packages, while smaller spots like Buckwallow Cycle Centre are a good bet for those staying in cottage country. Closer to home, Albion Hills Conservation Area offers camping and cycling on the cheap.

Get back to basics at an Algonquin ranger cabin
If you like camping but not the whole sleeping in a tent part, an Algonquin ranger cabin might be the perfect weekend escape for you. These rustic old huts don't have running water or electricity, but they provide a level of shelter that makes inclement weather easier to withstand (and added protection from hungry wildlife). Most cabins are in the backcountry and must be accessed by canoe, but there are a few that offer something more akin to the car-camping experience. Prices range from $60 to $140 a night depending on the size/accessibility of the cabin.

Go spelunking!
Ontario is blessed with more caves than you might imagine. The so-called Scenic Caves at the top of Blue Mountain are one of the most popular options out there, but Bruce County is also dotted with caves to be explored. Greig's Caves is a good bet, with 12 different caves linked together by a hiking trail. The Grotto is perhaps the most spectacular-looking cave in the province, having been carved out by waves on Georgian Bay for millennia. Just don't watch The Descent before heading out on your cave adventures.

Scuba dive in Tobermory
Situated at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, Tobermory is the country's prime scuba diving destination. Sure the Georgian Bay water is on the cold side, but it's wonderfully clear, and the area is dotted with over 20 shipwrecks for divers to explore. Hit up the Diver's Den for equipment rentals and tours. For a cheap trip, camp at Bruce Peninsula National Park or checkout the numerous kitschy motels in the area.

Go canoeing in Killarney
Let's be honest, there are a ton of great places to go on a canoe trip in Ontario. Algonquin comes to mind, of course, but the rugged, windswept landscape on the northern shore of Georgian Bay in Killarney Provincial Park might be the most scenic option of them all. There are about 50 lakes spread across the park with 183 campsites and a handful of yurts. You can rent supplies at Killarney Kanoes (inside the park) and then descend into a Group of Seven painting.

Challenge yourself on a zip line
If your inner animal is a bird, then ziplining should appeal to your desire to soar above the treetops. There are more zip lines in Ontario than you might imagine, but some of the best (read: highest and longest) can be found Scenic Caves Nature Adventures, Long Point Eco-Adventures, and the various Treetop Trekking locations across the province.

Hike the Bruce Trail
Although less adrenaline-worthy as some other outdoor adventures, when looking to immerse oneself in nature, not much beats a hike through the Bruce Trail. Stretching 900km along the Niagara Escarpment, the trail is a bit like Choose Your Own Adventure. Target an area that you haven't explored before, make arrangements for a campground or lodging, and off you go to explore the back woods of Canada. Check out the interactive map of the trail to start planning your trip.

Get mud-soaked on an ATV
ATVs are a little bit scary and a lot of fun. They're also completely scarce in urban areas, so there's something extra alluring about hop on when and exploring back country trails. If you're really luck, a cottage-owning friend will have one of these that you can borrow on your ext visit. If that's a pipe dream, however, the best option is to an ATV tour, which will take you through some rough terrain and a lot of mud. It ain't cheap -- a half day will cost you $270 bucks -- but it sure is mindless fun.

What did I miss? Plug your favourite outdoor weekend escapes from Toronto in the comments below.

Photo via River Run Rafting

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