Ontario’s Highlands is in the South Eastern part of the Province of Ontario. The Region spans from Haliburton County at its western border to the Ottawa Valley at its eastern edge. And it’s within easy driving distance - just 30 minutes west of Ottawa and 2.5 hours east of Toronto.This is a place to escape the busy pace of city life and to discover a very different travel experience from big city destinations like Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal. The entire region is very rural – there is only one Starbucks in its entire 23,000 square km area.
Rather than the skyscrapers, big box stores and restaurants of a “concrete jungle”, you will find small towns, authentic local culture and untouched wilderness. If you are looking for that “small town” experience - look no further than quaint towns like Haliburton, Almonte or Perth. People will remember your name here and you will feel your shoulders relax as you bask in warm, friendly hospitality. Unwind to the slower pace of life that epitomizes small town living as you wander between country store and shops, cafes, galleries and restaurants. And in the summer time you will be sure to find local festivals and events to while away the time.
Without the distractions of the bright city lights there is no better environment in which to reconnect with family and friends. This is perfect “road trip” territory that lends itself to the cozy camaraderie of winding roads with scenic views and quirky small town attractions and pit stops.
Couples should check out Black River Retreat near Tweed for the ultimate in pampering and fine dining. Nestled amongst six acres of rolling woodland trails and with a half kilometer of privacy along the banks of the Black River – this is the ultimate romantic escape! Your luxurious suite includes a sitting room with fireplace, bedroom with oversized log bed, plus opulent ensuite finished in travertine and stone.
Throughout the year you are sure to find a variety of local festivals and events to share together. With everything from the Rockhound Gemboree in Bancroft (July 31 - Aug 3, 2014) to the Tweed Tribute to Elvis Festival (with bedazzled jumpsuits!) from August 22-24, 2014.
Girlfriends can plan on great shopping - make a point to drop in at Moon Shadows Winery in Haliburton, Ontario’s first Maple wine producer. There is also the Classic Theatre Festival in beautiful heritage Perth as well as spas and wellness retreats such as the award winning Grail Springs near Bancroft.
Guys Getaways could include Whitewater rafting in the Ottawa Valley – the Whitewater capital of Canada. Maybe sample maple beer at Perth Brewery or hand crafted beer at the Whitewater Brewing Co in Foresters Falls. Renfrew has ties to the formation of the NHL and an NHL Museum. Millionaire businessman M.J. O'Brien, founder of the Town of Renfrew, was also a founding member of the National Hockey Association – precursor of today’s National Hockey League.
Active travellers who like to challenge themselves physically will always come back with stories from their travels in Ontario’s Highlands. Earn bragging rights by trying something new and unique that you’ll want to tell all your friends about… The area offers wilderness tours, bungee jumping, ATV trails and ziplines, just to mention a few. Plus Whitewater rafting that will make you feel like you’ve just been put through the laundry! In winter try ice climbing – and this is fabulous country for snowmobiling. Ontario’s Highlands are included within Ontario's Premier Snowmobile Tour Round Algonquin Park (the RAP Tour).
If you want to challenge the mind as well as the body and expand your horizons - Ontario’s Highlands has plenty of opportunities to not just to appreciate something, but to learn something new as well. Travel back in time with the region’s Museums, pioneer buildings and heritage centres. Bancroft Mineral Museum is the perfect place to learn about the story of our earth – and Bancroft is the “Mineral capital of Canada”. Thanks to the unique geology of the area you can hunt for, and find, your very own crystals.
Haliburton Highlands has the highest number of working artists per capita in Ontario and often manages to blend the arts with its pristine environment. Visit artist’s studios, walk, cycle or ski through Haliburton’s sculpture forest - or take part in glassblowing or pottery workshops at the Haliburton School of the Arts. And don’t miss the music and arts at the Forest Festival (August 12-17, 2014) held at the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve.
Lastly – if you just want to get away from it all and venture off the beaten path there are plenty of Provincial Parks and peaceful, secluded wilderness areas where you can feel that you are the only person there. Recreational geology hikes in areas like Bear Lake Diggings near to Bancroft and Eganville Geology & Fossil Trail in the Ottawa Valley introduce you to the Canadian Shield. And thanks to the rural seclusion there is no light pollution here - the night sky glows with stars, just as it should.
In Ontario's Highlands, cradled between the Ottawa River and Algonquin Provincial Park, the Ottawa Valley is Ontario's Adventure Playground and a mere half-hour drive from downtown Ottawa. With more than 2.4 million hectares (6 million acres) of pristine waterways, rolling woodlands and forests – the river and trail networks test the might and mettle of every explorer to the area, expert and novice alike. Ottawa Valley is the Whitewater Capital - not just of Ontario, but of Canada. You'll find rivers for all seasons and skill levels and the rivers flow from March right through to the end of November - making for a long paddling season.
Raft, kayak or canoe the mighty Ottawa, Madawaska or Petawawa rivers. And if you want to improve your J stroke - The Valley is also home to Canada's best paddling schools for kayak, canoe or raft. This is where you will find Canada's first whitewater paddling school – the Madawaska Kanu Centre.
It really is water, water everywhere … the Valley is home to 4 major rivers systems and over 900 lakes. Including Lake Dore – whose claim to fame is that it is the world's largest inland freshwater lake without an island!
There’s lots to keep you active off the water as well. Feel the Need for Speed at the Calabogie Motorsports Park. And the Ottawa Valley is a great spot for a motorcycle adventure. It was recently named the top destination for Fall riding in Ontario. Imagine the trees bursting with glorious reds, yellows and oranges, the crisp autumn air and the uncrowded roads.
Don’t underestimate the size of the Ottawa Valley region. Renfrew County is the largest county (geographically) in the entire province of Ontario and measures almost the same size as Algonquin Park (7,500 sq. km). Renfrew also happens to be the birthplace of the NHL and home to the Renfrew Millionaires (one of the original 6 teams). Nor is it just a summer destination. Calabogie Peaks Resort is Ontario's highest public vertical ski/snowboard hill and Petawawa's Mount Molson is the world's shortest vertical run.
Like the rest of the Ontario’s Highlands region – the Ottawa Valley has its fair share of quaint towns like Almonte and Perth. For something different explore Wilno - Canada's first Polish settlement. Kashub Day, is celebrated the 1st Saturday each May. Discover the deep history of this proud community with traditional food, music, dance, arts and culture.
All summer long there are local festivals and events to draw you in. Bring out your inner dancer & fiddler - Canada's largest Step Dancing & Fiddling competitions are held in Pembroke (August 29-30, 2014). You can learn to step dance with the best and fiddle with the rest!
If you want to venture off the beaten path – take the recreational geology trail in Eganville - the Ordovician Fossil Capital of Canada. You can even dine underground here in the natural wonder known as the Bonnechere Caves. This is also a great location for the new sport of GeoCaching.
Haliburton Highlands is less than 3 hours from Toronto or Ottawa, and it is very accessible from Quebec. Centred around the town of Haliburton, it is tucked underneath Algonquin Park to the North East of Toronto. With pristine lakes and untouched forests - the Haliburton Highlands offer some of Ontario’s best hiking, cycling, fishing and canoeing. The Fall colours are breathtaking. And the area seems to achieve a unique interaction between its vibrant arts scene and its natural, unspoiled environment.
Merging art with nature comes naturally in the Haliburton Highlands. For example, the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, in Glebe Park near the village of Haliburton, is a unique outdoor collection of sculptures by Canadian and international artists. The trails in the Sculpture Forest - for walking and bike riding in spring, summer and fall and skiing in the winter - provide changing perspectives on the forest and the sculptures in each of the seasons.
The area is blessed with so many fantastically talented artists that there are now 27 Studios on the Haliburton County Studio Tour. The tour takes place this year October 4 – 5, 2014 and over Thanksgiving weekend October 11-12, 2014. Meet with over 40 artists and simply admire or buy their work.
The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve also embodies this fusion of art and the environment. The Forest Festival presents music in unique natural settings. Imagine sitting in the middle of a forest, away from the lights of the city, in an amphitheatre overlooking beautiful Bone Lake and listening to live music as the sun sets. Or imagine yourself listening to incredible musicians while sitting in an Historic Logging Museum surrounded by the forest. This year the Forest Festival runs August 12-17 2014 and headline acts include Measha Brueggergosma, Canadian Brass and Greg Keelor & Jim Cuddy.
The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve offers a lot more besides. There is a fully functioning observatory as well as a planetarium. Astronomy programs run every Friday (and with enough demand Saturday) throughout the summer to take advantage of the wonderfully clear night skies.
The Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre contains numerous exhibits, a small cinema/classroom, as well as a large indoor observatory overlooking the feeding area within the wolf compound. The Wolf Pack comprises Luna and Fang, the Alpha pair, and their siblings and offspring. They roam freely in a 15 acre enclosure, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Visitors of all ages are mesmerized by the opportunity to watch these magnificent creatures. And four new pups were born at the beginning of May 2014!
The canopy boardwalk in the Haliburton Forest is over half a kilometer long – it is the longest of its kind in the world. The boardwalk winds through the treetops 10-20 meters above the forest floor. You arrive at a platform suspended from the treetops and your guide elaborates on the forest environment surrounding you. There is a spectacular view across lakes and forests. The Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve is also crossed by over 300 kilometers of forest access roads and trails - making it one of North America's premier mountain biking destinations.
In fact the entire Haliburton area is a great destination for hiking and the 12th annual Hike Haliburton Festival takes place September 18-21, 2014. Choose from themed hikes at every skill level, each led by an experienced, educational guide. There is a hike for you, whether you interested in Geology, Botany, Geo-caching, Mushrooms, History, Fitness, The Arts and more! There are also family, kid and pet friendly hikes.
If you don’t want to walk then there are wonderful car and motorcycle tours as well. Explore 6 defined routes throughout the curves and rolling hills of the Haliburton Highlands. Whether you are seeking a day trip or extended excursion, you will find The Highlands filled with breathtaking scenic views and attractions along the way.
And after all that exercise you will want a good meal! Fortunately the entire area has wonderful local produce. The area is developing a strong local “food to table” initiative and, especially in the late summer and fall, you can buy delicious harvest treats in farmers markets and local stores – or sometimes pick your own.
Bancroft is centrally located between Toronto and Ottawa. It is in the northern half of Hastings County, which is the second largest county in Ontario. 42% of North Hastings is crown land plus it has 242 named lakes – and it is only an hour away from the world renowned Algonquin Provincial Park.
Bancroft is known as the mineral capital of Canada. Be sure to take a guided mineral collecting tour – it is thrilling to discover your very own specimen.
North Hastings sits on the edge of the Canadian Shield that was formed over a billion years ago. After a long period of repeated cycles of erosion and glaciation, the once mighty Grenville Mountains have been worn down to mere rolling hills - bringing their rich mineralized roots to the surface. Nearly 300 species of minerals have been identified in the region and this great diversity provides easy access to world-class specimens that you can take home!
The Bancroft Visitor Information Centre can provide you with a listing of sites and maps for a self-guided mineral excursion… or, especially if you are new to collecting, join in a field trip with a geologist as your expert guide to really enhance the experience. Tours are offered to seven different collecting sites rotated throughout the summer on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – with extra tours during the annual Gemboree festival.
Bear Lake Diggings is a great place to go to collect mineral specimens – but take shovels, rock hammer and chisel and prepare to get down and dirty! You will need to dig to find those elusive crystals of Microcline (feldspar), Titanite, Biotite (Mica), Hornblende, Apatite and Calcite. Buy a permit at the Visitor Information Centre in Bancroft or take a tour for just $15 (permit included).
Also at the Visitor Information Centre in Bancroft you will find a Mineral Museum with specimens all found within a 150 km radius of Bancroft. These are very beautiful, high quality minerals, including some specimens from the Museum of Nature in Ottawa. This is a great orientation to help you know what minerals occur locally and what they look like – plus there are some beautiful cut gems and a cool mining diorama.
The annual Gemboree is the highlight of the season for Rockhounds – with 4 days of awesome geology (31 July to 3 Aug 2014) and over 150 vendors selling rocks, minerals, fossils, gems and jewelry. You can buy specimens from $1 to $4000 …..
Thanks to the Canadian Shield that shaped its landscape - Bancroft and District is also a paradise for outdoor adventure. The geology has shaped waterways and rugged terrain where you can experience a variety of outdoor activities in beautiful untouched settings! Take on the Canadian Shield by climbing over rocks, up rocky terrain and around creeks and streams. There are over 4,000 kms of trails and whether it’s by foot, bike or ATV, the topography lends itself readily to outdoor activity. And in the winter months, trail users will appreciate the well groomed trail system and the large amounts of snow - offering ideal conditions for activities such as snowmobiling and cross country skiing.
Lakes and rivers abound for water based fun. For canoeing or kayaking the York River provides flat water paddling through spectacular wilderness. And if you’re an adrenaline junkie then challenging whitewater rafting is also close by! There are also calmer rapids allowing all age groups and experience levels to participate. And for an even less strenuous activity again - the clean lakes and rivers offer anglers a variety of fish. North Hastings even has its own species of fish - the Jewel Trout!
This rugged geography also lends itself to rally driving. The Maple Leaf Rally Club is one of the largest, oldest, and most active rally clubs in Canada. The Maple Leaf Winter Rally is a snowy overnight road rally held in Bancroft each February which covers nearly 400km. And the Rally of the Tall Pines is one of Canada's premier performance rallies held the last Saturday of November.
In Bancroft if you aren’t looking down to the ground for rocks then you can look upwards to the stars. Southern Ontario is rapidly losing its dark skies as the glare of city lights makes it increasingly difficult to witness the unimpeded beauty of the night sky. This region is a Dark Sky Perserve! The Viewing Area at the Nutwood Observatory offers a night sky experience with a spectacular view, especially during the annual meteor showers that occur in the months of July and August.
But Bancroft isn’t just about geology and terrain. It also has a vibrant arts community – in fact a few years ago Bancroft was voted “the Most Talented Town in Ontario” by TVO. Over 20 artists working in different media including pottery, woodworking and painting participate in the Bancroft Studio Tour (September 20 - 21 and 27 - 28, 2014).
The Bancroft Summer Theatre delivers charming live theatre based at the Village Playhouse. Originally the town hall it later became the local jail and court house. Various original features have been lovingly restored, the auditorium has vintage velvet seats and luxurious stage curtains, and the lobby has gorgeous tin ceilings. There is also live music all summer long at the Mineral Capital Concert series in Bancroft.
Bancroft preserves its heritage and there are some cool things to discover. Because of its boom and bust mineral-based economy this area has some of the best “Ghost Town” viewing in the Province.
The Hastings Heritage Museum is situated in a log building that dates back to 1879 and which once belonged to a lumber company. A tour of the museum will reveal several carefully reconstructed rooms that are reminiscent of Bancroft’s past. Artifacts contained in the museum include logging and agricultural tools, dental and medical equipment, costumes, pictures, documents and minerals that all reflect the history of this wilderness town.
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