If you drive the roads of Ontario long enough, you might pronounce the province just "bush land, scrub land." There's so much granite beyond Toronto, one rejoices to arrive at a hamlet carved out of the earth. Spread along the back roads, you might find a temporary home and have "some opinion of what beauty is."
Here are my picks for 5 small towns worth visiting within a three hour drive of Toronto.
Forget Avril and the Hell Holes sign off the 401 exit, after you pass the Tim Hortons and McDonalds on Centre St., Napanee is the most quaint river-side place. Sit on the long patio at the Waterfront River Pub and Terrace and wonder why you don't leave Toronto often enough.
Go to Grand Bend for the Beach, stay for the party. This is one of the chief shirt-less zones in Ontario, and after the sun goes down, the bars on Main St. are as raucous as King West. Failing that dubious distinction, the bike trail that runs just off the shore is one of the best Ontario.
It's all about chocolate and beer in Campbellford. This is a town with a great farmers' market, arts scene, and culinary culture that downtown foodies dream of. Ferris Provincial Park is immediately adjacent to the main drag in case you require a quite injection of nature.
Port Carling attracts all the tourists, but Bala is where it's at. Just south of the major tourist action, here you might linger at Bala Falls before eating breakfast at Don's Bakery. The Kee to Bala remains a big deal up here some 75 years after its inauguration.
Lake Erie tends to be under-appreciated by Toronto folks, but much to our detriment. Port Dover as a town is as quaint as they come, but the beach is five stars. In other words, bring your bathing suit. The waterfront is positively bumping in the summer months as the crowds take advantage of the warm waters and small-town hospitality.
What's your favourite small town within three hours of Toronto. Let us know in the comments.
Photo of Port Dover by Brian Krouskie.