Ontario’s natural landscapes
Whether you’re looking to see wilderness areas, picturesque provincial parks, unique geological treasures or habitats for endangered plants and animals, the best places to see in Ontario are worth a pit stop or detour on your provincial trip.
Many of these natural areas are protected by conservation experts who work to promote these healthy greenspaces for future generations to thrive in. Research and educational activities also help to teach locals and visitors about the historical and scientific value of preserving the unique ecology of these areas.
Here are some of the best natural landscapes in Ontario.
Enjoy the scenic view of Lake Ontario from 91 metre-high rocky cliffs. The Scarborough Bluffs, located east of Toronto, is a natural escarpment on Lake Ontario that encompasses an area with 11 natural parks, stretches of hiking trails and the white sandy beaches of Bluffer’s Park. With picnic benches, shaded spots and paid parking, it’s a popular place for locals and tourists alike to escape from the city. Check out Bluffer’s Park Lookout for stunning views of the bluffs, or nearby Cudia Park for shaded nature walks and rare wildlife sightings. At the foothills, you can go for a swim at the large Bluffer’s Beach or try stand-up paddleboarding at Bluffer’s Park.
Insider Tip: If you can, visit early in the morning or in the late evening—not only will it be less crowded, you’ll get to watch the gorgeous sunrise or sunset over the lake.
The rolling, deep red bedrock of the Cheltenham Badlands was created at the bottom of an ancient sea about 450 million years ago. Located less than an hour’s drive from Toronto, the site spans 36 hectares and was formed from exposed and highly eroded Queenston shale. A high concentration of iron oxide caused its bright vermillion colour, while the rocks’ green streaks were the result of groundwater oxidizing the bedrock. You can view this spectacular sight from an accessible boardwalk and trails marked by interpretive signs. The Cheltenham Badlands are open during the spring, summer and fall season.
Location: 1739 Olde Base Line Road, Caledon
Insider Tip: Reservations are required to visit this site, so be sure to book ahead of time through the Cheltenham Badlands’ official website. The reservation fee covers 1.5 hours and includes one parking space, access to the 1-kilometre-long Bruce Trail and entry to the nearby Terra Cotta and Island Lake conservation areas.
Discover the largest urban park in North America, with its stunning forests, creeks, farms and trails available to explore. Located in Toronto, Rouge National Urban Park is also the home of numerous animal species including white-tailed deer, raccoons, ducks, beavers, bears, red foxes and more. Take a guided tour led by a friendly Parks Canada guide, who will lead you through quiet nature walks as you learn more about the park’s natural and cultural history. Rouge National Urban Park is open year-round, and is equally beautiful to tour in the wintertime with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
Location: Zoo Road, Toronto
The Niagara Escarpment curves through southwest Ontario, stretching for almost 725 kilometres from the Niagara River to Tobermory and Manitoulin Island. This UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve features a diverse landscape of forests, wetlands and animal habitats. The Niagara Falls can be found on one end of the Niagara Escarpment, and Bruce Peninsula National Park on the other end. You’ll be able to take a hike along the Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath with over 1350 kilometres of hiking trails to connect visitors with nature. Enjoy camping and water sports in the summer, or spend your time skiing and hiking through pristine snow in the winter.
Location: Across southwest Ontario
Insider Tip: Bruce Peninsula National Park can become very busy during all seasons, particularly its most popular attractions like the Grotto. If you want to view the stunning coastline and scenery without dealing with the crowds, check out nearby boat tours like Bruce Anchor Cruises or Blue Heron Cruises that will take you up close to historic lighthouses and Flowerpot Island shipwrecks.
Dating back 450 million years, the Scenic Caves in the Blue Mountains is located within a UNESCO biosphere reserve and contains a dense network of trails and caves that were naturally carved by glacial ice. You can reserve a tour in advance and follow a guide as you explore the caves and learn about the First Nations Petun Tribe’s legends. Trek along the longest suspension bridge in Southern Ontario and gaze out over the Niagara Escarpment’s old growth forest from the lookout point. The most daring travellers will enjoy zip lining along the Thunderbird Twin Zip Line and treetop canopy walking across high air-born walkways. If you’re visiting in the winter, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through 27 kilometres of groomed trail networks.
Located on the north shores of Georgian Bay, south of Sudbury, Killarney Provincial Park is best known for its beautiful natural landscapes. Pristine blue waters crash against the pink granite shoreline, dotted with towering evergreen trees and the famed white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche mountain range. Visit the famed Topaz Lake, a popular swimming spot with its beautiful turquoise waters. Those in good physical shape can challenge themselves by hiking the 78-km La Cloche Silhouette Trail, which takes you past distinctive ridges and valleys. Many other hikes of various lengths and fitness levels are also available, as well as canoeing across the clear lakes in Killarney, Canada.
Location: 960 ON-637, Killarney
Insider Tip: Killarney Provincial Park can become very busy during its peak summer season, so it’s recommended to visit in autumn when you can enjoy the cooler temperatures and beautiful colours of the leaves.
Discover the largest concentration of freshwater islands in the world. About two hours drive north of Toronto, the 30,000 Islands are found along the eastern side of Georgian Bay, stretching from Killarney Provincial Park in the north to Beausoleil Island in the south. With eight provincial parks, hundreds of lakes and rivers, windswept pine trees and rare species of wildlife, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve attracts visitors from all around the world. Many boats such as 30,000 Island Cruise Lines will take you on a fascinating tour through Georgian Bay and pass through the heart of the beautiful 30,000 Islands.
Location: Along the east side of Georgian Bay
The second highest waterfall in Ontario, the Kakabeka Falls drop from 40 metres high and splash into the picturesque Kaministiquia River. 1.6 million-year-old fossils lie at the bottom of the falls, made visible from the river’s erosion into the rocks over thousands of years. Stroll along the boardwalk on the top of the waterfall, providing amazing views of the falls and gorge at any time of the year. You’ll also enjoy walking the nature trails if you visit this park during the summer, or cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
Location: 4853 Highway 11/17, Kakabeka Falls
Not to be confused with the 30,000 Islands, the 1000 Islands in Canada refer to the group of over 1,800 islands scattered throughout the St. Lawrence River. Formerly a retreat for the wealthy in the late 19th century, this charming area now attracts visitors from all over the world. With breathtaking views, protected public parks and numerous outdoor activities such as cycling, sailing and scuba diving, it’s no wonder that the 1000 Islands are such a popular destination all year round. It’s also easy to travel to, located just two hours from Ottawa and three hours from Toronto.
Location: Leeds and the Thousand Islands
The Frontenac Arch is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, located a short drive east of Kingston. Walk along this ancient granite bridge that stretches from the Canadian Shield in Algonquin Park, all the way to the Adirondack Mountains in the United States. Over 5000 hectares of rocky cliffs and wetland valleys cover this vast forest region, with a diverse ecosystem of unique plants, insects and animals. Sustainable development and the protection of the natural biodiversity of this awe-inspiring attraction is encouraged by the Frontenac Biosphere Network, which also runs numerous childrens’ programs to foster an interest in nature and environmental responsibility in kids.
Location: 19 Reynolds Road RR1, Lansdowne
Explore the spectacular sand dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park. These sand dunes are the world’s largest baymouth barrier dune formation, formed by glaciers over 12,000 years ago. Lounge in one of the three sandy beaches across the provincial park, or enjoy a scenic hike along the Sandbanks Dune Trail to view dune and wetland habitats. If you’re planning to arrive by car, you can also buy a vehicle parking permit at the site.
Location: 3004 County Road 12, Picton
Insider Tip: If you love bird watching, consider visiting Sandbanks in the spring or fall when the place becomes a migration hotspot.
Visit the only major pictograph site in southern Ontario, located within Bon Echo Provincial Park. More than 260 Indigenous pictographs are inscribed into the 2.5 kilometres long, 100 metre-tall Mazinaw Rock, painted just above the water level. These awe-inspiring pictographs show stylized humans, animals and abstract symbols, and are even more beautiful to look at when illuminated by the reflection of the sun. Bon Echo Provincial Park also features great hiking trails, canoeing activities and roofed accommodations for outdoor camping. The park is open from May to mid-October.
Location: 16151 Highway 41, Cloyne
Explore the dark, underground passageways of the Bonnechere Caves. Located an hour and a half drive east from Ottawa, these caves are an incredible geological site that was formed between 400 and 500 million years ago from solid rock by acidic waters. You can take a half-hour guided tour through the caves. Make sure to bring a camera, as there’s plenty of great photo-op spots near the system’s river, waterfalls and numerous fossils. The Bonnechere Caves are open to the public from May to early October.
Location: 1247 Fourth Chute Rd, Eganville
Insider Tip: Even on hot summer days, the inside of the caves can become a little chilly. Remember to bring a light jacket or sweater with you.
Teeming with birds, butterflies and other wildlife, Point Pelee National Park is the second smallest and most ecologically diverse national park in Canada. About an hour’s drive south of Windsor, this enormous park features hectares of gorgeous green trees, an extensive shoreline and natural marshes. You can take the shuttle to the “tip” of the park, which happens to be the southernmost point of Canada. Point Pelee National Park has also been designated as a Dark Sky Preserve, meaning it’s one of the best places to see millions of stars without a telescope.
Location: 1118 Point Pelee Drive, Leamington
Insider Tip: Visit between late August and early October, when flocks of monarch butterflies stop at Point Pelee National Park to rest before continuing their migration to Mexico.
Located in the stunning Grand River Valley, an hour and a half drive west from Toronto, the Elora Gorge is a deep ravine with clear blue waters from the Grand River rushing past 22 metre-high limestone cliffs. Get the best view of the gorge from the riverside trails and scenic overlooks, where you may also catch a glimpse of kayakers paddling through the rushing waters down below. This beautiful nature recreation space also has plenty of outdoor activities for adults and kids such as tubing, fishing and hiking. Elora Gorge is open in the summer, from the beginning of May to mid-October.
Location: 7400 Wellington County Road 21, Elora
Insider Tip: The number of daily visitors to Elora Gorge is limited. Check their website for real-time information about whether the conservation area is open or has reached capacity.
As the fourth oldest provincial park in Ontario, Long Point Provincial Park is a unique natural landscape that has been designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Close to the town of Port Rowan, about a two-hour drive southwest from Niagara Falls, it features many popular attractions such as the park’s outdoor camping experiences, as well as Long Point Public Beach’s soft sands and warm waters. Relax on a 40-km-long sandy spit of land that stretches along a picturesque coastline, jutting into Lake Erie. Mats have been placed at the beach to improve its accessibility for people with wheelchairs or strollers. To guarantee availability, you can buy a daily vehicle permit up to five days in advance.
Location: Erie Blvd, Port Rowan
Insider Tip: Over 300 different bird species stop by Long Point during migration season, making this place a perfect stop for bird watchers.
Looking for more beautiful outdoor spots and the best Ontario hiking trails? Check out these other amazing places:
Last updated: August 22, 2023