Take the Cherry Blossom Tour from Toronto to Niagara
Growing up on the family farm in the beautiful Niagara Region, the cycles of nature governed our lives—and our fortune. May symbolized the welcome array of fine colour, the excitement of new growth, and the irresistible desire to explore our surroundings. Although I no longer live here, there's no better kickoff to an invigorating season than riding through this picturesque Ontario farmland during blossom season. Aromatherapy doesn't even come close.
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The blue skies, sunshine, and warmth of May, charm tender leaves and blossoms from swollen buds that can no longer contain them. Once out, there's no holding back. Barren trees transform into showy, yet subtle beauties, resplendent in their finest flowers and delicate, distinct scents.
Fortunately, Mother Nature didn't schedule all the blossoms to appear at once. The climatic idiosyncrasies created by the peninsula's positioning between Lakes Ontario and Erie mean that fruit trees bloom approximately a week earlier in Niagara-on-the-Lake than in the rest of the area. Moreover, each fruit, even each variety, has its own schedule and carefully selected designer wardrobe. Pretty in pink and already in blossom, apricots start the procession. Not to be outdone, cherries burst forth next in a riot of lovely white to pale pink attire. Peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, apples and grapes follow on cue.
Starting and ending in Beamsville, this approximately 110-km route makes for a perfect day ride, delighting your senses at any time throughout the month, as Mother Nature sees fit.
Make your way to the Beamsville area. If you're on the QEW, exit at Ontario Street, head south to Regional Road 81, also called King Street, and turn east. You'll be riding a historic trail that looks out to the north over fertile orchards. Flanking you on the south are the benchlands below the ridge of the Niagara Escarpment, home to world-famous vineyards and wineries.
By the time you dip down into Jordan Hollow, you'll be ready to stop and stretch your legs. There's plenty of free parking and picnic benches around the landmark Butterballs, where you can order lunch and hike along the banks of the Twenty Mile Creek. When you're ready to ride again, continue east, winding up the hill, but be prepared to turn south on 19th Street as soon as you get to the top. Follow the fork to the right as it becomes Glen Road and takes you through Balls Falls Conservation Area.
This picturesque former hamlet was one of the earliest industrial settlements in Niagara, and now showcases the area's history and ecology. Tempting as it is to stop, return when you can spend more time. There are more blossoms to see.
Emerging from Balls Falls, you'll stop at Victoria Road before turning deeper south into the Peninsula. Once at Highway 20, turn east and keep an eye out for iconic Clare's Cycle, which has been in business 60+ years. Take note of the difference in the trees, at this higher elevation—you're now in apple country. At Effingham Road, turn south and hang on. This road offers a panoramic view over Lake Ontario, with exciting twists and turns, cutting through farm country as it descends from the benchlands.
This next section offers a scenic transition between western Niagara and Niagara-on-the-Lake. At Pelham Road turn east, following it only briefly as it skirts suburbia, and then cautiously manoeuvre the sharp downhill turn south onto Decew Road, down into Jackson's Flats, up and around past the Morningstar Mill at Decew Falls and along Lake Gibson.
Bear north on Beaverdams Road, east on Highway 58, and you'll be through the Welland Canal tunnel and ready to turn north on Taylor road. Here again, you're greeted with an incredible vista of the Welland Canal, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lake Ontario, and even Toronto on a clear day.
Turn north briefly onto Glendale Avenue and then east onto York Road. No matter what brand of bike you ride, stop at Clare's Harley-Davidson, if for no other reason than to experience the on-site Diana Sweets Diner. The "Di" was a landmark in downtown St. Catharines before closing in 1996 and moving their furnishings to storage. Clare's has lovingly reassembled them into a working diner which will take you back in time. Muse as you read the initials carved into the benches, speculating at the fate of those teenage romances. (Closed Sundays.)
May has always been a special month for me, even before motorcycles. Not only is it the month I arrived here on Earth, but there's a palpable energy in the air as everything bursts into life after a long winter.
Now in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area, you can't go wrong no matter which road you choose for blossom viewing. Turning east coming out of Clare's, you can continue all the way to the Niagara Parkway before turning north, or take one of the Concession streets north. A good option is Four Mile Creek Road, following it to Lakeshore Road. Estate wineries abound, so if your cellars are getting low, here's an opportunity to stock up with vintages you may not find elsewhere—just save the sampling for another time.
Continue the immersion as you head west along Lakeshore Road again, winding up your blossom tour, but not before one last important stop—Avondale Dairy Bar on Stewart Road.
Made on site since 1956, hundreds of thousands of ice cream lovers visit this destination every year. Enjoy your favourite flavour while sitting outside against the rural backdrop of a working farm. Before getting back on the QEW to head home, savour Niagara and all it's just given you.
Niagara's climate means it's usually a few degrees warmer than the rest of the province — a perfect reason to start your season here. While blossoms are usually on display throughout May, the exact schedule and locations are entirely dependent on the weather.
Follow this same route between July and September, when it's lined with fruit stands, displaying the harvest from these blossoms.