4-day Ontario road trip: Grand River and Stratford explorer
Follow the Grand River to charming towns and communities and enjoy a mix of nature, culture and rural life.
Feel the power of the Grand River as it meanders through some of Ontario’s prettiest small towns. Home to paddling enthusiasts, canoeists, kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and river rafters, including local outfitters like Grand River Rafting and Grand Experiences. Anglers can often be seen dotting the shores of the Grand as they drop a line or throw a fly trying to tempt the numerous species that make the Grand their homes.
This trip will take you to Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo known for great family attractions like Bingemans, the Butterfly Conservatory and the African Lion Safari. Finally you will make your way to Stratford where there is no shortage of drama!
If your Grand River experience ends in Brantford then you’re in for a treat as it’s home to two Canadian treasures: the telephone and Wayne Gretzky. Stop by Six Nations where you can immerse yourself in Indigenous learnings.
Ontario is the world in one province and is the original homelands to many nations of the First Peoples. With the Cree Nation in the North, the Haudenoshaunee in the South, and the Anishinabek Nation all around the Great Lakes, we are pleased to acknowledge and support the First Peoples and First Nations of these lands; the Inuit; and the Metis as we host visitors together.
Cambridge & Kitchener Waterloo – Day One
Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo are absolutely beautiful southern Ontario cities. With so many things to see and do in this area, it can be difficult to choose.
Celebrating 20 years, visit the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory to fill your world with beautiful creatures. At least 2,000 free-flying tropical butterflies and moths are on exhibit at any given time.
With only 22 km separating Kitchener Waterloo and Cambridge, it’s easy to travel between the two. The city of Kitchener offers everything a big city has to offer, without forgetting the small-town charm. This city is rich in German roots and history and celebrations are not to be missed! Octoberfest is the biggest Bavarian celebration outside of Germany and celebrated for nine full days. A must-attend if you trip is in October.
Hint: A great place to relax by the lake is historic Victoria Park.
Plan a day with kids visiting one the area’s serious fun zones – Bingemans, where the waterpark, FunworX and bowling alley are sure to exhaust everyone! If that’s not your thing, how about a visit to African Lion Safari?
Don’t forget to stop along the way for chocolates from Reids Chocolates, and beer from the Four Fathers Brewery.
Things to Do
Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (Cambridge) – Imagine having a butterfly land on your hand or even your nose. It’s an experience that everyone will enjoy. Complete with live plants and exotic birds, the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory educates visitors about these beautiful creatures and their role in nature.
Bingemans Grand Experiences (Kitchener) – Bingemans has the area’s largest outdoor waterpark. You can spend the day in the heated wave pool or plunging down 11 huge water slides. It also offers a play area for younger children and indoor fun with FunworX with games, attractions and bowling.
African Lion Safari (south of Cambridge) – A drive-through wildlife park dedicated to the conservation of declining wildlife species. With more than 1,000 exotic birds and animals that roam freely throughout seven distinct drive-through game reserves.
Places to Stay
Double Tree by Hilton Kitchener (30 Fairway Rd S, Kitchener) – Standard rooms and larger suites available. The hotel is walking distance to Fairview Park Shopping Centre and has an indoor pool.
Delta Hotels Waterloo (110 Erb St W, Waterloo) – Variety of room options to choose from. The hotel is a close to Centre in the Square and St. Jacob's Market – plus has an indoor pool.
Bingemans’ log cabins are 12' x 12' and sleep four people with one double bed and one single-over-single bunk bed. You can also stay in one of the new “up-cycled” container cabins!
Places to Eat
All the attractions have food available, so you don’t have to leave any of them.
- The Chrysalis Café at the Cambridge Butterfly Museum has lunch items and a kids menu.
- Bingemans has a Boston Pizza on site.
- African Lion Safari has several food outlets offering take out options.
- You can also stop by M&M Bar and Grill in Cambridge, family owned and operated since 1979, serving up burgers, fries and wings.
Hint: Don’t leave Cambridge until you stop at Azores Cambridge Bakery for bread and the famous Portuguese custard tart!
Korner Kitchen: Inspired by a passion for serving traditional home-style dishes in a friendly, comfortable, and modern atmosphere.
The Yeti Cafe: This quirky café features eclectic breakfast sandwiches.
Eco Café in St Jacobs: For a great cup of Java, enjoy sitting at one of 50 colourful picnic tables – each hand painted by a local artist -– that grace the patios at bars, restaurants and eateries right across the Waterloo Region.
Hint: Participate in the Art Fresco Table Trail and eat your way around in beauty.
Concordia Club: The Schenke: Its traditional German menu features favorites that include several kinds of schnitzel, sausages, Sauerbraten, and homemade apple strudel.
Boston Pizza at Bingemans (425 Bingemans Centre Dr, Kitchener)
The Crazy Canuck (141 Ontario St N, Kitchener) – Famous apple pulled pork, 2 Canucked ribs on real cheese curds and gravy.
The Heidelberg Restaurant, Tavern & Motel: Located in Heidelberg, Ontario, a charming, almost 200-year-old town in the heart of Mennonite country. Famous for Pennsylvanian Dutch (German) & Canadian menus.
Paris – Day Two & Three
Distance to Next Stop: 41 km / 25 mi
Established in 1850, located where the Nith River flows into the Heritage Grand River, Paris is known to be one of the prettiest little towns in Ontario. Full of quaint and unique shops, Paris makes an ideal location to explore on the river and enjoy the charm and people of rural Ontario. The river was very important to the many industries. A woolen factory, a tannery and a foundry harnessed the power of the mighty GrandParis is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. After an excursion on the river you can explore the countryside along the many cycling routes and hiking paths.
Visit Penman's Dam that lends itself to a little history with a lit-up bridge that serves as a lovely backdrop to one of the many restaurants and coffee shops along the river.
Things to Do
Wincey Mills (Paris) – A year-round market hall with local, quality vendors and a friendly, comfortable café. Outside of the diverse range of goods, the market hall invites people to engage in various culinary and cultural experiences.
Paris Beer Company – Paris’ first tap room brewery with a tasting room where the product can be sampled and enjoyed with small bites and great ambiance. On-site, beer, food and entertainment.
Grand River Rafting and Grand Experiences Outdoor Adventure Company are great operators that will make your adventure on the Grand memorable and fun. Use kayaks, canoes, get an eight-person raft or do a group paddle in a Voyageur canoe. You can also book eco-tours, hiking and cycling guides.
Reid Chocolates (Cambridge, ON) – Family-run business for more than 70 years, which means they must know something! Roasted nuts and chocolates like the tortoises, mint meltaways and sea salties are must-tries.
Four Father’s Brewery (Cambridge) – Delicious craft brew.
Places to Eat
Scotts Family Restaurant (Paris): Family dining and a deli!
Camp 31 (Paris): Award-winning southern BBQ ribs… and more ribs.
2 Rivers: Patio on the river.
Still Waters Plate and Pour: Chef William Thompson of Food Network’s Top Chef Canada serves up fine experiences. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served.
Cobblestone Public House: Delicious pints and pub food.
Brantford & Six Nations – Day Four
Distance to Next Stop: 13 km / 8 mi
We have to thank Brantford for a lot of things! It is the home of legendary hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, and nicknamed “The Telephone City,” as it was here, in 1874, that Alexander Graham Bell discovered the principle of his most famous invention: the telephone.
Brantford boasts 70 km of natural trails to run, bike or hike. Brantford and the surrounding communities of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the County of Brant are home to some of the largest remaining blocks of Carolinian forest.
Anything look familiar? Walk the streets where TV series The Handmaid's Tale, Murdoch Mysteries, and Schitt's Creek were filmed, among many others.
Next stop is the Six Nations, home to the largest community of First Nations in Canada. This is the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral), Anishnaabeg, and Haudenosaunee peoples situated on the Haldimand Tract – the land promised to Six Nations, which includes six miles on each side of the Grand River under the Haldimand Treaty of 1784 It is the only community in North America that has representatives of all six Haudenosaunee nations living together. These nations are the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora. Some Lenape (formerly known as Delaware) also live in the territory.
Things to Do
Edinburgh Square and Heritage Cultural Centre (Caledonia): More than 150 years old, it houses a former jail cell and display paying homage to the gypsum mining industry along the Grand River.
Bell Homestead National Historic Site (Brantford): Visit the home where Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone where you will see how the Bell family lived and worked. You will learn about how Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and see how the telephone has changed since then.
Woodland Cultural Centre (Brantford): Serves to preserve and promote Indigenous history, art, language and culture. They welcome visitors to learn with them as they bring the story of the Haudenosaunee people of the Eastern Woodlands to life through innovative exhibitions and programs.
Mohawk Chapel (Brantford): Built in 1785, Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks is the oldest active church in Ontario and features eight spectacular stained glass windows that depict the great history of the Six Nations and their role in Canadian history.
Chiefswood National Historic Site (Ohsweken): The birthplace and childhood home of renowned Mohawk and English poetess, E. Pauline Johnson. The historic site features identical entrances – the South entrance faces the river to welcome Six Nations community members who arrived by canoe, and the North entrance faces the road to welcome visitors from surrounding communities who arrived by horse-drawn carriage. The two entrances are a living symbol of the shared cultures of the Johnson family.
Kayanase Greenhouse and Longhouse (Ohsweken): Longhouse, ecological restoration and eco-tourism company specializing in cultivating native species plants. With the building of the 17th century replica longhouse, the Longhouse now offers eco-tourism learning through both tours and workshops around the longhouse.
Iroqrafts (Ohsweken): The largest and oldest arts and crafts store in Ohsweken, offering the crafts of the Six Nations for their customers since 1959. Features books, moccasins, beadwork, gifts and soapstone sculptures.
Places to Stay
Hampton Inn & Suites Brantford (Brantford) – Very close to the Grand River and offers free breakfast.
Home2 Suites by Hilton Brantford (Brantford) – Offers an in-suite kitchen where you can make your own meals, as well as an indoor pool and free breakfast.
Bear’s Inn (Ohsweken) – A visit is like traveling into the heart of Six Nations history and culture. Each of its 13 rooms and premium vacation rental property (Secord House) has a different story to tell.
Chiefswood Park Cabins – Enjoy your stay in Six Nations of the Grand River at one of Chiefswood Parks 15 cabins with two accessible options. The log cabins are designed to match authentic local culture and history, while providing a rustic yet modern stay in the beautiful Carolinian forest. |
Places to Eat
The Olde School Restaurant (Brantford): The Olde School Restaurant and Piano Bar is a converted schoolhouse dating back to the 1870s, when it was known as the Moyle School. Come for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch
Village Café (Ohsweken): Famous all-day breakfast specials and Friday dinner specials of fish and chips, homemade pies.
Burger Barn Six Nations (Ohsweken): Its 7-ounce prime rib burger is ground in-house daily from fresh Canadian AAA corn fed beef without any filler. Other options include the Bison Burger and salmon dinner.
Zander’s Fire and Grill (190 King George Rd, Brantford): Zander’s offers a variety of options, including family-sized specials to feed the whole gang!
Stratford – Day Five
Distance to Next Stop: 80 km / 50 mi
While Stratford can be easily accessed for those seeking a daytrip, you will certainly want to spend more time exploring the endless cultural and culinary experiences. Home to North America’s largest classical repertory theatre, the Stratford Festival produces new and exciting productions that come to life on stage each season. This summer, it is transforming into an outdoor festival held under beautiful canopies that will hark back to the Festival’s founding under a tent back in 1953.
Stratford is also home to the renowned Stratford Chefs School, offering unique cooking classes and its popular dinner series, offered from October to March, featuring seasonal inspired menus by students, as well as Canadian and international chefs.
This summer, you won’t want to miss Stratford Summer Music, where every weekend in August there will be events for music lovers of all ages, as well as the return of the signature Floating Barge, and their popular Friday Night Live jazz series at Revival House. Watch for events in Market Square, at Gallery Stratford, the Stratford-Perth Museum, Tom Patterson Island, and Avondale United Church. Music lovers won’t want to miss the unique musical events hosted by the Stratford Symphony Orchestra.
Things to Do
Stratford Festival – Reopening this summer with outdoor performances.
Audio Tours – From the stunning Gardens of Stratford to pop sensation Justin Bieber and Stratford Festival founder Tom Patterson, you’ll love touring around town while listening about some of Stratford’s most iconic people and places.
Stratford Chef’s School – One of the best Chef Schools in the country.
Lights on Stratford – Explore the amazing Lights on Stratford summer pops ups! You’ll be dazzled at the stunning light displays throughout the city.
Chocolate Trail – This self-guided tour introduces you to our world-famous confectioners and bakers.
Shopping – Wills And Prior, MacLeods Scottish Shop, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Rheo Thompson Candies, Cora Couture Studio.
Music scene – Molly Blooms, Revival House, The Common, Boar’s Head Pub.
Places to Stay
Mercer Hall – Boutique hotel that boasts one of Stratford’s trendiest food-and-drink hot spots.
Perth County Inn – Experience this brand-new property downtown Stratford. An eclectic and creative place for travellers and locals alike, redefining how to stay and play in the theatre city.
The Bruce – If you want to treat the family to a little luxury.
Places to Eat
Features: Voted best breakfast in town since 2007.
Joes Diner: A cozy little nook in the heart of Stratford with delicious breakfast and more!
Madelyn’s Diner: A local favourite for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Bentleys: A consistent favorite.
Sirkel: Incredible salads and sandwiches with daily delicious features.
The Pulp Fresh Bar: A heathy and tasty lunch spot with fresh bowls and smoothies.
SK Bistro: Sandwiches, hot menus items and more; available in their garden patio or take to go.
Picnics: Order through the Stratford Festival .
Café Bouffon: A classic neighbourhood French Cafe offering a casual day time menu, full dinner service and weekend brunch.
El Cactus: Stratford’s newest restaurant/Taco Shop! A unique and playful street food experience.
Revival House: Unique site offering farm fare, Lao-inspired delight, craft brews, wine, music & events in a refurbished church.
Bijou: Contemporary bistro with a fixed-price French menu, global tapas & wines from small-craft vineyards.
Braai House: A South African inspired restaurant in the heart of downtown Stratford.
The Prune Restaurant & Bar One Fifty One: Gourmet seasonal menus using local produce.
Things to Know
- Pack for everything! Casual clothes for the outdoors, bathing suits for the water and fancy attire for the theatre. Make sure you have the proper footwear and outerwear for hiking and paddling down the Grand, including sunscreen, hats, towels and water shoes.
- Don’t forget to Ziplocks or dry bags to waterproof personal items like car keys, drinking water and snacks. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the river.
- Bingemans: Socks are required for the play structure; closed-toe and closed-heel shoes are required for the ropes courses; and when staying at the cabins, you will need to bring bedding supplies (sheets, sleeping bags, pillows) as well as your own cookware (utensils, plates, cups). It is also recommended that if you are planning on cooking, to bring an outside cooking stove. Also note that dogs are not permitted inside or on the sites of Log or Container cabins.
- Extra resources: CAA, Waterloo Region, Hamilton Halton Brant, Destination Stratford
Last updated: February 8, 2023