( Lonelyplanet) – Disappointed summer is over? Don’t be. Canada is lucky enough to experience a lush, vivid fall and only a few hours out of Toronto you can experience the full glory of an Ontario autumn, including hot apple cider, pumpkin carving, apple picking, hayrides, and haunted corn mazes.
If there was an autumn-themed snow globe with falling leaves instead of snow, Algonquin Park would be the inspiration. This is one of the most remarkable places to view the fall colours of Canada; you can get lost in deep forests, or view the huge expanse of fall foliage from various viewpoints and lakes. This is a full-day adventure so pack a picnic and wear comfortable hiking-boots.
Seeking out the autumn colours is such a popular activity here that the park website follows the change in trees across the park with live updates. Algonquin is vast, and it is worth doing a viewpoint hike to see the leaves from above; popular hikes include Lookout Hike, Centennial Ridges, and Track and Tower.
Get there: Algonquin is a scenic 3-hour drive from Toronto, so be prepared to drive back in the dark. Public transportation is trickier – there are no buses that go direct to Algonquin Park from the city – but you can take an Algonquin day-tour offered by various tour companies
Spencer Gorge Conservation Area
Less than an hour from Toronto, Spencer Gorge Conservation Area is packed with natural phenomena, thanks to its location on the stunning Niagara Escarpment, a large series of ridges and cliffs stretching through Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Michigan, and Ontario.
The autumn colours here are stunning, with plenty of viewpoints to choose from. Dundas Peak is the most famous of these and is a short forest hike from the parking lot and bus drop-off. After Dundas Peak it’s another quick hike to Webster’s Falls and Tews Falls, two magnificent waterfalls surrounded by trees decorated in fall colours. Hamilton, where this part of the Escarpment is located, is the waterfall capital of Ontario, and more stunning ones like Albion Falls, Tiffany Falls, and the Devil’s Punchbowl are just a short car-ride away.
Get there: From Central Toronto it’s only a 50-minute drive to Dundas Peak, and the other falls are 5-15 minute drives from there. If you take public transportation the commute is a bit longer; you can get a shuttle from Union Station to Main Street Hamilton where it’s another bus to Dundas Peak. You can then walk to the remaining waterfalls, or look up local buses.
Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area
Rattlesnake Point in Milton is another section of the Ontario Niagara Escarpment, though overlooking the Nassagaweya Canyon. The forest here is towering with hundred-year old cedar trees, canopying you with fall foliage. The location is also a popular spot to rock-climb, and there are many hiking paths at various difficulties to choose from.
How to road-trip Canada on a budget
If you get tired during your hike around the Point, you can drive 10 minutes to Chudleigh’s Apple farm for a mug of hot apple cider, a crispy slice of apple crumble, and a more relaxing view of the fall cedars.
Get there: you can either drive the hour it takes from Toronto, or take a coach bus or train from Union Station to Milton GO station, and then a series of buses from there. Unfortunately there is no direct bus to Rattlesnake Point.
Belfountain Conservation Area
The Belfountain Conservation area in Caledon is located on the stunning Bruce Trail, stretching from the Niagara River to the tip of Tobermory, Ontario. It’s Canada’s oldest marked hiking trail and the trees here are old and regal. The area is also home to a suspension bridge, allowing more dramatic viewpoints of the autumn foliage.
Belfountain also hosts Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, a great spot to admire the fall colours from the water, as the lake here is open for kayaking and canoeing. If you want to wind down after a day of hiking, head to Downey’s Farm and Market, a 20-minute drive away, to see possibly the biggest collection of pumpkins you’ll find in Caledon.
Get there: It’s a 50-minute drive from Downtown Toronto to Belfountain Conservation area, and Forks of the Credit is a further 6-minute drive from there, or accessible via a hiking path. If you want to stop at Downey’s, it’s about 20 minutes back towards Toronto. The public transport is a bit messier; you can take the VIA Rail from Union Station to Malton GO, and then a series of local buses from there.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a picturesque 19th-century town a 20-minute drive from Niagara Falls, lined with oak trees and filled with adorable shops that all decorate for the autumn. This is a great place to experience wineries in the fall, and you can rent a bike and explore the various vineyards from the main town like the Two Sister Vineyards or Peller Estates Winery.
Get there: From Downtown Toronto it is about a 2-hour drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake, but on busy fall weekends it could take as long as 3 hours. Public transportation might actually be less stressful, as you can take the VIA Rail from Union Station to Niagara Falls, and then a bus to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County is all over Canadian Instagrams for its up-and-coming food and culture scene. It’s considered Canada’s ‘coolest’ island, teeming with galleries, amazing restaurants, and plenty of fall-themed activities surrounded by some amazing foliage. The town itself is straight out of Gilmore Girls with quaint antique shops, bookstores, and cafes. You can experience nature at Sandbanks Provincial Park, and the tree-lined beaches are mysterious and misty in the fall.
Get there: It’s a lovely 2.5-hour drive from Downtown Toronto. If taking public transport, it’s possible to take a GO Train to Oshawa or VIA Rail to Belleville, then either a series of public buses or a quick taxi to The County.
Make it a weekend trip:
Muskoka is only 3 hours away by car but difficult to get to via public transport and there are so many fall activities it would be difficult to squeeze it all into a day-trip. However, going for a weekend would be an amazing experience; you can take specific fall cruises to enjoy the majestic tree-lined lakes, experience cranberry festivals and farms, hike and bike through Georgian Bay Island National Park in Honey Harbour, and even take a woodland wagon ride.
Canada’s best wildlife experiences
Sault Ste Marie
The city of Sault Ste Marie is about a 9-hour drive from Toronto, which would make this impossible for a day trip. However, it is also home to the Agawa Canyon Train, one of the most famous fall experiences in Canada. This train is located in the Algoma District and goes through Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park; the landscapes here have existed for 1.2 billion years and inspired the iconic Canadian painters, the Group of Seven. Many of their paintings even reflect the exact views you’ll be passing by in the autumn. The fall foliage here is stunning, and the day-long train trip takes you through lakes, gorges, and other natural phenomena across the span of a few hours.