About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, ands show you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”
The dramatic Niagara Escarpment dominates this part of the province, which is known as South Georgian Bay. There are the Blue Mountain hills, communities such as Collingwood and Thornbury, fruit orchards and a luxuriously long stretch of waterfront.
The climate of Georgian Bay — part of Lake Huron — and the soil of the escarpment create perfect conditions for growing apples. On your road trip, watch for signs indicating the Apple Pie Trail, a collection of orchards, farmers markets, cideries and wineries, cafes and bakeries dedicated to showcasing the area’s connection to this fruit.
In the morning: The shortest way to drive from Toronto to the Blue Mountain area is north along Hwy. 400 before veering northwest on Hwy. 26 into the heart of Collingwood. It’s a two-hour drive if the traffic co-operates.
If you want to experience a more scenic route, another option is to meander Ontario’s secondary highways and roads to Thornbury, a town west of Collingwood. Punch the destination into your GPS and head cross-country through Caledon, Orangeville and Shelburne. It adds about 20 minutes to the drive but is a great way to explore this rural part of Ontario.
Promising “the best pies and tarts in Ontario,” the Ravenna Country Market is a family-owned general store just south of Thornbury. It has become a destination thanks to its specialties, including Montreal smoked meat on flatbread, frozen entrees such as chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie, and its selection of pies and butter tarts (ours barely made it out of the parking lot before being devoured).
Thornbury is the largest apple growing region in Ontario and orchards blanket the rolling countryside. Just down the road from Ravenna is Oaklane Orchards, where you can buy a ready-picked bag of Honeycrisp (or a dozen other varieties) or stretch your legs and wander the orchard to pick-your-own
In the afternoon: Take a relaxing stroll along the main street of Thornbury. Pop into the Thornbury Bakery Café for a sweet bite (its cinnamon buns sell out early and there are three types of butter tarts) or a sandwich to-go. Owned by the same family since 1901, the café bakes seven types of bread daily and create sandwiches filled with chicken avocado and Thai peanut rolls. Vegan, keto and gluten-free products are also available.
After, stop at the Thornbury Village Cider & Brew House for a quick snack on the patio and a bottle of their excellent craft cider. This is a stop on the Apple Pie Trail, and it serves a spiced apple cider described as “liquid apple pie in a bottle.” Both its Blood Orange Cider and the single-varietal Honeycrisp Apple Cider are addictive. Undecided? Try a flight of tasting glasses if you aren’t the designated driver.
Drive east on Hwy. 26 and slide into the Blue Mountain state of mind. Spend a few hours at the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain; an electronics-free property where silence is golden (reservations needed). Its traditional Nordic hydrotherapy circuit is based on stations for hot and cold relaxation. There’s also a Forest Bathing Trail (no charge), a self-guided path that is a way to connect with nature by taking a walk in the woods. Studies have shown that forest bathing enhances health, wellness, happiness and sleep.
In the evening: If you’re camping, Craigleith Provincial Park is right on the shoreline of Nottawasaga Bay – less than a 15-minute drive from either Collingwood or Thornbury. Or check in at one of Blue Mountain Village’s many properties. Tradition rules at the Blue Mountain Inn, one of the area’s original hotels, located just outside the hubbub of the main village of Blue Mountain. Inside the pedestrians-only village there are hotels, ranging from big-name chains to small cottage-style units to suit every need.
Make the short drive to Collingwood and stop at the 1858 Caesar Bar for a pre-dinner glass of Canada’s national drink, the Caesar. Named after the year Collingwood was incorporated, the 1858 serves more than 50 types of Caesars, from a classic to one featuring maple and barbecue flavours. You can also build your own Caesar at a station full of meat, dairy, seafood and veggie fixings. Made in Collingwood, bottles of Caesar Elixir – containing everything needed to create mild, medium, hot, jerk, bacon and buffalo Caesars at home – are the perfect souvenirs.
Stop for dinner at the Fig & Feta, where the menu is full of every Greek dish imaginable. Choose from platters of souvlaki, pastitsio, moussaka and grilled calamari and appetizers featuring garlicky tzatziki. There’s also a market section with shelves of imported Greek specialities like wines, olive oils, cheeses, fig jams and house-made sauces.
In the morning: Whether you need a cup of java or a full breakfast in the morning, the main street of Collingwood is full of options. Espresso Post is a favourite with locals. Its wraparound wooden counter is piled with trays of grab and go baked goods, including Portuguese custard tarts, chocolate walnut scones and raspberry lemon cornmeal muffins.
If you prefer a sit-down meal, grab a table at Duncans Cafe, a family-owned local institution. Duncans is known for plates of eggs benedict complete with salmon, peameal bacon and homemade Hollandaise, spicy huevos ranchero wraps, and standards like French toast and omelettes. If you are on the run, grab a coffee and a wedge of its famous carrot cake.
In the late morning: Hurontario Street – Collingwood’s main drag – is perfect for browsing unique clothing and home decor shops. For a locally made memento, pick up an environmentally friendly, plant-based candle from Serendipity Soy Candles. There are hundreds of scents to chose from (including Blue Mountain Air) and they come in sizes ranging from tea lights to jumbo.
In the afternoon: It’s a short drive from downtown Collingwood to Blue Mountain Village, where you can shop, ride the mountain coaster, rent a bike, tackle the climbing wall or play mini putt.
You can also find a little solitude by driving up the hillside – follow the roundabout to Scenic Caves Road – and hike the trails at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures. Set within a protected UNESCO biosphere reserve, there are five kilometres of well-marked pathways winding through forests of sugar maple. Trails branch out through the famous caves and rock clefts and there are panoramic views of the Niagara Escarpment. If heights are not a problem, one trail includes the longest suspension bridge in southern Ontario. Drink in the natural beauty before driving back to Toronto.
Portions of this trip were sponsored by Ontario Parks and South Georgian Bay Tourism, which did not review or approve this story.
For the drive
Download “Stories from Another Day,” a Collingwood Museum podcast exploring the triumphs and tragedies that shaped this popular Ontario destination.
COVID-19 need to know
Most restaurants, stores and attractions are open with reduced capacity. Note that the government-mandated proof of vaccination rule is in effect. Check provincial guidelines before you head out on your road trip.
TIMELINE: Drive guide
- 8 a.m. Leave Toronto
Drive north on Hwy. 400
Head northwest on Hwy. 26
- 10 a.m. Ravenna Country Market
- 11:30 a.m. Thornbury Bakery Café
- 12:30 p.m. Thornbury Village Cider & Brew House
- 2 p.m. Scandinave Spa
- 5 p.m. Campsite or hotel
- 6:30 p.m. 1858 Caesar Bar
- 7:30 p.m. Fig & Feta
- 9 a.m. Breakfast
- 10 a.m. Downtown Collingwood
- 12 p.m. Blue Mountain Village or Scenic Caves Nature Adventures
- 5 p.m. Drive back to Toronto