Land O' Lakes
South of the Haliburton Highlands and east of the Kawarthas, the majestic Land O' Lakes region (www.travellandolakes.com) links the vast inland expanse of yawning lakes and bulky evergreens to the temperate pastures of the St Lawrence Seaway. Half of the region belongs to the Thousand Islands–Frontenac Arch reserve – Canada's 12th biosphere, appointed by Unesco in 2002.
About 140km inland from Wawa, Little Chapleau (chap-loh) is the gateway to the world's largest Crown game preserve, with nearly 1 million hectares of land: hunting is strictly prohibited. For information, check out www.chapleau.ca, or stop by the Centennial Museum & Information Centre.
While god-fearing Egyptians were commissioning wondrous pyramids, this region of majestic old-growth pines and hushed lakes was a thriving network of trading routes. Evidence of these ancient trails exists today as hidden archaeological sites strewn throughout the region's provincial parks.
A working fishing village in a nook of Kettle Creek, Port Stanley (www.portstanley.net) has a pretty downtown and an agreeable, unpretentious atmosphere: the kind of place where people talk to you in the streets. The Port Stanley Festival Theatre keeps locals and visitors amused over its summer season.
This rugged expanse of needleleaf trees feels like a southern extension of Algonquin Provincial Park. Over 240 sq km of the densely forested region is part of the Haliburton Forest. This privately owned woodland, 30km north of Haliburton town, can be accessed through its main office on Kenneisis Lake.
The 'Thousand Islands' are a constellation of over 1800 rugged islands dotting the St Lawrence River from Kingston to Brockville. The lush archipelago offers loose tufts of fog, showers of trillium petals, quaking tide pools and opulent 19th-century summer mansions, whose turrets pierce the prevailing mist.
Ignace and Dryden have plenty of motels and basic restaurants. If you're passing through at the beginning of July, check out the annual Dryden Moose Fest. The biggest and best place to pause is Kenora, the unofficial capital of the striking Lake of the Woods region and tourism hub for local summer cottages and fishing trips.
It's true, the 14km stretch of sand at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park is the longest freshwater beach in the world. It's also the closest beach town to Toronto, drawing mega-crowds in summer: things can get rowdy and camping is prohibited. In winter, pristine sand dunes transform into snowy hills, perfect for cross-country skiing.
The most exciting part of Wolfe Island is the free mini-cruise on the car ferry that links Kingston to the island. The 25-minute trip affords views of the city, the fort and a few of the Thousand Islands. The largest island in the chain, Wolfe Island is actually bigger than Kingston; however, what was mostly undeveloped farmland is now home to 86 wind turbines.
Tiny Merrickville can thank the Canadian Railroad for never laying tracks through town. Had the wee burg become a stop on the line, it would have swapped its stone structures for industrial eyesores. Fortunately, today, visits can still be a step back in time to when the area was a Loyalist stronghold ready to defend the Crown against the rebellious Americans.
The city of Barrie marks the end of Toronto's suburban sprawl and the gateway to the Muskoka Lakes region, although pleasant, lakeside Barrie can feel like just another Toronto suburb at times. It's worth stopping at the large Ontario Travel Information Centre along Hwy 400 as you approach the lakes to arm yourself with maps and brochures.