Lake Ontario, separated in its location from the other Great Lakes of North America by the chasm of Niagara Falls, is less accessible for travelers from outside the area. The region does have two major draws attracting tourists – the cosmopolitan, multicultural city of Toronto on one side of the lake, and the Niagara Falls region directly across from Toronto on the south shore.
But Lake Ontario’s charms certainly don’t stop there. See pictures of this beautiful area below (click to enlarge) and consider five more reasons to vacation on Lake Ontario.
Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Shaw festival
Travelers will find Niagara-on-the-Lake described as “a quaint little village,” or “the loveliest town in Ontario.” But Niagara-on-the-Lake is actually a region of 12 municipalities of almost half a million people. The actual town that bears the name is home to almost 15,000 residents and hosts millions of visitors each year.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is easily accessed by highway; a short drive north from the Falls ends in the heart of this Lake Ontario town. Antique shops, art galleries, a marina, historic sites, and the four theatres presenting the annual Shaw Festival from April through October are all part of the recipe that draws people here.
New York State’s Seaway Trail
This is the New York portion of the 518-mile Great Lakes Seaway Trail which begins at the Pennsylvania-Ohio border and follows Lake Erie to the Niagara River, then follows the Lake Ontario shore to the Thousand Islands region at its eastern end.
Travelers who are in a hurry, make the trip from the Buffalo area to the Thousand Islands by Interstate 90, then I-81. But those who can take their time will find beautiful lake vistas and an abundance of parks -15 New York State Parks, and more county parks and beaches – to linger in. Specialty interests that can be pursued along the trail include excellent birding, visiting sites significant in the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), and visiting historic lighthouses.
The Thousand Islands region
More than one thousand islands are scattered across the eastern end of Lake Ontario and push into the mighty St. Lawrence River where the lake and river meet. The Official Tourism Bureau of the Thousand Islands Region says there are exactly 1,864 of them. The opportunities for boating and fishing that result from all this shoreline make the area a natural magnet for vacationers.
Parks and campgrounds, hotels and restaurants, and all sorts of leisure attractions mean a lot of decisions to make on how to spend one’s travel time and money here. Two “must-sees” can be combined: one, a scenic cruise of the area often will include a stop at the historic Boldt Castle on Heart Island. There is ferry service from Wolfe Island, one of the largest, to Kingston, Ontario, where a new trail awaits.
The Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail
A multi-use, pedestrian trail, the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail offers an experience on the lake’s north shore quite different from the auto route that follows the lakeshore in New York. Biking, rollerblading or walking are the transportation modes for this one, which serves communities – and connects them – along a 780-km route.
The Great Waterfront Trail Adventure is a a fullly-supported, end-to-end bike tour that occurs over 8 days every July – open to participants of all experience levels.The trail follows the the St. Lawrence River from the Quebec border to Kingston, then follows Lake Ontario westward to Toronto and Hamilton, then curving back to the east and terminating at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Toronto Islands
Travelers will want to make time for these urban-escape opporutnities a short ferry ride from Canada’s largest city. Although this is not part of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, the bike trails and car-free streets here offer easy biking and a great way to enjoy Toronto’s skyline on one side and Lake Ontario in all its glory from the other.
They have three distinct names, and are served by ferries going to three different docks, but this chain of small islands – Hanlan’s Point, Center, and Ward’s – are interconnected, and can be enjoyed as though one. One-time summer cottage communities are home to 700 permanent residents today. The clusters of residential streets alternate with wide-open green spaces for games and picnics.
Those following the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, whether biking on it or following via a provincial highway back to Niagara-on-the-Lake, have now completed the Great Lakes Circle Tour for Lake Ontario. Whether on an island or on a trail, fishing its waters, or just soaking up the views, travelers will never exhaust the charms of this wonderful inland sea.