Ontario’s best kept secrets: little pockets of paradise in the Heartland

When we think of paradise, we often envision some far off place in the tropics with white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and island breezes. Rarely might one consider Ontario, Canada's most populous province, to be a premier choice for vacations or getaways.

But a closer look into the Heartland province will reveal a surfeit of hidden gems that make it just as fascinating as any resort destination. From secret swimming spots to secluded spaces, Ontario's exceptional nature sites are worth exploring no matter what the season.

There is no need to hop on a plane or cross the border—paradise is right in your own backyard. Here are some of Ontario's most breathtaking places to discover:

Ontario's Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong FLICKR/WabbitWanderer

Bridal Veil Falls

One of the most tranquil places in Ontario is Bridal Veil Falls, a 35-foot waterfall site located in the town of Kagawong on Manitoulin Island. The waterfall gets its name from the veil-like pattern that forms when its gently-flowing waters cascade over the cliff. A staircase and walking trail in the forest will bring you to the waterfall where you can relax, have a picnic, or even go for a dip in the shallow pool of water.

Ontario's Covered Portage Cove
Covered Portage Cove in Killarney INSTAGRAM/Megan Mackenzie

Covered Portage Cove

Hidden deep within Killarney Provincial Park is a cloistered cove that serves as a sanctuary for boaters and hikers alike. Known as Covered Portage Cove, the site consists of calm waters, forested trails, and scenic views of Killarney Bay. Historically, it was a place where canoes were portaged across the land to shorten the travel distance between Fraiser Bay and Baie Fine. Today, the cove is a popular destination among outdoor enthusiasts and day trippers.

Ontario's Elora Quarry
Elora Quarry in Elora, ON INSTAGRAM/Maha Sarout

Elora Quarry

A short trip northwest of Toronto will bring you to the Elora Quarry, a secluded swimming hole that is quickly gaining popularity as a day trip destination. The site, which features a two-acre swimming area bordered by limestone cliffs, was designated as a conservation area in the mid-1970s. Visitors can enjoy a swim in its clean waters (which are tested weekly and have a 95 percent pass rate) or take in the sights via the one-kilometer trail that meanders the top of the quarry.

Ontario's Flowerpot Island
Flowerpot Island in Bruce Peninsula FLICKR/Rodney Campbell

Flowerpot Island

Situated 6.5 kilometers from Tobermory harbor is Flowerpot Island, one of the best experiences in Ontario's Fathom Five National Marine Park. The island, which is only accessible by boat, is famous for the striking pillars by its shore that are shaped like flower pots. Adventurers can jump on a private boat tour to get an up-close look at the rocks, as well as explore the island's caves, hiking trails, and campgrounds.

Ontario's Grand Bend Beach
Grand Bend, ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/Marcus Obal

Grand Bend

Some of the clearest waters in the province can be found in Grand Bend, a quaint beach town in southwest Ontario. There are two beaches in the area: Main Beach, which is one of only 27 Blue Flag designated beaches in Canada, and South Beach, a smaller patch down the shore that provides a quieter beach experience. Visitors can spend their day by the water, indulge in a watersport, or explore the town's shops and restaurants nearby.

Ontario's Bathtub Island
Bathtub Island in Lake Superior INSTAGRAM/shae.collins

Katherine Cove

Katherine Cove is a little-known wonder in Lake Superior Provincial Park that is worth visiting if you are in the area. A short walk from the cove will bring you to a collection of rocks that make up Bathtub Island, an enclosed basin that regularly fills up with water from the lake. The result is a natural "bathtub" with shallow waters that are heated by the sun on hot summer days. The warm waters are perfect for a midday dip.

Ontario's Point Pelee boardwalk
Point Pelee's marsh boardwalk FLICKR/Jamie

Point Pelee

Hiking enthusiasts will want to plan a day trip to Point Pelee National Park as there are several hiking trails to explore in the area. Among them is the Marsh Boardwalk, a kilometer-long floating pathway that cuts through one of the largest remaining marshes in southern Ontario. The Marsh Boardwalk has an observation tower where you can take in the extensive biodiversity of the park, which includes red-winged blackbirds and painted turtles.

Ontario's Ranney Gorge
Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge Kawarthas Northumberland

Ranney Gorge

Ontario's Ferris Provincial Park is home to the Ranney Gorge, a spectacular natural landform that offers breathtaking views of the Trent River. The main attraction of the gorge is a 300-foot-long suspension bridge that hovers 30 feet above the water. The site is open year-round, so each season offers a unique viewing experience. The Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge is part of the Trans Canada Trail, which is the longest recreation trail in the world.

Ontario's Rattlesnake Point
The view from Rattlesnake Point FLICKR/Ian Mutoo

Rattlesnake Point

Rattlesnake Point is an eco-tourism area in Milton that spans 100 square kilometers across the Niagara Escarpment. Some of Ontario's most incredible vantage points can be found here, and they are accessed via trails leading to various lookouts along the edges of the cliffs in the area. Spend a day conquering each of the trails, or have a more relaxed experience in the meadows where you can enjoy an afternoon picnic.

Photo by Wabbit Wanderer

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