Ontario is home to a special kind of natural beauty. It's quiet, but striking, with waterfalls, caves, lakes, and rivers hidden among the woodlands. The best way to experience it for yourself is on Ontario's Highway 60, which runs from Huntsville to just past Renfrew, passing through Algonquin Provincial Park, one of the country's largest provincial parks. Small logging towns and luxurious resorts alike are dotted along the way, making the three-hour drive one that could easily be stretched into a perfect weekend getaway.
Start just off of Highway 60 at the Muskoka Heritage Place in Huntsville. This living history museum provides a look at what life was like for the pioneers who first tamed the forests of this part of Ontario. It features two museums, 18 historic buildings to explore, and a vintage, open-air train ride. You'll get to meet costumed interpreters, try hands-on activities at demonstrations, and see some pretty cute farm animals. There are also several nature trails winding around the 90-acre site, so it's not hard to spend a full afternoon here!
For a sense of how the forests have inspired locals, stop into the Oxtongue Craft Cabin & Gallery. It's the area's oldest art gallery, and the eclectic selection of crafts and other handmade pieces and works of fine art all give off a rustic Canadian vibe. Browse the unique selection of pottery, glasswork, jewelry, home decor, woodwork, and more for a one-of-a-kind souvenir of the trip.
Make a quick stop at Oxtongue River Ragged Falls. A short trail leads from the parking area to the thundering whitewater falls. The glacial-melt water roaring over the rocks throws off a refreshing mist. Take the time to follow the trail down from the top of the falls further along the river; it's absolutely worth the time.
Algonquin Provincial Park should be a bucket list item for any Canadian. It's the oldest provincial park, and one of the country's largest. All in all, it's about 7,653 square kilometres large, with 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers tucked within its boundaries. There are more than 1,000 campsites, and lots of trails for hiking-- Dorset Scenic Lookout Tower and Lookout Trail offer awesome views. Make sure to stop by the visitor center, which provides a great look at the history and natural science of the park.
Algonquin Provincial Park has long attracted and inspired artists, and the Algonquin Art Centre was opened to pay homage to this tradition. The work of famed wilderness and wildlife artists such as Tom Thomson and Michael Dumas, along with newcomer artists, is on display inside. The centre strives to educate visitors about wilderness preservation as it shows off the art and history from the park. Events and classes are always taking place, so check to see what might be going on during your visit!
The history of Algonquin Provincial Park is also closely tied to the logging industry... in fact, Algonquin is the only designated park within the province of Ontario to allow industrial logging to take place within its borders. Learn about the beginnings of the logging up to modern forestry at the Algonquin Logging Museum. The coolest part about the museum is that a lot of it is along a 1.5km trail. It winds past a recreated camboose camp and a bunch of awesome old machinery, including a steam-powered amphibious tug called an "alligator".
For an even more rugged outdoor experience, pop by Upper Madawaska River Provincial Park. There are no facilities here, just untouched nature. It's ideal for canoeing, rafting, hiking, and fishing. An abandoned stretch of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway has been turned into a rail trail that's awesome for exploring.
Anyone driving along Highway 60 has to stop off in the town of Wilno. The town is Canada's first and oldest Polish settlement, and you can feel the heritage to this day. The Kashub-Polish settlers brought with them many unique traditions and aspects of their culture that the town has preserved to this day. Stop into the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum & Skansen (open-air museum), and then head across the street to the Wilno Tavern. The tavern is always bustling, with Polish grub, local beers on tap and live music, but the main event is the buffet offered on weekends. Load up on pierogi, cabbage rolls, sausage slathered in spicy mustard, pickled herrings, and other delicacies alongside the locals.
The route ends around Renfrew, but while you're in the area, check out the Bonnechere Caves. A tour guide will lead you below the Earth's surface into the cave, past waterfalls, fossils, sinkholes, and all kinds of cave formations. The winding passageways and incredible sights, along with the enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides make this a wonder worth visiting. Bring a flashlight and a sweater for when you're underground, and then treat yourself to some ice cream from the gift shop afterwards!
Highway 60 is open to drive year round, and Algonquin Provincial Park is best to visit in the summer, spring, and autumn. It's known for its amazing foliage in the fall. Many attractions along the way close or keep shorter hours during the winter, so keep that in mind when planning!
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ 松林Ｌ