Ontario has long been a popular family destination. It is full of deep woods with freshwater lakes and rivers. The bustling and popular cities of Toronto and Ottawa are surrounded by picturesque farmlands that boast a traditional and a booming winery and brewery agricultural industry. Whatever your large family likes to experience on their travels can be found here.
Over the last year, our family has searched out new adventures. Our biggest adventure to date was moving from suburbia GTA to Prince Edward County. As we followed the shores of Lake Ontario past Cobourg and deep into Prince Edward County we realized that this area is a thriving and growing must-see tourist destination. Curious, we went further east this summer – to the 1000 Islands – looking for large family travel experiences.
Prince Edward County is a two-hour drive east of Toronto. Nestled between the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario, this headland or island connected by the Murray Canal is an ideal playground for small and big kids and a fabulous family travel destination. It is also a perfect jumping off point to explore other parts of Eastern Ontario like Kingston and onward to the 1000 Islands. With a multitude of accommodations from B&B’s, inns on the water, boutique motels and guest houses or family campgrounds – if you book early enough – you have your pick of the crop.
Prince Edward County – Choose Your Own Adventure
What do you like to do as a family when you travel? Relax at a beach, hike in the woods, boutique shop, water sports or sample local food and drinks? Choose your favorite or sample a little of each. Whatever your large family likes to do – you will find it in Prince Edward County.
Top 5 Places To Visit In PEC
Besides the fact we live close by to this family-run farm– this friendly farm is the perfect stop for families with small children. Inside there is ice cream and freshly baked goods, a small gift shop and on the weekends enjoy a glass of cold apple cider on the patio while watching the kids play on the swings, walk the labyrinth or talk to the animals. There is always something going on at Campbell’s during the summer from strawberry picking, corn roasts and of course, apple-picking season. These events will have hot dogs freshly BBQed, wagon rides and lots for your family to do for an afternoon.
Until September 5th, Tuesday nights Wellington is the place to be. A free music event, Gazebo Concerts In The Park presents local musicians for a lyrical and relaxing evening after touring around Prince Edward County. Bring a picnic blanket, watch your kids run with the locals in the giant wooden play structure and take advantage of the hospitality of the local Lions Club that serves free hot dogs and drinks. (Donations welcome.)
When people think about Prince Edward County, they may have heard of Sandbanks Provincial Park. A large natural park there is camping available or nearby cottages to rent. You can easily spend a few days just exploring this park and the area.
If going just for the day, forgo the busy Outlet Beach and head to the Dunes. Hike along the tall sandy hills and take in the breathtaking views of West Lake and then cool off in shallow waters below. There are lots of shady areas, a cantina, washrooms and change rooms and playground to keep your family busy at The Dunes Beach.
Located on West Lake near Sandbanks, Wee Willy Watersports is a great place to spend a day with your family. With inflatable water toys, jet skis or other watercraft for rent, you can do pretty much any water activity on your wish list.
No visit is complete without a stop at a local winery or brewery. This exploding industry in Prince Edward County tries to cater to those traveling with their family. Most places offer freezies or juice boxes to the younger family member. Some offer a menu for lunch or dinner. These two are a good start but really, any winery or brewery in the region is a great place to visit.
- Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard – with a state of the art pizza oven, trampoline and ping pong table – this customer-oriented winery not only offers some of the best pizza in The County but also has some amazing wines to try. Often as soon as a family sits down the servers will ask if they want the kid’s pizza ordered – a nice touch for those with hungry little ones.
- Parson’s Brewing Company – one of the newer breweries in The County – the outdoor patio here is ideal to enjoy a flight of cold, delicious beers while the kids play on the play structure, try tetherball or ping pong. Although not listed on the menu the kitchen is happy to make your younger family members grilled cheese – a perfect way to keep the kids’ tummies full!
Top Places To Visit In The 1000 Islands
1000 Islands is an hour from Prince Edward County, a natural jumping off point to explore the eastern part of the province.
1. Take A View
The 1000 Islands Tower, on a small island near the U.S. border, is a must first stop as you begin your exploration of this naturally gorgeous area. Take the elevator to the upper observation decks and hear about how the islands were developed and the history. Climb the stairs to the very top level to get the best view of the area.
2. Amazing Aquatarium – Brockville
A quick drive east and you enter the picturesque town of Brockville. Down by the marina is a beautiful building called Tall Ships Landing. It hosts 3 floors of fun and interactive experiences that help you deepen your knowledge about the area and environment of the 1000 Islands. (Please note – I received complimentary tickets for part of our group.)
Shipwrecks, wildlife, and hands-on activities await you on all levels of the Aquatarium. You can generate electricity at the Power of Water, go underwater to experience inside a shipwreck, record a news report or watch the acrobatic otters and view the fish feedings. In 2-3 hours you can visit all the exhibits, including the otter snack time. For those with family members 8 and above – there is a ropes course and Aquadrop.
A couple of key places that my family enjoyed:
- HMS Ontario – they loved running around this ship and the interactivity of the Captain’s Table.
- Skiff House – rowing challenge after rowing challenge was taken by our whole group.
- Creation – this touch tank showcases creatures with knowledgeable staff to answer any questions.
3. Driving and Hiking
After your visit to the Aquatarium, take a drive to the 1000 Islands Parkway for a scenic cruise of the area and head to Rockport. Rockport is a gorgeous hamlet with a few really good places to eat. All have wonderful views of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
After a good meal at one of the pubs in Rockport, continue on the 1000 Islands Parkway towards Gananoque and find the Landon Bay Trail about 5 km east of Gananoque. This park is now managed by Parks Canada.
Be sure to look for a sign for the Landon Bay Nature Camp right off the Parkway and you will easily find this 2km inland hike. Head up the rock walls to the Landon Bay Lookout where one of the best and stunning views awaits you. Take a rest on the large granite walks while you wonder at the natural world around you.
Both Prince Edward County and the 1000 Islands offer many styles of accommodations and places to eat ideal when traveling with large families. Take a few days or even a week to explore both of these amazing areas and see what Eastern Ontario has to offer.