About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore – but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow, and why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
For the full series, click here.
Set in the heart of the Kawartha Lakes, its name an Anglicisation of the Anishinaabe for “bright waters and happy lands,” Peterborough is a small city of about 85,000 people that is roughly a 90-minute-drive northeast of downtown Toronto. Here’s how you can spend two days exploring the rivers and lakes that cross the region, including the historic Trent Severn Waterway, and enjoy an Ontario staple, the butter tart.
In the morning: Leave Toronto, driving east on Hwy 401, then taking Hwy 115 north to Peterborough. Depending on traffic, the drive should take between 90 minutes and two hours. For a more scenic route, you can stay on Hwy 401 and turn north onto Hwy 28 in Port Hope. The two-lane road winds through the hills and charming villages of central Ontario. This route will also take you past Doo Doo’s Bakery in Balieboro, which has been recognized for making some of the best butter tarts in Ontario. Once you arrive in Peterborough, head to the Canadian Canoe Museum. The only museum of its kind on earth, you will learn about the Kawartha Lakes area and Indigenous and Canadian history through the more than 600 canoes and kayaks in its collection.
In the afternoon: Grab lunch at the Publican House downtown, where the dishes, such as slow-roasted brisket and pizzas from its custom-made brick oven, are often made using ingredients sourced from farms in the area. Craft beer is also brewed on site. Afterward, head along Charlotte Street to Wild Rock Outfitters and rent a canoe or kayak you can launch from nearby Millennium Park. Paddle along the Otonabee River right into Little Lake, where you can cool off in the spray from the Centennial Fountain, which shoots up to 75 metres in the air in the middle of the lake (it operates for part of the summer only).
In the evening: Check into the Holiday Inn Peterborough-Waterfront, which sits directly on Little Lake and features a huge, waterfront patio. From here, you can walk to Del Crary Park, home to a twice-weekly, free summer music festival, as well as the local walk of fame and the Art Gallery of Peterborough. If you’re looking for a smaller place to stay, try the Peterborough Inn and Suites, a boutique hotel near the town clock, or Liftlock Bed and Breakfast, which overlooks the Trent Severn Waterway. Once you are settled in, dine in the Hunter Street Café District, several blocks in the heart of town featuring widened sidewalks to allow for al fresco dining. Feast on authentic Mexican at La Hacienda (be sure to try the mole enchiladas) followed by a beer or cocktail at St. Veronus, a Belgian-style pub named for the patron saint of brewers. Walk back to your hotel along the riverfront path that begins just south of Hunter Street.
In the morning: Enjoy an early brunch at Black Honey Bakery and try their signature eggs Benedict, which you can top with a choice of smoked trout, steamed spinach, black beans, Canadian back bacon or goat cheese. Grab a slice of its decadent, chocolate paradise cake to go. Get in the car and drive north along Water Street (which becomes Hwy 29) to Lakefield, a charming village with a serious literary history. Walk past what was once the home of famed novelist Margaret Laurence and check to see if Christ Church Community Museum is open (usually between July 1 and Labour Day) so you can learn more about 19th century authors and pioneers Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie. Rent a bike at the local marina and ride the Lakefield Trail, which will take you past Lock 29 on the Trent Severn and a bird-watching lookout tower, to the tip of Katchewanooka Lake.
In the early afternoon: Grab a picnic lunch or an ice cream from local favourite the Canoe and Paddle and take it across the Otonabee River bridge to Lakefield Beach, where you can spread a blanket along the shore. On your way back through Peterborough, include a stop at the Lift Lock, Canada’s highest hydraulic boat lift, a National Historic Site where boats are raised and lowered 20 metres in massive holding chambers along the Trent Canal. If you have time, you can even ride right through, ascending, then later descending, on a Liftlock Cruise. (If you don’t, you can still learn about how it all works at the excellent Parks Canada visitor centre.)
In late evening: Head back toward Toronto taking Hwy 28 so you can include a stop at ZimArt’s Rice Lake Gallery, an outdoor sculpture park about a 10-minute drive east of Balieboro that is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. between June 1 and Thanksgiving. Walk through the exhibit, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see one of their artists-in-residence in the process of working on their newest creations. While still in the area, stop at the Rolling Grape Vineyard, a few minutes drive away. The winery is carved into the undulating hills of a family farm, and makes tiny batches of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and even an orange wine. Buy a bottle to enjoy after you finish your drive home to Toronto.
For the drive
Put together a music playlist featuring artists who have connections to the area, from Neil Young, who was raised in nearby Omemee (he called it “a sleepy little place”), to Natalie McMaster and the Leahy Family, fiddle and step-dance legends who own a local farm. You should also listen to “Canada’s Canoe Archive,” a podcast created by Library and Archives Canada that leads listeners through the galleries at the Canadian Canoe Museum, providing all sorts of historical background illustrating Peterborough’s essential ties with these and other boats.
COVID-19 need to know
Peterborough is currently under the province-wide stay-at-home order. COVID-19 rates in Peterborough and the Kawarthas have tended to be lower than in other parts of the province, with the region staying in the green and yellow zones for much of the past year. For more information on local restrictions, consult Peterborough Public Health (peterboroughpublichealth.ca)
• 9 a.m. Leave Toronto
• Drive east on Hwy 401
• Exit Hwy 115 or Hwy 28
• Side stop: If you take Hwy 28, stop for butter tarts at Doo Doo’s in Balieboro
• 11 a.m. Canadian Canoe Museum
• 1 p.m. Publican House Brewery.
• 2:30 p.m. Canoe or kayak
• Side stop: Take a dip at Beavermead, a city park with a popular beach.
• 5 p.m. Holiday Inn-Waterfront
• 6:30 p.m. La Hacienda
• 8:30 p.m. St. Veronus
• 10 p.m.-ish Back to hotel
• 9:00 a.m. Black Honey Bakery
• 10:30 a.m. Drive to Lakefield
• 11 a.m. Bike Lakefield Trail
• 12 p.m. Canoe and Paddle
• 1:30 p.m. Lift Lock
• 3 p.m. ZimArt’s Rice Lake Gallery
• 4 p.m. Rolling Grape Vineyard
• 5 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only