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 highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
Perched atop a breathtaking gorge, Elora is located at the meeting point of Grand and Irvine rivers. It is one of those picture-perfect towns that day trips were invented to enjoy. Equal parts lush nature escape and bucolic village full of unique shops and restaurants, Elora aims to satisfy every road tripper’s interests. Here is what to do on a day trip to this small town located near Guelph.
In the morning: There’s a surprising number of things to do in Elora, so try to leave Toronto by 7 a.m. to make the most of your visit. Depending on traffic, the drive will take roughly an hour-and-a-half. It can be done by following Hwy 401 west toward Guelph and then heading north on Hwy 6, or by following the Queen Elizabeth Way to just before Hamilton and then heading north on Hwy 6.
Once you arrive, head to the Elora Gorge Conservation Area and hike along its trails to the edge of the 22-metre-high limestone cliffs that overlook the crevasse and feature stunning views (note, park fees are charged). The entire loop of trails is only about five kilometers long, so it’s easy for the whole family. Keep your eye out for the Hole in the Rock, an opening featuring a staircase carved out of the stone.
Tubing down the gorge’s Grand River rapids is a popular pastime, with tubes available to rent in advance online from outfitters, including the Grand River Conservation Authority. Explore the river at a more leisurely pace by renting a punt craft or by hiring a boat guide with Elora Raft Rides. Adrenalin junkies will appreciate the chance to zipline 200-metres through the gorge with One Axe Pursuits. You can also simply take a refreshing dip in the region’s beloved swimming hole at nearby Elora Quarry Park.
Around noon: Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, head into town to grab some lunch before exploring Elora’s enchanting street scene. Elora Brewing Company is favoured by residents and visitors for its juicy burgers and craft beer (try the Elora Borealis if you like bold, citrusy brews), or go for a sweet and savoury crepe from Cafe Creperie.
Another option is to grab some fresh sourdough from Elora Bread that you can pair with some regional cheeses and charcuterie items from nearby Mercantile and enjoy a picnic in the small parkette at the corner of Mill and Metcalfe streets. Be sure to spend time admiring the green space’s quirky sculptures.
In the afternoon: Explore the town’s cultural scene with a visit to the Elora Centre for the Arts. The institution houses two galleries featuring works by regional artists. Next, it’s time to do some shopping. Most of Elora’s stores lie north of the river along Metcalfe Street. Here you’ll happily lose hours weaving in and out of one-of-a-kind spots. Mermaid in Elora is a treasure trove of whimsical items and even has an entire room dedicated to door knockers, while Honeychurch Lane sells chic home decor items and Hanscomb Glass Studio is loaded with hand-crafted glass items, such as bowls and windchimes.
Fascinating finds are also waiting to be discovered at Elora Mews, a shopping area on Mill Street full of shops and boutiques. Start by refuelling with an afternoon tea with all the fixings at Wild Tarte, then head over to reFIND Salvage, filled with curiosities, antiques and upcycled products, and Aria Boutique, which sells fashion and accessories for women. Aria’s sister store, the recently opened Aria for Men, is located just across the lane.
In the evening: Before dinner, consider enjoying a drink at Porch Light, a cherished watering hole that mixes some of the most creative cocktails in Elora. You can also explore the community’s hand-crafter spirit scene with a tour and tasting at Elora Distilling Company.
Feast on an unforgettable dinner at the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa, the village’s iconic attraction. The striking limestone building is a 175-year-old landmark that underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2018. The 27-guestroom property’s restaurant serves up delicious regional fare, like pickerel and roasted duck breast, and claims the best views in town thanks to large windows that overlook the gorge. If you are interested in something more casual, head to the Cellar Pub and Grill where you can dine on comfort food, including pork schnitzel and baby back ribs, on the its charming riverside patio.
Don’t drive back to Toronto without first checking to see if the Gorge Cinema is screening a flick. This quaint art-house theatre is the longest continuously running repertory cinema in Canada.
COVID-19 need to know
Elora is part of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (wdgpublichealth.ca) and is currently following provincial reopening guidelines. Some businesses or attractions may be closed or operating at reduced capacity. Contact individual businesses for details.
SIDEBAR: For the drive
The drive to Elora is a wonderful opportunity to listen to some of the community’s musical history. The town is home to the renown choral group the Elora Singers. Performing for more than 40 years, the singers appear regularly at the Elora Festival (a music festival traditionally held in August). The group released its latest recording, This Love Between Us, in June 2020.
TIMELINE SIDEBAR: Drive Guide
- 7 a.m. leave Toronto
- Drive west along Hwy 401 or Queen Elizabeth Way
- Turn north on Hwy 6
- Side trip: Stop in Guelph to admire the architecture of the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate
- 8:45 a.m. Elora Gorge Conservation Area
- 10 a.m. Elora Raft Rides or One Axe Pursuits
- 11 a.m. Elora Quarry Park
- Noon: Lunch in Elora
- 1 p.m. Elora Centre for the Arts
- 2 p.m. Shopping on Metcalfe Street
- 3:30 p.m. Elora Mews
- 5 p.m. Porch Light or Elora Distilling Company
- 6 p.m. Elora Mill Hotel and Spa or Cellar Pub and Grill
- 8 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only