Fall is one of the best times for a road trip from Ottawa. The days are often sunny, the leaves are changing colour, and the summer crowds and humidity have largely dissipated. Here are four fall road trip recommendations.
For the day-tripper
Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry
Just have a day to spare? Head east on Highway 417 to the grandly named United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, which the locals call “SDG.”
Your first stop is the Glengarry Pioneer Museum in Dunvegan, which will host the 1812 Living History weekend on September 24 and 25. Next, drop into Stonehouse Vineyard near Alexandria to sample wines made from cold‑climate grapes, such as Frontenac Blanc and Marquette.
Continue into Alexandria to browse for jewellery, stained glass, and more at the Priest’s Mill Arts Centre and enjoy clever small plates and cocktails at the Buvette du Marché Gastropub.
St. Raphael’s Ruins, the roofless remains of one of Ontario’s earliest Catholic churches located south of Alexandria, are a great spot for some atmospheric photography.
Finally, swing by Glengarry Fine Cheese in Lancaster for local cheeses. I’m partial to the Dutch-style Lankaaster, but there are varieties for just about every taste.
For the outdoors lover
If you like to hike, pedal, or paddle, Renfrew County, located west of Ottawa and dotted with rolling hills, rocky outcrops, and quiet lakes and rivers, is an ideal destination.
The Algonquin Trail, known as the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail, beyond Renfrew County, is a rail-to-trail network that’s great for walking and off-road biking. At Bonnechere Provincial Park near Killaloe, you can hike, camp, rent a cabin, kayak, or canoe. And near Eganville, you can spelunk your way through the extensive Bonnechere Caves on a guided tour.
In Calabogie, Mad River Paddle Co. rents kayaks, canoes, SUPs, and e-bikes and offers guided tours. To reward yourself after all that exercise, pop into the Oh-el-la cafe for coffee and baked goods or enjoy craft cocktails and fancy fare overlooking Calabogie Lake at On the Rocks. Then rest for the night at the Somewhere Inn Calabogie, a former motel turned hipster haven, or the more casual Jocko’s Beach Resort across the road.
For the international foodie
These days, international travel can be stressful. Luckily, you can get a taste of the world more easily by visiting Toronto, home to just about every cuisine the globe offers.
For instance, you can nosh on pastizzi —savoury pastries filled with ricotta cheese —at the Malta Bake Shop in the Junction neighbourhood. At Patois in Little Italy, chef Craig Wong draws on his Jamaican‑Chinese heritage and his training at several French restaurants to create some of the most innovative (and delicious) fusion cuisine you can imagine (jerk chicken chow mein, anyone?). If you like Middle Eastern breakfast dishes, the piping-hot merguez shakshuka at Cafe Landwer is outstanding. Or, on the edge of the Leslieville area, try the pharaoh’s po’boy — a pita stuffed with battered shrimp, tehina (a tahini-based condiment), and tomeya — at an Egyptian brunch spot called Maha’s.
For the long-distance driver
Sometimes, you just need a scenic drive to truly unwind. If that’s your goal, point your car toward Quebec’s Bas Saint-Laurent region, which begins about 6.5 hours northeast of Ottawa.
On the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, you’ll find great seafood, towering lighthouses, dynamite sunsets, and postcard-pretty towns such as Kamouraska. The small cities of Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, with their range of accommodations and services, make great bases for exploring.
Don’t miss the Empress of Ireland Museum in Pointe-au-Père, which tells the tragic story of the sinking of a transatlantic liner in the St. Lawrence in 1914. Another top attraction is Reford Gardens/Jardins des Métis in Grand-Métis, spectacular English-style gardens carved out of rather inhospitable soil between 1926 and 1958 by an indomitable heiress and her team of landscapers.
Check out ottawaroadtrips.com or pick up a guidebook, from a local independent bookstore, Ottawa Road Trips: Your 100-km Getaway Guide and Ottawa Road Trips: Your Weekend Getaway Guide.