When people think of Canadian parks, Banff immediately comes to mind. Luckily for those of us in Toronto, that’s hardly the only Parks Canada site worth visiting. There are lots of national sites that are accessible from Toronto without a flight or an epic road trip.
Even better: All of Canada’s national parks are free this year to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.
First, you’ll want to order your 2017 Discovery Pass so you can get free admission.
The free Discovery Pass will get you into all of Canada’s national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas. There are still fees for extras like camping and guided tours.
You can download the map here.
Canada’s national parks are sure to be extra crowded this year, so don’t wait until summer vacation to explore! Get your layers on and go play in the snow or venture out as soon as it warms up. If you’re working remotely, adjust your schedule so you can get out on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
These spots are all reachable with enough time to head home for the night. Just because it can be done as a day trip doesn’t mean it has to be!
No car necessary
If you’re interested in naval history, the HMCS Haida is one of the easiest national historic sites to get to from Toronto. You can simply take the GO to Hamilton and walk over (or take the free tourist trolley).
The Queenston Heights battlefield and Brock’s monument is a short cab ride (or a 30 minute bike ride or a 2 hour walk) from the Niagara Falls station. From there, you can continue north to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, either in a cab or on a bike. While Fort George is a bit harder to get to, it’s always worth the excuse to spend a day (or night) in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it’s essential for anyone who’s curious about the War of 1812.
Technically possible without a car
William Lyon Mackenzie King’s boyhood home is open to the public as Woodside in Kitchener. The home has been preserved to exhibit the Victorian era and turned into a museum. It stands on 11+ acres of forest. While it’s on a bus line, it’ll be a 3-hour ride from Toronto.
The Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower in Waterloo is nearby, so it pays to visit both on the same day. Be sure to make an appointment ahead of time to view the tower. Without an appointment, visitors can only view the grounds.
Parkbus will get you to Georgian Bay Islands NP in 2.5 hours. Right now they’re requiring an overnight (which seems reasonable so you have enough time to explore) but they might be offering day trips by the time you’re reading this.
The Bruce Peninsula NP and Fathom Five in Tobermory would be car only, if not for Parkbus. The 4+ hour trip necessitates at least one overnight, but there’s so much to do you’ll probably want to stay longer than that. Book early to make sure you get a spot on the bus (and one of the yurts).
While Kingston might not be as braggable as Bruce County, you can take VIA Rail or the bus to get to Bellevue House, which is right downtown. Not only do they offer guided tours of Sir John A Macdonald’s historic home, they also offer an escape room.
If you head to Montreal, you can visit:
- Lachine Canal
- The Fur Trade at Lachine
- The Louis-Joseph Papineau House
- Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Canal
- Coteau-du-Lac’s archaeological remains
- The Chambly Canal and Fort Chambly
From Montreal, it’s technically possible but ill advised to travel to Sir Wilfrid Laurier NHS by bus.
Southwold Earthworks is 30 minutes south of London. Point Clark Lighthouse is about 2 hours north of London. Point Pelee NP is along Lake Erie on the way to Windsor. Outside Windsor is Fort Malden, Bois Blanc Island Lighthouse and Blockhouse.