The best holidays are the ones that bring you to unexpectedly amazing places, the hidden gems that remind you of how awe-inspiring Mother Nature can. This is the kind of trip you talk about after the fact, the source of those epic “remember when” stories you share and reshare for years to come.

Ontario’s Highlands’ vast expanses of lush forests and rugged Canadian Shield peppered with fun small communities create plenty of opportunities to encounter those amazing places.

This summer, create your own “remember whens” in Ontario’s Highlands using this two-night, three-day itinerary where you will explore extraordinary places and hidden gems.

3 Days of Hidden Gems and Amazing Places

Start Here: Stirling

The village of Stirling sits on the southernmost border of the Ontario’s Highlands region, and is the perfect spot to start your vacation. 

• Just on the outskirts of Stirling proper, Longtooth Brewing Co. is a craft brewery with a focus on Western European brew styles. Stop in for a flight tasting, and a light snack at their on-site pub. Their Irish Red poutine is delicious!
• Have you ever seen a water buffalo? Swing past the Ontario Water Buffalo Co. and take a peek at these funny cattle-like livestock lounging on pasture. 
• Visit the Ontario Water Buffalo Co.’s Buff Stuff Store and experience water buffalo milk, cheese, and gelato. Pick up a couple of water buffalo steaks to barbecue up when you get to your accommodation tonight. 

Hastings County
From Toronto: 185km • 2 hr 10 min From Ottawa: 225km • 2 hr 45 min

The agricultural history is rich in Stirling.  To pay homage to this history, visit Farmtown Park, the home of the Hastings County Museum of Agricultural Heritage.  This museum celebrates the culture of rural Ontario and the importance of agriculture and the farmers who provide us with safe, local food.

Time Spent Here: Plan on an hour-and-a-half in Stirling. 

Next Stop: Madoc

Explore the slower pace of small-town life in Madoc, a community known for its convenient location at the junction of Highway 7 and 62. 

• Have a wine tasting at Potter Settlement Winery, just outside of Madoc. Wander their lush vineyard and ask how their location contributes to their unique and award-winning wines. 
• Be amazed by the sight of the two-and-a-half ton mineral feature rock on display at Potter Settlement Winery, a testament to the unique topography of this region. 
O’Hara Mill Homestead is a historic village from the 1800s to 1900s with a unique covered bridge and dam that once powered the on-site sawmill. Marvel at the beauty and power of water here.
• Pick up a six-pack from 7/62 Craft Brewers (named for the highways 7 and 62 and their junction in Madoc) to enjoy when you reach your accommodation. 
Hidden Goldmine Bakery is a must-stop for sweet treats and a cup of coffee to keep you going. Try their famous buttertarts while you’re there.

Hastings County
From Toronto: 210km • 2 hr 30 min From Ottawa: 195km • 2 hr 20 min

A trip to Madoc isn't complete without a stop to the Hidden Goldmine Bakery for a delicious cinnamon roll or butter tart.  Get a flavour for Madoc's gold rush history at this quaint bakery nestled on the historic main street.

Time Spent Here: You will need to account for two-to-three hours to visit the winery and Madoc proper before heading back on the road. 

Next Stop: Coe Hill

This will be a quick stop! The tiny community of Coe Hill sits on both sides of Hwy 620 but is worth a detour for those who love good food. Your stash from here will come in handy before the day ends, don’t worry!

• Would you believe that you can experience a slice of Italy in the heart of Ontario? The Barn Chefs is where you can find authentic Italian meats, cheese, breads, and – yes, you guessed it – pasta, made from scratch in the Italian way.
• Get enough pasta, meats and cheeses from The Barn Chefs to create an epic charcuterie spread and pasta dish for your dinner tonight.
• Stop in at The Edge Café – a cozy café that also features a robus makers’ market with works from potters, woodturners, painters and more. Try their daily smoothie, made fresh on-site.

Coe Hill
Hastings County
From Toronto: 230km • 2 hr 45 min From Ottawa: 245km • 2 hr 55 min

A visit to The Barn Chefs is well worth the visit to Coe Hill for their handcrafted Italian cured and cooked meats, sausages, fresh pasts, and ready-to-go meals, all locally sourced and sustainable.

Time Spent Here: Coe Hill is pretty tiny, so expect to spend no more than an hour here. 

End Your Day: Haliburton Forest &Wild Life Reserve

Keep your camera handy for the next leg of your journey because the drive from Coe Hill through Haliburton Highlands will take you through phenomenally beautiful forested rolling terrain. Watch for unique rock formations, spectacular views and wildlife. 

• Get settled into your accommodation. You can choose between a Cabinscape off-grid remote tiny cabin or one of Haliburton Forest’s other accommodation options that include a selection of cabins (some waterfront) or campsites.
• This is the time to break out all the goodies you picked up en route and prepare a delicious meal of fresh Italian pasta and charcuterie, or to barbecue up some water buffalo steaks. Cap your meal off with a butter tart from Hidden Goldmine Bakery. 
• After dinner, get started exploring one of Haliburton Forest’s 400-kilometres of hiking trails.
• Watch the sun set from the deck of your cabin or campsite and marvel at the wonder of nature.

Start Here: Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve

You will literally be waking this morning in one of the most beautiful places in Ontario. With 100,000 acres, 100 lakes and millions of trees, Haliburton Forest is one of the last great wilderness regions in the province. Buckle up for your adventure today because we guarantee you will be encountering the extraordinary.

• Learn more about Haliburton Forest’s managed natural forest and other sustainable practices at the Visitor Centre.
• Reserve your spot on a three-to-four hour guided canopy tour that will take you high among the treetops to get a new perspective on the forest. This is one of the crowning jewels of an experience in Haliburton Highlands and is the longest canopy boardwalk of its kind in the world. 
• Book an astronomy tour with astronomer, Brian Mould (Fridays in July and August only) and view the unfiltered starry night sky without it being obscured by city lights. 
• Book an introduction to wild mushrooms workshop with Yours Outdoors and head out into the wilds to learn more about mushrooms and how to identify them. 
• Have you ever dreamed of rock climbing? Book one of Yours Outdoors’ rock climbing experiences on a natural rock climbing wall. This course is available for booking on request.
• Visit the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre, featuring a 5,000 square foot indoor facility with a self-guided museum-style tour to introduce visitors to the amazing world of wolves. A wolf pack which has been residents of the forest for 30 years can be viewed through one-way glass from inside the building. 
• Take a break for lunch at the Boshkung Smokehouse right in Haliburton Forest and savour delicious smoked meats and a Boshkung Brewing Co. craft beer on their covered patio. 
• Rent a canoe (or bring your own) and paddle one of the more than 100 pristine lakes located in the forest. 
• Explore the more than 400 kilometres of hiking trails that take you deep into the forest. 

Time Spent Here: You could literally spend all day without leaving Haliburton Forest, but plan on at least five hours to do the canopy tour and visit the wolf centre, the most popular activities here. 

Next Stop: Haliburton

Cute as a button, the village of Haliburton is one of the crown jewels of Haliburton Highlands. Home to the Haliburton School of Art + Design, you can expect arts and artistry to be a focus here. 

• Love art? Be wowed by the beauty of Canadian and International artists shown in more than 40 outdoor art exhibits at the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, an outdoor art gallery located in Glebe Park.   
• Pick up a quiche or dessert tart from The Little Tart, a super cute pastry shop found in Donald, about 10 minutes south of Haliburton. 
• If you love witnessing the mighty power of water, Buttermilk Falls is just a 30-minute drive from Haliburton. Watch as water is funnelled between a natural rock and cement walls before flowing over large flat rock. This is a great spot fora  picnic lunch!  
• A 15-minute drive north of Haliburton is Evrgrn CSD Gallery of Fine Art & Photography, worth a visit.  
Skyline Park offers an awe-worthy view of the village of Haliburton and the surrounding countryside. Bring a camera for this one. 
• You need to think about dinner tonight back at your accommodation – consider dining in or picking up something fresh and delicious from Hook, Line & Sinker or McKeck’s Tap & Grill, both located right in Haliburton.  
• Pick up a cup of coffee while browsing antiques at Castle Antiques & Café, in downtown Haliburton.

Haliburton County
From Toronto: 215km • 2 hr 55 min From Ottawa: 285km • 3 hr 15 min

In addition to its' stunning scenery, Haliburton is home to a thriving arts community.  With plenty of galleries dotting the countryside, a must-visit is the renowned Haliburton Sculpture Forest, a unique outdoor collection of sculptures by Canadian and international artists.

Time Spent Here: Plan on spending an hour or two in Haliburton.

End Your Day: Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve

This is your last night here, so take some time to look back over the last few days and all the wonders you saw.

Start Here: Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve

This is your chance to try an experience you didn’t have time for yesterday! This is your last day at Haliburton Forest so maximize your time here. 

• Enjoy your last breakfast here while listening to the bird song and wondering how you can ever bring yourself to leave this magical place.
• Go for a hike or paddle or explore whatever experience you missed yesterday. This would be a good time to book a Yours Outdoors experience in advance, or visit the Wolf Centre, if you haven't already done so. 

Time Spent Here: You can stretch out your time here, because there is only one more stop on your agenda today

Next Stop: Bancroft

If you are a geology buff, today will be one of your favourite days on your getaway. Located in the Mineral Capital of Canada, Bancroft is renowned for its rockhounding and mining history, and its geology alone is reason enough for a visit here. Keep your eyes open for these phenomenal geological  wonders to appear around virtually every turn in the road. 

• If your trip coincides with the annual Rockhound Gemboree (first weekend in August) be sure to add this to your bucket list of Bancroft experiences. 
• Get your hands dirty while digging for rocks and minerals at the Princess Sodalite Mine Rock Shop in Bancroft. 
• You can find a full list of rocks and mineral collection sites in the Bancroft area on the Town of Bancroft website including a CN rock dump, Beryl Pit, and a good road cut. 
• Stop by Lakeside Gems to get outfitted with rockhounding tools or book a geologist-led mineral collecting field trip (when available) to learn more about rockhounding.
• You’ll love stopping for dinner at the local favourite, The Granite, known for their excellent steaks and fish tacos. Plan your stop to coincide with one of their live performances that take place all summer. 
• Another popular dining option for locals is For the Halibut Fish & Chips, known for their York River special and (naturally) their halibut special. Pro tip: They will poutine anything for you! 
•  Midway between Bancroft and Haliburton lies Greenmantle Mineral Tours, a 300-acre property home to the rare mineral fluororicherite, along with other interesting minerals. Take an eco-tour of the property and learn more about rock formations and the minerals found there.

Hastings County
From Toronto: 245km • 2 hr 50 min From Ottawa: 220km • 2 hr 35 min

Bancroft, the Mineral Capital of Canada, is a rockhounders' dream. Must stop locations for all rock-lovers includes the Bancroft Mineral Museum and the Princess Sodalite Mine. Or take a trip down The Miner's Loop and walk in the shoes of miners long ago.

Time Spent Here: You can spend all day in Bancroft but may be limited by what time you leave Haliburton Forest. If you feel like there was so much to do on this trip and not enough time, plan to come back again and do it all over again. 

Optional Add On: Bon Echo Provincial Park

If you have the time to extend your trip, another destination you will remember forever is a visit to Bon Echo Provincial Park. Renowned for its famous and breathtaking Mazinaw Rock and Indigenous pictographs located on Mazinaw, this provincial park is worth a visit, even just for a day. Highly recommended for those looking to encounter the extraordinary. You can also bookmark this for your next visit!

Spend the Night: You can stay right at the park or if you have the inclination to camp, Mazinaw Lakeside RV Park & Campground offers waterfront camping as well.