In fall you aren’t looking for a highway experience, you want to cruise the backroads and kick up the leaves into a whirlwind behind you as you pass. The best fall drives will take you past spectacular scenery to small communities, perfect picnic spots, and the opportunity to get outdoors while you can.
Averaging about an hour each way these routes will make the perfect road trip, leaving plenty of time to stop and soak up the sun along the way. You may not be able to hang your head out the window like a dog, but you can still savour every last moment of the beautiful fall weather and scenery.
Make your next fall drive a colourful one on one of these five routes in Ontario’s Highlands.
*See the map at the bottom of this story or click here for route details.
You can use this handy fall colours viewing map to find the best time for your trip.
Perth to Calabogie – 63 kilometres
This route is only one way along Highway 511 which poses a little more of a challenge but the scenery along these winding roads will be so stellar you won’t mind making the trip twice in one day. The best part of this trip is it will take you through the communities of Perth, Lanark, and Calabogie, all charming spots to stop and do some shopping or grab a bite to eat.
Pick up a picnic lunch from Fieldhouse Restaurant in Perth and dine in Stewart Park or take it with you on the road. You’ll want to stock up on treats from the Perth Pie Co. for dessert. In Calabogie you’ll be ready to stretch your legs with a hike to one of Manitou Trails' lookouts or you can stop for a brew or two at Calabogie Brewing Co.
In October you can hitch a ride to the top of the mountain at Calabogie Peaks Resort and drink in the brilliant display all around you. Oh, and snap a few pics while you’re there, too.
Minden Loop – 66 kilometres
This route splits in Minden and heads either northwest or northeast on highways 21 or 35. It takes you past more than a dozen lakes and you can travel the full loop and not have to retrace your steps even once. Along the way you’ll be crossing some of the most beautiful terrain in the Highlands; if you want to get off the highway, turn onto one of the backroads that crisscross the region for a slower pace.
With so many lakes to pass by you’ll encounter plenty of places to pull over for hike and a waterside picnic lunch. Stop at Mill Pond Restaurant near Carnarvon to grab something to go from their take-out window, or grab a quick bite at Maple Avenue Tap & Grill in Haliburton for a surprising mix of Korean and Canadian cuisine.
Buttermilk Falls at the north end of Boshkung Lake is the place to capture some spectacular shots or find something fun for your Instagram page at the outdoor art gallery, Haliburton Sculpture Forest.
Madoc Loop – 75 kilometres
Part of this route takes you on Highway 7 between Madoc and Kaladar and traverses rugged Canadian Shield landscape bordered by vibrant forests. Head north to Flinton before looping back to Tweed and take your time to savour the scenery while you drive.
This route is perfect for combining a love of autumn’s brilliance with a love of craft drinks. Plan for a detour to Potter Settlement Winery near Tweed to sample wines with a local flavour. Don’t miss stocking up on a few pints at 7/62 Brewery in Madoc before you head out on the road; they also make an epic charcuterie board.
Snap a few shots and have a picnic or stretch your legs at Flinton Conservation Area, roughly halfway along your route.
Sharbot Lake to Lanark Highlands - 127 kilometres
If you’ve been looking for a longer drive that will take you through densely forested terrain, up and down hills, and where you will feel like you’re the only person on the roads, this is the drive for you. These scenic backroads may involve some gravel terrain so if you’re not a fan you should choose another route.
Start in Sharbot Lake and pick up some picnic fare from Seed to Sausage or Cardinal Café + Shop as there won’t be many places to stop along your route. If the Harvest Bakery is open as you pass through Elphin stop for one of their gooey butter tarts. Plan ahead and order from Back 40 Artisan Cheese and picnic along the Mississippi River when you pick up your order.
Stop to capture a photo of the fall foliage amid the scenic winding road from the top of one of the rolling hills between the communities of Maberly and Elphin.
Almonte to Renfrew – 60 kilometres
This scenic drive will lead you from one charming small community to another via quiet country backroads. If you've ever wanted to avoid Highway 417 on your travels, this will be your new favourite.
Expect to encounter a few picturesque bridges along the way! Begin your journey in Almonte then head towards Pakenham, then north to Burnstown and end your trip with an exploration of Renfrew (tip: stop for dinner at Finnigan's Road House).
Stop midway between Almonte and Renfrew in Burnstown and swing by Neat Café to pick up a wood-fired pizza. Picnic at the local beach to savour the fall scenery surrounding the Madawaska River. If you are gluten free, you'll want to note the newly opened 3 Apples Bakery in Pakenham, dedicated to gluten free folks!
You can’t drive through Pakenham without snapping a shot of the famous Five-Span Stone Bridge. If you indulge in some shopping in downtown Almonte, see if you can spot the life-size bronze statue of Dr. James Naismith.