When spring comes around and the messy winter weather is in the rear-view mirror, many of us are struck with an itch to get out for a drive and explore someplace new. If you live in Ottawa or eastern Ontario, the small towns of Ontario’s Highlands make for a perfect day trip destination; these eight charming small towns are all within one hour of downtown Ottawa.

Choose from one of these adorable destinations for a morning or afternoon spent wandering small town Ontario, or pair two that are close together for a full day road trip!

Almonte – 40 mins

If you like picture perfect towns that make you feel like you’re in a movie, Almonte is for you. It’s got a lot to offer but if you particularly like taking photos or shopping, you’ll love this town.

Where to eat: Follow your nose to Baker Bob’s for fresh baked cookies, pastries, and breads.
Where to shop: Browse Cheerfully Made’s wide selection of cute, quirky, and locally-made goods.
Stay longer: Book a room at Almonte Riverside Inn and enjoy dinner at the delectable on-site Loom Bistro.

Pakenham – 40 mins

Pakenham is a sweet little community with a few businesses to browse. If you want to spend a few hours enjoying the peaceful sounds of the Mississippi River, this will hit the spot.

Where to eat: Pick up some gluten-free treats at 3 Apples Bakery to nibble on. No gluten, buts tons of flavour!
Where to shop: Spend some time browsing an assortment of vintage goods and plants at Keepers Coffee Bar.
Take a hike: Take a short drive to High Lonesome Nature Reserve for a quiet backwoods hike.

Arnprior – 45 mins

Look to Arnprior to combine both small town amenities like fabulous bakeries and restaurants with riverside parks and hikes through old growth forests. The beach at Robert Simpson Park is the perfect picnic destination or a spot to take a dip to cool off at the end of the day.

Where to eat: Enjoy a meal at the Lumbertown Ale House, which focuses on local ingredients. The smoked chicken wings are a must.
Where to shop: Antiques are abundant in Arnprior at multiple shop, including Prior Things and Treasure Chest Antiques.
Take a hike: Immerse yourself in nature by wandering along the trails at Gillies Grove National Historic Site.

Perth – 1 hour

Perth is a bustling town with heritage stone buildings and a lovely park on the Tay Canal. Bring your appetite as there are endless options for food and drink.

Where to eat: You might not expect to find Sri Lankan kothu roti (chopped flatbread cooked with a mixture of meats and veggies) in a small town, but you’ll find that and more at Kothu Labs.
Where to shop: Let your sweet tooth guide you to Perth Chocolate Works. If you time it right, you can try their seasonal maple concoctions.
Stay longer: Stay at Perth Parkside Inn and ask for a room with a view of Stewart Park, often called ‘the crown jewel of Perth’.

Renfrew – 1 hour

Take an outing to Renfrew for a delicious meal, a bit of shopping, and a visit to a beautiful mill with a swinging bridge that crosses the Bonnechere River.

Where to eat: Pick up sandwiches, salads, and desserts from Bonnechere Bakery and Bistro.
Where to shop: Pick-it Fence is one of those shops that you pop into “for a minute” and re-emerge an hour later with several bags.
Take a hike: On a nice day, take your meal over to O’Brien Park for a picnic by the McDougall Mill.

Smiths Falls – 1 hour

Just an hour south of Ottawa is Smiths Falls, a town that is worth the drive for those who seek good food and a spot to chill. Wander the historic locks on the Rideau Canal in Centennial Park and stop in for a history lesson on the canal at the Rideau Canal Visitor Cente.

Where to eat: On a warm day the patio at the Lockmaster’s Taphouse and Patio overlooking the Rideau Canal is the place to be. If you're still in town in the evening you'll want to have a cocktail from The Post Office, located in the newly restored heritage building, the former Canada Post building.
Where to shop: Pop into Willow & Co. for unique homeware, clothing, and snacks. Down the street, Elizabeth Interiors has high end fashions for your home.
Take a hike: Walk over the Bascule Bridge, a national historic site of Canada, to take a closer look and some photographs.

Carleton Place – 40 mins

The inviting main street in Carleton Place is so pleasant for strolling with no agenda on a sunny day. It’s particularly nice for a family outing and a walk down the boardwalk.

Where to eat: For brunch with a South American twist, grab a table at Freska.
Where to shop: The Real Wool Shop is a destination in itself with a mini museum or railway exhibits, not to mention their famous collection of wool products.

Stay longer: The historic Grand Hotel serves as a launch pad for any Carleton Place adventure.

Calabogie – 1 hour

If you want to work up an appetite with a hike to an unforgettable viewpoint, followed by a pint of craft beer and a tasty meal, lace up your hiking boots and head to Calabogie.

Where to eat: The pizzas at Calabogie Brewing Co. are not to be missed, especially when paired with a cold beer.
Take a hike: Opt for one of the quieter trails on Manitou Mountain, like the Skywalk Trail, for an amazing lookout you might even have to yourself.
Stay longer: With so many outdoor activities and restaurants to try in Calabogie, you may want to book a stay at the super-chic Somewhere Inn.

Bonus: Pembroke – 1.5 hours

A little longer in the car but totally worth the drive, Pembroke is one of the destinations near Ottawa that makes for a great road trip. One of the bigger towns in this list (technically a city!), you can easily spend the better part of a day walking around.

Where to eat: Wake up your taste buds with chicken tinga tacos at Nomada Tacos. If it's patio weather, you'll fall in love with the hidden gem of The Courtyard Bistro's delightful patio. 
Where to shop: Set aside some time for browsing the Canadian-made fashion at dot.
Stay longer: Get the full experience at The Grey Gables Inn by booking yourself in for afternoon tea service and then spend the night in a historic accommodation.