secondary region in Ontario, Canada
North America > Canada > Ontario > Central Ontario

Central Ontario is a traditional lakes-and-mountains getaway for Torontonians and Ottawans.

Regions

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Map of Central Ontario travel regions
  Haliburton Highlands
Less developed region between the Kawarthas, the Muskokas and Algonquin Provincial Park.
  Kawarthas
The Kawartha Lakes cottage country with the Trent Severn Waterway linking them together. If you're not travelling by boat, there are many pretty spots to watch them go by for an hour or a day. The main city is Peterborough, known for the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world.
  Muskoka
A rolling expanse of forest and lake, with rocky inlets and wood-lined shores. Its natural beauty was an early inspiration for Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven painters. Today, it's prime cottage country with expensive waterfront and some multi-million dollar cottages.
  Simcoe County
Spanning from Lake Simcoe to Lake Huron, Simcoe County is a popular area for outdoor activities. The lakes offer beaches and water sport opportunities, while inland, there are some ski resorts. Barrie is the largest city, Collingwood is the gateway to Blue Mountain, the biggest ski area in Ontario, and Wasaga Beach, with its long stretch of sand, is a popular summer destination.

Cities

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  • 1 Barrie — the largest city in the region, and a playground for watersports and boating
  • 2 Bobcaygeon — a pretty tourist village that caters to sport fishers and shoppers
  • 3 Bracebridge — a small town, with some spectacular falls
  • 4 Gravenhurst — the self-proclaimed "Gateway to Muskoka"
  • 5 Huntsville — features a walking tour of 80 outdoor murals that are reproductions of paintings by the Group of Seven, an important early 20th-century group of Canadian artists
  • 6 Midland — home of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, a living history museum
  • 7 Orillia — festivals, museums, and Casino Rama
  • 8 Peterborough — a business, education, cultural, and health care centre
  • 9 Wasaga Beach — the world's longest freshwater beach

Understand

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Island in Muskoka

Central Ontario is home to about 1.1 million permanent residents (2016), but the influx of seasonal residents in the summer pushes the population over 1½ million as people from the Greater Toronto Area, other parts of Ontario, and from the United States come for the region's lakes, camping, and watersports.

Much of Central Ontario is covered by farms, lakes (with freshwater beaches), rivers or sparsely populated forested land on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Shield runs over the northern part of Central Ontario, a recreational area with a much-increased summer-time population, including the wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park. Often referred to as 'Cottage Country', this area's lakes and rivers are dotted with numerous cottages, some of them seasonal, but many are used as year-round residences because of the abundance of outdoor recreation, baby-boom retiree population, increased local services and improved wireless communication.

Along the northern edge of Central Ontario, are some of the highest elevations in Southern Ontario. These highlands are known as the Opeongo Hills, and they stretch into portions of Eastern Ontario as well.

Climate

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Summers are warm and humid (sometimes hot) but are shorter than further south with generally cooler nights. Winters are cold with significant snowfalls; some snowbelt areas receive an average of over 300 cm (120 in) per year. Severe summer storms are also commonplace, particularly in Simcoe County which for Ontario has a high tornado prevalence.

Get in

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By plane

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The main point of access by air is Toronto Pearson Airport to the south of the region. It is Canada's busiest international airport, with flights to all inhabited continents. Ottawa, a bit further away, has a smaller international airport.

Muskoka Airport (YQA IATA), between Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, gets flights from Toronto in the summer only.

By bus

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Ontario Northland offers service along Highways 11 and 69. GO Transit reaches Barrie and Peterborough in the southern parts of the region.

By car

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From Toronto, Highway 400 provides the main access to the western part of the region, while the eastern part is usually accessed from Highways 35 and 115 running north from Highway 401. Parts of Highways 7, 12, and the 400 form part of the Trans-Canada Highway system in this part Ontario. Major routes include:

  Highway 400 ("the 400") - a high-speed freeway running north from Toronto to Parry Sound, along the west Lake Huron shore through Simcoe and Muskoka via Barrie. It connects with Hwys 401 and 407 in the Greater Toronto Area, making it the primary route for traffic from Southern Ontario to the north. Cottage traffic from Toronto usually changes to Hwy 11 in Barrie to continue northbound for direct access to Muskoka's most popular towns.

  Highway 7 - runs east-west through the Kawarthas, through Peterborough and Lindsay. It connects to Highway 12 in Durham Region.

  Highway 11 - the primary north-south corridor through cottage country in Simcoe and Muskoka, from Barrie, through Orillia, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville. It continues onward to North Bay and beyond through Northern Ontario.

  Highway 12 - from Hwy 7 in Durham, northwest to Midland via Orillia, where it connects with Hwy 11.

  Highway 26 - east-west through Simcoe, from Owen Sound via Collingwood to Barrie, where it connects with Hwys 11 and 400.

  Highway 28 - northeast from Peterborough through the Kawarthas to Bancroft, in the Ottawa Valley.

  Highway 35 - the primary north-south route through the Kawarthas and Haliburton Highlands, meandering north from the 401 in Clarington to Hwy 60 in Lake of Bays, via Lindsay and Fenelon Falls.

  Highway 60 - an east-west route from Renfrew in the Ottawa Valley, to Huntsville via Lake of Bays. East of Huntsville, it is the only developed corridor through Algonquin Provincial Park.

Get around

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By boat

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The Trent-Severn Waterway, constructed in the mid-19th century, spans Central Ontario via a series of boat locks, connecting Georgian Bay with Lake Ontario, entering the bay at Port Severn and Lake Ontario at the Trent River on the Bay of Quinte at Trenton (access to Lake Ontario also can be had by using the Murray Canal). Bypassing many rapids, this waterway is used by pleasure boaters and anglers during the summer months.

By car

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Distances between towns can be long as roads often have to wind their way around lakes and bays, but there are many service stations along the way, not to mention beautiful views.

By bus

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Bus service between towns is not frequent as it is primarily only along the long-distance routes operated by the companies listed under "Get in". You'll pretty much need your own vehicle or a bike.

 
"Sleep of the Huntress" by Doug Stephens

The Haliburton Sculpture Forest near the village of Haliburton is a unique outdoor collection of sculptures by Canadian and international artists. The Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery near Huntsville is an outdoor trail that features over 90 mural replicas showcasing the works of the Group of Seven painters who were importantly 20th-century Canadian artists.

The Lady Muskoka Steamship offers 2-3 hour cruises on the lakes, lunch cruises, dinner cruises from Bracebridge in the summer. Muskoka Steamships in Gravenhurst offers boat cruises lasting from an hour to a full day on 3 connecting lakes. Vessels include the coal-fired steamship RMS Segwun built in 1887.

 
Burleigh Falls, Haliburton

Central Ontario is all about the outdoors: boating, camping, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling....

Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve has activities year-round: hiking, canopy tours, lake trout fishing, ice-fishing and dog-sledding in winter, camping.

Haliburton Highlands Water Trails wind through 28,000 hectares of provincial and municipal public lands comprised of countless lakes, rivers, trails and continuous forest.

Haliburton Rail Trail offers 36 km of multi-use trail for bicycling, walking, snowmobiling between Kinmount and Haliburton. The Victoria Rail Trail is a 55-km trail that stretches from Lindsay 22 km through Cameron to Fenelon Falls, then 33 km to Kinmount. The trail is used year-round for hiking, horseback riding, cycling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

Ken Reid Conservation Area, near Lindsay, offers nature & wildlife areas, loop trails through forests, meadows, and wetlands. Algonquin Provincial Park, east of Huntsville, offers spectacular hiking, canoeing and camping in a vast and beautiful park that is almost three times the size of Luxembourg.

 
Wasaga Beach

Renting a houseboat is a popular way of seeing the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Kawartha lakes. The season typically runs from mid-May to mid-October (when you may get to see the beginnings of the autumn colours).

Wasaga Beach Provincial Park offers the world's longest freshwater beach: 18 km of white sand.

Stay safe

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Go next

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This region travel guide to Central Ontario is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.