I’m always surprised when I come across a fellow Ontarian who has driven between Kingston to Toronto many times but never stopped in Prince Edward County (PEC). The County, as locals call it, is a large island-like peninsula in Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte with a laid-back, almost hippy, vibe and a soupçon of British Loyalist charm on the side. It’s become a magnet for artists and foodies and about 25,000 people live there. But in summer the population swells due to its 800km of bays and inlets, which make it popular for fishing, boating, birding, and
Following the itinerary below will add about another 100km to your journey between Toronto and Kingston. And, while you could definitely hit the highlights (Picton and Sandbanks) in a day, an overnight stay would be better, though accommodation is limited, so book well in advance if you can.00
Though you can get to Prince Edward County via bridges, one of the most scenic routes to the County is along Hwy-33, also known as the Loyalist Parkway. It’s some 60km long and gets its name from the many United Empire Loyalists (folks who sided with the British in the American Revolution), who later fled to the region and were given land by the British as compensation for property left behind in the U.S..
Traveling Hwy-33 is especially nice in the summer as it leads to the Glenora ferry, a short ferry ride that will help get you into the groove of the county. From the ferry, you can head toward Waupoos and the local foodie center, then into Picton, the largest town, with it’s many browseable shops. They you should be ready for wonder around Sandbanks Provincial Park before heading through the small attractive communities of Bloomfield and Wellington en route back to Hwy-401, the main Toronto-Kingston highway.
Prince Edward County used to have many cheese factories. Two remain and are both worth visiting. Black River Cheese Co., is especially known for their cheese curd, while the Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co., lies out toward Cressy. The county’s oldest – and grandest – winery is about half way between the two: Waupoos Estates Winery. If hard cider’s more your thing, County Cider is also nearby. You can taste different styles of cider and grab a bite on their hill-side deck.
If you enjoy poking around shops, Main Street, Picton is a good starting point. You’ll know when you hit its small, but obvious “downtown.” The best thing to do is park somewhere and meander into shops that appeal: whether it’s kitchen stuff, housewares, books, or antiques, you’re sure to find something interesting. Two little art galleries have especially nice pieces in a good range of prices: the UnGallery and Arts on Main.
When you’re ready for sand between your toes, head to one of the county’s gorgeous beaches. The best-known are at Sandbanks Provincial Park. You’ll find three long beaches that gently slope into Lake Ontario. Sandbanks is also a terrific place to camp. It’s popular though, so be sure to reserve a spot in advance.
Continuing west on the Loyalist Parkway you’ll pass through the villages of Bloomfield and Wellington. They’re smaller than Picton, but both have charm and character. If you’re interested in art studios and galleries, be sure to pick up a copy (or order one on-line) of the Arts Trail guide. Many of them are on or near the Parkway.
If you start your trip in the morning, by the time you get to Bloomfield, you’ll probably be ready for a bite. Both Agrarian Bistro & Speakeasy or Angelines The Hubb are nice for a meal and Saylor House Café is perfect for a sandwich or salad – or tea and something sweet. If you just want something refreshing, try the homemade ice cream at Slickers Ice Cream.
Bloomfield’s Green Gables Gifts and Greetings is the kind of place you can lose yourself in – literally. The front of the store fools you into thinking you’re walking into a quaint little shop. As you make your way from room to room, you realized it’s huge – and easy to get lost in.
En route toward Wellington it’s worth detouring to 66 Gilead Distillery, one of Ontario’s first craft distilleries. In terms of shops, one of the highlights in Wellington is the SideStreet Gallery. The gallery represents a lot of artists and the place is worth a look.
The famous Sandbanks Provincial Park inspired the name of a terrific winery: Sandbanks Estate Winery, which is on the Loyalist Parkway in Wellington. For a small winery (about 5 acres under vine) it produces a wide selection of wines. A personal favorite is their Baco Noir Reserve.
You can also check out North Beach Provincial Park, west of Wellington which is smaller than Sandbanks, but great for picnicking and relaxing.
When you’re ready to continue on to Toronto, the Loyalist Parkway will take you to the swing bridge over the Murray Canal and on the mainland you can quickly scoot up to Hwy-401.