Located some 150km north of Toronto’s fringes, the sands of the Southern Georgian Bay are as popular among outdoor sports enthusiasts as they are with Elvis-lovers. In the winter it’s known for ski hills and snowmobile trails. In summer it’s popular for mountain biking, golfing, and swimming at beautiful Wasaga Beach. But what really makes the places unique is the annual Collingwood Elvis Fest.
Yet even if none of these things appeal, there’s lots of other things to see and do en-route to Southern Georgian Bay, which means it’s an enjoyable day trip from Toronto.
From the Toronto Area head northwest along Hwy-50 which heads up to Loretto and the Sheldon Creek Dairy. No, it’s not an ice cream stand in the country. It’s a working dairy farm that’s open to the public. The den Hann family has crafted tours that are educational and interesting and their dairy products are delicious.
Then continue 45 km northwest to the town of Creemore. Yes, the same Creemore as the beer. In fact, one of the highlights of a stop in Creemore is a tour of the craft brewery. Though Molson bought Creemore Springs in 2005, it has maintained its heritage and is still made with spring water from one of the founders’ properties. The tour – and a tasting – takes about an hour, but you’ll leave knowing exactly how hop-y your tastes run.
Besides the brewery, Creemore has cute shops and places to eat. The Mad & Noisy Gallery carries lovely artwork, much of which comes from area artists. Another choice store in town is the Creemore 100 Mile Store. It’s a gourmet food store that specializes in – as you can guess from the name – products from the area.
As you continue north toward Georgian Bay, consider your mood. If you want no more than sand, a swim and a beautiful sunset then head 28 km northeast to Wasaga Beach. Otherwise, head northwest on Hwy-26 to the quaint shops, wineries, golf, and spas around Collingwood and the Blue Mountains.
Wasaga Beach is a beautiful sandy beach that stretches over 14 km (8 miles) along the shore of Nottawasaga Bay, at the southern tip of Georgian Bay. The beach is the longest freshwater beach in the world. Wasaga Beach Provincial Park was the first provincial park in Canada to be awarded Blue Flag beach status, which means it has met strict environmental, educational, access-related criteria. Note that this provincial park is a day-use only park so there’s no camping.
Collingwood is the main town in the area. The main reason people head to Collingwood is for recreational sports activities. One big event every summer, however, is the Collingwood Elvis Festival, which draws more than 30,000 Elvis Presley fans. In the downtown you’ll find some small, locally owned shops and eateries.
The Blue Mountains and town of Thornbury are further west along Hwy-26. The Blue Mountains village, a modern take on a European ski village, offers all sorts of accommodation – from high end hotels to condos. If you’re looking for an authentic European activity go for the baths at the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain. The spa’s woodland setting and no talking policy guarantee serenity and relaxation.
Thornbury has a very small downtown area with a few shops and places to eat or have coffee. The Cheese Gallery, for example, is a nice place to relax and nibble on cheese or other goodies. Thornbury is also a great place to start – or end – an afternoon engaging in one of the other popular activities of the region: on and off-road biking.
Between the Blue Mountains and Thornbury lies something you won’t find a lot of places that are cold enough for skiing: wineries. Yes, though it’s far north, Georgian Hills Vineyards produces some excellent traditional wines (not just icewines!) and is open year-round for tasting and shopping. And if visiting wineries is really your thing, then don’t miss the Coffin Ridge Winery a further 43km northwest along the bay.