While getting to live in a city like Toronto certainly is a gift, there are tons of things locals are missing out on when they choose to stay squarely within the city limits.
Sure, downtown has amazing food, nightlife and activities galore, but residents should also reserve some appreciation for the other gems that are nestled away elsewhere in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
While a vacation is nice, you don’t need to hop on a plane or even drive very far to access some awesome sights and experiences that are right in your backyard — all you’ll need is a reliable set of wheels, such as the Ford Escape, to get you there.
Here are just some of the hidden gems around the GTA that you can enjoy with the help of an Escape, which has available Voice-Activated Touchscreen Navigation to get you there, Selectable Drive Modes for changing terrain, available Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control to make your drive easier, available Active Park Assist 2.0 to help you park, and Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking.
Have some classic Canadian winter fun
Whether you’re a fan of ice skating, tubing, tobogganing or skiing/snowboarding, there are many spots in driving distance from Toronto where you can do it all this winter.
York Region has countless toboggan hills that won’t be as packed or beaten as the ones in the city, and there are some pretty magical skating trails nearby, too.
If you’re into skiing and snowboarding, you don’t have to drive as far as you may think to get some runs in: there’s Dagmar Resort and Lake Ridge Resort in Uxbridge, Glen Eden near Milton, Brimacombe near Oshawa and even Earl Bales Park with its own chairlift in North York.
The Escape is the perfect vehicle for treacherous winter conditions, too, being an SUV with an available all-wheel drive option.
Get in touch with nature and see some spectacular waterfalls
Though Toronto did just get its first snowfall, there is still time before the freeze fully sets in to see some stunning waterfalls, of which there are many just a short drive from the city.
Hamilton in particular is often referred to as the waterfall capital of the world, with Tews Falls, Sherman Falls, Webster’s Falls and Tiffany Falls among the most popular for visiting sightseers and locals alike.
Relax at a Nordic spa
It’s hard to truly relax amid the city bustle, which is why a trip to get treated at a luxury spa in a quieter natural setting is ideal.
There’s the Vettä Nordic Spa in Oro-Medonte, the new Thermëa spa village in Whitby, and if you’re up for a bit of a longer drive, of course, the renowned Scandinave Spa in Blue Mountain.
Pick out the perfect tree for the holidays
Though you can certainly grab a Christmas tree from a handful of stores in the city, there is nothing quite like visiting an actual tree farm, picking out your own glorious tree and cutting it down yourself.
A small drive away is Horton Tree Farms in Aurora and Stouffville, Rinas Christmas Trees in Rockton, and the Clembrook Christmas Farm in Milton, among others, all of which have an array of other wintery things to do, like tobogganing, hayrides, hot chocolate tasting and more.
Plus, the Ford Escape is big enough to handle even the largest tree to get it (and you) home securely.
A visit to see (or stay on) Theodore Tugboat
Theodore Tugboat is an absolute Canadian icon that people of all ages can now visit up close and in-person at Hamilton Harbour.
Not only can you see Theodore, get a photo op with him and chat with his captain, but you can actually book to stay the night in the boat’s cabin — a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A trip to the GTA’s most viral candy store
If you’ve never heard of Tastely Box, it’s an Ontario candy store that has gone absolutely viral on TikTok, where owners showcase their technique for freeze drying and packaging rare and exotic candy into delicious-looking little treat bags.
The Peterborough shop is an absolute dream for anyone with a sweet tooth, and is just one example of a GTA business outside actual Toronto that has been a hit on social media, or is just so well-loved that thousands of people regularly drive from the city to experience it.
Visit the out-of-this-world Cheltenham Badlands
There is no place on earth that will make you feel more like you’re on Mars than the Cheltenham Badlands near Caledon.
The rust-coloured, peculiar-looking mounds go on for hectares and, having once served as the bottom of a sea 450 million years ago, are recognized as a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.
Visiting the site certainly is a distinctively out-of-this-world experience that you will need a car to escape to.
Spend a day in an adorable, historic small town
Southern Ontario is full of charming small towns, whether it’s Aberfoyle and its famous antique market, or historic Galt, which will make you feel like you’re in Europe. (The Handmaid’s Tale was filmed in the latter, too!)
Many of these GTA towns are known for their endearing cafes, delicious restaurants, wineries and breweries, antique and thrift stores, lovely local bookstores and other local shops, and all are just a short drive from downtown Toronto.
Pick your own fruit
There are so many farms that are just a short drive from Toronto where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables, from apples and berries to asparagus and pumpkins, depending on the time of year.
Not only do you get to leave with a haul of fresh, local produce, but it’s a truly fun and unique activity, whether you’re on a date, out with friends or spending the day with family.
Plus, it’s a great way to stay active and enjoy some beautiful rural scenery — and there is usually a shop where you can buy things like jam, cider, pies and more made out of the crop you just picked from!
The GTA’s great selection of sunflower fields, lavender fields and pumpkin patches also make the perfect backdrop for your next Facebook pic, Instagram carousel or Tiktok video in the warmer months.
Go for a hike at Elora Gorge
Elora was named one of the best small towns in Canada, likely for the gorge-ous Elora Gorge, with its breathtaking waterfall.
There are 10 km of hiking trails around with absolutely killer views, as well as sights and activities like the swimming hole and quarry, zip-lining, dog-sledding, snowshoeing and more.