Grab a paddle; it’s time to cast off and enjoy the peaceful pace of the Grand River through a lovely paddling trip. Take advantage of the Brant Blue Canoe Experience when you book an adventure through a Brant County outfitter and receive tokens to use in Paris, St. George, Glen Morris and more. Turn your paddling adventure into a small-town experience with this ultimate guide of the best things to do in Paris, Ontario and Brant County.
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This post was sponsored by Brant County Tourism, Heart of Ontario and the Brant Blue Canoe. As always, all opinions are my own.
I’ve lived on the Grand River for 98.5% of my life, yet I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been on the water either in a boat, sail, canoe or stand-up paddleboard. That clearly had to change.
The Grand River is a peaceful river that flows 280 kilometres from Grey County to Lake Erie. It’s one of the largest rivers in Ontario, and nearly one million people live in the watershed. Because of its ease of access, calm current and wide track, the Grand is perfect for all sorts of paddlers.
Where is Brant County?
The Grand River meanders through Brant County, a rural municipality located in southwestern Ontario. Brant is made up of small towns like charming Paris, St. George, Burford, Glen Morris, Mount Pleasant and more. Paris is only 40 minutes from Hamilton and an hour from London, making it perfect for a day trip from the city!
Tell me more about Paris, Ontario!
Paris, Ontario is indirectly named after Paris, France. It was named for the gypsum deposits that were found here. Gypsum is a mineral used in plaster and because of the mines near Paris, France, and its common use in buildings, the mineral became known as the Plaster of Paris. So, that’s how the Forks of the Grand became Paris, Ontario.
Paris is also where the Nith River meets the Grand River, so you get this cool historic area since there were so many mills and ruins. If you walk down the streets, you’ll see all the heritage homes that were lovingly restored.
Paris is known for its incredible art scene and delicious restaurants, and the surrounding Brant County is the perfect place for a rural escape. From the rolling hills to the small towns to the outdoor adventures like canoeing and kayaking, Paris and Brant County have it all.
Insider tip: There is a small pullout on King Edward Street that gives you an amazing lookout over the town of Paris. You can see the Grand River, the rail line and the tops of the historic downtown buildings.
Take advantage of the Brant Blue Canoe
What is the Brant Blue Canoe Experience? Basically, if you book an outdoor adventure with one of the two local outfitters, you receive two tokens to use at the participating restaurants, shops, and art galleries in Brant County.
The tokens are valid until April 30, 2020, (which makes it perfect for Christmas shopping) and you can find the whole list of the participating vendors here!
The stretch of Grand River between Glen Morris and Brantford seems to be the most idyllic for all sorts of paddlers. Here you’ll find mill ruins, wildlife and beautiful vistas. This part of the Grand River goes through the Canadian portion of the Carolinian Forest, an area known for its predominance of deciduous trees like birch, oak, hickory and more.
Choose your Grand River adventure
There are two awesome rafting companies that you can choose for a paddling trip down the Grand River: Grand River Rafting and Grand Experiences.
Grand River Rafting started in 2006 with four rafts and have grown to host over 40,000 people in 2018. With Grand River Rafting, there are three routes you can go on:
- A 17.5km trip from Cambridge to Paris for intermediate/ experienced paddlers;
- An 11.5km trip from Glen Morris to Paris for beginners to experienced paddlers; and
- A 13km Paris to Brant Park trip for beginners to experienced paddlers.
Grand River Rafting also offers a slew of rafts to choose from, like the eight-person rafts, eight-person stand-up paddleboards, turbo rafts, tandem kayaks along with all the regular types of rafts.
Grand River Rafting ranks in the top 2% out of 1,700 outdoor adventures in Ontario.
Not to be outdone, Grand Experiences has won over a dozen awards for their incredible selection of outdoor adventures from hiking to biking to paddling.
They, too, offer guided and self-guided trips along the Grand River. One of the coolest trips they offer is the Voyage of the Iroquois five-hour guided paddling and hiking trip on the Grand River on their 12-person voyager canoe. It’s an Indigenous-focused trip to help you learn about the natural and human history of the area. You can find out more about that trip here.
Choosing the outfitter is really up to you. Both are incredibly well-versed in their field and have many five-star reviews.
I chose to take a turbo raft trip from Glen Morris to Paris, as I don’t have a tonne of experience paddling and two other friends recommended the experience to me.
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Paddle the Grand River from Glen Morris to Paris
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve lived on the Grand River most of my life, so I was incredibly eager to get out on the water and paddle. The trip from Glen Morris to Paris took about four hours with a 30-minute lunch break and getting stuck in the shallows a couple of times. The Grand River flow rates change drastically throughout the year, and later in the summer means lower flow rates, which means you go a lot slower.
And that was perfectly fine with me. The current kept you moving, with some spots were faster than others. There were at least seven swifts and rapids on the route. Now, that got me a bit nervous, because what do I know about navigating rapids? But, it was so easy. The rapids are not what you see when you go whitewater rafting, they were small “lumps” in the water that you could go over without breaking a sweat.
The worst problem was getting stuck on the rocks at these rapids because the Grand River is not very deep in this area. But with a little wiggling and shuffling, we broke free.
The turbo rafts
I really enjoyed the turbo rafts, it’s like a mix between a kayak and a dingy. It had a backrest and an elevated seat and lots of room for your legs and your dry bag. However, they have absolutely no control. If you stop paddling, you will immediately go in circles.
The turbo rafts were very comfortable and I felt super safe as we were not going to tip or sink. They are perfect for beginner paddlers.
What can you see along the way?
Some of the cool things to see along the way include the German Woollen Mill, which you can see pretty well from the water, the Glen Morris Road Bridge, a natural spring that you can drink from, and the “Three Sisters,” three stone pillars that are remnants of an old train bridge.
About halfway along the trip, you’ll come across Norm’s Island, which has a picnic table and a small fire pit. It is the perfect place for lunch!
There is one section called “The Shallows” where you might need to get out of the boat. It’s only ankle deep, so we got stuck for a good five minutes before we gave up and got out.
It was a phenomenal experience and I can’t wait to go again next summer.
What to bring paddling?
You get a raft, paddle, life jacket, dry bag and map when you get to the starting point of your journey, but there are a couple of other things you want to bring too.
A dry bag – I went with a friend and we each had one. I brought my camera (Nerve-wracking I know!) so I wanted to bring an extra dry bag, just for that. But it’s also helpful if you want to access your lip balm and you don’t have to call your paddle partner over to get it.
A water bottle – preferably one that is heavy so it doesn’t fly out of the raft. I like my insulated Bubba water bottle. It keeps everything nice and cold for days.
A whistle – for safety reasons. You can just clip it onto your lifejacket.
A hat and sunglasses – the hat will keep the sun off your forehead and the sunglasses are needed for the glare off the water.
Lip balm and sunscreen – protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays!
Water shoes – the bottom of the Grand is rocky and slippery. A good pair of water shoes will help you navigate the shoreline and the shallows.
Bathing suit – You will 100% get wet, from the splashes of the paddles to taking in water from the rapids to getting in and out of the raft. So a bathing suit is necessary.
Clothes you don’t mind getting wet – Seriously, you will get wet. Not just like, oh no my feet are wet kind of wet – but you’re entire bottom half and halfway up your back kind of wet. A quick-drying top, like a rash guard, will be perfect and a pair of workout tights will be your best bet.
Watertight cooler with snacks – we had a hard-lined cooler, which helped us keep the food dry, but you could think about putting the food into a dry bag to keep it dry too. You are going to be using a lot of energy, so make sure to bring some snacks. We brought jerky and those tuna snacks you can get for lunches along with carrots and real-fruit gummies.
Where to eat in Brant County
After working up a sweat paddling on the Grand River, gather up your Blue Canoe Tokens and head out on the town. You’ll find some of the best dining experiences in Paris, but don’t forget to venture out into the rest of the county for some other delicious stops. Here are the best places to eat in Paris, Ontario and surrounding Brant County.
Juniper Dining Co, Paris
Juniper Dining Co is a French fine-dining restaurant without the pomp and circumstance. Yes, there’s white tablecloths and extravagant dishes, but it’s also laid back and casual. Try their seasonal dishes and cocktails!
Paris Surf, Paris (Blue Canoe)
Is it a store? Is it a surf shop? Do they sell seafood? Nope x3. Paris Surf is one of the best pizza joints in the county. Come for the pizza (made to order by hand in a big woodfire stove) and stay for the decor. Inside feels like a mix of California dreams and rustic lodge.
The shop was started by Chip Foster, one of the twin brothers known for their 90s-famous Chip & Pepper California apparel. Paris Surf is part of the Blue Canoe, so if you want to use your token here, you’ll get 15% off your food total.
The Cedar House Grill and Martini Bar, Paris
This establishment is known for its special take on comfort food, craft beer and live music. There are two floors of seating inside, with a fun bar up top and a great outdoor patio to soak up the sunshine.
Stillwaters Plate and Pour, Paris
With a view that can’t be beat, Stillwaters and its rooftop patio is the perfect place to enjoy a delicious market-fresh meal while taking in the gorgeous Grand River. You can enjoy lunch or dinner here, and it’s even open on Sunday for a brunch buffet.
NY Midtown Kitchen, Paris (Blue Canoe)
This artisanal New York-style deli and coffee bar is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat. From their fresh sandwiches to hand-made pizzas, to their roasted coffee, they’ve got it all! Including a patio overlooking the Grand River.
NY Midtown Kitchen is part of the Blue Canoe, so if you want to use your token here, you’ll get 25% off any beverage purchase.
Trattoria at Midtown, Paris
If you’re in the mood for something a little fancier, try Trattoria at Midtown, an Italian restaurant, situated right on the Grand River. The restaurant is set in a cellar-like atmosphere and is open just for dinner. They even have a river-side patio.
Cobblestone Public House, Paris
The Cobblestone Public House has classic British pub fare using fresh and local ingredients. Enjoy a night out with friends at this comfortable and cozy pub.
Devlin’s Country Bistro and Catering, Mount Pleasant
Devlin’s describes themselves as “upscale contemporary dining with continental cuisine.” They truly have some out-of-this-world dishes on the menu. And they even have oysters! Located in an old general store, post office and residence, the restaurant is one of the surviving heritage structures in Mount Pleasant.
Drongkowski’s Farm Market and Deli, St. George (Blue Canoe)
This deli is known for their locally-sourced, handmade small-batch dishes with farm-raised meats and cheeses. They’ve got delicious Charcuterie boards and fresh sandwiches. You can get made-to-order or try one of their prepared take-home meals.
Drongkowski’s Farm Market and Deli is part of the Blue Canoe, so if you want to use your token here, you’ll get $1 off any full-size sandwich.
La Cantinella, St. George
La Cantinella is a classic Italian restaurant located in the heart of St. George. The cozy atmosphere comes from the rustic 190-year-old inn where the restaurant is now. All the dishes are fresh, using local ingredients and prepared with recipes passed down over generations. Don’t miss their little garden patio!
Abigail’s Tea House, St. George
Situated in an old bank, Abigail’s Tea House has completely transformed the inside into an oasis for tea lovers. From their plush pink chairs to their peacock-laden wallpaper, the lovely tea room is perfect for High Tea. They even have teas from all over the world, but their most popular is their house blend, Abigail’s Raspberry Cream Earl Grey. It’s definitely one of the most delicious blends I’ve tried.
Tansley Coffee Emporium, St. George
Want to try some of the best apple fritters you’ve ever tasted? Then look no further than Tansley Coffee Emporium in St. George. They are a cafe, which serves soups, salads, sandwiches, coffee and more, during the day and a whisky bar at night where you’ll find karaoke and comedy night entertainment.
Try a Food Tour Experience in Brant County
Above I’ve listed many food options for you to choose from! Too many if you’re staying for a paddle or a weekend! But the best way to experience multiple food stops while learning about a beautiful county is to take a Tasty Road Trips food tour experience.
Tasty Road Trips is run by Spicy Jan, a lovely, spunky woman who is conquering the local food scene. She truly knows everything and everyone in Paris and Brant County. I was lucky enough to be invited on not one but two of her tours, and they are seriously out of this world.
What I love most about Tasty Road Trips is that it’s not all about food. Yes, you get to wander around and taste everything special about Paris and Brant County, but you also get to meet the people behind the food and learn about the history of the area.
Spicy Jan has a passion for food and community, which comes through at every stop. Her tours are one of my favourite things to do in Paris, Ontario.
Taste of Paris walking food tour
On the Taste of Paris walking food tour, you’ll wander for three hours around Paris, stopping at places like the Wincey Mills, Paris Bakery, The Cedar House and Juniper, as well as non-food related stops like Wabisabi Crystals and the Bohemian Gallery.
My favourite stop was outside the Paris Bakery where Spicy Jan told us that this location was where Alexander Graham Bell, a Brantford resident who invented the telephone, called from his home in Brantford to make the first long-distance call on August 10, 1876. Then, of course, we dined on mouth-watering chocolate-covered croissants from the Paris Bakery.
I expected to eat until I was full, but that is not the case. It was perfectly balanced with walking, eating and exploring. Tasty Road Trips is more than a food tour; it’s a food and culture experience. I would have never explored half the things that she took us too on my own. Nor would I have learned so much about the people behind the food, living their passion project.
Sips and Eats road trip
On the Sips and Eats Road Trip, you’ll be hitting the road for about five hours hopping from place to place in Brant County. You’ll start with some dessert at La Chocolat, right in Brantford, and then head over to Mercasa, a delicious grab-and-go Italian pizzeria/ deli.
Next, you head out of the city to Steel Wheel Brewery to sample a flight of craft brews before heading off to explore St. George. Here, you get to live the good life at Abigail’s Tea House before picking up a special charcuterie board from Drongkowski’s Farm Market and Deli. Dine on the meat and cheese board at Barlow Creek Studio and Mercantile, a vintage store just outside the county.
Then you’ll hop back over to St. George to visit Brantview Farms and Howell Road Cidery, where you can sample apple jams, jellies, mustards, apple doughnuts and different flavours of Howell Road’s delicious handcrafted cider.
You’ll end the tour with a cheese and wine pairing at the beautiful Juniper Dining Co. Delicious!
Consider taking a food tour to experience the sensational food scene that is in Paris and Brant County. Plus, you can use your Blue Canoe token with Spicy Jan’s Tasty Road Trips, meaning you’ll get 10% off each regularly priced tour.
Where to shop in Brant County
Some of the best things to do in Paris and Brant County are to peruse the shops that are located in the quaint downtowns. This is where the charm of one-of-a-kind shops located in heritage buildings all comes together.
Piper and Oak, Paris
This lovely home decor shop is perfect if you’re style is bohemian, modern chic. Seriously, I could buy the whole store and re-decorate my entire apartment. They’ve got everything from small gifts to large furniture.
Chocolate Sensations, Paris
Get your taste buds ready, because you’ll want to try it all at Chocolate Sensations in Paris. From your run-of-the-mill chocolate to hand-crafted chocolate truffles and delights, this shop has it all. Plus it smells like warm chocolate as soon as you walk in the doors. They also have ice cream for when it’s too hot outside.
Paris Bakery, Paris (Blue Canoe)
What’s better than freshly baked bread, sweet cookies or homemade doughnuts? Nothing. And the Paris Bakery does it all. The bakers are in every morning making all these fabulous treats, and they often sell out, so you’ll want to pre-order or go with an open mind and see what they have left when you get there.
Buy one doughnut and get the second free if you want to use your Blue Canoe Token here.
The Artisans’ Collective, Paris (Blue Canoe)
Artists flock to Paris, and it’s easy to see why! It’s such a picturesque town, and with the two rivers, it can be so peaceful. You have to take a look inside the Artisan’s Collective. This shop is really neat because it showcases art and curated items from more than 40 independent local artists.
Plus, if you want to use your Blue Canoe Token here, you’ll get a free item! How awesome is that?
Flashback Consignment, Paris
Flashback Consignment is probably one of the coolest vintage/ second-hand stores I’ve ever seen. They’ve got everything you can think of from gently used clothing to artwork to vintage typewriters, all for an amazing price. Spicy Jan got an original Holly O. (who is a famous artist from Paris, Ontario) art piece while she was perusing here.
The Paris Bohemian Gallery, Paris
Another dazzling stop in downtown Paris is the Paris Bohemian Gallery. This funky little art gallery has works from local artists in every medium.
I’m a huge fan of some of the landscapes that are hanging here. It’s a must-see.
Wincey Mills, Paris (Blue Canoe)
If you only stop at one place in Paris, make sure it’s the Wincey Mills. The Paris Wincey Mills is a historic woollen mill that employed a lot of people in its heyday and persevered through the Great Depression and both World Wars.
Today, the Mills has been transformed into an open market. Vendors have permanent booths set up inside on the main floor while officers are on the top and lower levels.
It almost feels like you’re going back in time to when markets were similar to the set up in the Wincey Mills, but the stores themselves are much more modern. You’ll find a butcher and a seafood shop alongside the Olive Oil Company, Blue Dog Cafe and more. There’s also Bird and Bee Vintage Rental Company and the Paris Apothecary. Seriously, there is so much to see.
Plus, with your Blue Canoe token, you’ll receive 10% off counter purchases at Blue Dog Cafe, $1 off any size smoothie at Silverstone Energy Bar, 15% off all products at the Paris Apothecary, $5 off felted market bags at the Office Gallery, or buy three get the fourth free at Original Gourmet Popcorn.
Windmill Country Market, Mount Pleasant
Another perfect place to stop in Brant County is the Windmill Country Market in Mount Pleasant. This charming market literally has a windmill attached to it and offers visitors a unique way to spend their time. From their country kitchen restaurant to a fresh deli and bakery, they also have gifts, furniture and grocery items.
Classic Vault Emporium, St. George
Another vintage shop in Brant County is the Classic Vault Emporium. They’ve got everything from antique furniture to classic children’s toys to fun decorative signs. Pop in when you’re strolling the streets of St. George.
Painted Out Inc, St. George
This cute little shop showcases some of the best up-cycled furniture in town. Not only do they have chalk-painted furniture for sale, but they also have workshops available for you to do it yourself! It’s worth taking a look, especially if you’re in the market for a new piece for your home.
Where to stay in Paris, Ontario
While Brant County has several Bed and Breakfast-type places to stay, there are two in Paris that are part of the Blue Canoe.
Arlington Hotel, Paris (Blue Canoe)
The Arlington Hotel is probably the most famous place to stay in Paris, Ontario. Not only is it the only hotel in Paris, but it’s also got a fascinating history!
This historical boutique hotel has been an important site in downtown Paris since it was built in the 1850s. Today, the Arlington is a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind hotel. Each of the 23 rooms has a literary theme, and are decorated to suit. Listen to some of the hotel room names: Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Agatha Christie, Brother Grimm, Emily Dickinson, J.R.R. Tolkien, and so many more. And it’s not just historical authors either; there is a Stan Lee room, a Dr. Seuss room, a Leonard Cohen room and more!
Attached to the hotel is Edit, a cozy dining restaurant that has a menu that changes almost every night based on what’s fresh!
The Arlington also has two private bars, the 1851 Public House and the Library Bar, that are open only for private events. A Blue Canoe token gets you $20 off room rate and free dessert at Edit.
Little Paris Bed and Breakfast, Paris (Blue Canoe)
If a Bed and Breakfast is more your style, then look no further than Little Paris B&B. Located in a 100+-year-old home, the Little Paris B&B is perfect for those looking to get away. They even have single rooms for the solo traveller!
And, of course, you’ve got to stay for breakfast! A Blue Canoe token gets you a free breakfast upgrade.
Where to get out in nature in Paris and Brant County
If you haven’t got your fill of nature while paddling down the Grand River then here are some other options for you to explore the wilder side of Paris and surrounding Brant County. Did you know there are 47 parks in Brant County? That’s a lot to choose from! Let’s start with some of my favourites.
Lions Park, Paris
Passed the Wincey Mills in Paris, you’ll come to a little garden path that leads over a bridge that crosses the Nith River. On the other side is Lions Park. This riverside park has an amphitheatre where they put on music events throughout the summer. They also have a splash pad, pool, baseball diamond, picnic area, outdoor fitness equipment and trails! This little park seems not so little with all the amazing things to do here.
Barker’s Bush, Paris
Barker’s Bush is a forested area that is located right outside the downtown. Park along Broadway Street West and walk down an easy trail to a bridge that crosses the Nith River. There are plenty of trails that weave through this area.
Penman’s Dam, Paris
The Penman’s Dam Park in Paris is a little park that sits beside the Penman Dam, which was built in 1918 to help run a textile mill. Today, the water runs over what remains of the dam and mill and is lit up at night. If you are continuing on your journey to Brantford, then this is where you can launch your canoe or kayak.
The Shoe Tree, Paris
It’s not so much a natural area, as it is a funky road-side stop. The Shoe Tree is located just outside Paris on Green Lane. What is it exactly? It’s a dead tree that is covered in shoes! Yup, actual shoes. While a Brantford women started this particular one, the phenomenon of nailing shoes to trees is a bit of a mystery. Get out and snap a photo so you can say that you pulled over for this!
Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area, Glen Morris
Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area is located just north of Glen Morris in Brant County. It’s open year-round for fishing, paddling and hiking and you can camp from May to October. The kettle lake in the middle of the conservation area is perfect for non-motorized boats, and there are 10 kilometres of trails within the park.
Mount Pleasant Nature Park, Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant Nature Park is a scenic area in the village of Mount Pleasant. It was a historic fish hatchery that was turned into a lovely area to walk. The ponds are still stocked, so grab your fishing gear and drop a line.
Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail, Brant
The Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail is an 18km trail that was an old train rail track running from Cambridge to Paris, Ontario. Today you can hop on the easy, flat trail at 210 Water Street in Cambridge, the parking area at the end of Forbes Street in Glen Morris or the parking lot trailhead on Willow Street in Paris.
Along the way, make sure to stop at the Murray Overlook, near where an old stone bridge was taken down, and a couple of vista points that overlook the Grand River.
You can check out more trails on the Brant County/ Brantford Outdoor Adventure Map.
Apps Mills Nature Centre, Brant
A completely hidden gem to those that live outside of Brantford and Brant County is Apps Mills Nature Centre, located between Paris and Burford. The 100-hectare forest surrounds Whitemans Creek, where an old flour mill and mill race used to be. There are several short and long trails that weave through the forest and over the creeks.
Visit historic sites in Brant County
Paris and Brant County are filled with rich history. If you’re headed to the area, then read on about some of the historical sites to visit in Brant County.
Asa Wolverton House, Paris
This pink house, with colonial-style columns, is a historic site. Asa Wolverton, who was from New York, settled in Paris in 1832, where he became a lumber dealer and prosperous businessman in the area. He built this residence in 1851 in a way that was popular in New England but rarely seen in Upper Canada.
The Asa Wolverton House is now a bed and breakfast!
The Cobblestone buildings, Paris
The cobblestone buildings are scattered among Paris. In fact, Paris is known as the cobblestone capital of Canada for its abundance of buildings that used cobblestone in its construction. The Paris Museum, Archives and Historical Society has a cobblestone self-guided tour, where you can learn about the different cobblestone structures in Paris, like the Norman Hamilton home.
German Woollen Mill Ruins, Glen Morris
The old German Woollen Mill Ruins are located on GRCA property. You can technically get to them by the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail, but there is a fence and a giant no-trespassing sign around the property. However, the best way to view the ruins is from the water. It’s one of the stops you can make on the Glen Morris to Paris paddling trip.
Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead National Historic Site, St. George
This national historic site is dedicated to Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, a relatively unknown yet important Canadian woman. The Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada runs the homestead. Adelaide fought for more education for girls and is credited as a co-founder for Women’s Institute, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON).
The homestead is open by appointment only or during their regular events.
The Ultimate Guide to Paris, Ontario and Brant County
So there you are, the ultimate guide to best things to do in Paris Ontario and Brant County. If you’re up for an adventure, then taking a paddle down the Grand River is the perfect way to spend the day, plus you’ll get Blue Canoe Tokens to use in shops, restaurants and galleries in Brant County! Whether you’re here for the culinary delights or the outdoor adventures, you’ll be sure to find Good Times in Brant.