Welcome to Ontario’s Garden, aka, Norfolk County. This lovely slice of southwestern Ontario is home to productive farmland, expansive Carolinian forest and a long stretch of Lake Erie beach. From the charming beachside towns to the beautiful vineyards, there are so many relaxing things to do in Norfolk County.
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If you had to sum up Norfolk County in three words, I’d choose flavour, adventure and beach. “Flavour” because of the extensive fruits and veggies grown here. “Adventure” for Norfolk County’s exciting places to paddle, camp, hike and more. And “beach” for the beaches that shape the shallow shoreline of Lake Erie.
About Norfolk County
Norfolk County, located west of Niagara Falls and east of London, is a popular spot for beach-goers and birders, with the shallow beaches and sand dunes being the perfect habitat for both. The county is known as Ontario’s Garden since it supplies more fruits and vegetables to Canadians than anywhere else in the country. The microclimate here is excellent for growing wine too.
Towns in Norfolk County
Norfolk County is made up of several small towns, including Simcoe (the largest), Port Dover, Turkey Point, Long Point, Waterford, Delhi, Port Rowan, and so many more. The shoreline of Norfolk County is known as part of Ontario’s South Coast, which runs along the northern shore of Lake Erie from Amherstburg to Fort Erie.
Where to stay
When you’re planning your adventure in Norfolk County, you might think of staying in one of the many motels or BnBs in the county. It’s not a bad idea, and there are so many awesome places to stay. Here are a few “out of the box” accommodation ideas to add a little spice to your time in Norfolk County.
Long Point Eco-Adventures Resort: Get adventurous at Long Point Eco-Adventures Resort, which has several accommodation options, including glamping suites, camping pods, and a marsh cabin.
Camping spots in Norfolk County: If you want to camp in a tent of an RV, you can pull into Sand Hill Park, this cool spot in the western edge of Norfolk County with giant sand dunes and lovely views. You can also camp at Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park and Woodland RV Park.
Homestead Cabin: If you’ve wanted to feel a little like a pioneer, but with modern amenities, this Homestead Cabin near Langton is perfect for you and your significant other. One bed, one bath and a whole lot of forest!
Homegrown Hideaway: Nestled in the wood is this perfect little glamping set up near Lynn Valley. Homegrown Hideaway has everything you need, like a bed and a bathroom and the ideal place to wake up at sunrise.
Hide-A-Way Hills Tiny Home: Waking up surrounded by trees? Check. Luxury glamping experience? Check. Thousands of acres of forest? Check! Hide-A-Way Hills luxury tiny home is the perfect getaway in Norfolk County.
Orange Crush retro camper: Have you always wanted to go camping in the 70s? Well, this Orange Crush 1976 Boler Camper is the cutest place to stay. It’s surprisingly modern inside! You’ll need a car with a hitch to take it to the place you want to camp overnight, but it’s such a fun way to stay.
Port Dover Houseboat: Okay, staying on the beach is overrated when you can stay ON THE WATER in this epic houseboat in Port Dover. This Port Dover Houseboat is perfect for two who just want to relax in Norfolk County.
Long Point World Biosphere
Did you know? A portion of Norfolk County is part of the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, which is a UNESCO recognized ecosystem designated in 1986 as an example of the Great Lakes coastal ecosystem. This rare part of the world consists of long, interrupted beaches, undisturbed sand dunes, grassy ridges, marshes and wetlands, streams and Carolinian Forest.
The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve is a world-renowned stop for migrating birds in the spring and fall, as well as all the fish and marshland animals that call this place home.
Relaxing things to do in Norfolk County
Alright, now that we covered everything you need to know about Norfolk County, it’s time to dive into the best things to do in Norfolk County!
(NOTE: Some beaches, museums and businesses may be closed in the area, please make sure you check the location before you head out.)
Soak in the sun at the beach
Norfolk County is known for its beaches, sand dunes and shallow waters, that’s why going to the beach is one of the best things to do in Norfolk County. Here are a few places to enjoy a great beach read:
Long Point Provincial Park Beach
Soak in the sun and enjoy this beach located inside Long Point Provincial Park, where you’ll find vast stretches of soft sand. There’s a day-use area and beaches near the Monarch’s Rest and Turtle Dunes Campground.
Long Point Provincial Park is unique because it stretches 40 kilometres from the shore out into Lake Erie. It’s home to millions of migrating birds, and it’s recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Sand Hill Park
Come see some of the largest sand dunes in southern Ontario at Sand Hill Park, a private campground along the shores of Lake Erie. Standing 450 feet tall, the sand dunes are surrounded by an even larger sand beach. This place is perfect for a family getaway.
Turkey Point Provincial Park
This shallow beach is perfect for any swimmer. While the beach is part of the Provincial Park, on the other side of the road is the village of Turkey Point, so you’re never far from an ice cream cone! This beach stretches 2kms along the shore of Lake Erie. They even have a buoy line to keep swimmers and boaters at a safe distance from each other.
You’ll even be able to find rentals for water sports, including jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards and more.
Feel like you’re walking the sands of the Caribbean in southern Ontario at Port Dover Beach, palm trees included. This scenic beach and pier are busy on summer weekends, but you can still catch the waves or take a stroll through this lovely beachside town.
Toast to the Coast in Norfolk’s wineries
When you think of the wine regions of Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Prince Edward County come to mind. Well, Norfolk County is an emerging region in the Ontario Wine world. Because of its fertile farmland, and the weather pattern, this area is a hardy place for growing grapes. In fact, touring the wineries in the area is one of the best things to do in Norfolk County.
Take a self-guided tour with your pup at the Hounds of Erie Winery
I was so excited to be invited to the Hounds of Erie Winery for a couple of reasons. This first half of 2020 hasn’t boded well for small local businesses, and I love to help out where I can. Hounds of Erie Winery quickly realized they could be a refuge for people to take their dogs, get some exercise and taste good wine and cider.
This boutique winery and cidery located near Clear Creek is one of the stops on the Toast the Coast Trail, and it’s dog friendly! All their ciders are based on dogs or have dog-inspired names, which I love.
Hounds of Erie Cider
I am a huge fan of cider. It’s my beverage of choice, especially in summer and fall. I’m on a mission to try as many Ontario ciders as I can, so I was delighted when Hounds of Erie invited me to try their award-winning cider.
They have a great selection, from their perfectly crisp Top Dog to their lightly sweet Best in Show, to their hoppy Dog House and the fresh raspberry blend Sassy Bitch.
Their ciders have done well in competitions, with Top Dog, Dog House and Best in Show all taking first place in the Ontario Craft Cider competition.
Hounds of Erie also makes wines, they are a winery after all. Their Fox and the Hound is a full-bodied Marquette blend; their Hound and the Hare is a medium-bodied white wine with citrus, pineapple and mango aromas. Their newest wine is a raspberry wine, which is slightly sweet and tart. Perfect for a summer’s day.
Lastly, Hounds of Erie also makes sweet wildflower honey right on their farm. It’s like a perfect harmony of apples, grapes, farm animals, dogs and bees and I. Love. It.
The self-guided tour
To take a self-guided tour, you need to pre-book the tour. Tours are for up to five people and as many dogs as you like. It’s completely free, and when you book, you’re sent a map of the grounds and a link to each guided video that correlates with each map stop. (I suggest downloading them or pre-loading them since the cell service isn’t that great out there!)
When you arrive at the Hounds of Erie winery, purchase a cider or wine at the tasting bar and patio for sipping during your tour. (This is optional, but makes the whole experience just that much better.) To the side of the bar, you’ll be at your first stop. Play the first video, then get going and enjoy the tour!
The tour will take you through the orchards for their cider, and the vineyards for their wine and other exciting points around the property. It takes about 30 minutes to roam the grounds, and you can let your pup out and explore too.
Toast the Coast trail
Hounds of Erie isn’t the only winery/cidery on the Lake Erie coast. In fact, there are 13 other breweries, wineries or cideries in Norfolk and three more in the neighbouring Elgin County. The Toast the Coast Trail, led by the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association, takes you on a journey from St. Thomas to Simcoe through award-winning orchards and vineyards.
This region, as I’ve mentioned, is a hardy area with a long, warm growing season (well, for Ontario), making it one of the emerging regions for wine and other hard beverages in Ontario. Take a designated driver, because you’re going to want to taste them all!
Go bird watching in the marshes
Every spring and fall, thousands of bird watchers flock (pun intended) to Norfolk County to look at the millions of migrating birds stopping here on their journey north or south. From beautiful songbirds to swans and other waterfowl, birds of prey and so many more, bird watching is one of the best things to do in Norfolk County
Big Creek National Wildlife Centre
Big Creek National Wildlife Area is one of the best places to watch waterfowl and songbirds, frogs, turtles and more, all of which call this 771-hectare marshland home. The area has some walking trails located on top of dykes along the marsh edges, plus there’s a two-story observatory that overlooks some of the best, untouched wetland habitats in Ontario.
Long Point Bird Observatory
Long Point is considered the epicentre of bird watching in southern Ontario, as it’s the resting spot for millions of migrating birds in the spring and fall, as well as the birds who live here year-round. At the Pong Point Bird Observatory’s Old Cut Research Station, which is open to the public during the spring and fall migration, you can explore the bird research displays, take part in bird banding demonstrations, and walk along the trail to an observatory.
Port Rowan Wetlands and Marshes
Port Rowan, one of the communities near Long Point, has their own set of wetlands and marshes that are wonderful for birdwatching. There’s a 1.5km trail that loops around the Port Rowan wetlands and a small trail with a lookout of the Port Rowan Marshes. Here you’ll see plenty of waterfowl as well as amphibians living in the lagoon.
Dive into History
Did you know that in 2019/2020, Norfolk County celebrated the 350th year of the Dollier and Galinee expedition into the interior of North America? This missionary trip took them along the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake Huron before taking the Ottawa River back to Montreal. The group wintered in Port Dover in 1669, which is now a National Historic Site. Discover history on this list of the best things to do in Norfolk County. Ontario’s Garden has many stories like this, and you can explore them all at these historic places:
Delhi Tobacco Museum
Tobacco has a long history in Norfolk County, for centuries, farms produced this sacred plant. In 1979, the Delhi Tobacco Museum opened to showcase the rich history associated with this crop that extends through generations and cultures. The large museum has several permanent exhibits, as well as many pop-up exhibitions throughout the year.
The Delhi Tobacco Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday – 10 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday 1 to 4 pm. In summer, they are also open on Mondays. Admission is by donation.
Port Dover Harbour Museum
Learn about the commercial fishing history of this area, which continues to be an essential part of life in Port Dover. There’s a permanent exhibit showcasing the main gallery, a historic net shanty, and the upper gallery where you’ll find the remnants of a steamer ship that sunk in 1852.
The Port Dover Harbour Museum is open Tuesday to Friday – 10 am to 4:30 pm and Saturdays – 12 to 4 pm. In the summer, they are open seven days a week. Admission is by donation.
Lighthouse Festival Theatre
The Lighthouse Festival Theatre was built in the 1900s as a 300-seat auditorium that acted as a town hall for half a century. After it sat empty for three decades, a few enterprising people thought it would make an incredible theatre. The Lighthouse Festival Theatre opened in 1980 and has been a place to enjoy an excellent stage show ever since.
Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum
Norfolk County is Ontario’s Garden, with centuries of agricultural history. Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum tries to capture the vibrant farming history of Norfolk with several permanent and changing exhibits. The Museum is located in Waterford’s former pickle factory. It’s also home to Waterford annual PumpkinFest!
The Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum is open Tuesday to Friday – 10 am to 4:30 pm and Saturdays – 12 to 4 pm. In the summer, they are open seven days a week. Admission is by donation.
Teeterville Pioneer Museum
Step back in time as you walk through the Teeterville Pioneer Museum, which features several buildings dating back to the pioneer days of Norfolk County. Check out a log home from 1849, a drive barn, a mini-chapel, an original Plighting Stone and more at this open-air museum.
The Teeterville Pioneer Museum is open from Victoria Day to Labour Day, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 am to 4:30 pm. Admission is by donation.
Eva Brook Donly Museum
In downtown Simcoe sits the Eva Brook Donly Museum, a heritage home built in 1845 that hosts the Norfolk County Archives as well as an extensive collection of artifacts on display. Check out the house or flip through the archival materials in their collection.
The Eva Brook Donly Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is by donation.
Backhouse Historic Site
Travel way-way-way back in time to the 1798 Backhouse Mill National Historic Site, where you’ll find a slice of what living in the 18th century would be like. This historic site is located inside the Backus Conservation Area. Here you can visit the collection of heritage buildings, including a schoolhouse, little church, barns, log houses, blacksmith shop and more. You can also learn more about the shipwrecks of Lake Erie and businesses and more of the 19th century.
They even have the war of 1812 reenactments if you’re into that thing! And you can also camp here and access many trails in the area.
Get outdoors in the Carolinian forest
Canada is known for its biodiverse ecosystems from coast to coast to coast. Southern Ontario is where you’ll find Canada’s only Carolinian Forest. There are so many varieties of trees you’ll see here, like American Chestnut, Ash, Sycamore, Birch, Walnut, Oak, and so much more. The best way to see this beautiful old forest is by hiking and exploring on foot.
Long Point Eco-Adventures
As Ontario’s ultimate wilderness experience, Long Point Eco-Adventures has it all. Mountain bike on the insane forest hill trails, Paddle by kayak or stand up paddleboard along the waterways, axe-throw your way to victory or go on a tree-top trekking zipline tour.
If that’s too much excitement for you, sit back and relax on the Marshview patio, overlooking the – you guessed it – marshes. Sip on delicious Norfolk County wine and just enjoy the view.
Turkey Point Provincial Park
Turkey Point Provincial Park, a large forested area near the village of Turkey Point, has three easy hiking trails. Lookout Bluff Trail (2.2km) takes you to a lookout point of Long Point Bay. Fin and Feather Trail is a 4km trail that takes you to a fish hatchery and through the park. Lastly, the 1km Oak Savanna Trail is an easy trek through naturally forests areas of the park. You’ll get to see the best parts of the Carolinian forest here.
Long Point Provincial Park and area
Cycle through the 5kms of trails through Long Point Provincial Park or leave footprints in the sands along the beach in Long Point Provincial Park. This is a great place to see where the wetlands and the Carolinian forests collide. If water sports are more your style, launch a canoe or kayak at Long Point Bay to get up close and personal with the marshland. Don’t forget your bug spray!
Deer Creek Conservation Area
Deer Creek Conservation Area is made for those who love the water. Launch a canoe or other non-motorized boat and explore this 80-acre reservoir. Be on the lookout for bald eagles, beavers and other wildlife who call this place home.
Lynn Valley Trail
The Lynn Valley Trail is an 11.6km old rail trail from Simcoe to Port Dover through forest, pastures and other beautiful scenery. This is a multi-use trail, so you could walk it, or bike, or ski or snowshoe; it’s all up to you!
Walk through the gardens
You can’t visit Norfolk County – aka Ontario’s garden without stopping at the beautiful gardens here. I mean, who doesn’t want to frolic among the lavender or stop to smell the roses. That’s why walking through the gardens is one of the most relaxing things to do in Norfolk County.
Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery
Come for the wine, stay for the lavender. Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery is a sprawling garden of lavender, orchards and vineyards. Pop into their store to peruse all the lavender-based products they have. Every year, during the lavender’s full bloom, they hold a LavenderFest, where you can tour the facilities and see how everything is made.
If you’ve wanted to see thousands of species of trees, flowers and other plants, then come to Whistling Gardens, where you can walk the 20 acres of sweet-smelling flowers. Here you also find North America’s most extensive Peony collection. It’s not all about the flowers either, at the Whistling Gardens, you can also check out the Aviary where there are swans, peacocks, pheasants and more. There are also numerous workshops on horticulture, photography, medicinal gardening, art and more.
Enjoy some beachside fare
Running up to a beachside stand, grabbing an already-melting ice cream cone, all while staying barefoot? Sign me up. Eating delicious food right on the beach is one of the best things to do in Norfolk County, I mean, who doesn’t want to shove their face with fries after roasting on a beach all day? I sure do.
Twins Ice Cream Parlour, Port Rowan: Sundaes topped with whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry? Classic 50s diner? Fun Ice Cream flavours? Check yes to all three.
Woody’s Waffles and Ice Cream, Port Dover: Waffle cones are the superior ice cream accessory, and you can get delicious ones at Woody’s Waffles and Ice Cream. This tiny ice cream shack is just steps away from the beach.
Beachfront Fries, Port Dover: This beachside fry shack has delicious fries, poutine, hamburgers, hot dogs and more. And the location is perfect for a lunchtime snack.
The Ice Cream Tank, Port Dover: Have you ever had rolled ice cream? That’s the Ice Cream Tank’s specialty. They also have a ton of flavours and topping as well as delicious waffle cones.
Dine overlooking the water
Who doesn’t love to watch the sun go down over the water while they eat? Dine with a view at one of these excellent beachside restaurants. It’s a perfect way to end a day enjoying all the best things to do in Norfolk County.
The Boat House Restaurant, Port Rowan: This place takes the cake for the best location. Situation right on the harbour, the Boat House restaurant is a classic diner fare. You can even get Hounds of Erie cider here.
The Jetty Bar and Grill, Turkey Point: Nachos, fish and chips, wings and tacos, this place seems to have it all. I mean, they even have an outdoor Tiki Bar.
Sandbar on the Beach, Turkey Point: From their delicious starters to their unbelievable mains and their breathtaking view, Sandbar on the Beach is one of the best places in Norfolk County for grub!
The Beach House, Port Dover: With the sand, palm trees, and the sounds of waves crashing against the shore, sitting at the Beach House restaurant almost feels like you’re in a tropical paradise. Seafood is their specialty with mussels, lobsters and fish fry!
Taste the garden at a farmers’ market or retail farm
The food you get at a farmer’s market or straight from the farm just tastes better. When you explore Norfolk County, you’ll want to taste the produce fresh from the garden, Ontario’s garden. Visiting a farmers’ market or retail farm is one of the best things to do in Norfolk County.
Cider Keg Farm Market: This apple central is located between Turkey Point and Port Dover. They have everything you can think of made from apples, including jellies, cider, pie, and so much more. They even carry many local products like honey, popping corn, cheese, meat and more!
Matz Fruit Barn: Quick! Name as many fruits and vegetables as you can think of! I bet Matz Fruit Barn has it fresh for you to enjoy. They’ve got everything here, all fresh!
Dalton White Farms: This little roadside market near Delhi is a foodies’ paradise. They’ve got a ton of local and fresh produce as well as cheese, meats, ready-made-meals and, my favourite, ice cream! This farm has been in production since 1869.
The Little Farmers’ Market: This farmers’ market near Port Rowan may be little, but they have so much fruit and vegetables plus maple syrup and baked goods available to fill your fridge. I mean, there’s nothing better than delicious Ontario strawberries, except maybe fresh Ontario peaches, and you can find both (and so much more) here.
Drive the scenic roads in Norfolk County
I love a good drive on a backroad, passing beautiful scenery and seemingly empty roadways. One of the best things to do in Norfolk County is to take the road less travelled and drive the gorgeous lakeside routes.
Front Road: If you’re looking for a beautiful drive that passes through deep Carolinian forest, small villages and gorgeous water views, then the 24.5km drive along Front Road from Port Rowan to Port Ryerse is a perfect trip for you. If hugs the coastline and passes through some of the most beautiful places in Norfolk County. If there’s one drive you go on, it’s got to be this one!
Spooky Hollow Road: This back road is the shortest, but one of the most beautiful scenic routes in Norfolk County. Spooky Hollow Road is 3.4km from Normandale to Concession Road 2. This scenic road takes you through the Spooky Hollow Nature Preserve, a 165-acre stretch of Carolinian Forest. The trees are so plentiful here they form almost a complete canopy over the road. It’s breathtaking.
Long Point Causeway: Drive the 8km Long Point Causeway from Port Rowan to Long Point Provincial Park. This stretch of road was first constructed in the 1920s to access the sandy beaches of Long Point. It really is an engineering marvel, since Long Point is nothing more than sand, muck and swamp. The road, being so close to the level of the lake, does flood.
New Lakeshore Road: Take the road less travelled by driving the 11.5km trek from Port Dover to Nanticoke on New Lakeshore Road. This road takes you along the coast, showing off the lovely views of Lake Erie.
Norfolk County is a slice of forest, farmland and beach in Southern Ontario. It’s got so many great things going for it, like farmers’ markets, beautiful beaches, quaint towns, gorgeous forests and, of course, delicious wineries and cideries. There are so many relaxing things to do in Norfolk County, take this day trip to Ontario’s Garden.