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    Wandering through the Ontario Highlands

    What kind of traveller are you? Are you someone who likes to always be on the go? Or maybe someone who likes to discover a beach and set up camp there for a full day? Or perhaps you’re someone who loves to explore off the beaten trail and uncover hidden gems.

    Well, whichever you are, I’m happy to tell you that there is something for everyone in Ontario’s Highlands, one of Ontario’s best kept secrets! This part of Ontario is made up of six regions west of Ottawa including the Ottawa Valley, Lennox & Addington, Lanark County, Frontenac County, Hastings County and the Haliburton Highlands. And to help you better explore, Ontario’s Highlands has put together five traveling routes, based on the kind of adventure you are looking for, all throughout these regions to help you discover and wander.


    We were fortunate enough to be invited by Ontario’s Highlands to ‘come wander’ throughout Lanark County and the Ottawa Valley along their Memory Maker route a few weeks back and we wanted to share all the gems we discovered along with the memories that our family made.

    Now before I get into the trip, I need to let you know that I grew up in Ottawa and spent many summers in the Ottawa Valley at a local church camp. Some of my fondest memories were made there with my family and friends. So when I saw that this route was going to take us back through my old stompin’ grounds in ‘the valley, I was SO excited! Not only have I not been back in almost 20 years, I had never taken my own family to explore there. So I knew before we even started the journey that it was going to be pretty special and sure enough, it was! (Picture below is me as a little kid at Logos Land! Scroll down to see my daughter on the exact same slide, 25 years later!)

    So let’s get into the trip details! We visited NINE towns in three days and discovered so many amazing places! Plus scroll all the way down to see our VIDEO recap!

    Day 1: Carleton Place/McDonalds Corners/Perth

    We started the Memory Maker route in Carleton Place with a quick pit stop for lunch at Smith and Barrel, an old pub in the heart of this quaint town where I had this delicious crispy buffalo chicken wrap. We knew we wanted to spend as much time as possible at our next destination, so we decided to skip through town, not before finding a beautiful little park to take a few pictures and head out after lunch. That is one of the beauties about following these routes: while there are suggested paths and stops along the way, you are free to customize the trip to suit your family and timeline best. 

    Next up on our adventure Wheeler’s Maple in McDonald’s Corners which has a pancake house, sugar camp and a number of museums to explore. They are one of Ontario’s largest producers of maple syrup with over 20,000 trees tapped and 300 kilometres of pipeline to take all that sap from the trees and run it straight into the sugar camp to be boiled into syrup. We began our visit with touring the various museums onsite starting with the Maple Heritage Museum where you can see old artifacts of maple syrup production (in fact, they hold the world record for most maple syrup artifacts). Next up was the Forest and Farm museum which has an extensive collection of chainsaws and other antique farming equipment. Once we were done with the museums, we headed into the pancake house to have some homemade pancakes with some fresh maple syrup! Let me tell you, it was so good that we just had to buy a bottle to take home with us! If you are in the area, make sure to check out Wheeler’s Maple for an afternoon of FREE family fun! They are open everyday of the year except for Christmas and there are plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy!

    After a couple hours exploring at Wheeler’s Maple, we loaded back in the van and headed to Perth, our final destination for Day 1 on the Memory Maker route. The town of Perth is over 200 years old, being birthed shortly after the War of 1812 to help with military settlement and immigration assistance. You can see and feel the history the moment you drive through the quaint downtown core. We stayed at the Perth Parkside Inn and Spa in the heart of the town, overlooking the most picturesque Stewart Park. We had a king suite complete with a king size bed, a pullout couch for the kids (we also got a cot for the third kid, even though they all slept on the pullout bed together), two bathrooms, a dining room and a kitchenette. Very spacious for a larger family and a very clean and updated hotel that I’d highly recommend when staying in Perth. We grabbed a quick dinner at a restaurant across the street and then decided to go for a stroll through the downtown and explore more of the park. Perth was absolutely gorgeous and a place that I definitely want to go back and explore more with the family! One of my favourite pictures of the boys was captured in the backyard of the hotel, check it out below!

    Day 2: Perth/Renfrew/Cobden/Pembroke

    We started Day 2 with a hot breakfast (that was included with our hotel stay) in the hotel dining lounge. Once we were fuelled up and checked out, we headed to Murphy’s Point Provincial Park to wander through the Silver Queen Mica Mine. I will say, this was hands down one of our top three favourite adventures on the trip and we never would have discovered it had it not been for following the Memory Maker Route with Ontario’s Highlands! This Mica mine is from the early 1900’s and has been restored to allow for guided tours to come through and explore. It’s incredible the temperature change from outside the mine to the minute you step inside the tunnel…easily a 10-15 degree drop (which on a hot day like we had, was really refreshing!) After spending quite a bit of time wandering through the mine, we headed back out and checked out the old miner’s bunkhouse, which has been restored to show how the miner’s would have lived. It was really fascinating to see. I think the kids favourite part of it all was being able to take home some Mica and Perthite rocks (which we purchased at the local store). Mica has a beautiful shimmer to it and so it was fun even walking along the trail and noticing the shimmer in the dirt!

    After we were done at the park, we loaded back into the van and settled in for two hour drive out of Lanark County into the Ottawa Valley. As you can remember, these were my old stomping grounds so I was definitely pretty excited to be wandering back into this neck of the woods! As we drove, we stopped in at a local drive-in burger joint in Renfrew called Odi’s Kingburger, a great place for a quick bite along the way. 

    Shortly there after, we reached our next destination (and resting spot for that night) Logos Land Resort in Cobden. As you can remember from above, this is a place I know well from many visits as a child and young teenager with my family. I had so many fond memories of this place and I was thrilled to now be able to build new memories with my own kids along this trip. You can check out this comparison picture to see just how many years ago it was that I visited Logos Land! My sister and I are on the far left zebra, I’m in the back with the blue shirt, with my Dad standing next to us (with family friends on the other zebra). You can tell they’ve changed the outside of the ark over the years, but the two zebras and rock in between still remain!

    Once checked in for the night, we wandered down to the water park and found ourselves a picnic table to set up camp at for the afternoon and off the kids went! There are two smaller waterslides for the young children with a new (well, new to me) splash pad directly in behind the kiddie slides. Then there are three larger slides: two blue and one red. I was shocked when the kids wanted to do the bigger ones, eve more shocked when we found out that our little four year old could also do them too! (Note: If you are heading to Logos Land and have a child who is still wearing a life jacket or puddle jumper, those are not allowed on the slides. Make sure to bring floaties or you can purchase some onsite, like we did for about $5). We all had a blast running up and down those slides, racing each other to see who would win! And it’s not just waterslides at Logos Land, they also have a beach front area where you can paddle boat, go on the water trampoline, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard. They also have a zipline for kids over nine years old that goes across the lake and a mini-putt course. Truly something for everyone!

    I want to say this about Logos Land: We’ve been to a lot of large theme parks and waterparks with the kids. Before we entered Logos Land I told the kids that this would not be to the same size and scale of those. But let me tell you, that didn’t matter one bit to any of us that day. Yes, it is smaller than some of the larger parks, but because of that, there’s a real family feel to the park. Also, it feels very safe. I didn’t have to worry about leaving our expensive camera equipment on a picnic table nor did I worry about where the kids were. Most of the time I didn’t have an eye on the two older ones as they were climbing up and riding down the slides, but I knew they were safe within that smaller area of the park. You can’t really say the same about those larger waterparks. I would never let the kids out of my site when we visited them, yet at Logos Land, I felt much more at ease because of the size. And that says a lot about being able to relax and enjoy your day at the park without having to keep a constant eagle eye on three kids running up and down slides. So for that reason alone, I would highly recommend Logos Land as a great family destination for a day away! I can’t wait to take the kids back!

    After our afternoon of fun, we went back to our room at the Logos Land resort where we were staying for the night, dried off and then headed towards Pembroke for dinner.

    On the way, we decided to stop in at Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch to pick some blueberries for dessert. The blueberries were so bountiful on the bushes that it didn’t take us long to have enough to feast on! They have a beautiful shop located onsite with loads of fresh baked goodies with made with their blueberries that we picked up too!

    We then headed into the downtown core of Pembroke to have dinner at The Nook Crêperie. If you followed us along the journey on my Instagram stories, you will already know how we felt about this place, but for those who missed it, let me recap with three words: BEST CRÊPES EVER! Like…EVER! Like…better than PARIS! I’m not even exaggerating for a second!

    With all the time I spent in the Ottawa Valley as a child, I cannot believe I never wandered far enough into Pembroke to discover this place (although, truth be told, it wasn’t around back then as it opened in 2008). Everything from savoury crêpes to dessert crêpes, there is literally a crêpe for every taste bud out there. Nestled in the cutest Parisian style cafe (which was recently expanded due to the popularity of this place) on the main street in Pembroke, you can’t miss it when you drive by. We came in later on a Tuesday night (after 7pm) and the place was jam packed…which you know is a good sign! We did have to wait awhile for our food, which was a challenge for the kids grumbling bellies, but the wait was worth it once we sank our teeth into that first bite! I’m trying hard not to drool just writing about it! Chris had the Chimichurri Crêpe, I had La Campagne with added bacon while the kids opted for the sweet ones getting the Bonne Pomme (minus the pecans for a nut allergy) and the Montmartre, filled with nutella and bananas! SO GOOD!

    Day 3: Cobden/Pakenham/Almonte/Smiths Falls

    The third and final day started off a little slower than planned due to sleepy kids (from all the fun on the waterslides the day before). So we gave ourselves some time to pack up and just grabbed a quick bite to eat on the drive out rather than opting for a larger sit down breakfast.

    We hadn’t planned to stop in Pakenham, but since we were driving right through it to our next destination, we decided to stop when we spotted this gorgeous bridge for some photos. This bridge is unique as it is made with stone and has five arches, which makes it one of only a few in the entire world! It crosses over the Mississippi River, which flows through many of the towns in Lanark County that was visited. 

    Not much further down the road, we arrived in Almonte, easily our favourite town on the entire Memory Maker route. We knew we had to check out the waterfalls and then found ourselves taking some time to wander throughout the downtown core. We found some amazing antique shops where we all picked up a few treasures as well as a beautiful artisans heaven at Cheerfully Made (which came highly recommended by a few of my Instagram friends). We even got a chance to stop by and see the statue of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, who was born in this small town. I wish we would have had more time to explore here because it was honestly like a little slice of heaven! So beautiful and picturesque! It’s only about a 30 minute drive from my parents home and so I know we will be back to explore some more!

    Our final destination on the Memory Maker Route was the town of Smiths Falls. A beautiful and historic town of just under 10,000 people located on the south eastern edge of Lanark County.

    We headed straight to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario, where the Smiths Falls station was built over 100  years ago, to learn all about trains. Our middle son was obsessed with trains from an early age, particularly with the child favourite Thomas the Train. Even though he’s outgrown that stage, his eyes definitely lit up when he saw the old engines and got to climb aboard and explore! We had a guided tour through all the old rail cars, learning the very interesting history of train operations and travel back in the day. Probably the most fascinating car for me to explore was the old dental car, which is currently on exhibit and the only remaining dental car in North America! The dental car was a passenger car that was converted into a dental office which operated from 1951 until 1977 to service communities in Northern Ontario to provide free dental care for children (adults could also access the services for a small fee). I honestly had no clue this kind of service existed and was blown away to see how well the car was preserved! It really is a site to see!

    After the museum, our very last stop on the route was for lunch and a little bit of shopping in the Davidson Courtyard. Cafe Whim is a local favourite in Smiths Falls, with a focus on a large selection of artisan sandwiches and soups. They have every kind of sandwich you can imagine! We ended up meeting the husband and wife duo that own and operate Cafe Whim and two other stores within Davidson Courtyard and they were gracious enough to open up their shops so we could do some shopping after our late lunch (they were technically closed at that point, so we really appreciated seeing inside)! We headed into The Gilded Monarch were I was able to purchase a few treasures and learn more about Vanessa and Brian’s journey to opening these shops in Smiths Falls. Living in a large city, you don’t always get to know shops owners and hear their stories and I really enjoyed getting to know them briefly and it gave the end of our trip a real personal note. You can check out some of the goodies we picked up along the way below!

    And that my friends was our journey along the Memory Maker route with Ontario’s Highlands! We jammed in a lot in three days but what an adventure we had! From the museums to the waterslides to the local eats to discovering hidden gems, it truly was an adventure that we will never forget. This way of travelling is so much fun for our family. While we love the trips to far off places where we get to fly, there is something so incredibly precious about being able to wander at your own pace and discover some of the province’s best kept secrets. I truly do look forward to revisiting many of these places!

    If you would like more information about Ontario’s Highlands to check out the various routes that they have put together, take a look at their site for more information! There is still some time left this summer for a last minute wandering vacation!

    Happy Wandering,

    Christine

     

    Note: This post was sponsored by Ontario’s Highlands. As always, the thoughts and opinions are 100% my own. 

     

     

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