Norfolk County is becoming one of the coolest places to spend time in South Western Ontario. Just 2 hours southwest of Toronto, Norfolk County is a naturalist’s paradise with a rapidly growing foodie culture fuelled by its agri-tourism and easygoing good vibes spirit. Home to Southern Ontario’s popular ‘cottage county’ and beach destination, Long Point; a visit to Norfolk County has much to offer its guests. From the luxuries of an eco-adventure stay, to a selection of picturesque wineries to enjoy, to its very own UNESCO site to explore, Norfolk Country does not disappoint.
About the Long Point Biosphere Reserve
In 1986, Long Point became a designated biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The region contains the largest area of wetlands and woodlands in Southern Ontario. The biosphere includes 20 biotic communities, 280 species of birds, and 700 species of vascular plants, of which 90 are classified as rare. The Long Point Biosphere Reserve consists of a variety of habitats including lakes, beaches, dunes, ponds, marshes and forests. Here, the many different types of flora and fauna are encouraged to flourish and thrive by the Long Point World Biosphere Foundation, a foundation dedicated to conserving biodiversity in the area through research and education.
The Amazing Places Initiative
Through the Amazing Places Initiative, I have discovered that Norfolk County also contains some hidden gems and destinations that those traveling through the area should consider visiting. Amazing Places are must-visit destinations which are rich in natural history, have breathtaking scenery and are home to a variety of flora and fauna. It is a sustainable tourism initiative led locally by the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation in partnership with Norfolk County. To encourage tourist traffic, they found and selected 20 amazing places, some of which are off the beaten track, as must visit locations for those traveling in the area. Visiting these will enable guests to get a taste of the history of Norfolk County and its biosphere reserve. To simplify…this is a list of 20 cool places to visit in Norfolk County. Recently, I took the Initiative and spent the day traveling to some of these locations; check out the six I visited below.
6 Amazing Places in Norfolk County
1. Whistling Gardens; Canada’s newest botanical gardens
Whistling Gardens is an instagrammer’s dream. This botanical garden located in Norfolk County has a collection of well curated plants, both from the area and some of which are rare; collected by the owner of the gardens. He, himself, is an absolutely fascinating character. Flowers and trees are spread throughout the 20+ acre property in creative ways transporting visitors into what feels like another world. This privately owned botanical garden has been transformed from a corn field to the world’s largest public conifer collection, offering over 2,500 rare varieties. The Whistling Gardens is also home to North America’s largest public peony collection, displaying over 1000 varieties. On the property, there are 4km’s of walking trails, pergolas to relax in, an exotic bird aviary as well as a musical fountain show. The Whistling Gardens is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic alongside a pond with a set of swans as your guests. If you are lucky, you may even have the chance to talk about the gardens with the gardener himself. Don’t forget to bring your camera to this amazing place.
2. Quance Park and Mill; the ultimate picnic location
Located in Delhi, the Quance Park, Dam and Mill surround the beautiful Big Creek River; an area which has been referred to as the Amazon of Ontario. I didn’t believe this until I took a kayaking tour down the river through Long Point Eco Adventures. I was shocked at the thick green forest that lined the river and how close it looked to the actual Amazon. The Quance Dam is located in the Big Creek River Valley and was a critical factor in the establishment of the town of Delhi. The saw mill was actually the first industry in the area, long before the tobacco industry was ever around. These days the Mill has been refurbished, and includes a small museum and a scenic view over the Quance Dam and Park. On a sunny day, a visit to the Quance Dam makes for the perfect place to go for a light hearted stroll and to enjoy a family picnic by the Big Creek River. Make sure you look out for the ducks along the way!
3. Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum (WHAM); curation at its finest
The Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum, also known as the WHAM, is an extremely well curated hidden gem in the middle of small town Ontario. The curating efforts of the WHAM sets this museum apart from many other well-known locations. In short, my mind was blown. The museum creatively exhibits the rich and diverse history of Waterford and its surrounding communities. Located in what was once a canning factory, the museum’s building is known as the ‘Pickle Factory’ and includes a number of captivating exhibits. With canning and agricultural industry in mind, the museum displays canning labels from the past including some which were designed by famous Canadian group of seven painter A.Y. Jackson. Among other exhibits there is one about Alice L. Trusdale, a nurse from the area who died saving lives during the First World War and just recently an exhibit of the Red Cross Quilts of the Great War. It is the seamless curation of this museum that makes it an outright pleasant experience for those who take the opportunity to visit and to get to know the area on a deeper level. Encouraged by the wonderful and passionate staff of the WHAM, I will be a returning visitor myself.
4. Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery; small farm luxury
Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winey provides a small farm experience to visitors; encouraging them to learn about the farming industry while tasting delightful wines and embracing the calming fragrance of both French and English Lavenders. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that Bonnieheath was already one of my favourite locations to visit in Norfolk County. When given the opportunity to visit once again, the answer was clear…yes please. Rows of beautiful bright purple and white lavender line the fields in creative geometric shapes. The calming sent of lavender fills the air and the winery serves up unique tastes of wines and ciders produced from the farm itself. Creatively labeled with a sense of humour and nod to the family of the farm; they are available at the Estate’s Boutique. The lavender products and oils are distilled on property, with demonstrations offered throughout the season and are also available to purchase at the Estate’s Boutique.
Bonnieheath Estate also participates in the Alternative Land Use Services program (ALUS). This is a volunteer based program where local farmers reconstruct natural areas such as wetlands on their properties. Behind the vines of the winery, a wetland has been built and native prairie grasses and wildflowers have been planted to attract pollinator insects to the area. Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery is a location where visitors can come to really enjoy themselves, experiencing the feel of small farm life while frolicking in lavender and drinking fresh wines.
5. Lynn Valley Trail; a perfect day hike
The Lynn Valley Trail is a pedestrian trail that runs between Simcoe and Port Dover. This former rail line has been converted into 10km’s of groomed and maintained trail which makes for the perfect day hike or bike ride as it winds through forested areas and over creeks and rivers. The trail passes through a number of natural habitats including mixed woods, wetlands, and open grasslands along the Lynn River. There are also four original trestle bridges along the trail which are astoundingly photogenic as well as benches, picnic tables and detailed signage along the way. With parking accessible right at the head of the trail; a hike or bike down the Lynn Valley Trail can make for an excellent day out in Norfolk County. Photographers should be sure to bring their camera gear.
6. The Black Bridge at Waterford Ponds; a birds eye view of Waterford
The Black Bridge is a 166 metre long truss bridge in the town of Waterford which provides breathtaking views of the three Waterford Ponds, trails, and surrounding farm lands. The Black Bridge can be accessed through trails from Delhi, Port Dover, Simcoe and Brantford. The bridge is fully decked, has guard rails and three overlook sections which provide prime locations for photographers looking to snap shots of Norfolk County. The ponds below the bridge are popular fishing areas during the summer as well as a great place to go for a family walk or even better, a dog walk.
Norfolk County is thriving! There are so many things to see and do in Norfolk County that a day spent exploring these unique and amazing places is nothing short of pleasant. Experiencing the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve along with the colourful history of the county provides a unique learning experience to guests. The County’s effort in the preservation and appreciation of these locations is nothing short of remarkable. Of the 20 destinations on the Amazing Places List, I was able to stop by and to enjoy my first 6 with 14 more to go throughout the summer.