Visit Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada
Canada

Day Tripping to Hidden Gems in Norfolk County

One of the best things about living in southern Ontario is its close proximity to so many amazing destinations. From small towns to outdoor adventures to big cities – there’s a lot to see and do. My favourite weekend activity is heading out and discovering new places I’ve never been before. I seek out those under-the-radar spots. To my delight, Norfolk County is brimming over with some pretty amazing hidden gems. 

Apple Hill Lavender is a 45 acre apple and lavender farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada

Norfolk County is a rural region on the north shore of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario. Day tripping to Norfolk County is under 90 minutes from Toronto. And even closer for those cities in the west end. As for tourism, it’s an up and coming region to discover. So if you’re anything like me, go now before it becomes too saturated with tourists. 

Here is one perfect day intinery bringing you to some secret places in Norfolk County. 

En Route to Norfolk County

You are likely to drive through Brant County, the neigbouring region to Norfolk County. A must-stop is Paris. This picturesque small town is known as Ontario’s “Prettiest Little Town”. It is located where the Grand and Nith Rivers meet.

Paris

Paris is one of Ontario's prettiest towns | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

 Against the backdrop of the two rivers sits the tiny downtown lined with shops and cafés in the town’s historical buildings. Grab yourself a sweet treat from the Paris Bakery and stroll the main street. Venture a couple streets over to The Paris Wincey Mills Co., a historic building that dates back to 1889, that has been been transformed into a year-round market. 

First Stop - Apple Hill Lavender

This 4th generation family farm began its operations in 1906. Today, the farm grows apples and lavender on its 45 acres. It’s a family affair with one sister overseeing the apple orchard and the other sister, the lavender farm. Apple Hill Lavender is open to the public from May to December, and the best part – you can stroll the rolling hills of lavender for free. 

Apple Hill Lavender is a 45 acre apple and lavender farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada

Fields of lavender is such a beautiful sight to behold. And, Apple Hill Lavender is at the top of the list! With the sound of bees buzzing and the intoxicating sweet smell of lavender in the air, this is such a tranquil spot. 

Apple Hill Lavender is a 45 acre apple and lavender farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada

In bloom for such a short time of the year (mid-June to late-July) are the popular French (Lavandula) and English (Angustifolia) cultivars.

Apple Hill Lavender is a 45 acre apple and lavender farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada

In addition to growing, they also harvest and distill onsite producing their own natural essential oils. From these, they make a large variety of culinary and body care products sold in their Bake House and boutique shop. 

Melissa, the operator of the lavender farm, is also a very talented artist. Her pottery, ‘The Raging Bowl’ can be found in the boutique shop.  

Apple Hill Lavender is a 45 acre apple and lavender farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada

Why not enjoy a picnic under the old apple trees? Before you reach Apple Hill Lavender you will pass by many farm market stands, stop in and grab yourself some seasonal fruit and baked goods, knowing that you now have the perfect spot to enjoy them. 

Second Stop - Port Dover

Port Dover is a laid-back beach town located on the shores of Lake Erie in Norkolk County, Ontario.

Port Dover, named after Dover England, was discovered in 1794. Only to be burned down and destroyed during an American raid in 1812. The survivors of the war slowly rebuilt the community and by 1870s the village grew to over 1,00 residents. 

Sitting on the shores of Lake Erie this laid-back beach town offers up a whole lot more than fun in the sun. Port Dover’s lighthouse from mid-1800s is this small town’s most famous beacon. Walk along the long pier for those panoramic lake views.

Port Dover is a laid-back beach town located on the shores of Lake Erie in Norkolk County, Ontario.

Located just off the beach strip is the Port Dover Harbour Museum a small museum preserving the town’s historical role in the commercial fishing industry. You might also hear some legendary tales of famous shipwrecks and rum smugglers too. 

Take part in Port Dover’s thriving arts and culture community. Visit the Lighthouse Festival Theatre for some live professional theatre. Also, be sure to check out Woodhouse Gallery featuring local and Canadian artists. 

Port Dover is a laid-back beach town located on the shores of Lake Erie in Norkolk County, Ontario.

Seekers of small town charm will be presently surprised at just how quaint the downtown is. Just a couple minutes walk from the main beach area is where you’ll find the historic buildings lined with some cute shops. Boutiques like The Dover Cheese Shop, Cottage North Soapworks, 13 Reasons, to just name a few.

Port Dover is a laid-back beach town located on the shores of Lake Erie in Norkolk County, Ontario.

Port Dover is also known for its restaurants. They have an amazing array to suit everyone. From beach-side grill to diner and pub-style to bistro and even a couple of fine dining. No matter, almost every menu in town features its famous local fish – perch and pickerel. We opted for the very popular  The Crepe House. They have a great selection of sweet and savory crepes, including their signature butter tart crepe. Yes, please!

Port Dover is a laid-back beach town located on the shores of Lake Erie in Norkolk County, Ontario.

The winding roads along the scenic Lake Erie shoreline, known as Ontario’s South Coast, is a popular motorcycle route. Port Dover was put on the map due to its Friday the 13th tradition. Since 1981, the gathering of motorcyclists every Friday the 13th (rain or shine and all seasons) where hundreds of thousands of bikers descend upon this small town. 

Third Stop - Normandale

This tiny historical village is known as a ghost town. In the 1800s, the population swelled to almost 800, but today only a couple of hundred part-time cottagers reside here. 

Normandale is a tiny village on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

This secret spot has historical roots as being Ontario’s first steel town (sorry Hamilton). The Van Norman Company, from 1822, was known for building the first iron furnace, among other iron materials like the cooking stove, kettles, pots and pans. Nothing remains of the foundry today on Mill Street, only a marker designating it a National Historic Site in 1927.

Normandale is a tiny village on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

Today, Normandale is a quiet place for cottagers, with maybe the odd full time resident. To reach it, you drive through “Spooky Hollow Nature Sanctuary” – a densely forested area with a winding hilly road until you reach the main street. 

Normandale is a tiny village on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

Two well-kept historic buildings, the Union Hotel (1840) and the original Post Office (1842), stand at the main intersection of Normandale Road and Main Street. 

Normandale is a tiny village on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

A trail from Mill Street leads to a very small secluded beach. And, the views are worth it! It is also the only dog-friendly beach in the area. That was the initial reason for seeking out Normandale, only to be pleasantly surprised to find a whole lot more. 

Normandale is a tiny village on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

Amazingly, there are two restaurants in Normandale. The long-standing General Store, known for its burgers and ice cream and Tacos ‘n’ Tequila, authentic Mexican food. As soon as I saw the instagrammable outdoor terrace with Papel Picado, Mexican folk art, strung overhead I was sold.

This family-run business, also includes the adjacent Normandale Century Inn, was just opened by a newly immigrated Mexican family. We sipped on some tequila cocktails with homemade nacho chips before we heading out to our last and final stop. 

Final Destination in Norfolk County

Visit Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada

The final destination is the 20-km stretch from Turkey Point to Long Point along the scenic Waterfront Trail roadway. Here are the best things to do in this area. 

See an UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve

Long Point in Norfolk County, Ontario is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Long Point is comprised of over 26,000 hectares of a protected coastal ecosystem. Designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1986 it’s home to:

  • 1,300+ species of plants,
  • 370+ species of birds,
  • 100+ species of fish,
  • 45+ species of mammals,
  • 30+ species of amphibians and reptiles, and
  • 90+ species of butterflies

This 40-km stretch of uninterrupted beaches, undisturbed sand dunes, grassy ridges, wet meadows, woodlands, marshes and ponds is an incredible sight. 

Do some birdwatching

Visit Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada

Turkey Point, one of the earliest settled communities in Norfolk County, was named for the abundance of wild turkeys that nested there. Today, its diverse ecosystem of marshes, ponds, wetlands and dense Carolinian forest make this a popular spot for migrating birds and other wildlife. 

Visit Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada

Long Point is world-renowned refuge and stopover for migrating birds in fall and spring. Come here in March and April for waterfowl viewing. Its delicate dunes and marshes teem with songbirds, spawning fish, turtles and frogs.

Sip a little at a Winery

Burning Kin Winery in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada

Once a Tabaco farm, the crop was replaced with grape vines and the doors to Burning Kiln Winery were opened. This winery has it all. From dining at Canned Heat to live entertainment and a pop-up artisan market, and even the option to stay in the original farmhouse from 1865. Tasting flights of 3 or 5 are guided by your personal wine expert. And, we may have walked away with a couple of bottles, including their newest wine, ‘Broken Needle’, a delicious Pinot Nior Rosé.

Further down the road is Blueberry Hill Winery. When in season freshly picked blueberries and market preserves are available, as well as, their wine.

Take some photos at Port Rowan

Port Rowan is a tiny town, dating back to 1825, that thrived on lumber and fishing industries. Being so close to the popular Long Point most would drive right past it. Don’t. Especially for those amateur or professional photographers.  

Port Rowan sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

There is nothing here but old boat houses. The more rustic the better. Wait for the perfect lighting and the water reflections come alive.  

Port Rowan sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

Locals can found fishing off the pier. Boaters come and go. And, the only business in sight is Twin’s Ice Cream Parlour which has been operating for several decades. 

Port Rowan sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada

Head to the beach

Visit Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada. A place known for its beaches.

For the best beach experience, visit one of the area’s two provincial parks – Turkey Point and Long Point Provincial Parks. Alternately, both towns have public beaches that extend into cottage areas, just watch for private property. I recommend the public beach at Turkey Point, it’s a long stretch of 3-km of sandy shoreline.  

As a holidaymaker…

Day tripping to Norfolk County was full of hidden gems. This region in southwestern Ontario surprised me. It’s chock-full of some amazing places that could have you exploring this region for days. I am already planning my return visit to experience more. 

Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada is full of hidden gems. Visit some of the charming small beach towns like Port Dover, Turkey Point and Long Point.Its beaches, charming small towns
Norfolk County in southwestern Ontario, Canada is full of hidden gems. Visit some of the charming small beach towns like Port Dover, Turkey Point and Long Point.

64 Comments

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    We too found it fun to find spots like Paris in Norfolk Country. But we wish we visited when lavender was in bloom. A great way to pick up some oils. Port Dover sounds like a quaint stop with great boutiques. I did not know it was known for its restaurants. We went to Long Point looking for a beach. But next time we will check out the Biosphere Reserve. Our ornithologist daughter would go trays for 370+ species of birds!

  • Bree

    What a beautiful place to visit. The lavender farm is stunning and if I try hard enough I could smell the lavender. (might be because its in my diffuser right at the moment) Thank you for sharing in a time when all one can do is armchair travel around the world

  • Alison

    I just loved this. I want to go to every place you mention. I’ve seen so little of Eastern Canada, and I’d love to see more. This looks perfect!

  • Faith Coates

    Argh now I’m homesick these are all my favourite places in Ontario (I’m from London) and I haven’t been able to get back in over a year. I need some of that Ontario peacefulness. The best part of a Canadian summer is exploring these little gems.

  • sue

    Wow! What a gorgeous place! I love the look of everywhere you mention & your photos always make it come alive & look so idyllic. Looks like the perfect day trip, but so peaceful you would want to stay longer.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your kind comment Sue. I’m so happy to share this wonderful area in Ontario and you’re right, visiting for one day is never enough. It’s an area I like to return to time and time again. So much to discover!

  • Sarah

    What a charming looking place. Love anywhere with lavender fields and Long Point looks really interesting. And wineries – i may need longer than a day lol

  • Trea

    Wow there is so much to see and do. I love how you can see the lavender fields and visit the beach. I live in England, so it was neat to compare some of the names to places I’ve been over here.

  • Hannah

    Ah I love uncovering hidden gems, both when I’m at home and when I’m travelling. These all look like beautiful places to explore! The boat houses at Port Rowan look amazing! What a wonderful spot for some photos! Thanks for the great guide!

  • Josy A

    This part of Ontario is so beautiful (lol and soooo full of European place names!)

    Norfolk County looks like great fun to me. I’d love the lavendar farm and the sound of the wine, but the best part has to be the Biosphere Reserve at Long Point looks incredible! You must have had a blast seeing the birds there!

  • Krista

    What a great part of Ontario to go road tripping through! I think I’ve passed through some of these places before but never stopped at any. I’ll have to change that when I go home next.

  • Anda

    I’m glad to see there are so many beautiful places to see relatively close to Toronto. I have a cousin who lives there, so you just gave me the idea that I could spend a vacation there visiting Norfolk County. I’d love to visit Port Dover and some of these other charming places like the World Biosphere Reserve.

  • Raksha

    Wow I did not know there was Paris in Norfolk County. It’s good to find such hidden gems during travels. I would love to visit the Apple hill lavender farm. I am sure when it is the peak season, it must look stunning with the purple flowers.

  • Paula

    Beautiful sites and great countryside vibe! Norfolk County seems like there is a lot to see. Paris bakery would be on my list. And I would love to top my tour with some wine and time at beach.

  • Melanie

    I was looking for things to do Ontario for September, this sounds like a great option!
    I will use your guide to plan my trip!

  • Eric Gamble

    Wow, looks like Norfolk county is a true gem. Sorry to use your word there but you hit the nail on the head with that adjective. Personally I am torn between Port Dover & Normandale. Dont get me wrong Paris was nice but I loved the lighthouse on Lake Erie and I am sure Darcee would love driving from Paris to Port Dover & stopping off at the Lavender farm. Plus, Port Dover looks like the perfect little town to walk around and eat an ice cream in. But I do love the sound of driving through the Spooky Hollow Nature Sanctuary…..creepy!!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I’m so glad you think this area in Ontario is a real gem! Each of the places I visited, offer a little bit of something for everyone. So glad to hear that Port Dover and Normandale would be of interest to you!

  • Trisha Velarmino

    This place seems to give a different character to travel experience. I’m also one to try spots that do not get attention that much. What a lovely lavender farm! Such an inspiring family. It’s no easy feat to take care of this lovely place.

  • barry

    This was so interesting to read. I was born and raised in the county of Norfolk, UK. Norfolk is an old Anglo Saxon derivation name meaning the North folk- its neighbouring county is Suffolk- yep, meaning South folk!
    The county has a large town called Wymondham, but everyone pronouces it as Windham … and there is Windham in your article on Norfolk County. I wonder if there is a direct link.
    Norfolk UK is famous for its lavender (also grown here) and its turkeys (although turkeys were originally here so maybe they over to Norflok, UK. LOL)
    Such a coincidence. Norfolk UK is an arable, farming county just like its Canadian namesake, with small towns and villages. Is there a place called Norwich nearby as that is the capital of Norfolk UK.
    It certainly looks a picturesque and relaxing area and so green!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I don’t doubt that this isn’t just a coincidence. All of Canada was settled by Europeans. Many of them bringing their names from their homesakes. But certainly interesting to hear about your personal connection to this article. You’ll just have to visit it now and experience it for yourself.

      • barry

        Just looked the area up on the map and 40 mins from Port Dover and 17 mins from Windham is …. Norwich . Now I just have to go over and see this !

  • Emma Earthwanderer

    The lavender farm would be gorgeous to wander around. It seems a little more special that it’s run by two sisters. I’d be keen to get some pure essential oils while there as well. Going for a drive through ‘Spooky Hollow’ to get to a Taco shop in a tiny town sounds like quite the adventure! Port Rowan looks interesting with all of those coloured boat sheds. Norfolk Country sounds like a great day trip or maybe even a weekender.

  • Clarice

    Wow! This is nice. I did not realize there is so much to see and do. I would love to visit the lavender plantation after it’s one of my favorite flower. Plus, a trip to the beach also sounds exciting.

  • Tami Wilcox

    I thoroughly enjoyed this virtual tour of Norfolk County — especially the little villages that are almost ghost towns. I love exploring old historic towns wherever I go. I would have also enjoyed the orchards and lavender fields. Looks like a great place to plan a road trip!

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    You have strung together some really beautiful gems in Norfolk County. Each one of them has such an endearing charm. I am really fascinated by Paris and Apple Hill Lavender. I also like the look of Port Dover. Would love to head to Norfolk County someday and lose myself in its beauty.

  • Jennifer Prince

    Ooooh! I’d love to visit that year-round market in Paris! It sounds so delightful. And I adore visiting lavender fields. There’s just something so calming and beautiful about it!

  • Riana Ang-Canning

    You make Ontario look so fun! I wish I had gone on more of these day trips when I was based in Toronto. Hopefully on a future visit! That lavender farm looks so dreamy and I definitely would’ve opted for the Crepe House too!

  • Medha Verma

    You really are lucky that you have so many beautiful destinations to explore close to home. I have never been to a lavender field, can you imagine, so the Apple Hill Lavdender sounds like a great place for me to explore. Normandale and its secluded beach look pretty cool too!

  • Maggie

    What lovely day trip options! Dover looks so quaint and charming – I’m glad that the residents decided to rebuild it! And it’s strange that almost no one lives in Normandale, yet they’ve kept it up and even have some restaurants. I’d definitely like to check these places out one day!

  • JoJo Hall

    Who knew Norfolk County has so much to offer?! I love all the beautiful views and historical structures in the county. It’s so much fun exploring off the beaten path locations.

  • Emma

    So many great little towns. I’ll have to add some of these to my next Ontario road trip. I recently visited Paris and although it was pretty, I would say there are maybe nicer places. The bakery was good though. Port Dover looks like a winner for me

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