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 to before. I seek out those under-the-radar spots. To my delight, Norfolk County is brimming over with some pretty amazing hidden gems. Follow along as I highlight all of the top things to do in Norfolk County.
Where is Norfolk County?
Norfolk County is a rural region on the north shore of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario. It is made up of four communities of Simcoe, Port Dover, Waterford and Delhi. Day tripping to Norfolk County is under 90 minutes from Toronto. And even closer for those cities in the west end. Norfolk County tourism describes this area as 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 itinerary bringing you to some secret places in Norfolk County.
Day Tripping in Norfolk County
VISIT A LAVENDER FARM
Why not start your day by visiting a top attraction in Norfolk County – lavender farms! Apple Hill Lavender is a 4th generation family farm that 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. It is open to the public from May to December. The best part, you can stroll the rolling hills of lavender for free.
Fields of lavender are 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 intoxicatingly sweet smell of lavender in the air, this is such a tranquil spot. In bloom for such a short time of the year (mid-June to late July) is the popular French (Lavandula) and English (Angustifolia) cultivars.
In addition to growing, they also harvest and distill on-site 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.
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 right here.
Location: 1795 Windham Road 11, Windham Centre
TAKE A DETOUR
A popular place to visit in Norfolk County is Picard’s Peanuts. In 1979, the Picard family began harvesting peanuts. Today, they offer over 150 confectionary products in 6 locations in Ontario. Visit where it all began and stop in at Windham Centre – the original location and processing plant. It is located at 2353 Nixon Road in Simcoe Ontario.
Another fun detour is quenching your thirst at New Limburg Brewing Company. If you love Belgian-style ales you’ll want to stop here. The family has brought their roots from Limburg Netherlands and Limburg Belgium to Norfolk County. The once-elementary school has been transformed into a microbrewery and restaurant that has all the European vibes you could ask for. New Limburg Brewing Company is located at 2353 Nixon Road in Simcoe Ontario.
VISIT PORT DOVER
The popular beach town of 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 the 1870s the village grew to over 1,000 residents.
Sitting on the Ontario 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 the mid-1800s is this small town’s most famous beacon. Walk along the long pier for those panoramic lake views.
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 Shops and Restaurants
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, and 13 Reasons, to just name a few.
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 a bistro and even a couple of fine dining. No matter, almost every menu in town features its famous local fish – perch and pickerel.
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.
VISIT A GHOST TOWN
Normandale is a tiny historical village and is also 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.
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.
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.
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. They are this tiny village’s top attraction.
Another fun thing to do in Normandale is to take the trail from Mill Street leading you to a small secluded beach. The views of Lake Erie are worth coming to Normandale. 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.
Amazingly, there are two restaurants in Normandale. The long-standing General Store is known for its burgers and ice cream and Tacos ‘n’ Tequila, which is 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, which was just opened by a newly immigrated Mexican family. We sipped on some tequila cocktails with homemade nacho chips before we headed out to our last and final stop.
Top Attractions from Turkey Point to Long Point
Follow the scenic Waterfront Trail roadway, a 20-km stretch from Turkey Point to Long Point, and visit these top attractions.
VISIT AN UNESCO WORLD 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 are an incredible sight.
DO SOME BIRDWATCHING
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.
Long Point is world-renowned refuge and stopover for migrating birds in fall and spring. Come here in March and April for a waterfowl viewing. Its delicate dunes and marshes teem with songbirds, spawning fish, turtles and frogs. Stop at the Lee Brown Waterfowl Management Area. Climb the lookout tower with your binoculars, or the zoom lens of your camera, and do some birdwatching.
VISIT A WINERY
Once a Tabaco farm, the crop was replaced with grape vines and the doors to Burning Kiln Winery was 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 Noir 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.
VISIT PORT ROWAN
The small town of Port Rowan dates back to 1825. It thrived in the lumber and fishing industries. Today it is a popular boat marina. Being so close to the tourist attraction of Long Point most drive right past it. Don’t. Especially for those amateur or professional photographers.
There is nothing here but old boathouses. The more rustic the better. Wait for the perfect lighting and the water reflections to come alive.
Locals can be 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.
VISIT THE BEACH
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 hope you enjoyed this list of top things to do in Norfolk County Ontario.
If you enjoyed reading about Norfolk County, you might be interested in Caledon. Another area of Ontario that is full of nature and quaint historic villages with some great eateries.