Highway 7 was once one of Ontario’s major highways, until Hwy. 401 came along and offered a faster route with more lanes. However, for those who want to avoid the speedway of life – or who are unwilling to drive south before driving east – Hwy. 7 is a safe route thanks to passing lanes added in the past two decades. Take your time and discover the many delights along the route as you drive from Peterborough east to Ottawa.
Before your trip: Have you explored Peterborough?
Indian River Reptile Zoo and Dinosaur Park
This private museum has great children’s programming and an inspiring number and variety of species of snakes, alligators, crocodiles and lizards. On top of the museum full of turtles, snakes, and lizards, it also has a mechanical dinosaur tour outside and offers a Croc Walk at night where you see the animals feed by the light of your flashlight.
Address: 2206 County Rd 38, Indian River
The Friendly Town sign greets visitors as they arrive at this tight-knit town whose streets are lined with statuesque brick homes and a broad range of eclectic businesses and restaurants. Lions Park, just south of Highway 7, has beautiful gardens and a gazebo by the river, while Mill Pond Park is the large playground in the town, with a variety of climbing structures and swings in the east end of the town along Highway 7.
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The grand former train station dominates the landscape along the highway, with a restaurant inside. Next door, Lions Millennium Park has a yellow caboose and a farmers’ market that operates on Fridays, allowing you to stock up for the weekend with local produce and crafts. A variety of restaurants also serve up great food, with most of them opening their doors along the highway or just a block away. For outdoor activities, visit the Mathison Conservation Area just north of town or George Street Park’s large playground, next to the arena and ballpark. The town is home to the famous Havelock Country Jamboree held annually every August.
Plan a visit to the Marmora Mine, an abandoned open-pit iron ore mine containing a wealth of minerals, including garnet and pyrite. The mine has filled with several hundred feet of water from an underground spring which was exposed during mining operations. The wooded area around it also plays host to a variety of wildlife. For another outdoor adventure, go on a treasure hunt for the former Saint Matilda Church. Its limestone ruins are a popular site to visit, thanks to the nice trek in and the scenic spring-fed falls along the shores of Crowe Lake. The main street has nice shops and restaurants, if you’re seeking antiques, a good meal or a few treasures. Details
The O’Hara Mill Homestead on Mill Road offers a unique mix of history and high tech to those who have taken up geocaching. The expansive grounds feature numerous outbuildings, beautiful trails, and exciting stories from the past. The friendly, knowledgeable guides will take you on a journey through time, and provide an in-depth view of pioneer life in the 1800s. Featuring a covered bridge, a museum, a sugar shack, a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and many other interesting buildings to explore. There are five caches, four traditional and one multi, hidden within the conservation area. If the thrill of the hunt is what you’re seeking, you could easily spend a day geocaching in Madoc or at any of the more than 50 sites within a 20-kilometre radius of the O’Hara Mill Homestead, including one at Ontario’s first Gold Mine.
Address: 638 Mill Rd, Madoc
Back on the highway, stop by the Unconventional Moose. The gift store is hard to miss, based on the large moose statue on the lawn and the bright blue sign on the building. Inside, you’ll find a pair of friendly Maritimers with an eye for rustic, animal-themed gifts.
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Bon Echo Provincial Park
Just north of Kaladar, the 24-minute drive to this gem of a park is so worth the time. Mazinaw Rock looms over Mazinaw Lake, 100 metres above the water, and has more than 260 Indigenous pictograms that speak to the history of the so-called “painted rock.” You can find it via one of the many hiking trails in the park, ranging in length from one to 17 kilometres. You can stay to camp and fish to enjoy your stay a little longer. Details
This artistic community has a sign visible from the highway, so follow the road to discover its charms. You can hike on the trails around the town or stop in at the shops of renowned resident potter, batik artist or Gallery on the Bay. Enjoy the waterfront views from Kennebec Lake, the Mill Pond or Big Clear Lake just far enough away from the sounds of Hwy. 7 to have a true escape. Details
The provincial park of the same name is easy to find, right off Hwy. 7. Once there, you can watch for barred owls or red-shouldered hawks, among other birds. Look for them on the 30-minute hike along Ridgeview Trail, where you climb the steep ridge between Black and Sharbot lakes, or the hour-long trek of the Discovery Trail that includes a forest hike and spectacular views. The lake has tremendous fishing if you bring your rod along, whether from within the park or the pier in the town. Details
Silver Lake Provincial Park
Located on a picturesque lake that offers great swimming, canoeing, boating, and fishing, Silver Lake Provincial Park is sure to capture your heart. Silver Lake is a long, narrow basin that was carved out by glaciers. It is great for family fishing and is easily accessible as you travel along Highway 7. The lake itself is 9 km long and has a maximum depth of 80-feet. Look for smallmouth bass or pike along the rocky and sandy shorelines or just sit back and enjoy the views.
Just east of Maberly, turn south off the highway to discover a hidden artistic community of Brooke, where a collection of award-winning potters has set up a series of shops. Each has an individual shop where you can see the individuals’ unique styles. On Labour Day, the park in Maberley hosts the incredible Sundance Artisan Show in the park and along paths through the forest.
When you arrive at the traffic lights at the west end of Perth, turn north to discover the little town with a surprising number of treats. In addition to the Balderson Cheese Shop (a former cheese-making plant), you’ll find Amish furniture, women’s fashions and great takeout food, all just four minutes off the beaten path.
Don’t be fooled by the national brand stores along the highway. Turn south and within a few blocks, you will discover Perth’s true charms. It has unique shops and fine dining on virtually every corner of the downtown. Admire the stone buildings, see the site of Canada’s last duel then walk the Tay River Trail, a historic path and portage route tramped down in 1816. 15 Small Towns For a Weekend Trip in Eastern Ontario
Mississippi Lake Bird Sanctuary
Shortly before the village of Innisville, you will discover this hideaway on McEwen Bay of Mississippi Lake, also known as Mud Lake. While it protects a haven for several species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, it is particularly important for the 10,0000 ducks avoiding hunters during their annual autumn migration. If you are looking to add to your life list, come here to see American black ducks, mallards, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal and hooded mergansers.
Like Perth, you could be tempted to just drive through without finding out what treasures lie beyond the box stores on the highway. Set along the winding Mississippi River, it offers a walking tour to ensure you see all its Seven Wonders. Don’t miss the 16 hand-painted murals that depict historical moments, like the legendary visit by Stompin’ Tom Connors.
This small village remains delightfully untouched by the nearby city of Ottawa. Its old-time general store (closed) and pub are worth a stop in before you hit heavier traffic ahead. After crossing the bridge over the Jock River, follow the McCaffrey Trail through the woods before admiring the old stone churches and climbing back into the car.