Prince Edward County, affectionately known as 'The County', is an island on Lake Ontario that's much loved by travellers and locals alike. It’s a place of historical significance in the Loyalist movement -following the War of 1812, Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, called this place home for a time.
The Canadian heritage that lives on in Prince Edward County continues to draw history buffs, though in more recent years the island has made itself a new claim to fame – wine!
Wine touring is one of the most popular things to do in Prince Edward County. In 2000, there was only one single winery there, and now there are over 40. Wine tasting may be the most popular activity in Prince Edward County, but you won’t be able to resist the restaurant scene, even if you’re not a foodie.
With the expansion into wine, its great beaches, new culinary initiatives, hip boutiques and a growing art scene, we think Prince Edward County is one of the best weekend getaways near Toronto.
1. Explore The County
One of the best things to do in Prince Edward County is visit Sandbanks Provincial Park. The park's main draw are the stretches of pristine shorelines and sand dunes up to five stories high. Dunes Beach, which made it onto our list of the best beaches in Ontario, is where you’ll find the largest sand dunes. The park is also a great place to go hiking - try the Cedar Sands Nature Trail or the Woodlands Trail to explore some of the inner parts of Sandbanks Provincial Park.
Tip: If you're visiting Sandbanks on a peak summer weekend, you'll want to go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to be able to get in as the parking lots fill up quickly.
If you’re looking to get out on the water, Prince Edward County is surrounded by over 500 km of shoreline, so you can be sure to find boating activities and sailing charters. County Sailing Adventures offers group or private sailing cruises just off the shore of Waupoos, or you can rent your own at Pontoon Boat Rentals on the West Lake near Sandbanks Provincial Park.
Back on land, try your hand at antiquing–Prince Edward County is known for its antique and vintage boutiques. There are over a dozen shops with various specialities. We love The Local Store in Bloomfield, which is in an old fashioned barn that features the works of local artists in addition to antiques. FRUgal and Company in Picton is also a great stop, especially if you’re looking for some whacky and retro oddities.
If you happen to be in Prince Edward County in early July, check out the Lavender Festival at Prince Edward County Lavender. You’ll find live music, crafts, face painting and other activities for the family. Even if you can’t make it to the festival, a visit to the rows of lavender any time during their summer harvest season is a relaxing way to spend the day.
Before you head home for the night, you can’t miss a stop to the Mustang Drive-in. This old-fashioned movie park is sure to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. But not to worry, they screen all the new blockbuster hits and some selections for kids as well.
Local tip: To see some of the hidden beauty of Prince Edward County, sign up for the annual Waterfalls Tour. Over two days, you can join the Picton Rotary Club on a hike to two rarely seen waterfalls. Both are on private property, but visitors are granted access for a small donation to the Rotary Water Project. Bring your hiking boots and your camera.
2. Cycle the island
Because Prince Edward County is made up of mostly flat landscapes, it is great for cycling. In addition to its already perfect landscape, the Millenium Trail has nearly 50 km of cycling routes for riders to take advantage of. Cars are not allowed on most of the trail, so this one is really for pedestrians and cyclists!
Many of the best Prince Edward County wineries can be accessed by this trail, so people embark on guided or self-guided cycling wine tours for a day of activity. The County Wine tours offers guides, or you can rent a bike for around $30-40 a day from companies like Bloomfield Bike Company and County Bike Rentals. Be sure to reserve one in advance to avoid disappointment.
Many of the wineries are clustered around the sections of the trail near Wellington, but there are quite a few other routes as well. Try the Park Route to get to Sandbanks Provincial Park or the Cressy Loop near Picton.
3. Tour the wineries and breweries
Because of the limestone-rich soils in Prince Edward County, the region has become a Designated Viticultural Area, which means the county produces a lot of wine! In summer, wine touring on bike is one of the top things to do in the area. Have you ever done a wine tasting in a barn? The County is known for its rustic but hip vibe, and the wine tasting is no different. Most wineries have a tasting room and offer tastings for $5 or free with the purchase of a bottle.
Looking for the best wineries on the island to add to your tour? Every winery in Prince Edward County offers unique wines and delicious food options for pairing. Here are just a few of our favourites:
If you're looking to please a diverse foodie audience, head to Hinterland Wine Company for sparkling wines, oysters and a selection of the The County's top food trucks.
Hillier Estates, Closson Chase and Grange of Prince Edward Winery should also be in your list. They are all on beautiful rustic properties, with the latter offering some gourmet goodies (including everything you need for an outdoor picnic on the grounds!)
The largest of the wineries in the area is Sandbanks Winery, which offers a large selection of wine as well as regular and “enhanced” tastings in a lovely outdoor setting that you don't want to miss.
If you’re not a biker, or if your party plans to do more than a little bit of wine sampling, book transport with one of the many Prince Edward County wine tours. Make sure to take advantage of the Terroir on the Move Passport, offered in the spring. The $50 passport gets you unique tasting experiences at 6 selected wineries.
Local tip: There is more to Prince Edward County than just wine! Visit Kinsip House Of Fine Spirits, a hip distillery on a beautiful Loyalist style property, for their handmade spirits like vodka, gin and rum. Their tasting room is open 7 days a week in the summer. Make sure to try their signature maple whiskey.
Not a wine fan? Here are other beverages you can try while in The County:
Go to Midtown Brewing Co. in Wellington for a fun beer tasting experience. You can pair a flight of French, German, and Belgium beers with a meal made by chef Neil Dowson. In Picton, be sure to stop at Parsons Brewing Co. for a pint in a rustic setting.
A fan favourite is Grandpa Miguel’s, Coffee Stout or if you’re a fan of kitsch, visit Prince Eddy’s Brewing Company. Their two-storey tasting room is decked out in Hawaiian decor. For a brew with a view Lake on the Mountain Brewing Co is a classic. Their location near the beautiful Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park makes it stand out experience.
4. Listen to some live music
If the warm weather makes you feel like putting on your dancing shoes, go head out to enjoy some Prince Edward County live music. The Agrarian Bistro in Bloomfield serves brunch, lunch and dinner, and also has a speakeasy downstairs with live music on weekends. The Acoustic Bar and Grill offers pub fare and local beers on tap with musical performances most weekends. For a late night on the town, grab your tickets for a barn party at the Hayloft Dance Hall. It's the only late night party in the area and evening shuttles run to and from the venue from several towns.
For all things jazz, make time to go to the Jazz Fest in August. From classic to modern sounds the PEC Jazz Festival has gained a reputation as the true Jazz lovers festival. The week-long event brings more than 100 musicians every year from home and abroad.
5. Celebrate the harvesting season
Fall is a great time to explore the wineries of Prince Edward County as it marks the beginning of harvesting season.
This time of year, the grapes and many other regionally grown produce are ready to be harvested. Many vineyards, like Stanners Vineyards and Cape Vineyards, host grape harvesting parties. More often than not, volunteers can get a hot lunch or some complimentary wine to sip on while they help harvest the grapes from the vines.
Sandbanks Winery also has a Harvest Festival with grape stomping, vineyard tours, live music, fresh juice tasting and delicious food. Then, in late November, join the Wassail The County bus tour to join participating vineyards in celebrating the end of a hard work’s year. Get ready to sing!
Fall is the right time of year for other harvests too. There are many U-pick orchards and farms, so grab yourself a basket and load up on some of the freshest local produce Ontario has to offer. Stop at Campbell's Orchards for apple, tomato and pumpkin picking!
Local Tip: the region's claim to fame is wine, but there are some great ciders around too. Visit The County Cider for an apple orchard tour and delicious tastings.
6. See the fall colours
If you love fall colours, Prince Edward County has great foliage that can’t be missed. Go for a bike or car ride to experience the changing leaves.
If you’re there before October 14th, visit Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park for some the most scenics views you’ll take in while on Prince Edward County. This lake is a mystery to many as there is no logical reason for its location and constant flow of clean water with no apparent source. Go for the fall views over Picton Bay and the great picnic spots - we promise you won’t be disappointed!
As you're driving around the County, take in the region's Loyalist architecture. Explore the historic sites and old-fashioned barns along Loyalist Parkway/Highway 33. Most have been converted into venues for more modern day use, such as the beautiful purple barn at Closson Chase Winery or the Hayloft Dancehall.
For the little ones in your group, Prince Edward County offers some exciting activities and not-so-spooky fun. A special Prince Edward County tradition is Scarecrowfest in Picton, where participants get to make their very own take-home scarecrow. To go on with the seasonal fun, visit Pumpkinfest in Wellington, which was featured on our list of Canada’s best fall festivals for Halloween-themed floats, animals, live music, vintage cars, tractors and, of course, pumpkins. The weigh-in contest has seen giant 1000-pound pumpkins!
7. Check out the fall festivals
Ever had the itch to go to an old-fashioned county fair? Visit the Milford Fall Fair, which has become a tradition as the homecoming fair celebrating the end of WWII.
The Ameliasburgh Fall Fair kicks off with a Mainstreet parade and the Picton Fall Fair is packed with carnival rides and indulgent snacks. You’ll find classic rustic fair offerings like homemade pies, crafts, agricultural demonstrations and live animals. A carnival visit is one of everyone’s favourite things to do in Prince Edward County!
For music lovers, apart from the previously mentioned Jazz Fest, the country has two other major music festivals: Sandbanks Music Festival and the Prince Edward Chamber Music Festival. Make sure to check them out if you are visiting in September.
If you’re more of a foodie, check out TASTE Community Grown, one of the county’s most anticipated food gatherings, featuring over 50 vendors in a repurposed airplane hangar. Another great way to experience the flavours of the region is CountyLicious, a celebration where some of the best restaurants in Prince Edward County put forward prix fixe menus featuring their most impressive dishes.
8. Walk in the winter wonderland
Because Prince Edward County is mainly flat terrain, cross-country skiing is the winter sport of choice for most visitors and locals. Sandbanks Provincial Park has over 10 km of cross-country routes, and a fresh blanket of snow turns the Millennium Trail into the perfect ski trail. Rent some skis or snowshoes and explore!
Local tip: You can also pair your cross-country experience with wine tastings at Three Dog Winery or Sugarbush Vineyards, which offer their property to ski-toting visitors during the winter.
Some visitors also find a lot of enjoyment simply walking along the water during winter. Popular places like Sandbanks Dune Beach and Wellington Rotary Beach are more or less deserted in the winter, so a visit to see the icy shores can be a surreal experience.
Another popular winter pastime in Prince Edward County is ice-fishing. The region prides itself on being the “Wall-Eye Capital of the World”, and you’ll also have an easy time catching some large-mouthed bass. Give it a try if you’re looking for unique things to do in Prince Edward County. Be sure to book a guide: you'll want to go with professionals if you’ve never done this before to ensure the ice is safe to stand on.
9. Appreciate The County's art
It’s no secret that the art scene in Prince Edward County is special. Many artists have come from other Canadian cities to join in on the established art presence, propelling its growth. The best way to explore the scene is to follow the Prince Edward County Arts Trail. This trail connects artists and art lovers together. Follow their map to find all the professional art studios and special galleries in town.
Plan a visit to the Oeno Gallery, located on-site at Huff Estates winery. They have some very impressive outdoor sculpture art and works by members of the famous Group of Seven.
Your art pilgrimage won’t be complete until you visit the historic Regent Theatre on Main Street, Picton. This Edwardian style opera house is one of the last still standing in all of Canada. The Regent Theatre Foundation has painstakingly restored the building to its original glory and maintained it since. The theatre screens a variety of films, from blockbusters to indie flicks. On stage, live performances and musical events are regularly held, making it a community centre for the arts.
10. Don't miss the food scene
Wether you want to dine out or just grab a takeaway bite, the food scene in Prince Edward County is so vast that eating your way thought the region is a reason on its own to visit The County.
An absolute must-do is to try some Prince Edward County cheese! Start with a visit to the Black River Cheese Company. This historic dairy has roots running back to 1901. It’s located on a nice property by the water in Milford, and you won’t want to miss their famous maple cheddar. Another stop on the dairy visit is Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. Their facility resembles a bunker and they specialize in goat and buffalo cheeses.
As the snow is melting, there are plenty of maple related things to do in Prince Edward County. There are a dozen sugarbush farms in the area for you and your family to visit. Local businesses also celebrate Maple in the County, a two-day festival where you can taste ciders, baked goods and all sorts of sweet and sticky goodies.
Countylicious also comes back in the spring. Just like in the fall, participating Prince Edward County restaurants select their best dishes and offer them at a fixed price. It’s a fun way to try out some new dishes from Prince Edward County’s best restaurants.
How to get to Prince Edward County
Whether you're flying in or living in Central Canada, you can reach the County by car. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Ottawa and Toronto, or 5 hours from Montreal. If you don't have one, you'll definitely want to book a car to explore the island as there is no public transport or efficient taxi service in the area.
If you’re coming from Toronto or if you’re okay with going a little bit out of the way, stop at The Big Apple for apple-themed everything. Goodies, games and animals make it the perfect pitstop. You can get there by taking Highway 401 about an hour outside of Prince Edward County.
Where to Stay
The County is made out of several big communities, or wards, with the most popular being Picton, Wellington and Bloomfield.
As hotel options are limited in the area, there are many great choices for rentals in Prince Edward County. If you want to stay in town, you can find whole home rentals as well as bed and breakfasts around the key towns.
If you’re partial to the beautiful lakeside scenery, get a cottage or a Loyalist style house near the water. Luckily, you’ll find that all of the County is reachable for exploration no matter where on the island choose to stay.