Only an hour and 30-minute drive from Toronto, you’ll find the Elora Gorge Conservation Area, a perfect day or weekend camping getaway for any family in the GTA that offers plenty of activities for families seeking to escape the big city.
When we spent three days camping there, we found it was a great way to get an Ontario small town experience combined with an outdoor adventure. The nearby picturesque town of Elora makes it easy to pop in town for ice cream or to dine out a restaurant if you get tired of camp cooking.
Here are a few awesome activities you can explore while there.
This activity is best described as being in a water park in a natural setting, minus any lifeguards. Before you plan your trip, make sure you call the Elora Gorge Conservation Area in advance to check if the conservation area is open for tubing. The Grand River is only open for tubing when the water flow is just right. Too much and it gets too dangerous and too little means you are scraping the bottom. When we visited it was only open to tubing one of the days and we scheduled our activities according to that. The park rents out everything you need for tubing; helmets, tire tubes, and life jackets. Make sure you bring water shoes, as the rocks on the bottom of the river are quite sharp. Your kids need to be 122 cm (48 inches) tall and be with an adult to be able to tube here.
We tubed with our 5 and 10-year-olds and didn’t run into any problems. My youngest loved it, but I can see that it might be a bit scary for some younger kids. I think the most essential skill kids should have before doing this activity is good swimming skills and the confidence to be comfortable in the water. Having a little adventurous spirit certainly helps as well. Strong swimming skills regardless of wearing a lifejacket is a safety thing, but it also helps the kids better enjoy their time on the water as it takes around 2 hours to tube down the river.
At the beginning of the river run, you will find the rapids are quite strong and the flow is quite fast. Because of the strong rapids, I used one arm to hold on to my youngest daughter’s tube to make sure she was close to me. It went fast and it was especially cool rushing down the rapids under a bridge. The last part of the tube ride is slower paced and we could see the waterfall and the gorge from the bottom.
Find contact information and fees here.
The park itself is a small area with only three kilometres of walking trails which makes it perfect for little legs. The trails offer many rewarding sights like cool limestone formations, cedar trees and the view of the gorge from both the top and the bottom. That said, make sure you stay on the marked trails and keep your kids close, as the trails don’t always have fences keeping people away from the gorge. A highlight of this park is the Hole in The Rock waterfall and the lookout that sits over the gorge.
Lover’s Leap Trail Irvine Creek
A great hike close to the park is the Lover’s Leap Trail which you can access from Victoria Park by Irvine Creek. There you will find a staircase that is carved into the limestone that will take you down to Irvine Creek. You’ll see great views over Irvine Creek, the David Street Bridge plus two caves.
Swimming at the Quarry
photo via blogto.com
Have a dip in the turquoise water and enjoy the amazing scenery of 40-foot-tall limestone cliffs framing the quarry. The quarry might be one of the most popular swimming holes in Ontario, so make sure you are early as the place fills up fast.
The campsite we stayed in was reasonably private with a nice view of the gorge. Elora Gorge has basic campsites without running water and an electrical outlet on site. There are a few campsites with electrical and water hook-ups. Please note this park has alcohol and cannabis bans.
Attractions Close By
The town of Elora is worth a stroll. You will find lots of stone buildings dating back to the 1800s and the river walk is an attraction in itself with the Elora Gorge Falls and the Elora Mill Inn. It is easy to understand why many Hollywood movies have used Elora as a coulisse.
Nearby St. Jacobs is also worth a visit to get a feel for the town’s unique Mennonite history and artesian stores and restaurants.
Our kids also loved the St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway and a visit to the interpretive center that tells the Mennonite story.