There are so many ways to enjoy autumn in Ontario, but Grey County offers some of the best fall getaway experiences in our fair province. For one, this little leafy nook of Ontario is bursting with fall foliage and gobsmacking views of Georgian Bay, offering a ton of outdoor activities year-round.Natural assets aside, Grey County is also a culinary wonderland: the region is rich with wineries, farm to fork restaurants, arts and culture, agritourism, and unique food experiences. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the province. After a weekend exploring the region, I’m sharing eight fabulous fall experiences for your next trip to Grey County. Mark your calendar and get going!
Follow the Salmon Trail
It’s an incredible sight to behold. Standing at the Mill Dam, I watch salmon leap and thrash, trying to get to the top of the fish ladder. Later, I venture to Harrison Park to get a closer view of the fish, minus the crowds.
Here, I see salmon jumping and swimming in the stream – including one big guy who got lodged between a rock and the ladder! We muster up some courage and carefully free him – getting splashed in the process.
If you’ve got the stamina, hike, bike, or kayak the “salmon trail.” The route starts at the city’s historic harbour, and ends at the stunning Inglis Falls. Breaking up the trail into portions is easy, and it’s a fantastic route for enjoying fall foliage.
If you’re feeling festive, join Owen Sound’s Salmon Celebration by the Mill Dam! At this free annual event, sip on local beer and wine and taste delicious salmon dishes cooked up by some of Grey County’s best chefs – all while watching the fish journey upstream.
Caffeine Injection at the Barn Coop
Skip the big box café! Get your caffeine fix at The Barn Co-op, a trendy community hub offering wellness services, local organic foods, and arts & crafts.
The in-house coffee shop also serves up hella good fair trade coffee, smoothies, Buddha Bowls, and wild tea shots (!) brewed from backyard plants. Ingredients, such as sorrel, dandelions and pine needles, are sourced straight from the outdoor garden and even foraged from the nearby fields.
“The best food is free,” says Angela Klein, one of the Barn’s staff. “There are so many ways to use wild foods in your diet.”
Embark on an Apple Pie Pilgrimage
Attention dessert lovers! Did you know that there are 36 stops along Grey County’s Apple Pie Trail, where you can feast on apple-inspired fare? From apple orchards to baked apple-flavoured wines to hot apple pie, this region that produces 23% of Ontario’s apples is a foodie’s dream come true.
I start my pie pilgrimage at T& K Ferri Orchards, one of the few farms in Ontario where you can pick your own apples. Take a big bag into the orchard, and fill it to the brim with Gala, Cortland, Ginger Gold, or whatever’s growing.
“We even have a mystery apple growing here,” says co-owner Karen Ferri, leading me through the orchards. “No one can figure out what it is – so we’ve dubbed it the Bay Beauty.”
If picking isn’t your thang, head inside for a tasting of all the apple varieties. Biting into slices of Honey Crisp, Mac, and Gala apples, I’m intrigued by the contrasting flavours, some tarter or sweeter than others.
“The Honey Crisp make an awesome apple sauce,” Karen says.
With tarty sweetness swimming on my tongue, I scoot over to the Ravenna Country Market to learn the art of making (and eating!) a freshly-baked apple pie. Hand-crafting the flaky crust, I daintly scoop out some lard, wiping my hands on my apron afterwards. Anna, the baker, clucks her tongue in disapproval.
“You’ve gotta get your hands dirty, honey,” she says. “It’s the only way to make a great pie.”
By the end, I’m covered in flour, lard, sugar, and cinnamon, but there’s a golden pie bubbling in the oven. Cinnamon spice and apple-y notes waft in the air, and I’m ready to devour a slice as soon as it emerges, piping hot. Taking a bite, I swoon over the juicy sweetness of the Honey Crisp apples, drowning in a thick brown sugar sauce – definitely bliss.
It’s Wine O’ Clock
Today, alcohol is not only legally permitted in Grey County – it’s a thriving scene. The “Saints and Sinners Trail” boasts two prized wineries, three craft breweries, and three cideries – all of offering tastings and special events.
“We’re the way Prince Edward County was ten years ago,” says Joel from Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery. “But we’re much larger and more spread out.”
But make no mistake: the wines of Grey County are like no other in Ontario. The region’s northern latitude and mild, almost balmy climate are conducive to growing L’Acadie Blanc, a rare and highly coveted grape that produces crisp white wines, rich with a citrusy-fruity flavour.
“We’re the sister to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia,” says Joel. “We have the Escarpment that runs to Niagara, so we get those lake effects. We’re one of the only vineyards that works with L’Acadie Blanc.”
Aside from taking a tour, make sure to enjoy a glass on the winery’s patio with a charcuterie board, or wander the vineyard and absorb the gorgeous views of the Escarpment. It’s a recipe for relaxation.
“I love this area,” says Joel. “There’s no reason to come out here – except for us.”
Of course, there’s more than Coffin Ridge’s gorgeous wines to whet your tongue. I stop by Beaver Valley Cidery for a pint of fizzy cider, served in a retrofitted old barn, followed by Georgian Hills Vineyards for booze education.
“We offer sampling flights and vineyard tours,” says our guide. “We’re promoting living local, loving local.”
She lines up several glasses to taste several blends, while explaining how to pair each with different flavours and dishes. The winery even offers intensive workshops on pairing, complete with food. The highlight for me? Sipping Georgian Hill’s Baked Apple Frozen to the Core – an ice wine that tastes like caramelized apples with hints of spices and nuts, and tastes amazeballs with sharp, aged cheddar cheese.
Hiking and Fall Foliage Spotting at Old Baldy
Want fall foliage? Take a walk on the wild side on the Old Baldy-Bruce Trail. Perched over the Niagara Escarpment, the view at 152 metres is breathtaking and reveals autumn colours rippling across the Beaver Valley.
If you’re feeling creative, book an outdoor art class with Wildwood Art Adventures, and spend an afternoon painting in the park.
After working up an appetite, mosey over to the Milk Maid Fine Cheese in Owen Sound for a cheese smorgasbord. The menu listed on the blackboard is simple but delectable: grilled cheese sandwiches with apple butter and caramelized onion; tomato and mozzarella salad; beet and apple soup with a sprinkle of feta; and other delicious dishes that highlight everything fromage gourmet.
Cheese is the answer. Who cares about the question!
Indulge in a Little Volcano Therapy
With all the hiking, eating, and chasing after salmon, you’re going to need to rejuvenate. Luckily, there’s a spa for that – IWA Spa in the Blue Mountain Village.
In this brand new and ultra swanky boutique facility, I shed my sweaty hiking gear and lie down in the rock sauna for a little volcano therapy. A practice originating in Indonesia, these volcanic slabs are heated at 40-degrees and purported to soothe sore muscles, relieve pain, and increase circulation. Lying on the warm rocks, the heat radiates throughout my body, loosening my knotty muscles and coaxing me into a dream-like trance. Stick a fork in me: I’m done!
Indulge in A Five-Star Fall Feast
On my first evening, I dine at Sweetwater, a waterfront restaurant with dreamy views of Georgian Bay. In the Nantucket-style dining room, I savour a parade of fall flavours and culinary delights prepared by Executive Chef Tim Johnston, from the charcuterie board with cured meats and artisan cheeses to an exquisite maple salmon that’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
A culinary “must-do” is a trip to Eigensinn Farm, owned by the legendary Chef Michael Stadtlander. This whimsical property in the woods is a playground for art experimentation, as well as culinary escapades. Sometimes it involves supping outdoors in the forest, set in elaborate dining rooms and art installations that Stadtlander has built from scratch.
“Being on the land, I always get ideas,” says Stadtlander. “I look to combine culture, nature and art here.”
In the fall season, Stadtlander hosts ten-course epic dinners in his home, adorned with quirky carvings and tree branches twisted into chandeliers. A roaring fire greets guests, who arrive armed with 30 bottles of wine (it’s BYOB). Surrounded by all the timber and trinkets, it feels like dining in Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole. Only the unexpected journey involves gourmet cuisine rather than wizards and dragons.
“It’s really about combining nature with the dinners,” says Chef Michael.
Course after course emerges from the kitchen, featuring delicacies like a lobster bisque shooter or roasted chicken served with crispy gnocchi and fire-roasted carrots. But it’s not just about showcasing incredible flavours or artfully presented dishes. Chef Michael has also fully embraced a “farm to fork” philosophy into his menu, creating dishes using his own livestock and fresh fare growing in the surrounding fields.
“I came up with the idea of growing and raising my own food,” says Chef Michael. “Fresh fish, edible flowers, free-range chickens. I give our livestock as much space as possible, so they can have a quality of life. They grow up the way they should.”
Come holiday season, get a taste of Stadtlander’s culinary wonderland at their annual Christkindlmarkt, an outdoor Christmas Market featuring mulled wine, smoked fish and meats, sausages on a bun, and other delicacies.
IF YOU GO:
Grey County is located approximately two hours north of Toronto by car. To plan your trip, check out the Grey County Tourism website for more getaway ideas and inspiration.
For accommodations, book a room at Pretty River Valley Country Inn – a lovely B&B serving a hearty breakfast and surrounded by beautiful and serene landscape of Grey County. It’s also an 8-minute drive to Eigensinn Farm. Make sure to explore the property’s onsite reindeers, pigs, horses, and bee hive.
For an intimate and more urban setting, check into the relaxing Cobble Beach Inn, overlooking the Georgian Bluffs. Each of the 10 elegant rooms are unique, but all feature plush beds and spa-like bathrooms with a deep soaker tub. Make a reservation at the onsite Sweetwater Restaurant for an intimate and memorable dining experience.
The writer was a guest of Grey County Tourism and the tourism board sponsored this post. The tourism board did not review or approve this article in advance.