Exploring Small Town Ontario, Summer Day Trip to Coldwater

In the summer it’s fun to go on a few day trips in between vacation plans. I think of it as a mini vacation, a day to feel inspired, open your eyes to a new area and have a little adventure.

I’ve learned a thing or two about planning for these little trips. It’s good to have a light plan but looking too much up online about an area leaves little time to explore. With no expectations you leave room for the day to unfold as its intended. In the past I would plan out 4 or 5 stops thinking this left room for any spontaneous stops along the way. I always left a place feeling as though I didn’t see everything I had wanted. The research itself which leads to the ‘over- planning,’ is fun and can by justified by just wanting to make sure you have a good time. However this is the style of planning that takes away from the trip. Instead of pulling over to check out a nice fruit stand or roadside lookout area you are racing to some attraction that closes at a certain time.

To really explore, don’t make plans. Instead, figure out an area to visit, have a full tank of gas and some water bottles and just drive. I always like taking one route there and finding a different route home, even if one route takes longer. Make sure to have a car phone charger as google maps can drain a battery quickly and put someone in charge of directions. Often, by exploring streets adjacent to a main downtown strip, you will find great shops or local artisans that can’t yet afford rent on popular streets and are just starting out. If it’s hot outside pack swim gear to stop at a lake to get some time in the water. There’s always a boat launch or public beach area on a lake on the way home and nothing beats small-town Ontario’s fresh water on a hot summer’s day.

Love Coldwater’s knitted tree wraps lining the streets!

Just recently I went to Coldwater Ontario. It’s just north of Orillia. Coldwater can be done in a half day so it’s nice to finish the day in Orillia. Coldwater is a unique little town. Its location, size, beauty and hint of a steampunk community will have you scratching your head and wondering… why is this all here? That’s part of the mystique of small towns. Once you get there you start to get interested in the history. All over Ontario these teeny tiny towns exist and flourish in the summer tourism months. Coldwater is not the size of popular small town hot-spots such as Port Perry, Niagara-on-the Lake or Port Hope. It’s a fraction of the size and seemingly off the beaten path, yet thriving, cultural, artsy, historic and incredibly charming. Once you take a closer look and understand its incredibly rich history you begin to understand some of its uniqueness.

The Queen visiting Coldwater

When I got home I did a bit of research as the town left me wondering about its past. I knew it was once a logging community but digging further I found out Coldwater is the second oldest community in Ontario. More importantly Coldwater was named by the Chippewa ‘Gissinausebing,’ which in Ojibway means ‘cold water.’ The town has a rich First Nations history and directly describes what colonization and assimilation looked like centuries ago in Ontario. Learning the history of an area, although sad at times gives such a different perspective.


Cute shops, antiques, restaurants and cafe’s…Coldwater has it all



Amongst the many adorable gift and antique shops, one stop that is a must-see is ‘The Christmas Villager,’ shop. Its always fun going into a Christmas store off season. I also stopped in to see if I could find another ornament from Coldwater resident carver Marc DeGagne. I have one of his owls which are very popular, and this year I could not resist the hand carved beaver that made me think of Canada’s 150th. When I got home, I decided to look up the artist and found that you can actually visit his gallery (Northwoods Carvings) annually on the Coldwater Studio Tour.

You can buy this adorable owl ornament at The Christmas Villager in town!


This is the new ornament I bought to add to my collection! 


The Coldwater Grist Mill

Another must-stop in Coldwater is a cute little restaurant in the old mill that overlooks the river called Mill Street Bistro. Its a great spot to enjoy lunch or dinner on the patio or in their dining room.

Mill Street Bistro
The Mill Street Bistro patio with the sound of the river creates the perfect summer lunch atmosphere

Next time you are in the area, headed to a cottage up Highway 12, or looking for a nice day trip, consider visiting Coldwater. It really is a beautiful little town with lots of cute shops and a vivid history.

When I arrived back home I felt like I’d been gone for weeks. This is exactly why making a little day trip a priority in the summer is so worth it. There is much to be explored within driving distance and learning your local geography while making memories is so fulfilling.

I hope everyone is having a great summer!

Lv, Julie♥


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