Everyone knows Lake Ontario is a Great Lake. But the capitalization that goes along with that designation can obscure the fact it’s also just a plain old great lake. Here are six of the best Lake Ontario beaches, perfect for launching a canoe, kayak or SUP. There are rentals available near all the beaches.
It won’t be long before you understand exactly what makes Lake Ontario so great.
Big Sandy Bay, Kingston
The name says it all. Velvety Big Sandy Bay beach looks out onto Lake Ontario from the southwest corner of Wolfe Island. The approach isn’t so much convenient as it is appropriate for a day spent enjoying nature.
The beach waits at the end of a 1.3-kilometer trail winding through a 400-hectare wooded conservation area. The beach was closed in 2019 due to high water levels, which leaves you all the more reason to get out there and enjoy it when the waters recede this spring.
If you want to leave your car behind (and thus get a $2 discount on the $10 entry fee for adults) you can either roll your bicycle onto the ferry from Kingston or be a foot passenger and then hop on the Big Sandy Bus (running on weekends and holidays since 2018) when you land at the Marysville Dock on Wolfe Island. The free ferry ride takes 20 minutes and leaves every hour from Kingston’s dock. Rent watercraft from Ahoye Rentals.
Sandbanks Beach (Day Use Area), Prince Edward County
Being home to the world’s largest freshwater sand bar and dune system is as big a deal as it sounds. The wildly undulating landscape behind Sandbanks Beach is exotic and waiting to be explored. Head inland anywhere along the beach and you’ll pass through steep-sided dune formations and end up on the shores of the warm and welcoming West Lake.
The shoreline and dune sandwich offers plenty of bang for your park admission buck. The rest of the park has hundreds of campsites, but none are near the dunes, which keeps the dunes from being too busy.
Park admission: $12.25 – $21 per car load for day use permits. Rent locally at West Lake Watersports.
Victoria Beach, Cobourg
Victoria Beach is so central to this historic town that even the locals usually just call it Cobourg Beach. It’s a one-kilometer stretch of impressively clean and white sand that abuts the charming downtown district. It’s the perfect place for sandcastles, and the perfect time is the first Saturday of every August when the Cobourg Sandcastle Festival takes shape. Check out the master class for inspiration and then enter ($5 per person) the amateur category, if you think you’ll dig it.
Find watercraft rentals at Green Canoe Outfitters.
Bluffer’s Beach, East Toronto
At the bottom of Brimley Road a wide, deep, flat beach arcs gently under the towering Scarborough Bluffs that top out at 90 meters. It’s a setting that often easily overwhelms the limited parking available, so take advantage of the new TTC bus that leaves from Kennedy Station every 15 minutes on weekends and holidays, from spring to October.
The wide beach to the east of the marina has more real estate and softer sand, but search out Bluff Lookout Beach to the west for a smaller beach where the nearly vertical bluffs drop right down to the beach as dramatically eroded landforms. Access is free and amenities include change rooms and showers. Find local SUP rentals at Surf the Greats.
Hanlan’s Point Beach, Toronto Islands
Hanlan’s Point Beach makes up the west-facing rim of Toronto’s boomerang-shaped Centre Island. Most visitors stick to the island’s interior, but those who poke through the treeline to the west emerge onto a scene that might take them by surprise if they haven’t been previously debriefed.
Hanlan’s Point Beach is one of two officially clothing-optional beaches in Canada (the other one is Wreck Beach in Vancouver). Nudity isn’t the order of the day for the entire beach. It’s divided into zones, with bathing-suited sun bathers being given the northern end to act conventionally. The western exposure makes it a great place to watch sunsets, the Labour Day airshow and, depending on the time of month, a full moon.
Ferries to Hanlan’s Point leave from the downtown Jack Layton Terminal every 30 minutes. Rent from the Toronto Islands Boathouse.
Fifty Point Beach, Hamilton
Fifty Point Beach is the jewel of an 80-hectare conservation area on the eastern border of Hamilton. Picnic, boat, swim, stroll, fish, bike—it’s all on the itinerary here, with camping accommodations available. The beach sits in a cove that’s largely protected from prevailing westerlies, so most days the waters are calm and the wind is light.
Facilities include change rooms in the beachouse. Get there from the Fifty Road exit on the Queen Elizabeth Way. Entrance fees are $15 per car plus $5 per passenger over five years of age. Or $5 per person for those walking or biking in. Rent a SUP to explore from SUP Hamilton.