A local craft beer suggestion shared by your server. A tip on the best cup of coffee in town overheard at the gas station. Directions from your inn’s owner to a special spot to catch the sunset. There’s just something about getting the inside scoop from people who live in the place you’re visiting that makes a trip feel extra special. 

 

The residents of Ontario’s Southwest are incredibly proud of the small towns and friendly communities they call home and embrace the role of “local guide” with gusto. The growing number of hands-on experiences offered in the area speaks to the passion locals feel for helping guests really get to know the communities they’re visiting. Here are six excellent examples of immersive experiences in Ontario’s Southwest led by hosts who go above and beyond to help travellers forge a lasting connection with our region. 

The Experience: Forest Fit Guided Hiking in Haldimand County 

 

Sharon Beaudet’s immersive hiking trips offer guests much more than fresh air, exercise, and gorgeous off-the-beaten-path scenery. During the experiences, which range from 90 minutes to three hours, Sharon teaches participants about local plant species and their historical uses, serves delicious local refreshments, and shares her incredible passion for the land she loves. Book a Forest Fit hike

 

While You’re in the Area: Enjoy a meal before or after your hike at a beloved local spot like Twisted Lemon, Debb’s Cuisine on Queen, Hoover’s Marina and Wharfside Restaurant, The Minga or The Carolinian Cafe & Eatery

 

Stay a Little Longer: Reserve a cozy room at Twisted Lemon, Carrousel Bed & Breakfast, Broecheler Inn or Door 25 Stays

 

Forest Fit

The Experience: Big Creek Eco-Adventure in Norfolk County  

 

Having paddled two oceans, a few seas, and countless rivers and lakes, Jamie Kent knows a thing or two about the conditions that make for a fantastic float! On his five-hour Big Creek Eco-Adventure paddle, Jamie broadens his guests’ perspectives by sharing access to a seldom-travelled waterway that is so spectacular it’s known as Canada’s Amazon. As guests make their way down the small river hidden under a canopy of ancient trees, Jamie points out birds, animal tracks, and plants while sharing stories of Big Creek’s history. He’s also happy to point guests toward the local craft breweries that best suit their tastes at the end of the trip! Book this paddle. 

 

While You’re in the Area: Fuel up after your paddle with a relaxed meal at Charlotteville Brewing Company, The Mule Port Dover, David’s Restaurant or Barrel Pizza & Spaghetti House Restaurant

 

Stay a Little Longer: Settle in for a night or two and get to know the Lake Erie shore a little more! Excellent local spots to stay include Homegrown Hideaway, Long Point Eco-Adventures, The Dover George and Clonmel Castle

The Experience: From Tree to Table Build-Your-Own Charcuterie Board Experience in Oxford County 

 

Woodworker David Schonberger’s love for his plot of land in Oxford County was so big he felt called to share it with others. The result of that dream is an award-winning experience that invites guests to explore his woodland ecosystem before making themselves at home in his artisanal woodshop to craft their own live-edge charcuterie board from a piece of locally harvested lumber. As they work with David’s grandfather’s vintage tools and sip on tea made from freshly foraged ingredients beside a crackling fire, participants quickly begin to feel an emotional connection to Oxford County. David even sends folks home with a box of hand-selected local meats, cheeses and preserves to showcase on their brand-new boards! Book this experience

 

While You’re in the Area: Taste for yourself why Oxford County is known as the Dairy Capital of Canada by enjoying decadent dishes at local hotspots like SixThirtyNine, The Olde Bakery Café or IRONWORKS kitchen

 

Stay a Little Longer: Keep that treasured guest feeling going strong with an overnight stay at Elm Hurst Inn & Spa, Spruce Lea Gatherings or Seven Gables Tillsonburg BnB

The Experience: Legends of Lake Erie Gourmet Picnics and Sunset Cruises in Port Stanley 

 

Whether their guests choose to enjoy a relaxed picnic on a sandy beach, a Lake Erie sunset cruise, or an immersive Great Lake eco-adventure, the passionate crew at Legends of Lake Erie is always eager to share fascinating points of local interest and the inside scoop on the area’s history and wildlife. Plus, with a portion of profits given back to community and environmental projects, this is fun you can feel extra good about! Book a Legends of Lake Erie experience. 

 

While You’re in the Area: Take advantage of Legends of Lake Erie’s Cruise and Dine package and you’ll receive a gift certificate to keep the local love going at a popular nearby restaurant like GT’s On The Beach, Two Forks, The Edible Journey, or 782 Taphouse

 

Stay a Little Longer: Why limit your Lake Erie beach escape to a day trip? Settle in for the evening at Inn on the Harbour, Kettle Creek Inn & Restaurant or Windjammer Inn

 

Lake Erie Boating

The Experience: Covent Garden Market Gastro Experience in London 

 

Get to know the cast of characters that call London’s historic Covent Garden Market home. On this three-hour tasting tour, the market’s friendly chefs, cheesemongers, butchers, bakers, coffee roasters, and chocolatiers share samples of their delicious locally sourced seasonal items! After strolling, sipping, and savouring your way through the market, you’ll leave with a true insider’s perspective of one of London’s most iconic culinary destinations. Book this experience. 

 

While You’re in the Area: After giving yourself plenty of time to digest your tour’s generous samples, treat yourself to another taste of London’s culinary scene with dinner at The Root Cellar, Toboggan Brewing Co., or Grace Restaurant.  

 

Stay a Little Longer: In addition to its amazing culinary scene, London’s excellent walking trails, diverse collection of craft breweries, and fantastic concert venues make it a perfect destination for an overnight getaway. Excellent accommodation options include Hotel Metro, Idlewyld Inn & Spa, and The Park Hotel London

 

Covent Garden Market 01

The Experience: Awaken Your Spirit: A Spirit Horse Encounter at TJ Stables 

 

Gain a more accurate understanding of Indigenous traditions on this three-hour experience that will leave you with a heightened sense of reverence and respect for the enduring bond between humans and horses. Stable owner Terry Jenkins has dedicated countless hours to help save the endangered Ojibway Spirit Horses, which is thought to be the only existing breed of horse developed by Indigenous people in Canada. In addition to learning the fascinating story behind the breed, participants are invited to walk amongst the magnificent creatures before stepping into an authentic Métis fur trade encampment to hear stories and enjoy Métis fiddle music and Indigenous drumming. Book this experience. 

 

While You’re in the Area: Fuel up with a tasty meal after your educational and engaging afternoon at a local favourite like Mamma Maria’s Ristorante, Chilled Cork Restaurant and Lounge or Churrascaria Steak House

 

Stay a Little Longer: If your Spirit Horse Encounter leaves you longing to spend some more time at this special place, book a night in one of TJ Stables’ authentic Indigenous-made Tipis or their Little Cabin In The Woods. For an overnight stay that’s less rustic, consider  Retro Suites Hotel, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chatham, or Willow Barrel Retreat

In Ontario’s Southwest, the concept of arriving as guests and leaving as friends is not just a slogan but a heartfelt promise woven into the fabric of the region. Through six remarkable hands-on experiences, visitors are not spectators but active participants in a journey of discovery guided by passionate locals who generously share their knowledge, heritage, and love for their communities. After your trip, you’ll be glad that you took the time to get to know the locals because you’ll have an accurate understanding about the culture, traditions, and way of life in the in Ontario’s Southwest. And hopefully you’ll have made some friends along the way!