On a Saturday morning in Thornbury, there’s a lot of main street action in the small town that’s one of the hubs of Ontario’s South Georgian Bay region. Hungry visitors circle around a mainstay: the Thornbury Bakery Café, where fruits of the predawn baking shift are being loaded into large glass display cases. Fresh-baked bread, cinnamon buns, Nanaimo bars, three styles of butter tarts, lemon meringue pies and a dizzying selection of cookies (including vegan and gluten-free choices). It’s the perfect spot to select a few indulgences, head back to the RV and discuss plans for the visit ahead.
Pretty little Thornbury is often overlooked by the high profile (and much higher hills) of its well-known neighbours—Blue Mountain and Collingwood. But the entire South Georgian Bay region has much to offer campers and RVers: it’s about a two-hour drive from Toronto; it has a burgeoning foodie scene; it is packed with outdoor activities from spots to toss in a fishing line to hikes through mysterious caves and caverns; there is a world-class spa, and local orchards offer some of the best apple picking (and eating!) in the province.
What to Eat & Drink in South Georgian Bay
Let’s start with the food and drink the South Georgian Bay area is known for.
A ten-minute drive south of Thornbury—along Grey County Rd. 2—is a crossroads where you’ll find the Ravenna Country Market. “Best pies and butter tarts in Ontario,” advised a hungry looking bicyclist lounging on the bench by the front door. “Get the bumbleberry pie and while you’re at it get a butter tart.”
The old general store is picture perfect—well-worn wood plank floors, coolers stuffed with homemade dishes like chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie. Displays of the famous butter tarts and pies are stacked on the long wooden countertop. The Country Market is a member of the region’s Apple Pie Trail with its signature dish of Curry Carrot & Apple Soup.
The gently rolling hills are dotted with thousands of acres of apple orchards which thrive in a micro-climate created by proximity to the Niagara Escarpment and a large body of water (South Georgian Bay produces one-quarter of Ontario’s apple crop). Some orchards are part of the official Apple Pie Trail and most sell U-pick as well as fresh picked baskets of more than a dozen apple varieties like Honey Crisp, Gala, Paula Red and Ginger Gold.
The apple theme is everywhere. A stone’s throw from the village is the Thornbury Village Cider & Brew House, housed in what was once an apple storage warehouse. Since 2006, they’ve been producing some of Ontario’s best craft beers and ciders—small batch and pressed from local, fresh apples to create flavours like blood orange and cranberry apple. The Brew House is also a stop on the Apple Pie Trail, known for the limited edition spiced apple cider that tastes like liquid apple pie.
Downtown Collingwood is also a foodie’s delight. The best way to explore is to lace up a comfy pair of shoes and begin a walk of main street from the waterfront (once home to Collingwood’s famous shipyards). Along the way there is a wealth of small shops selling unique clothing and home décor items. But it’s the locally-owned, small eateries—some with long histories that make them favourites with Collingwood residents—that are worth a stop to sit on the patio or pick up some takeout to add to the supplies onboard the RV.
The Summit Social House is the town’s original bike café, a spot where you can pick up a zippy morning espresso and make an appointment to get your bike repaired. Duncan’s Café is known for its Eggs Benny and Huevos Ranchero breakfasts. The walls are decorated with local art and the music leans toward musicians like Bruce Springsteen. Espresso Post is a local favourite and the perfect place to get baked goods and pastries like traditional Portuguese custard tarts, chocolate walnut scones as well as sandwiches for takeout. For a more substantial meal—or takeout meals and specialty Greek products to take back to the campground—try Fig & Feta Greek Eatery’s selection of pre-made Greek meals, housemade dips and sauces. Finally—not a meal but a great way to start off dinner hour—head for the 1858 Caesar Bar, North America’s first Caesar bar with a menu of almost 50 signature Caesar drinks from Surf & Turf to Saki Caesar. There’s also a build-your-own Caesar bar stacked with ingredients to create your own custom beverage.
What to See & Do in South Georgian Bay
Halfway between Thornbury and Collingwood—a quick 15-minute drive either way—is Blue Mountain Village, the hub of mountain-based recreation for the area. The village sits at the base of the dramatic Blue Mountains, a part of the Niagara Escarpment that is renowned for its winter ski runs. In the warm weather RVing season, the Village is filled with attractions like shopping, a roller coaster, mini putt, zipline, an outdoor aquatic centre with slides for the kids and even a new recreational axe throwing venue.
A short drive from the main village takes visitors up a winding road to the top of the Blue Mountains. The road is paved, wide and well-marked and we had no trouble—going up or down—in our Class B. The grade can be steep and may be more of a challenge for larger RV units, depending completely on the comfort level of the driver.
At the top, one of the region’s most popular attractions is the Scenic Caves Nature Adventures with 15-kilometres of well-maintained hiking trails, spectacular views over the lowlands and the lake, southern Ontario’s longest suspension bridge and a maze of caves and caverns to explore. The 370-acre property is situated inside one of Canada’s 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves and includes stands of sugar maple, ash, elm and beech. A series of self-guided trails branch off the main trail and go into a labyrinth of 17 caves and caverns, carved millions of years ago at a time when glaciers blanketed this part of Ontario. Although not operating for the 2022 season, Scenic Caves also has an 800-metre twin zip line, Ontario’s longest!
If you have bikes on the back of your RV, it’s time to unhook them. Or you may want to do a non-challenging, level walk. The Georgian Trail is a 34 km. walking and cycling trail along the southern shore of Georgian Bay from Collingwood, through Thornbury and on to Meaford.
After some hiking, set your GPS for Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain, the spot to unwind, located at the base of the hills. Scandinave is a property that places a value on “quiet”—all phones turned off—with a menu of spa services based on the hydrotherapy cycle of hot-cold-relax, a dry sauna, massage services, thermal waterfall and Norwegian steam baths. The spa is set on 25 acres of forested land and includes a (free) Forest Bathing trail with seven marked stations. Forest bathing is all the rage these days and refers to a mindful walk through the woodlands, taking time to be aware of the surroundings and absorb the healing properties of nature. Scandinave provides a trail guide at the welcome booth.
Where to Stay in South Georgian Bay
Craigleith Provincial Park is located right on the shoreline of Georgian Bay (part of Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes). The sites are on a narrow strip of land, bordered by flat plates of shale along the lake on one side and Highway 26 on the other.
It is not a wilderness park but is perfectly located for hiking the nearby Bruce Trail, taking a cooling dip in the lake, or exploring the sights of Thornbury, Collingwood and Blue Mountain. There are 89 sites with electrical hookup only, 200 with electric and water and 10 non-electric sites. Many are located right along the waterfront and many sites are radio-free. The park has a playground, dump and fill station, laundry and comfort stations.
While Google Maps or your GPS will default to Highway 400, it’s a much more relaxing and scenic drive to meander along some of the less-travelled roadways through southern Ontario’s pretty towns like Orangeville, Caledon or Elora.