Weekend in the Lanark Highlands: A Quaint Eastern Ontario Getaway

Lanark Highlands

The Lanark Highlands is an invigorating place to discover if you love quaint, small town Ontario. It’s a region in eastern Ontario that’s part of Ontario’s Highlands, just west of Ottawa and north of Kingston. If you’re looking for a getaway in Ontario that offers peace and tranquility, delicious food, welcoming festivals, and something a little out of the ordinary, it’s time to spend a weekend in Lanark County.

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It’s possible to visit the Lanark Highlands on a road trip from Toronto, Ottawa, or anywhere else in southern Ontario. I decided to spend a weekend in Ontario’s Highlands to uncover some gems of small town Ontario, visiting McDonald’s Corners, Lanark, and Perth, Ontario.

Where are Ontario’s Highlands?

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

Ontario’s Highlands is a pretty massive section of Ontario, Canada. You can see it outlined in orange in the picture above. Essentially, Ontario’s Highlands encompasses a region east of Peterborough, west of Ottawa, and both south and east of Algonquin Provincial Park.

More specifically, it’s almost 24,000 square kilometres of unspoiled territory. There are tiny towns, vast wilderness, and unforgettable spaces to wander and explore.

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

Ontario’s Highlands is a region that will surprise you. Out of the 13 Regional Tourism Organizations in Ontario, Ontario’s Highlands is the only one that’s completely rural. That means there are no major cities, concrete skylines, or dense smog. This means meandering at your own pace, engaging with the locals, and savouring the enriching and relaxed experiences.

How to Spend a Weekend in the Lanark Highlands

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

Have you heard of the village of Lanark? How about the hamlets of McDonald’s Corners, Hopetown, Middleville, Watson’s Corners, Poland, Lavant, Flower Station or Elphin? These are some of the places that you could explore when you visit the Lanark Highlands.

There are so many fun things to do in Lanark County. It’s the ultimate destination for local culture, history, and immersive adventures for a couples getaway, girls’ getaway, or family holiday. I spent approximately a day and a half in Lanark County. On my trip to the Lanark Highlands, I explored McDonald’s Corners, Watson’s Corners, and the small town of Perth, Ontario. And I barely scraped the surface – it’s easy to travel to this region many times and plan different activities each time.

For someone living in the Toronto area, southern Ontario, eastern Ontario, or New York state, it’s easy to take a road trip to the Lanark Highlands. If you leave on Friday afternoon, you can spend two cozy nights in the region, exploring for a day and a half before driving back home on Sunday evening.

Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa

Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario

We reached Circa 1894 very late at night, after a treacherous drive through thunderstorms. One of the owners, Donna, waited up for us and made us feel right at home from the moment we walked through the front door. Circa 1894 has a very calming presence, and we settled into our guestrooms for a restful night’s sleep.

If you noticed that the building looks like a church, you’re correct. A renovation dream four years in the making, Circa 1894 is a former United Church completely transformed into a bed and breakfast.

Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario

Owners Cam and Donna restored and renovated the church into the beautiful and environmentally sustainable building that it is today. While many of the original windows and wainscoting were kept in tact, other materials were sourced as locally as possible. The home exceeds the Energy Star standards for a brand new home, with an annual heating cost of only $700.

The shower and sink water from the spa is filtered and reused in the toilets. The common room ceiling was recycled from the Royal Ontario Museum. Many fixtures and furniture pieces were reclaimed and re-purposed. From the B&B stay to the spa, it’s a one of a kind personal wellness sanctuary.

Spending the Night at Circa 1894

Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario
Moon Room

There are a few ways that you can book your stay at Circa 1894. First, stay at the B&B in the Moon Room or the Rose Room. These rooms are next door to one another, and share a bathroom and common area. It’s ideal to stay in one of the rooms if you’re traveling as a couple, or rent out both rooms if you’re visiting as two couples or a family.

Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario
Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario
Rose Room
Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario

I stayed overnight in the Moon Room. The common area has a couch, a flat screen TV, a kitchen table, and a Tassimo coffee maker with pods. There’s also complimentary WiFi to stay connected. Donna always leaves out fresh mint water and even took extra care to make vegan brownies for me. A place with vegan brownies and decent coffee to drink anytime of day? That’s absolutely excellent!

Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario
Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario
Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario
Circa 1894 B&B and Day Spa in Lanark Ontario

Staying at the Airbnb Apartment at Circa 1894

You can also rent out the spa suite on Airbnb. When I stayed at Circa 1894, this was the Spa Room. Now, it’s an entire apartment that you can have all to yourself. There’s a queen sized bed, separate bathroom, flatscreen TV, full kitchen and dining area, coffee maker, and access to the saunas and hot tub.

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer
Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer
Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

A Delicious Breakfast

Cam and Donna graciously invited us into their home for a scrumptious breakfast each morning. While there are a few traditional breakfast menus, Donna is highly skilled in vegan cooking and prepared a plant-based breakfast each morning. If you have any kind of dietary restriction or preference, you’ll be able to dine here without any issues.

Breakfast at Circa 1894 B&B in Lanark County
Breakfast at Circa 1894 B&B in Lanark County

It’s hard to imagine that this space was once a church. With the addition of a spiral staircase, a second floor, a living space and a grand kitchenette, it really feels like it’s always been a home. On the second morning of our stay, we even met their friendly kitty who seemed to adore posing for photographs.

Breakfast at Circa 1894 B&B in Lanark County

On the first day, we ate a vegan quiche with a fruit smoothie. For the breakfast on our second day, I savoured my vegan raw wrap stuffed with guacamole and fresh vegetables. There was an ample supply of coffee, tea, and great conversations.

Vegan Breakfast at Circa 1894 B&B in Lanark County
Vegan Breakfast at Circa 1894 B&B in Lanark County

Even though the food was so yummy, I enjoyed connecting with Cam and Donna over breakfast the most. They both have truly intriguing histories and stories about the construction of Circa 1894. Perhaps it’s the #CreativeCruiser in me that loves becoming immersed in personal tales.

Circa 1894 Day Spa

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

The Circa 1894 Day Spa is open to the public and guests of the B&B can access the spa for no additional cost. Those staying at the B&B can use the spa between 8-10am before it opens to the public, too. It features two hot tubs, one cold tub, three saunas, and a quiet room. Prices start at $20 hourly and the cost is reduced after the first hour, so a 4-hour visit costs only $40 per person.

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

This day spa truly exemplifies the European experience of alternating between cold and hot to rejuvenate the body and mind. The upper deck features a cool tub, where it’s recommended that you take the plunge between sessions in the hot pools. The middle level has a 6-7 person acrylic hot tub.

Lastly, the lower level has an Amish built, Finnish sauna and a Finnish style pine hot tub. The spa is quite intimate, tranquil, and quiet. Outdoors, you’ll only hear the sounds of nature and you’ll be surrounded by the green valley.

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

Indoors, you’ll find two infra-red saunas (one cedar and one bassword), as well as a quiet room with spa music and water to stay hydrated. While spending time at the day spa is a wonderful getaway in the Lanark Highlands, I suggest that you spend the night for the full experience. Book your stay at Circa 1894 for a memorable getaway in Lanark County, Ontario. You can also read more reviews of Circa 1894 by fellow travelers who have visited.

McDonald’s Corners Farmers’ Market

McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County

My favorite way to explore a new place is to go where the locals go. Where do the citizens of Lanark County spend their time on a summer weekend? Just a short drive from Circa 1894, we visited the local farmers market at McDonald’s Corners. This happens all summer long between 9am and 1pm on Saturdays.

McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County
McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County
McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County
McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County

There are lots of local goodies, including fresh produce, locally made pickles and preserves, baked goods, handmade jewelry, and more. I even ate lunch at the market as there’s a community wood fired pizza oven on site. You can request the toppings you’d like on your pizza, and they’ll whip one up for you. I ordered mine without cheese, but with loads of fresh veggies.

McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County
McDonald’s Corners Farmers’ Market in Lanark County
McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County
McDonald’s Corners Farmers’ Market in Lanark County
McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County
McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County

We even met a local celebrity – a pet chicken named Dusty. She’s much beloved by her family and everyone at the farmers market as she makes regular appearances around town. Dusty loved wandering about and even trying to steal little bits of pizza crust. She loved all the attention we were giving her!

McDonald's Corners Farmers' Market in Lanark County

Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum

The Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum is one of the most interesting small museums I’ve ever visited. The museum displays only a small percentage of owner Ankaret Dean’s basket collection. She only showcases baskets that could be made in this region and Canada, as there simply isn’t enough space to display all the rest.

Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum
Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum

As a graduate from The School of Crafts and Design at Sheridan College, Ankaret Dean has always demonstrated an interest in basketry, as well as weaving and textiles. As it’s really become a lost art in the age of mass production, Ankaret travelled internationally to perfect her basketry skills. For over 40 years, she’s created baskets out of natural materials that are readily found all around us.

Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum
Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum

There are baskets made from rushes, willow, pine needles, birch bark, cedar bark, and much more. There’s a studio upstairs with a collection of adorable woven animals. Downstairs, you’ll find the largest selection of baskets, including an impressive array of rare Indigenous baskets. In addition to baskets, there are all kinds of woven items like boxes, birdhouses, jewelry, chair seats, and even an assortment of tiny woven items.

Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum
Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum
Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum

I sensed Ankaret’s great passion for her museum and collection of baskets. She gave us a complete tour of the museum, her property, and a student of hers was even creating her own basket at the time. It takes great skill, practice, and patience to make a basket, although Ankaret does lead classes for those who are willing to learn. I hope to travel back here someday so I can give it a try.

You can visit the museum during its open hours on Saturdays from 11:00am – 3:00pm (May to September), or by appointment.

Visit the Nearby Town of Perth, Ontario

While we only stopped in Perth for dinner, you could easily spend the day wandering around town. There’s a quaint downtown area lined with little shops for some retail therapy. The Perth Wildlife Reserve has a path around the marsh, ideal for hikers and birdwatchers alike.

Lanark County is the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario, and there’s a maple festival every April in Perth. Perth is also home to a craft brewery and distillery – Perth Brewery and Top Shelf Craft Distillers.

Dine at East Meets West

Ontario's Highlands: Embracing Your Inner Wanderer

As for dinner, there are a variety of restaurants offering cuisine ranging from pub fare to fine dining. We chose to eat at East Meets West, with a menu of Indian, Italian, and classic Canadian fare. With a local brew by Perth Brewery, I chose from the Indian and Sri Lankan side of the menu.

I started with vegetable samosas, and my main course was the Sri Lankan Style Paruppu Curry (yellow lentil and potatoes simmered in herbs and spices, served with basmati rice and naan bread). Definitely go here and try the Indian / Sri Lankan cuisine as it’s perfectly spiced and full of flavour.

Update: I’ve discovered that sadly, East Meets West has closed. The same owners have a restaurant in the nearby town of Smith’s Falls called Chuckles Jack that has a very similar menu. I recommend checking it out! This is a short distance from the Lanark Highlands, but worth the drive.

Perth Garlic Festival

While it wasn’t the right time of year to attend the maple festival, thankfully it was garlic season in Ontario’s Highlands. The Perth Garlic Festival is every second weekend in August and it’s truly fun for the whole family. No need to pack the breath mints when everyone has garlic breath, right?

The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada
The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada
Black garlic.

First and foremost, it’s a celebration of all things garlic. You’ll not only see garlic bulbs, but you’ll find things made out of garlic at the various stands lining the park. There were garlic hot sauces, bread dippers, salad dressings, and more. We tried a fermented black garlic that tasted sweet. There were even handy devices to help you peel and chop garlic easier than traditional methods.

Like many festivals, there was live music and performances. It seemed like the entire town and surrounding communities came out for the Perth Garlic Festival. Everyone was walking around, eating, buying things, and having a fantastic day in the sunshine.

The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada
The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada
The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada

We even felt a bit like locals ourselves when we ran into the owners of Dusty (the pet chicken we met the day before at the McDonald’s Corners Farmers Market), and we sparked up conversations with numerous people. Everyone was so friendly and truly made us feel right at home.

In addition to garlic food, we also tried a special garlic beverage… garlic beer brewed by Perth Brewery. Have you ever tried garlic beer? Me either! It actually tasted pretty good, like beer with a bit of a garlicky aftertaste. It’s a seasonal beer brewed specially for the festival, so you’ll have to come out next year and give it a try if you haven’t already.

The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada
The Perth Garlic Festival - Perth, Ontario, Canada

Along with the beer tasting, Top Shelf Craft Distillers and a local winery provided tastings at a nominal cost. The Perth Garlic Festival is a great place to taste garlic products, and it’s an opportunity to try some of the best beer and liquor of the Lanark Highlands.

Whether you’re roaming around the countryside or touring around the town of Perth, there are always local events and happenings all year long that give you a taste of rural living. Lanark County and the Lanark Highlands are just one area in the tourism region of Ontario’s Highlands. I can’t wait to return to explore even more of eastern Ontario.

If you’re looking for more ideas and ways to explore Ontario’s Highlands, I suggest combining a visit to the beautiful Bonnechere Provincial Park and the fascinating Bonnechere Caves. You can also go whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River.

Looking for More Weekend Getaways Near Toronto?

Justin and I love overnight stays that are within an hour or two from our home in the GTA. It’s always nice to plan little romantic getaways and short vacations between our lengthier overseas trips. We also love exploring more of our province because there’s truly so much to see in Ontario, Canada.

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Have you ever visited the Lanark Highlands, Ontario’s Highlands or Perth, Ontario?

14 Responses

  1. Donna Dillman
    | Reply

    Lovely write-up of some of what we have to offer here in the Lanark HIghlands, Lauren.
    It was a delight to host you and we appreciate mention in your blog. Thanks so much.
    One of the commentators asked about our rates…$125 – $150 per night for up to 2 in a room (we have 3, plus 2 RVs), which includes breakfast and use of the Spa facilities. Find us at circa1894.com and on facebook.

  2. Jeff Whyte
    | Reply

    You made me miss my days in Ontario…. It is a beautiful part of our country. Thanks!

  3. Christine
    | Reply

    I’ve never been in Canada but always wanted to go. And I’m a rustic roamer :D I love how you classified each persona there. And the airbnb! I always love the log cabin type resorts. How much is it per night?

  4. Paige W
    | Reply

    I’ve never thought of Ontario as having Highlands, but clearly I’ve been missing out! It looks really lovely! I would love to be there for the garlic festival. I’m a HUGE garlic fan, so that would be perfect for me!

  5. Veronika Tomanova
    | Reply

    Hey, I think Ontario’s Highlands is a perfect place for me – I am the serenity seeker! What a lovely place with all the greenery. Thanks for cool tips to do : many people think there is noting to do in rural regions, but you managed to prove the opposite!

  6. Ayngelina Brogan
    | Reply

    I love how we went to the same region and saw totally different things. Now I want to do your trip!

  7. Rhonda Albom
    | Reply

    We’ve never been to Ontario, or indeed much of Canada, but we love the few places that we have been. Toronto is one of my favourite travel stops to date. I would love to go back and explore more.

  8. Aleah | SolitaryWanderer
    | Reply

    When I think of Canada, I think only of Banff. I didn’t think Ontario would be worth it to visit. You proved me wrong, though. Would love to visit someday!

  9. sherianne
    | Reply

    Haven’t considered Ontario! Love the country feel, the jam, the baskets the entire farmers market really. What a great find!

  10. Val
    | Reply

    I am definitely a Freedom Finder – I love that giveaway! I’ve got my fingers crossed. What beautiful photos and amazing descriptions in your post! I’ve always wanted to travel around Canada but now I’ve got a new destination to add to my bucket list. Thank you so much for sharing such wonderful experiences!

  11. Lucy
    | Reply

    Sounds like you had a great time. Circa 1894 B&B and Spa looks like a great place to relax and having fresh vegan breakfast made daily sounds delicious! The farmers markets look yummy too!

  12. Doreen Pendgracs
    | Reply

    Ontario is so bog and has so much to explore! I’d not previously heard the term “Ontario Highlands” until this past week. Is it a new term? I have been to some of the region and loved it.

  13. Tom
    | Reply

    Such a lovely article. I especially liked the part about the garlic festival and the maple syrup festival. I have to get my hands on some garlic beer :D We’ll have the pumpkin festival here soon again and there they serve pumpkin beer. You made some really beautiful pictures as well.

  14. Kavey Favelle
    | Reply

    I’ve visited Ontario twice in the last two years, last time my husband and I drove along the banks of the St Lawrence, which means we missed out on the Ontario Highlands. We just couldn’t see everything we would have loved to see in the time, but this is great as it gives us the excuse to go back soon!

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