To discover: Sugar shacks

About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore, but only if COVID-19 conditions make it safe to do so. This series of day trips and longer trips highlights the great experiences you can have in the province and shows you why Ontario is ‘must see’.

One of the greatest Canadian adventures you can have at the end of winter is to visit a sugar shack. Luckily, we have plenty of maple syrup producers waiting to be discovered a few hours drive outside of Toronto. While many have had to limit their experiences for visitors this coming season, there are still plenty of maple farms that will be open for tours, tastings and purchases. The season kicks off in early March, so bundle up – much, if not all, of your visit will be outdoors – and get ready to learn more about this iconic Canadian must-see.

Richardson Farm and Market

Purchase tickets in advance for the Family Experience at Richardson Farm and Market in Dunnville, a 90-minute drive southwest of Toronto and located next to the Grand River near the north shore of Lake Erie. At Richardson, you can tap a tree, learn how to boil sap in a hollow log and enjoy a decadent pancake brunch. In addition to maple products (think butter, sugar, caramel, vinaigrette and tea), you can also stock your pantry with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. For a self-guided experience, visit the site on your own and learn about maple syrup from the informative storyboards you’ll find along the way. Before you go, pick up a breakfast kit complete with pancake mix, sausage, and maple syrup to take home.

Trillium Ridge Candy

Although its pancake breakfasts are on hiatus this year, Trillium Ridge Sugarworks, located a two-and-a-half-hour drive east of Toronto on Highway 401 — then a short drive north of exit 566 — worth the detour. It encompasses 100 acres with an impressive 10,000 tapholes, allowing you to enjoy a healthy and invigorating dose of forest swimming while strolling through the maple grove. After racking up a few steps on your Fitbit and seeing the slashed trees, head back to the hut to buy some syrup, which won second place at last year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Its delicious flavor comes courtesy of the sugar bush’s rich limestone soil, according to owner Terry Gervais.

Pefferlaw Creek Farms Maple Syrup

Enjoy a sleigh ride at Pefferlaw Creek Farms Maple Syrup in Uxbridge, just over an hour’s drive north of Toronto, and devour maple taffy after your visit to his creperie (if open ). Pefferlaw Creek has something for everyone: a demonstration for kids on how to tap a tree and hook a bucket to collect sap. For mom and dad, the opportunity to learn all about the technical side of a certified organic maple syrup operation. Its sugar bush covers four forests totaling 400 acres, with 40,000 taps. At the store, pick up a tasting pack containing the four different grades of syrup so you can test what you learned during your visit. There is also the unmissable Pefferlaw syrup aged in bourbon barrels. You can drive to the farm by heading north on Highway 404 before heading east on Regional Road 31, then north again on Concession Road 6.

Mountsberg sugar bush

For a magical winter night, book a spot on a nighttime tour of the Mountsberg Sugarbush, located an hour’s drive west along Toronto’s Highway 401 near Campbellville. Held Thursday through Sunday, the excursion includes a guided tour of its trails, a wagon ride, and local musicians performing by the fire pit. Families with young children will want to visit the town of Mountsberg during the day, which is full of activities – think maple sampling, treasure hunts, a natural playground built from repurposed trees, and sheep, donkeys and goats to meet in the animal barn.

Wheelers Maple Products

Three and a half hours east of Toronto, in the Lanark Highlands, you’ll find Wheelers Maple Products. The site includes a sugar shack, creperie, and museum that holds a Guinness World Record for having the largest collection of maple syrup artifacts. After learning about how native people discovered and used maple syrup and the production techniques used by settlers, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for this sweet, sticky delight you pour on your pancakes.

In his creperie, don’t forget to also taste the sausages, they are homemade. Feel free to chat with the staff; it is probably a Wheeler since the operation has been family owned since the first trees on the farm were tapped in 1978. They will know the ins and outs of maple syrup production and the must-see sites of the closed.

Rachel J. Bradford