OntarioFilter: Driving Barrie to Ottawa. Which route?
August 28, 2014 6:17 AM   Subscribe

We are going to drive from Barrie, Ontario to Ottawa this upcoming weekend. Google Maps recommends driving via Toronto / the 401, but I'm wondering: would it be worthwhile taking Highway 7?

The travel time difference is negligible (again, according to Google Maps, who gives both routes ~5 hours).

Is Highway 7 pretty? Is it fun to drive? Are there sights to see? Places to eat? Or does it hold no particular advantage over the 401?

(We're not from around here, hence our unfamiliarity with the area. Thanks, you guys!)
posted by TangoCharlie to Travel & Transportation around Ontario (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Drove from Ottawa to Peterborough and back last summer on 7. I was surprised to get outside of Ottawa and find that the divided highway ended and the speed limit slowed way down in a lot of places (especially while driving through communities), so the drive took me a lot longer than I anticipated. It was difficult to pass other drivers in places since it was only two lanes a lot of the time. It was a nice enough drive but the next time I make the trip, I'll probably take the 416/401 just to see what the difference is.

Peterborough is a nice place to stop. I'd never been there before and thought it was lovely, good restaurants, friendly folks, etc.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:36 AM on August 28, 2014

Best answer: If you need to get there in any reasonable time, take the 401. if you can afford to stretch your journey and are ok with stop lights and going through towns and the like then take Highway 7, but it will be a lot more of a country drive than the 401 and I would be astonished if it is not significantly slower. 7 is a single lane road for the vast majority of it, through town centres etc.

If you want to sightsee and have the time then Highway 7 (401 is boring as hell). But if you have no kind of time constraints at all then 7 will be more interesting.
posted by Brockles at 6:38 AM on August 28, 2014

The 401/416 is the quickest route, but also highest density traffic. On a recent trip, we weren't able to put on the cruise control once. Traffic moves quickly, but is constant the whole route, and requires full concentration most of the time. It's not hugely scenic, but amenities are very frequent.

One option, east of Toronto, is to take the lakeshore routes: the 2, the Loyalist highway, the Gananoque parkway. Much more scenic and relaxed driving, but also much slower.

The seven is a nice drive now. It's a two lane road for almost all of it's length (save the bit near TO and from Carleton Place to Ottawa). It has passing lanes every 5 clicks or so, which solves the old problem of getting stuck behind a slow truck. It's a scenic and much less busy drive than the 401, but will add hours to the trip time.

One alternative is to take the 401 just past Peterborough to the 37 exit (to Tweed) near Belleville, then north to the 7. This route splits the difference on driving time, but still goes through some pretty parts of Frontenac and Lanark counties. It adds about an hour to the trip time.
posted by bonehead at 6:44 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're not from the area, and like road tripping, Highway 7 is a pretty nice route. Peterborough is nice, other small towns are nice, and the occasional Tim Hortons is a good enough rest stop (though if it's a weekend, they will be surprisingly busy!) I grew up in the area, and always enjoyed driving around on Highway 7 (and Highway 2).

I'd definitely prefer Highway 7 over the 401 if you haven't done the rural Ontario route a bunch of times before. If it's a shoddy day and raining like mad, maybe take the 401 then.
posted by aggyface at 6:46 AM on August 28, 2014

The 7 is much more pleasant to drive. I hate the 401 and would take the 7, even accounting for the extra time it would take. Plus, it's a holiday weekend so the 401 will be even worse than usual.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:51 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The difficulty is that the 401 route hits the GTA, where an additional hour of delay due to miscellaneous traffic doesn't even register on live traffic maps. Fastest (but most $$$) would be 400 to 407, then 407 as far east as it goes, which should miss most of the CrazyTown traffic.

7 is pretty, but has slows/stops. Tweed route suggested by bonehead is pretty. Prettiest of all would be the Hwy 11/ Hwy 60 loop through Huntsville and Algonquin Park: if you're not from the area, you've got to see these places, but Labour Day weekend might not be the best time to do it.
posted by scruss at 6:52 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and my favourite place to eat on the 7 is the Fall River Cafe near Maberly. It's quite famous locally. We've been going there for years. They've just changed ownership, but the previous owner is overseeing the kitchen to be sure that there is a smooth transition.

This weekend, in fact, they're having their annual arts collective festival. Something like three dozen local artists are going to be exhibiting with the cafe doing the food. Really worth a stop if you have the time.
posted by bonehead at 7:01 AM on August 28, 2014

The 400/401/416 route is multi-lane limited access highway all the way (that is what the 400 series designation means). There are designated rest stops with food, gas and washrooms. The highlight for me is a bit of rock outcropping near Kingston.

Highway 7 is a two lane highway (one lane in each direction) for most of it's length. It goes through towns, the speed limit is lower, it is difficult to pass other cars in places because the road winds and it is most definitely more interesting.

Highway 7 has always been a slower trip for me (from Toronto), maybe by about a half hour? Whether I choose to take Highway 7 will frequently depend on where in the Ottawa area I'm headed to.
posted by TORunner at 7:34 AM on August 28, 2014

The highlight for me is a bit of rock outcropping near Kingston.
The high school Geography teachers of Kingston love to take their students to the rock cut on the north side of the eastbound lanes of Hwy 401 where it intersects Hwy 15. It is interesting because one end of the rock cut is composed of Great Lakes Basin limestone, and the other end is composed of Canadian Shield/Frontenac Axis granite. It is rare to see such a distinct change between two physiographic regions.

Speaking of which, another alternative is to take 400 > 401 > 15, which used to be the preferred route before 416 was built. That allows you to cover a lot of distance quickly on 400 and 401, but see a bit of scenery at the end. Most of Hwy 15 is two lanes, like Hwy 7, and you have to drive through city traffic in part of Smiths Falls. The area around the Rideau Lakes is quite lovely.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:08 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the option of taking the 15.

The 401 / 416 is quick but incredibly boring.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 9:16 AM on August 28, 2014

Others have pretty much covered it, but I'll agree that it's a choice between getting there faster (401) or more pleasantly (7). I'd go with the 7 if you're not in a big rush and enjoy looking at countryside. I'm not familiar with the 15 route.

(And hi from Ottawa! It sounds like you're not in town for long, but let me know if you want some suggestions for things to do - or even a random last-minute mefi meetup, if only with me. A few of us were talking about a meetup a few months ago but everyone got busy and it slipped through the cracks.)
posted by randomnity at 9:29 AM on August 28, 2014

People have pretty much covered the difference between the 7 and the 401. I would strongly emphasize the concerns about going through TO on the weekend, especially if you're leaving Friday afternoon. Last weekend I spent about 1.5 hours to get to Whitby, exactly 50km of highway.

If you have some extra time, one option is that you go north along the 11 - in Huntsville you can switch to the 60, which cuts through the lower part of Algonquin park. I haven't been in the lower part, but I'm willing to bet it's gorgeous. Similar distance, slower road (definitely 2-lane non-divided, probably 80/90 the whole way with a bunch of towns). Or if you really have the time, go all the way to north bay and take the 17 east through the north of Algonquin. I've been on that route a bunch of times and it's phenomenal. 2-lane non-divided 90, some towns, winding hills.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:40 AM on August 28, 2014

If you choose the 15, a couple of suggestions:

The route through Smith Falls is complicated and poorly marked. Use a gps.

Get off the 15 at Carleton Place and take the 7 into Ottawa. Going north to join the 417 at Almont isn't really worth the drive and it takes you a fair bit out of your way.

There are many, many places to stop along the 15. Some of my favourites are Jones Falls (get ice cream!) and Chaffey's locks. Smith Falls by the canal is a really nice area too.
posted by bonehead at 9:43 AM on August 28, 2014

If you take the 7, I'd eat in Perth -- there is a lot of nothing along the 7, but Perth is picturesque and has some decent restaurants. The Sunflower Bake Shop is a quick stop with hot eats for lunch (no dinner); they've got a buffet, Mex & Co has a fantastic patio, I have been meaning to go to The Masonry, Maximilian's is kind of unique, tableclothy and European, and if you want to grab stuff and run Foodsmiths is sort of a small-town Whole Foods.

If you take the 62 to the 7, up from the 401, you can go to a cheese outlet. If you want a beer before hitting Ottawa The Old Mill at Ashton is worth the stop.

(Agreeing with all the above re. prettier vs faster but negligible faster given Toronto traffic.)

Safe travels, and welcome to town!
posted by kmennie at 9:48 AM on August 28, 2014

I agree with all of the above. I spent more than a year driving to Ottawa from Toronto every other weekend. If you hate stop and go traffic on major highways, leave Barrie before 2 pm on Friday or after 8 pm on Friday (or, if you are super early birds, try leaving at 4 am Saturday - you'll pull in around or just before 9 am and be so glad you missed traffic. This was our fastest means: leave at 4 am Sat and take the 400 series.)

Otherwise, load up your car with whatever will make stop-and-go traffic pleasant because summer Fridays are awful regardless of route.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:52 PM on August 28, 2014

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