Growing up in Ontario in the late 90s/early 2000s, chances are you’ve heard of Napanee thanks to a popular punky vocalist. Avril Lavigne certainly helped put Napanee on the map but the town certainly deserves credit in its own right! If you’re looking for the perfect getaway to unwind or a fantastic Ontario road trip destination, you have to check out these things to do in Napanee. This guide will have you wishing you visited the town sooner!
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About The Area of Greater Napanee
The land where you now find Napanee has always been the territory of Indigenous Peoples long before European colonization. The Anishinaabe, Mississauga, Mohawk, Oneida and Wendake Peoples have called this area home since time immemorial. Evidence has found that the first known village in the area was that of the Haudenosaunee village of Ganneious, temporarily established by the Oneida in the late 1600s.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: I highly recommended that you visit the neighbouring Mohawk community of Tyendinaga to learn more about the de-colonized history of these lands. While I was unable to make the trip during this visit, it is certainly at the top of my list for the next time I visit the Bay of Quinte.
It wasn’t until United Empire Loyalists arrived following the American War of Independence in the late 1700s that Napanee began to grow into the town you see today. Industrial developments throughout the 1800s fuelled the growth of Napanee. Starting as a small port in the early 1800s to the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856 and then the industrial expansion due to the town’s rich water power in the 1870s, most of Napanee’s growth occurred during this time frame.
Napanee and Greater Napanee are often referred to interchangeably when talking about the area, but they are actually a bit different. It wasn’t until 1998 when Napanee, Adolphustown, Fredericksburgh and Richmond were amalgamated at the municipal level that Greater Napanee was born, but many (including Avril herself) still refer to the area as Napanee.
While it’s been scoffed at by many as a sleepy little town, I certainly beg to differ. Napanee is undergoing a revitalization with more folks uncovering the natural beauty of Greater Napanee. Not to mention its boutique shops, delicious eats and unique local businesses!
Top Things to Do in Napanee Ontario
Located just 40 minutes from Kingston, Napanee makes for the perfect day trip from the city. At a 3 hour drive from Toronto and approximately 4 hours from Niagara (traffic depending), Napanee makes the perfect weekend getaway in Ontario. Keep reading and you’ll see why!
Explore the Napanee Waterfront
The town is so fortunate to have the gorgeous Napanee River running right through the heart of town. There are a number of places to enjoy it, though my favourite was certainly Napanee Conservation Park. Here you’ll find a public dock, launch site, a covered pavilion, riverside picnic tables and more! It’s the perfect spot to soak up a little sun and enjoy a walk in the park. Don’t miss the interpretive signage that shares more about the Napanee watershed, local architecture, stories from the river and more!
Another perk is that the waterfront is just one block from Dundas Street where you’ll find restaurants and shops. And don’t forget to snag a photo with the Greater Napanee sign on the bridge!
Take a Stroll Along the Riverwalk
Once you’re done exploring Napanee Conservation Park, follow the trail on the southern side under the Napanee Bridge. This is where you’ll find the town’s beautiful Riverwalk as it follows alone the shoreline of the Napanee River. A combination of boardwalk and paved asphalt, it’s an easy walk with gentle hills that’s perfect for folks of all fitness levels.
As you enjoy your stroll on the Riverwalk, you’ll not only enjoy the tranquil scenery but also a number of historic plaques! Take a moment to read up on local Mac Smith who waterskied along the river and later went on to study it as well as the early bridges of Napanee. You’ll also find a number of installations as part of Greater Napanee’s “Pallet”-able Art Program. You can read all about these works of art here!
Enjoy Napanee Falls at Springside Park
The Napanee Riverwalk will lead you right to Springside Park which is one of my favourite spots in town. I’m sure you already know why – because this is where you’ll find Napanee Falls!
Enjoy the calming sounds of the water as it meanders through numerous levels as the Napanee River lowers approximately 6 metres at the park. It’s not a dramatic drop like some of the waterfalls you’ll find in Niagara for example, but it’s still a gorgeous sight to see. Napanee Falls can even be enjoyed at night as they’re lit up once darkness falls upon the town!
This is also the former site of the Napanee Mills, which were commissioned by the Canadian Government in 1785. Loyalist millwright Robert Clark established a sawmill in March of 1786 and a grist mill to accompany it later that year. Later purchased by Kingston merchant Richard Cartwright, they quickly became the core of Napanee.
Paddle the Napanee River
Spanning 218 kilometres as it runs from Camden Lake to the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario, there are plenty of paddling opportunities to be had! Luckily there are two right in the heart of town – one at Napanee Conservation Park ($2 launch fee) and one at the King Street dock.
If you’re more on the beginner side of things when it comes to paddling, the Napanee River is the perfect spot to get on the water. This waterway twists and turns by towering trees, offering a number of beautiful views. The calmness of the river also means you have a higher chance of spotting some wildlife. I was lucky enough to see a number of turtles and a beaver during my golden hour paddle!
SOMETHING TO NOTE: You cannot travel between Napanee Conservation Park and the King Street dock as the dam is located in between. If you paddle south from the King Street dock, do not go past the railway bridge to ensure your personal safety!
However you should know that the Napanee Conservation Park is a popular spot in town. If you’d like to paddle without an audience, I highly recommend the King Street dock instead.
Take a Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour
Some may argue that Napanee’s growth has slowed over the 1900s and into the 2000s. However, it’s thanks to the industrial boom in the 1800s that the town has so many beautiful architectural wonders in such a concentrated area! So, why not enjoy these historical beauties with a self-guided walking tour?
The township of Greater Napanee has put together a fantastic PDF showcasing these stunning buildings from well-known sites like the Napanee Town Hall to historical homes across town. It’s the perfect way to get acquainted with Napanee while learning more about each building’s unique history!
Visit the Lennox & Addington County Museum & Archives
If you follow the aforementioned walking tour, it will lead you right to the Lennox & Addington County Museum & Archives. Originally built as the county jail in 1864 (and served as such for over a century!), it was later renovated in 1976 to be opened as the museum you see today. This is also where you’ll find an extensive research library and local archives that are quite popular with historians as well as genealogy enthusiasts! However, it’s not to be confused with the elegant County Courthouse which is located directly in front of it.
Inside the Lennox & Addington County Museum & Archives, you’ll find a variety of exhibitions. Their permanent display will tell you all about the region’s history. Starting with how these lands are the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Peoples, you’ll see how the area was shaped into the region you see today.
You’ll also find some temporary displays like the Tales of Fantasy exhibit created by the Corporation Culturelle de Shawinigan and the Musée Nature Sciences Sherbrooke. Fascinating for all ages, it discusses the idea of storytelling and how legends can share knowledge and shape our beliefs. You’ll get to hear about various legends and creation stories from a number of locations across Quebec. Each one is absolutely fascinating and I guarantee you’ll learn something new!
While we’re unable to explore inside right now, the Allan Macpherson House is also a part of the Lennox & Addington Museum and can be admired from the exterior. Featuring neo-classical elements with a balance of Georgian architecture, it was built for the man who leased the saw and grist mills from the heirs of Richard Cartwright. It remained in the family until the late 1800s. Much later in 1962, the Lennox & Addington Historical Society began to restore the home to its previous glory to then be gifted to the county where it became a part of the local museum and archives.
Enjoy Some Retail Therapy
There are a number of adorable shops in Napanee that you need to check out during your visit! One of these is Ellena’s Cafe & Pantry right on the main drag. Inside you’ll find a number of unique items from kitchen essentials to thoughtful gift ideas with a number of them by local artisans and businesses! This is also a great spot for a latte or a light lunch in town, but more on that later.
One item you cannot leave Napanee without trying is a soda from The County Bounty. Established by local farmer Dodie Ellenbogen, she has been experimenting with unique flavour combinations you won’t find from any other soda brand! With ingredients locally sourced as much as possible, her sodas contain half the sugar of other leading brands, are sweetened with fair trade cane sugar and use all-natural preservatives – if any at all! You can find The County Bounty sodas at Ellena’s, Paul’s Pizzeria and 33 Vines in Napanee as well as at a number of locations across Ontario. Click here to see if you can find a taste of Napanee near you!
Of course, these aren’t the only stores in town! Spend some time wandering to see what local gems you’ll discover.
Things to Do in Greater Napanee
One of the things that make Napanee great is that it’s the perfect home base for exploring the area. Once you’ve taken some time to explore town, hop in your car and check out some of these great things to do in the Greater Napanee area!
Chase Some More Waterfalls
If Napanee Falls wasn’t enough for you – never fear! Head 20 minutes north of downtown Napanee, and you’ll find Forest Mills Falls. Also known as Buttermilk Falls, you’ll see the Salmon River tumble down over the rock bed below. This also used to be the location of an old sawmill as the Salmon River was a popular route for transporting logs for lumber. A watchful eye just might spot some of the remains of the limestone Buttermilk Sawmill.
While there is no official parking lot, there is room to park on the shoulder of the road close to the bridge across Forest Mill Falls. From here, you’ll see a trail leading down to the edge of the river so you can get up close and personal with this majestic beauty. The ground is very uneven so proceed with caution and tread carefully with a good pair of shoes on!
I have read online that some folks call it a swimming hole. While it may be possible to do so, I wouldn’t recommend doing so as it’s difficult to see the river floor. You never know what may be down there or how slippery the rocks can be (accidents do happen!) so better to be safe than sorry.
Still not satisfied? There are a few more waterfall locations to check out in Lennox & Addington County!
Paddle the Salmon River
Named for the abundance of Atlantic salmon found in the river, the Salmon River is 135 kilometres in length. It runs from just south of Mazinaw Lake into Kennebec Lake, then through a chain of small lakes throughout Lennox & Addington County into the Bay of Quinte near Shannonville, a part of Tyendinaga. As you can imagine, there are a number of options for exploring but the town of Roblin has a fantastic boat launch that makes it easy to get in the water for a paddle!
For over 12,000 years, this river has been an important route for First Nations of the area long before European Colonization. With the arrival of settlers came the development of industry and the Salmon River was popular for transporting lumber as mentioned above. Now, the Salmon River Watershed supports a healthy ecosystem and is home to over 200 species at risk from flora and fauna to wildlife. You may even spot some of this wildlife during your paddle!
Similar to the Napanee River, the Salmon River twists and turns through forested areas and grassy greenspaces. However, it has a much more rustic vibe as it gives you the feeling of being much further away from civilization than you really are. You’ll definitely want some bug spray for this trek though as the deer flies can be a little persistent. Though a swat with your paddle should keep them at bay!
Visit the Old Hay Bay Church
Say hello to the oldest surviving Methodist Church in the country! It was established in 1792 on an old farmstead, although it was expanded in 1835 to the current size you see today. 25 years later, it was replaced by a new church where the congregation continues today in Adolphustown. When the change happened, this church was then utilized as a farmer’s grain storehouse until it was reclaimed by the Methodist Church in 1910.
While I have my own personal opinions when it comes to organized religion (especially when it comes to missionary work), it’s fascinating to see old buildings like this as a glimpse into history. Visitors are welcome to peek inside the church from mid-May until the end of September between 9:30 am and 5:30 pm daily.
FUN FACT: Hay Bay is another fantastic spot for a paddle so bring along your kayak or canoe to see Hay Bay Church from the water!
Say Hello to the Hickory Lane Alpacas
If you’re a fan of friendly furry critters and/or need a dose of adorable floof in your life, a stop at Hickory Lane Alpacas is a must for your Napanee itinerary. Owners Mike and Ashley took over from Mike’s parents to head this family farm. While it is an alpaca farm first and foremost, they have expanded to include a number of other farm friends including cows, pigs, chickens and more.
If you’re visiting Napanee on a weekend, drop in and say hello between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. You’ll be treated to a tour of the property to say hello to the entire crew. While they may be hesitant at first, it won’t take long for you to befriend the alpacas as you bribe them with some eats supplied by Mike and Ashley. If they don’t melt your heart, the big personalities of animals such as Wilbur and Emma will!
This is honestly one of the great things to do in Napanee for all ages! Pop in for a guaranteed smile and keep an eye on their Facebook Page for special events such as alpaca yoga, festival appearances and more.
Enjoy a Wine Tasting at Bergeron Estate Winery
If you find yourself enjoying the beautiful sights along the Loyalist Parkway, stop in for a tasting at Bergeron Estate Winery. Owned by the dynamic duo David and Mary Bergeron, they have been producing wine here for two decades now. It’s grown quite a bit over the years as they now produce Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Vidal grapes.
Wine isn’t the only thing you’ll find here though! They’re also home to Cole Point Cider. Dry with a hint of sweetness, this hard-pressed cyder is crafted in the traditional English style and made from 100% local apples right on the Bergeron Estates property!
Grab a seat in one of their cozy Muskoka chairs or under the canopy tent in their gorgeous outdoor space. You’re also welcome to explore the grounds with your glass in hand so why not take a stroll through the vines? It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the area of Greater Napanee!
Explore the United Empire Loyalist Heritage Centre and Park
As the site of the original group of United Empire Loyalists in 1784, the Heritage Centre and Park are dedicated to preserving this historical location. It offers stunning views of the Bay of Quinte as it offers 72 acres of history, camping, and fun for the whole family. Many come to camp and enjoy the day-use area with children’s play structures, picnic tables, and horseshoe pits.
You’ll find the Museum and Archives on the grounds in the Allison House. This Victorian mansion was constructed in the 1870s and is now where you can learn about the tales of the United Empire Loyalists from before the start of the American Revolution up until what their lives were like in the early 1800s. There is also a library and research centre with over a thousand publications including censuses, birth, marriage and cemetery records, genealogies and more.
While you’ll need to pay an entrance fee in order to enter the park itself, you can drive straight through to access the public boat launch. Here you’ll be treated to brilliant blue waters and some amazing paddling opportunities on the Bay of Quinte. You’ll find a small inlet to the right of the boat launch offering beautiful views and the perfect way to spend an hour or two soaking up the summer sun.
More Things to Do Near Napanee
Of course, there are never enough hours in a day and since this was my first trip to the area, I didn’t get a chance to see everything! If you’re looking for more ideas of things to do in Napanee and the surrounding area of Lennox and Addington County, here are some suggestions.
- Visit the Hometown Market – Every Saturday from June until the end of August, the Napanee Farmers’ Market runs each Saturday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. Peruse the 12 local food and produce vendors on the south lawn of the Strathcona Paper Centre and see what yummy eats and treats you can find!
- Cast a Line and Go Fishing – If you’re an avid angler, there are a number of great fishing spots both in town and in the region. In waters like the Napanee River, you’ll find both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Pike, Salmon and Panfish with Walleye being especially plentiful in the spring!
- Do Some Star Gazing – Head about 40 minutes north towards the Sheffield Conservation Area where you’ll find Lennox & Addington’s Dark Sky Viewing Area. It’s home to a lookout platform and ample space for visitors to stretch out and enjoy some time admiring the stars.
- Visit the St Alban’s Centre in Adolphustown – Built as a memorial to the United Empire Loyalists that settled the area, this Anglican church now serves as an event space as well as an area for the community to gather. Stop in at their outdoor cafe on weekends during the summer months.
- Explore Some Cycling Routes – The area surrounding Napanee is home to twelve cycling routes, offering over 600 kilometres of paved trails to experience. It’s another great way to get acquainted with the region! If you’re unsure what route to explore, this article on Bay of Quinte Tourism’s website shares a fantastic route that showcases some of the beauty you’ll uncover in the area.
- Tee Up a Round of Golf – Are you a fan of the links? There are seven golf courses that await you in the Bay of Quinte! If you’re looking for the perfect guy’s trip, bring your clubs and enjoy some time on the green!
- Visit Some Ontario Parks – The Bay of Quinte area is home to a number of incredible provincial parks including Presqu’ile Provincial Park and Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park. While Bon Echo Provincial Park isn’t technically in the Bay of Quinte region, it can be done as a fantastic day trip if you’re spending an extended period of time in the area!
As you can see, there is SO much to see around the area no matter what your interests are. Just take a look at my Instagram stories from my visit and you’ll see what I mean! It’s one of the reasons why I can’t wait to return and experience even more of these great things to do in Napanee.
Napanee Restaurants to Eat At
In a town of just over 5000 people, there are a number of fantastic Napanee restaurants for a bite to eat! I ate my way through a solid amount of town and can tell you there is no shortage of delicious meals to be had.
RELATED: These are just a handful of the amazing meals you can find in town! Don’t miss my full guide to Napanee’s restaurants on Eat Local Ontario!
Loaf & Ale Pub
Solid pub food is always a good idea and that’s exactly what you’ll get at the Loaf & Ale Pub! You have all the British pub classics like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, meatloaf and more. However, if you’re visiting on a weekend then you MUST snag their full English breakfast. With bacon, sausage, three eggs, home fries, toast, baked beans, tomatoes AND garlic mushrooms, it’s the perfect way to fuel a day of adventure in Napanee. It sure pairs nicely with their cran-orange mimosa and an iced coffee on the patio! If you’re a fan of hearty eats, then you’ll be a happy camper at the Loaf & Ale Pub.
Waterfront River Pub & Terrace
Said to be the top restaurant in Napanee, the Waterfront River Pub & Terrace is Napanee’s only restaurant offering beautiful riverside views from their patio. You won’t believe that this historic building was left abandoned for many years as it’s absolutely stunning! Originally built as a brewery, it has seen many owners before becoming the restaurant you see today. While I unfortunately missed the dinner bell by mere minutes, I indulged in the “extreme potatchos” from their Al Fresco menu. This massive portion of nacho fries with pulled pork was the perfect fuel after a long day of exploring!
There might only be one place for sushi in Napanee but there’s no need for another! While I was unable to dine at the restaurant as they’re only open for take-out currently, you’ll quickly notice how cozy Sushi Nori is with ample exposed brick and modern decor. Take-out didn’t affect the quality of their delicious eats as these were easily some of the freshest rolls I’ve had in a long time! I can certainly recommend their red dragon and spicy salmon rolls though I imagine anything on their menu will be deliciously satisfying.
Ellena’s Cafe & Pantry
As I mentioned earlier, Ellena’s Cafe & Pantry is a fantastic spot not just for unique gift items but a latte and a bite to eat. Offering lighter fare like soups, sandwiches and salads, it’s a great spot to grab something quick if you’re in a hurry. Ellena’s also has a great variety of treats to satisfy your sweet tooth like cakes, pies and fudge. I couldn’t resist trying one of their daily specials when I visited as I had Ben’s Wrap – chicken and bacon mingling with coleslaw all in a secret sweet sauce. It was the perfect combination of sweet and savoury! Plus paired with one of their delicious lattes with a hazelnut shot and I was one happy camper.
Where to Stay in Napanee
While there are a number of great hotel options in Napanee and the surrounding area, I had the pleasure of staying at 23 Market Square. The owner, Darlene, has two apartments available and I was hosted in her two-bedroom property. You’ll feel as if you’re visiting your home away from home as soon as you enter 23 Market Square. The space is bright and inviting with plenty of natural light and gorgeous, natural accents.
Located diagonally from Napanee’s town hall, both bedrooms overlook the area’s stunning courtyard. The main bedroom features a queen-size bed with plenty of room to settle in. I absolutely love the exposed brick wall that adds to the rustic yet modern ambiance of the space! The second bedroom is smaller with a single bed, making it perfect for a friends’ getaway weekend or a mother-daughter adventure.
The apartment also has a full kitchen stocked with everything you may need to cook a meal as well as a microwave for reheating any leftovers you may acquire during your stay in Napanee. The open-concept space is shared with a living room area featuring a TV equipped with a Roku system so you can enjoy some Netflix in the evenings as you settle in for the night. I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely adorable outdoor space behind the property. Not only is there a cozy little patio space at the back door but you also have access to a gorgeous private courtyard!
If you choose to get out and explore some of the incredible outdoor activities in and around Napanee like I did, then you’ll absolutely love 23 Market Square’s bathroom. Their deep-set bathtub kept my muscles rested and relaxed so I could get out and hit the ground running each day.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: With everything going on right now, 23 Market Square is currently not renting their rooms. However, as this will certainly change as things go back to normal so you’ll certainly want to save this spot for your future adventures to Napanee!
With its prime location just steps from the heart of town and top-notch amenities, you’ll feel absolutely spoiled during your stay. Darlene goes above and beyond to ensure you feel right at home at 23 Market Square. You won’t want to stay anywhere else in Napanee!
FAQ About Napanee Canada
So, have I convinced you to visit yet? There are honestly so many amazing things to do in Napanee that it’s a must-visit when exploring the Bay of Quinte. With beautiful architecture, plenty of outdoor adventure, delicious eats and more, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Napanee.
If you’re ready to plan your getaway, check out these frequently asked questions to ensure your trip to Napanee goes off without a hitch. Of course, if you have any questions at all that I don’t cover in this post, please leave me a comment and I’d be happy to address it!
What is Napanee Known For?
I might be biased but I’d say Avril Lavigne was one of the big reasons Napanee got put on the map – at least for my generation anyway. However, Napanee has plenty to offer as you can see from this post. Though apparently, Napanee has some pretty softball teams too!
What Does the Word Napanee Mean?
A little Googling tells me that Napanee means “place of the mill” in an Indigenous language, however I question the integrity of the site that sources this. If I’m able to find out from reputable sources, I’ll be sure to update this post!
How Do I Get to Napanee Ontario?
Napanee is actually very easy to access! The town proper is just minutes from the 401 making it easy to access from Toronto, Kingston and more. Just look for the signs for the Napanee/Kaladar exit and you’ll be good to go.
Is Napanee A Safe Place to Explore?
As a solo female traveller, there was no point where I was concerned for my safety when exploring Napanee. You may come across some folks that are a little rough around the edges, but nothing out of the ordinary by any means. Napanee is a vibrant community that continues to grow and I can’t wait to see what new things there are to discover during my next visit!
This post is brought to you in partnership with Bay of Quinte Tourism. While I was compensated for my time, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience!