In the heart of Hastings County lies Bancroft, an unsuspecting town brimming with rural charm. While Bancroft is known for its unique geology, the town and surrounding area are full of rich history and beautiful nature. Whether you’re looking for a quaint getaway or you’re passing through the area, I recommend planning to stop in town. Explore everything the York River Valley has to offer and don’t miss these top things to do in Bancroft Ontario!
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Top 10 Things to Do in Bancroft
The area certainly looks much different than it would have thousands of years ago when the Anishinaabe and Alonguin Peoples first traversed these lands, but there’s a reason people have travelled to this area for so long. The lush landscape and abundance of fish and wildlife still draw people to this very day!
Planning on spending some quality time in the area? Take a few hours or even a day or two to truly explore Bancroft and all it has to offer. Here are the top Bancroft attractions to get you started!
Start Your Visit with a Cup of Coffee
Whether you planned an early start or are in need of a mid-afternoon pick me up, head to The Muse Gallery and Cafe for a java fix. Pop in and grab an Americano, London Fog or a Hazelnut Latte. I can confirm the latter is absolutely delicious, especially with a sprinkle of cinnamon!
As you’re waiting for your beverage to be made, take a moment to admire the beautiful pieces of work that adorn the walls of the cafe. You’ll be inspired by the brilliant artwork including paintings, prints and jewellery. Be sure to take a look at their food menu as well as it’s very reasonably priced and makes for a great snack while on the road.
Admire The Work of Local Artists
There is no shortage of artistic talent in Bancroft! Start with the Art Gallery of Bancroft which is completely volunteer-run. They hold ten exhibitions each year highlighting artists from Bancroft and the surrounding region. There is also a gift shop that includes a wide range of paintings, prints, pottery, stained glass, photo art, jewellery and fibre arts. These funds all go directly to supporting the local artists showcased within it.
There are a number of additional art galleries in town, including A Place for the Arts, the West Wind Gallery, the Bancroft & Area Art & Craft Guild and more. If you visit in the fall, you may have the chance to experience the area’s Studio Tours. Admire the autumn foliage as you enjoy a mini road trip from studio to studio where local artists display their creations. The event typically spans the last two weekends in September.
It’s no secret that Bancroft is a pretty artsy town and so it won’t come as a surprise to find out that you can find some murals scattered throughout town. I’ve spotted three murals so far but if you spy more, please let me know in a comment below!
Do a Little Local Shopping in Bancroft
There are a number of cute shops to explore in town, especially along Bridge and Hastings Streets. As you meander and explore Bancroft, pop into any shops that tickle your fancy but here are a few I recommend you check out.
If you love one-of-a-kind pieces, you won’t want to miss The Old Tin Shed. This family-owned business features over 200 artists and suppliers while the owners create pieces themselves from salvaged materials. You’ll find home decor, giftware, clothing and more. This isn’t just your typical store though as they focus on “shopping therapy” as an experience and a way to rejuvenate ideas to spruce up your surroundings.
The Princess Sodalite Mine Rock Shop celebrates all things to do with this beautiful blue-purple mineral. Located just 4 kilometres outside of Bancroft’s core, inside you’ll find trinkets, jewellery, wellness kits and more that incorporate sodalite. There is also a rock farm on the property where you can enjoy the thrill of the hunt and uncover sodalite as well as other minerals. This is a big hit with the little ones and one of the great things to do in Bancroft for families!
Enjoy a Leisurely Stroll Along the River
The York River runs through the heart of Bancroft and luckily, there are a number of places to enjoy it. While the eastern side of the river is predominantly built up, the Hastings Heritage Trail runs along the western bank. This was once the Central Ontario Railway that ran north from Trenton, Ontario. It has since been transformed into a multi-use rail trail spanning over 100 kilometres in length!
Enjoy a Meal With a View
Chances are you’ll work up an appetite as you’re exploring Bancroft, so why not enjoy a meal with a fantastic view? Head to Granite Restaurant‘s patio where you’ll be treated to some of the best views of the town.
On their menu, you’ll find a variety of dishes from shareable appetizers like baked brie to sandwiches and salads to substantial meals like steak and pasta. Granite’s offerings are a little more upscale but when there’s a line forming as soon as it opens for the day… you know that’s a good sign! While I’ve only had their BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, I can confirm that it’s incredibly delicious, especially since their barbecue sauce is made in-house!
RELATED: Looking for more amazing eats in and around town? Check out this guide to the top restaurants in Bancroft!
Grab a Pint at Bancroft Brewing Co
In the heart of the century-old building on the corner of Bridge and Hastings Streets lies Bancroft Brewing Co. Following a mix of traditional British and German brewing traditions, they create small-batch beers that reflect the community itself.
While they use both top-quality hops and barley, what sets them apart is their water as it comes from deep within the Canadian Shield. The naturally-added minerals found within it give their beers a unique taste that you can only find in Bancroft.
Learn About Bancroft’s History
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bancroft has a rich history beginning long before the town came to be as we know it. If you’re a history buff or just want to learn more about the area, there are a few places you’ll want to visit in town.
The Bancroft North Hastings Heritage Museum features ten galleries speaking to the history of Bancroft. A large percentage of the artifacts displayed have been donated over the years and they range from mineral collections to dentistry equipment to clothing. The museum itself was once the headquarters of the Bronson-Weston Lumber Company.
Pop by the fully-restored heritage train station where you’ll find the Bancroft Mineral Museum. Inside you’ll be treated to over 400 specimens all from the area surrounding Bancroft. Learn about the history of mining in the area as well as mineral collecting as you explore the museum.
Experience the Eagle’s Nest Lookout
This is where you’ll find the best views in Bancroft, possibly even all of Hastings County! Eagle’s Nest Park was named by the town’s earliest citizens. They named it after a family of eagles that called the area home. While the eagles are long gone, their mark on the area still remains. Take in the views of the York River Valley as you admire the brilliant sights from atop the Eagle’s Nest Lookout! This is easily one of the top outdoor activities to experience in Bancroft.
It should be noted that access to the Eagle’s Nest Lookout may be blocked from time to time for various reasons such as construction. Visit the Eagle’s Nest Lookout Facebook Page for updates before arriving to avoid disappointment.
Explore Egan Chutes Provincial Park
About 15 minutes northeast from the heart of town, you’ll find Egan Chutes Provincial Park. This non-operating park features three waterfalls or “chutes” as the York River twists and turns against the landscape. You have two options for hiking here as there is a trailhead on each side of the river.
If you trek along the western riverbank, you’ll be treated to the most impressive of the chutes after a short 10 minute hike. The eastern side offers a longer hike at about 8 kilometres out and back but you’ll be able to see the other two chutes as it takes you further into the provincial park.
Whatever you choose to do, this lesser-known park is one of my favourite things to do in Bancroft. If you’re lucky, you just might even have the waterfalls all to yourself!
Scream for Ice Cream at Kawartha Dairy
It’s just a short 5 minute drive along the Ontario 28 to get to some of the best ice cream in Ontario. Kawartha Dairy had humble beginnings in Bobcaygeon but has since grown into what’s arguably the most popular Ontario brand of ice cream. Serving up delicious treats for 80 years and counting, you won’t want to miss treating yourself to their amazing ice cream. They have a number of flavours to choose from (including gluten-free and vegan options) though I recommend their Wolf Tracks flavour – vanilla ice cream with brownie pieces. I’ve only ever seen Kawartha Dairy make a concoction like this!
Things to Do Near Bancroft
In a town of fewer than 4000 people, you can imagine there are only so many things to do in Bancroft. What makes the town so great though is that it’s the perfect home base for exploring the area! You won’t want to miss checking out these awesome spots near the town of Bancroft.
Algonquin Provincial Park
In less than an hour’s drive from Bancroft, you’ll find yourself at Algonquin Provincial Park’s East Gate. Established in 1893, it’s the province’s very first provincial park.
Algonquin has been home to humans for thousands of years as the Anishinaabe often traversed these lands for food sources and by following the migration patterns of animals. In the 1800s, logging became more prominent in the park with the demand for white pine by British settlers. While many believe it became a provincial park in order to protect these lands from the damage of logging, it was actually to protect the headwaters as five major rivers flow from the park.
With over 70 kilometres of hiking trails alone and many of those trails featuring brilliant lookouts and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, Algonquin is easily the most popular provincial park in the entire province.
Explore the Town of Combermere
If you’re exploring the Bancroft area for an extended period of time, plan a day trip to the town of Combermere. This adorable village is one of those spots where if you blink, you’ll miss it – but it’s a hidden gem if you know what to look for. A 40 minute drive from Bancroft, it is home to some fantastic local restaurants and beautiful views as the Madawaska River runs through the middle of it. There are a number of things to do in Combermere and the surrounding area, many of which involve outdoor adventures like whitewater kayaking and fishing. Don’t miss visiting Crooked Slide Park where an old logging chute has been restored to create a unique park that also teaches about the history of the area.
Papineau Public Beach
If you’re looking for some fun in the sun, head 30 minutes northeast of Bancroft to Papineau Lake. On the southeast side, you’ll find Papineau Public Beach. Shallow, warm water and a beautiful stretch of beach make it ideal for families with small children. This large picturesque lake is great for swimming as well as paddling. However, facilities are limited but there are bathrooms available at Papineau Creek Day Park. You’ll want to pack everything you’ll need and make sure you pack it out with you!
Silent Lake Provincial Park
Chances are if you’re in the Bancroft area, you’re planning to at least spend an afternoon at Silent Lake Provincial Park. Established in 1975 to provide outdoor recreational activities close to the Haliburton area, the park offers almost 20 kilometres of hiking trails and 17 kilometres of mountain biking trails. Canoe and kayak rentals are available from the park office which is a must-do when visiting Silent Lake. No motor or electric boats are allowed within the lake which is perfect for beginner paddlers like me.
Visiting Silent Lake is one of the popular things to do in Bancroft in the winter as there are over 30 kilometres of groomed winter cross-country ski trails. The park also offers both yurt and cabin roofed accommodations which are available all year long, making it a popular destination just 20 minutes outside of Bancroft. I had the pleasure of staying in one of the Silent Lake Provincial Park cabins and can’t recommend it enough!
Petroglyphs Provincial Park
An hour’s drive from Bancroft towards Peterborough and you’ll see signs for Petroglyphs Provincial Park. It’s an important destination as this is where you’ll find the largest known concentration of Indigenous rock carvings in the entire country. This sacred site is known as “The Teaching Rocks” or Kinoomaagewaabkong where approximately 900 carvings of people, objects and animals are depicted. It’s a sacred site for ceremonies, vision quests and other traditional experiences for the Anishinaabe People and it is thought these carvings were created between 500 and 1000 years ago.
Head to the Learning Place Visitors Centre where you’ll learn more about Ojibway traditions including medicine wheel teachings, interpretations of the petroglyphs, and more. The park also offers beautiful hiking trails with incredible views of McGinnis Lake – one of the few meromictic lakes in Canada.
Bancroft Hotels & Accommodations
As I was in the area to explore Silent Lake Provincial Park, I didn’t actually stay in town. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of great accommodation options in and around Bancroft! Here are the properties I have my eye on for my next overnight visit.
Somerset Lakeside Resort – Enjoy gorgeous views over Paudash Lake at this peaceful accommodation less than 15 minutes from the heart of town. Offering both hotel rooms and cottage bungalows, you’ll enjoy a tranquil getaway at Somerset Lakeside Resort. Each room has the usual amenities of a coffee maker, fridge, hairdryer, etc while their bungalows have a full kitchen and all the fixings you’d need to cook your own meals. Kayaks, paddleboats and canoes are available for guests to use during their stay free of charge. Book your stay now or see what previous guests have to say about their experience.
Hideaway Cottage – Nestled on the shores of Faraday Trout Lake, this cozy 2-bedroom cottage sleeps up to 5 people. It’s fully furnished with all the comforts of home including a full kitchen, microwave, coffee maker, toaster, etc. The cottage has a private swimming platform as well as an aluminum or fibreglass rowboat so you can enjoy the beauty of the lake from the water. Book your getaway now!
Of course, if none of these tickle your fancy, take a look for yourself at these other Bancroft hotels or check out the map of Bancroft below for additional accommodation options!
Ready to Visit Bancroft?
As you can see, there are so many things to do in Bancroft! While this area is certainly a hotspot for quality nature time and outdoor activities, there are plenty of other attractions for those more culturally inclined or food motivated. By using this guide, I guarantee you’ll fully enjoy your visit to Bancroft whether it’s a pit stop on an Ontario road trip or your final destination!
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