One of the many colorful beachside murals in Grand Bend, Ontario

Lambton Shores, Ontario: Exploring Nature and Community

Lambton Shores is a wide-reaching Lake Huron-based municipality that incorporates the southern Ontario towns of Arkona, Forest, Thedford, Ipperwash, Port Franks, and Grand Bend, as well as the Pinery Provincial Park, Ausable River Cut Conservation Area, and Rock Glen Conservation Area. The Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point, while a distinct community, also contribute to the magic of this region. Growing up in Sarnia, Ontario (i.e. just outside of the Lambton Shores boundary) I developed a passing familiarity with the area, but given its natural beauty and amenities, I finally decided to set forth and uncover every nook and cranny of this Great Lakes gem.

Kettle & Stony Point First Nation

The well-stocked interior of a First Nation tourist trading post
The interior of Thunderbird Crafts Trading Post. Lots of authentic First Nation's goods. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Even though Kettle Point (aka, Wiiwkwdong) sits apart from the Lambton Shores banner, this shoreline community is the first introduction to the region if driving in from the west, or, conversely, a final send off for westward road-trippers. The First Nation enclave is home to the Chippewas, who are members of the Anishinabek Nation. Kettle Point capitalizes on the well-trafficked intersection between Lakeshore Road (Hwy 7) and Rawlings Road (Hwy 21). Here, motorists can fill their tanks with cheap gas (since it is free of the Ontario Government's taxes), stock up on adult indulgences, purchase freshly-caught fish or firewood bundles from roadside vendors, shop for authentic Indigenous crafts/emblems, participate in community events, and, of course, witness the famous "kettles."

A roadside trailer advertising fish for sale at a First Nation dispensary
Smokin' Aces roadside dispensary and proprietor of freshly-caught Lake Huron pickerel. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Kettles, after which the area takes its colloquial name, are uniquely-eroded spherical rock formations that hug the shore of the small peninsula, and can only be found in two other locations around the world. To see them, and the rest of this less-traveled shoreline, take Indian Line to Lake Road until you connect to Ipperwash Road (just follow the signs for the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail). During my recent visit, the kettles had been strategically stowed for some shoreline maintenance, but the detour was still a pleasant one and led me seamlessly to my next destination.


A small lunch enjoyed at a picnic table separated
A tranquil picnic area at one of Ipperwash Beach's alternative parking lots. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Ipperwash is a mostly-residential community that hosts one of the longest beaches in Ontario (i.e. 5.5 kilometers/3.4 miles). Ipperwash Beach has multiple access points that not only allow summer tourists to fan out, but also provide cute picnic areas and washroom facilities. This stretch of Lake Huron is simultaneously inviting and wild. The sands by the water are continuously smoothed by the tides, while the back half of the beach tends to be strewn with wooden debris - thereby giving it an organic feel that sets it apart from those perfectly-kempt tropical destinations.

A beautiful and slightly misty day at a wild Lake Huron beach. A makeshift wood structure marks the foreground
A mix of wild and tranquil at Ipperwash Beach. Photo: Andrew Douglas

After a soothing stroll, refreshing swim, or tanning session, retreat to the Ipperwash Beach Club for provisions - a large and welcoming patio restaurant situated right off the beach's central access point (i.e. Ipperwash Road). Once sufficiently fueled on homemade pub grub, consider heading slightly up the road to burn off those surplus calories on the Dunes and Swales Trail. This dual-network nature walk takes visitors through groomed forest trails and across marshy boardwalks. Look for the orange-chested robins, the seemingly artificial hue of blue jays, and the bright red coats of cardinals, (as well as many other species of Ontario's colorful and talkative birds), listen to the plop of retreating frogs/turtles, and be mindful of stepping on a harmless (but still startling) sunbathing garter snake.

Port Franks

A small boardwalk leads into a riverside sand dune trail system
A perfect day for exploring the Ausable River Cut Conservation between Port Franks and the Pinery. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Every trip to Port Franks reinstills my childhood nostalgia. As an avid cross-country runner, I would drive out here on weekends in order to train on the leg-zapping sand dunes. Flat as southern Ontario may be, these geological phenomena rise (seemingly out of nowhere) to significantly switch up the terrain. 11 kilometers (7 miles) of marked trails through the rare Oak Savanna and Carolinian forest can be accessed from the Port Franks Community Center (which also boasts a small library, communal garden, soccer field, disc golf course, playground and skate park), at several points off of Port Franks Road (look for subtle roadside turnouts and/or signs for the Karner Blue Sanctuary), the Ausable River Cut Conservation Area, and from the back parking lots of two favorite local eateries: MacPherson's and Grogs.

An extensive outdoor patio area with lights strung up and a fire pit blazing in the foreground
The outdoor patio area at Grogs. On this occasion, the inside was packed because of Trivia Night. Photo: Andrew Douglas

At the bookends of a trail-heavy day (whether by foot, bike, or horseback), I always love grabbing a hearty breakfast with limitless coffee refills at MacPherson's (with its Corner Gas-esque charm), and/or a craft pint/pizza at Grogs (with its extensive, fire-pit-speckled outdoor patio). Most recently, I just so happened to pop in on the latter during their trivia night, which impressively packed the house on an off-season Thursday.

Pinery Provincial Park

A long wooden boardwalk leads through grassy dune terrain and towards the beach
One of the many idyllic boardwalks leading to the endless Pinery beach. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Pinery Provincial Park, or "the Pinery," as it is most-commonly referred to, is a 6,260-acre outdoor recreation mecca. For starters, it possesses 10 kilometers (6 miles) of uninterrupted beaches that are lined with grass-covered sand dunes and connected to massive campgrounds and public-use areas via charming boardwalks. The beaches here are gorgeous, in the Canadian sort of way. In other words, they are clean and comfortable, but also strewn with pebbles and driftwood. So while a game of beach volleyball is less likely to break out here, photographers, bookworms, beach walkers, and avid swimmers are in for a treat. Stick around for sunset, as National Geographic ranked the Pinery as one of the best sunset spots in the world.

One red canoe with two occupants paddle away from a riverside rental shop.
The first paddlers of the day set forth from the Pinery's large rental facility. Photo: Andrew Douglas

In addition to the serene shoreline, this provincial park (i.e. the equivalent of a state park), has ten walking/jogging trails, a 14km (9-mile) bike trail, and when the snow arrives, a 38km (24-mile) groomed cross-country ski network throughout its Oak Savanna ecosystem (the largest remaining tract in Ontario). Paddlers are another demographic that are most welcome at the Pinery. Canoe, kayak, paddleboat, and even hydro-bike rentals are all available on site, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the Old Ausable Channel - a vital wetland ecosystem protected by the park. However you peruse the Oak Savanna, coastal dunes, woodlands, and wetlands, look for painted turtles, spotted turtles, snapping turtles, garter snakes, the rare hog-nosed milk snake, upwards of 310 species of birds (including the rare red-headed woodpecker, bank swallow, and eastern whip-poor-will), 50 species of butterflies (including the provincially-endangered monarch) over 800 species of vascular plants, the endangered little brown myotis, white-tailed deer, and even the occasional black bear.

Before you duck out, make sure to pop by the Visitor Center. I know, visitor centers are often dull buildings that are seemingly obligatory for government parks. But the Pinery really ups the ante. It is spacious, decorative, informative, and interactive (there's even a little theater and live turtle exhibit).

Grand Bend

A traditional ice cream parlor at a sunny beach town
Waiting for my soft serve on a lovely spring day in Grand Bend. A perfect beach-town treat. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Grand Bend is a classic, fun-loving beach town, and the northernmost community within Lambton Shores. This sunny strip is unapologetically touristic, and that's the point. "Touristy" places get a bad rep, but I think it's fun to be a tourist. The second I parked on Main Street (a rare occurrence during peak season, mind you, but I was ahead of the curve) I appreciated the change of pace from the hidden-gem vibes of Port Franks and the camping/nature-centric focus of the Pinery. Grand Bend brought traditional ice cream vendors, henna tattoo parlors, walk-thru coffee shops, expat-style beach bars, a thriving, mural-speckled malecon, and a spirited beach into the mix. Sure, the sands are not as pristine as they are further south, but the whole presentation makes for a satisfying experience.

While most of the action happens along Main Street, one would be remiss to skip out on the perpendicular Ontario Street. Along with the necessary provisions for an extended stay, this strip (and its side streets) peppers in cafes, more cool restaurants, and funky social outlets. The melodies of a local musician drew me to Torched Brewery, where I was able to plunk down amidst a bachelorette party, enjoy some suds, the last rays of sun, and a building full of people who had fully-embraced summer (even though it was only mid-spring).

Rock Glen Conservation Area

A wide waterfall drops into a lush, open gorge
The star attraction: the "Rock Glen Tumble." Photo: Andrew Douglas

Lambton Shores, despite its name, also extends relatively far inland. And even though Lake Huron exits the scene, there is still more southern Ontario wilderness to enjoy, case in point: the Rock Glen Conservation Area. The focal point of this 4,200-acre, Arkona-based nature preserve is the "Rock Glen Tumble" - a 10-meter (33-foot) waterfall that plunges into the 100-foot-deep Ausable Gorge. This niche environment is surrounded by a pocket of deciduous and Carolinian forest, and gives refuge to such unique flora and fauna as: the southern flying squirrel, hooded warbler, queen snake, tulip tree, and sweet-joe-pye-weed. An exploratory boardwalk, complete with many lookout platforms and significant staircases, encircles the most photogenic portion of the valley.


A block of small-town shops with uniquely coloured storefronts and a bright mural on the red brick side wall
A few of the cute shops along King Street. Like Grand Bend, Forest has a propensity for murals. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Another destination able to draw the lake crowds inland is Forest - the largest community within Lambton Shores (i.e. 2,429 residents as of the 2021 census). This former railroad town (established in 1859 when the Grand Trunk line connected the cities of Guelph and Sarnia) acts primarily as a residential/retirement respite for those who work, or worked, from the nearby hubs of Sarnia and London. With that said, the authentic small-town charm is rather infectious for us casual visitors. Make for King Street, where you can catch a flick at the Kineto Theatre (in operation since 1917), a summery treat from Java and Scoops, some mid-day live music at Rocker's Room Musicafe, or some cutesy odds n' ends from a handful of other independent retailers. For a bit of added fair-weather flair, hit the links at any of the dozen golf courses within a 20-mile radius.

Final Thoughts

Lambton Shores is an ideal getaway for those living in the Greater Toronto Area, other landlocked cities of southern Ontario, or anyone from nearby Michigan who wants to switch up the scenery and maximize their dollar. From the First Nations culture at Kettle Point, to the rugged beauty of Ipperwash/Port Franks/Pinery; the excitement of Grand Bend, and the tranquility of Forest/Arkona, this municipality hits all the best beats - certainly in terms of summer fun, but Lambton Shores has a few aces in the hole during the wintertime too.


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