One of the first Harvest Host locations I stayed at overnight wasn’t a cidery, brewery, or winery as one might expect. Instead, it was a Christmas tree farm! Elliott Tree Farm is a relaxing oasis for vanlifers travelling in Ontario and a very cool year-round tourism destination in the Headwaters Region in Ontario, Canada. With plenty of flat land for parking, privacy while camping, and a welcoming host, not to mention a neat business to learn more about, it’s definitely a spot to check out. In fact, I returned later in the summer for a vanlife get-together. A whopping 29 rigs rolled up and gathered for the weekend. We had a huge bonfire and cookout, a neighbouring farmer set up a market for us with fresh eggs and produce, and despite it being the hottest weekend of the year, everyone had a fantastic time.
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What is Harvest Hosts?
If you haven’t heard of Harvest Hosts before, they’re the ultimate way to experience vanlife, build community on the road, and my favourite option for van camping. The premise is simple: beverage companies (beer, wine, cider), farms, tourism organizations, and other willing businesses allow vanlifers to stay free for a night or two, with the understanding that they will purchase something from the host. So far, I’ve stayed at a cidery, a Christmas tree farm, and a meadery! I didn’t even know what mead was before my visit and now I can’t wait to go back. Not only was my vantry stocked after each stay, but I learned all sorts of new tidbits, getting the opportunity to tour behind-the-scenes and meet the owners of each establishment. You can see why I love Harvest Hosts so much. The only (current) downside is that there aren’t more hosts in Canada. I do think that it’s because Harvest Hosts is not as well-known here and I look forward to more places catching on and joining the platform as word spreads.
I first heard about Harvest Hosts through YouTubers Kara and Nate when they travelled throughout the US in their van during the pandemic. After seeing all the cool locations they stayed at, I knew that once I found my van home I’d be signing up for a membership too. Harvest Hosts is still relatively new in Canada, but I’m hoping that more businesses will join the platform so that there will be many more local places to explore. If Harvest Hosts sounds like something you or someone you know would be interested in too, here’s a whopping 30% off an annual membership when you use code HOLIDAYHH. On the other hand, head here if you have a business and are interested in becoming a host or send me an email if you have any questions about hosting!
About Elliott Tree Farm
Did you know there’s such a thing as the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario Association? I didn’t until researching for this blog post and learning that the Elliott Tree Farm was a member. Since 1890, there has been a farm in this location, about 6km north of Hillsburgh, Ontario. For nearly 40 years, Elliott Tree Farm has been growing and selling landscape trees. For the past decade, they’ve added Christmas trees to their inventory, specializing in Fir and Blue Spruce. They also grow larger Christmas trees that reach 25 to 35 feet! If you’ve shopped at the Don Mills Plaza in Toronto, you may have even seen one of their festive giants sparkling and spreading cheer.
The year-round tree farm and Harvest Host location is a multi-faceted business. If you’re in need of a place to store your things, Elliott Tree Farm has you covered, with self-storage units and indoor and outdoor vehicle storage. The farm has also been a television set for the famed Murdoch Mysteries series. In 2021 it was used to film an episode of Gabby’s Farm, a TVO Kids show. I also came across somewhere that it was in a Canada Post commercial, but I can’t seem to find the clip.
Not only has it been the set for more elaborate productions, but it was also where a very sweet wedding proposal took place in 2017. The farm lit up trees, with one decorated with ornaments displaying photographs of the happy couple. Of course there were also blankets for warmth and champagne to celebrate. To top off the cool factor, the farm has its own airplane runway. We asked the owner, Derek Elliott, if any planes had ever used it and he mentioned that a friend had once. I think that nowadays it may be more of a fun straightaway to rip down with a 4×4.
Elliott Tree Farm is an awesome place to have a professional photographer take holiday photos. With all of the greenery and a beautiful historic barn from 1850, it’s a picturesque place to host weddings and other events too. The original barn, which is nearly 200 years old, was restored about 35 years ago. When you stand inside it, you’ll see remnants of history sprinkled throughout the rafters and beams, like the original pulley that hauled silage up into the barn.
Sunday Yoga Classes
On warmer weather Sundays, you can attend yoga classes in the barn which is so peaceful and serene in the mornings. The airy building lines up perfectly for a framed view of a solitary tree in the field. I had a chance to join a class during the van meet-up weekend and it was a very relaxing way to begin the day. I’ve heard that frisbee golf is also available now. I’ll have to check that out on my next visit!
Unique Historic Airbnb Location
There are 3 phenomenal Airbnb options at Elliott Tree Farm: the “1850s Settler Cabin”, the “Rustic Beach House”, and the “Bunk House” which can be booked with the beach house. Another vanlifer and I had the awesome surprise of visiting the 1850s Settler Cabin during our first weekend at the farm. Derek took us on the 4×4 around his property, giving us an informal tour of the property. When we rounded the corner and saw the revealed cabin, it was all I could do not to squeal in delight! I adore old buildings and this one is just so beautifully preserved. Unfortunately Derek didn’t know much else about the original inhabitants or the history of the cabin since moving it from Belwood…but I’m sure with a bit of sleuthing at the conservation area a story or two will surface.
The cabin is a wooden structure that used to be at Belwood Conservation Area and was moved, piece by delicate piece, to Elliott Tree Farm about 30 years ago. In order to make the location change, the cabin was taken apart, everything was numbered, and then it was put back together like Lego, only more complicated, I’m sure. Walking up to the doorway in the 5-acre maple forest and through the cabin door is just magical. You can’t help but smile at the quiet. There’s limited solar electricity in the home. It’s also powered by a generator when necessary, so you’re able to become completely absorbed by the songs of chirping birds and rustling leaves of the trees encircling the cabin. A cast iron wood-burning stove heats the simply decorated cabin. There is a backup propane furnace as well. In maintaining the authenticity of the cabin, there isn’t any plumbing, however there’s a new outhouse and they provide a water tank with potable water. If you’d like to cook, there is a BBQ and a fire pit, along with pots and pans, and some cooking and dining utensils.
The 2nd Airbnb is closer to where the Harvest Host vans park and sits beside a pond. In the summer you can swim and fish there! There’s even a swimming raft and boats with oars for your enjoyment. The cabin is tucked away enough so that there’s privacy for both the vanlifers and the Airbnb guests, but open enough that you feel you’ve got the whole field to yourself. There is electricity on site, as well as a private outhouse and potable water in a 5-gallon water tank. The shower is located a little walk away at the Horse Barn Canteen. Enjoy a fire in the evenings at your own fire pit after you’ve grilled up dinner on the BBQ. Adjacent to the Rustic Beach House is a sand volleyball court, and a bunkhouse, which is the 3rd vacation rental option at Elliott Tree Farm.
Maple Syrup Experience
Elliott Tree Farm is a winter destination to add to your Ontario travels list. Between the small-scale maple syrup producer’s tasty weekend events, winter campfire sites, and the tradition of finding your perfect Christmas tree, there’s plenty to enjoy.
When I moved to Ireland I brought a large jar of maple syrup to my new country, not once, but twice. Liquid gold is my go-to Canadian gift for overseas friends and travel acquaintances, but I also couldn’t go a full year without enjoying it in my own kitchen. The versatile ingredient, though full of healthy nutrients like iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and a few vitamins, can always be counted on to serve up sugary smiles.
If you love maple syrup too, then you need to visit Elliott Tree Farm for a delicious day trip! From mid-February to early April (though that may change as the climate does), they host a tasty all-ages event. The tickets include all-you-can-eat regular or gluten-free pancakes (with sausage and bacon on the side) and hot drinks like coffee, tea, or cider, as well as juice and water. You also have access to the children’s hay bale maze, a complimentary toboggan for the sugar shack trail, parking, and a guided tour.
For the first half hour, chow down on fluffy flapjacks to fuel up for your sugarbush trail walk. On the guided tour you’ll check the sap buckets, visit the tree farm’s sugar shack, and taste each stage of the process, from raw sap to partially cooked sap, to treats like maple sugar and maple toffee. Learn about sustainable tree farming and how to identify different species at different growth stages. Then, absorb the history and process of maple syrup production. Finish the day with a browse through all of the scrumptious maple products for sale – just make sure not to eat all of your goodies on the drive home!
There are a few things to keep in mind for your visit. First, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Make sure to dress appropriately for the day’s adventures. Second, Elliott Tree Farm is a dog-friendly destination. Bring furry family members with you as long as they’re on a leash. Third, and perhaps most important, bring an appetite for both the food and the fun facts you’ll digest!
Horse Barn Canteen
Brand new for 2023’s Maple Syrup Experience was the opening of the Horse Barn Canteen. It’s a warm and unique breakfast spot to chow down on your pancakes before heading out on the guided tour. The 4,000 square foot former horse barn is also available for year-round private group rentals through Airbnb. The wheelchair accessible space is large enough to host up to 90 guests and with the option to bring your own food or have on-site catering, it could be a great spot for a family gathering or a work event. There isn’t a kitchen in the barn, however there is a refrigerator, freezer, commercial coffee maker and tea kettle available for use.
Winter Campfire Sites
Love the outdoors? Gather a group together for a winter campfire! There are 12 sites to reserve, with each ticket covering entrance for up to 6 people, parking, and a picnic site, complete with a wood fire pit grill. Larger groups that need to reserve multiple sites can arrange to have them situated close to each other. Between roasting s’mores and hot dog spiders, meander along 100 acres of walking trails, maximize use of the activity field with any games you bring, and snap as many Instagram-worthy photos as you’d like of the vintage 1947 Case Tractor and the rest of the festive farm.
Like provincial parks, you’re welcome to bring your own hot or cold picnic. Please “pack in and pack out” all of your garbage and recycling. Firewood is an additional cost and will include natural fire starters and matches. Outside wood is not welcome, as it can be damaging to the farm’s natural flora. There are washrooms available and leashed dogs are welcome to join the campfire party. If you want to bring other chairs, do, however leave the alcoholic spirits at home.
Many people still maintain the tradition of finding and cutting down their Christmas tree each December. Elliott Tree Farm has sustainably farmed Fir or Blue Spruce Christmas trees ready to take home. Whether you cut it down yourself or select a fresh cut Christmas tree is your choice. There are also plenty of other holiday decorations to be found, including handmade wreaths, planters, tree stands, and greenery to spruce up your home. If you don’t have a lot of space or prefer decorating outside the box, check out the Charlie Brown trees that are also for sale. The farm provides twine to help tie down the tree to your vehicle and if you need a saw, they’ll lend you one. Don’t forget to taste test your way through the hot chocolate bar afterwards to warm up!
If you’d like to bring home a souvenir, there are plenty of options to be found in the bright red wooden gift shop. The striking exterior pops amidst all of the green in the sunny months and the fresh white snow in wintertime. The only way to describe the interior is cozy. With a lower ceiling, twinkle lights, and a working cast iron stove, your lips will immediately curve upwards as you feel transported back in time. There are all sorts of goodies to peruse, including local artisan items like bath bombs that reveal surprise toys made by a teenager, Serendipity candles from Collingwood, lavender salt, birdhouses, and Elliott Tree Farm clothing merch. Of course, you can’t go home without a jar of local honey or some of the farm’s maple syrup!
How to Get There
Elliott Tree Farm is located in Erin Township, about 2 hours northwest of Toronto or 35 minutes north of Guelph.
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