Every great city has it’s cottage country. In the case of Toronto, Muskoka is the place to relax and leave the urban world behind. The reason? How about 1,600 lakes, 14,000 kilometres of shoreline, plus rivers, beaches, and rolling green countryside. This is the place to soak up some sun from morning until night, likely with a nap somewhere in the middle.
If this sounds like your perfect long weekend, or you’re just looking for a quick escape from the city during a Toronto holiday (it’s only two hours away by car), we’ve broken down how to spend three perfect days in Muskoka.
Day 1: Get out on the water
Though made up of over 1,600 lakes, Muskoka is most associated with Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph, and Lake Rosseau. Home to countless cottages you’ll want to rent, including some that you can only get to by boat, you’ll understand why people take the time to get here. From dockside retreats, to private-island mansions, there’s a certain vibe to Muskoka that appeals to locals and visitors alike.
Once you’ve settled in your lakeside retreat, it’s time to take advantage of all of that water. Muskoka is the absolute perfect place to swim and fish of course, but also to try waterskiing, wakeboarding, or tubing. There are few experiences that compare to sailing along behind a boat with mist on your face, wind and your hair, and adrenaline coursing through your veins as you do your best not to fall in!
Cottages will often come with a canoe or row boat, but it’s not hard to rent a boat with a little more power, or find someone to take you out on the water. You could also head to the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, and hop aboard the Island Queen for an afternoon cruise through the 30,000 Islands. The biosphere reserve is also home to Georgian Bay Islands National Park, a boat access only park that’s very popular with campers. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
- Where: Georgian Bay
- When: The Island Queen does a daily two-hour morning cruise at 10 am from July-August, and a daily three-hour afternoon cruise at 1 pm from June to October
- Costs: £19 ($32 CAD) for the morning cruise and £25 ($42 CAD) for the afternoon cruise
- Where: Georgian Bay
- When: Sunday to Thursday, 9:30 am - 5:00 pm; Friday, 9 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 9 am to 6 pm.
- Costs: All national parks are free to enter in 2017! Campsites range from £9.50 to £25 ($16 CAD to $25 CAD) per night while cabins range from £85 to £105 ($140 CAD to $175 CAD) per night.
Day 2: Brunch, a beach, and booze
After a full day of paddling or clinging to a rope behind a boat, your body will need some fuel. Start off your day with brunch at Soul Sistas Café, which offers homemade, nutritious foods you’ll actually want to eat. Take a look at the quiche of the day, or make your own Power Breakfast Bowl to really prepare yourself for the adventure to come. Another great option is the Ladybug Cafe, right on Georgian Bay. While they’re famous for their butter tarts (a very Canadian snack — you should try one if you never have), they also serve a great breakfast.
Once you’re adequately satiated, make your way to Wasaga Beach for a day on the sand. Wasaga just so happens to be the longest freshwater beach in the world at 14 kilometres, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a place to lay your towel down. This sandy stretch isn’t only perfect for lounging and sunset watching, it’s also home to a visitor center, museum, and theatre where you can take a break from the heat and learn a little something along the way.
Nothing compliments a day of relaxation quite like a cold beer, and Muskoka isn’t short on the good stuff. Visit Muskoka Brewery, Sawdust City Brewery, or Lake of Bays Brewery to a sample a variety of beers or, for a behind-the-scenes experience, join them on a brewery tour.
While on the subject of delicious alcoholic beverages, the Muskoka Lakes Winery is an absolute must-visit while in the region. The winery is attached to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh, a local institution dating back to the 1950s. Sign up for the Bog to Bottle Discovery tour to see how these Canadian fruit are grown and eventually transformed into the wine you’ll get to sample.
- What to get: A Power Breakfast Bowl
- Where: Huntsville
- Hours: Monday to Friday, 7:30 am to 5 pm; Saturday, 9 am to 4 pm; Sunday, 9 am to 2 pm
- What to get: Homemade pancakes and a world-famous butter tart
- Where: Midland
- Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 7 am to 3 pm; Tuesday, 7 am to 8 pm (with live music from 5 pm to 8 pm); Saturday and Sunday, 8 am to 3 pm
- What to get: Do the Bog to Bottle tour and sample a whole bunch of goodies
- Where: Bala
- Hours: 10 am to 6 pm daily all summer
Day 3: See through the eyes of artists
Muskoka is so beautiful that its landscape inspired work by Canada’s most famous artists: the Group of Seven. You can see the fruits of that inspiration rise up before you on a guided or self-guided tour of the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery. This trail features 98 mural replicas of famous paintings by these Canadian icons in areas of Muskoka that they actually visited.
Of course, a slew of other artists have also been inspired by this natural setting and continue to be to this day. If you’re a lover of the arts, Muskoka is a great place to visit studios and meet artists to learn about and perhaps even take home some of their work. There are also a number of galleries like the Muskoka Fine Arts Gallery and the Chapel Gallery which put the works of countless creatives on display for the public. Finally, have your fill of painting, pottery and more during the Muskoka Arts & Crafts Summer Show or the Dockside Festival of the Arts, which take place during the summer months.
- Where: Across Muskoka
- Hours: Anytime, it’s outdoors!
- Cost: Free, it’s outdoors
- Where: Port Carling
- Hours: July and August, seven days per week, May-June and September-October, weekends only (variable hours)
- Cost: Free entry but prepare your wallet to take a piece of art home
- Where: Bracebridge
- Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm until 5 pm
- Cost: Free
Other Muskoka musts
The water may get all of the attention in Muskoka, but the hiking is definitely worthy of your time. Dozens of trails will get you deep into the forest or up onto high land for even better views of the scenery. Check out the Huckleberry Rock Lookout Trail, a 2.5-kilometre hike featuring rocks dating back over a billion years and a fantastic payoff at the end. Georgian Bay Island National Park is also home to a dozen hiking trails, and a little further north you can hike a beautiful six-kilometre trail in Killbear Provincial Park.
Muskoka oozes small town charm, and its performance arts scene only serves to reinforce that feeling. Catch live concerts and performances year-round at the Gravenhurst Opera House or Peter’s Players. And if the timing is right, definitely make time for the Huntsville Festival of the Arts, a crowd-pleaser every summer.
Of course, you can also do none of these things. As National Geographic put it when they chose Muskoka as one of their top travel destinations a few years ago, “There’s plenty to do here but nothing you’d put on an agenda. Lounge with friends, barbecue everything, watch the night sky from the dock in the pitch black, play board games while listening to the rain. And run around barefoot all day.”