Forget cabins, cottages are what Ontario is all about. More like homes than roughing-it outposts, lake or riverside cottages are the perfect place to escape to during the summer heat. After you’ve seen all there is to see in Toronto, take to where the water meets the rocks and find your spot on a lakeshore or island. Though Muskoka is the most famous Ontario cottage country region, there are many more peppered throughout Ontario.
What’s really so great about the cottage life? It’s the eight hours a day spent on the dock, toes dipped in the water with a beer in hand. It’s the tubing and water skiing over glassy waters. It’s cooking up BBQ and s’mores beneath starry skies. It’s the canoeing, swimming, bug spray, and sunscreen — and lots of it. It’s leaving typical day-to-day behind and escaping to something a bit simpler — think Monopoly and campfire jam sessions, versus Netflix and iPhones.
So where can you find these cottages — some stuck in the ‘70s (in a charming way), some more polished than your own apartment? Head outside of Toronto and you’ll be well on your way to the most picturesque weekend getaway. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself in one of these simple, yet stunning spots.
Though made up of over 1,600 lakes, Muskoka is most associated with Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph, and Lake Rosseau. Home to tons of lakeside cottages, even 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. Enjoy fresh produce, fresh seafood, and the fresh lake air. Cottages are available to rent during the summer months, but they go fast. If you’re looking to plan a weekend here, make sure you book well in advance and give yourself lots of time to explore areas like Lake of Bays, Georgian Bay, Hunstville, and Bracebridge.
Whether you’re into cottages or camping, Kawartha Lakes offers something for every type of traveller. Enjoy a rural vibe, while still being close to any amenity you might need as you spend long summer days out in the sun. About 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, you’ll appreciate being close to the water no matter where you go. If fact, Kawartha means “bright waters and happy lands,” so you won’t be surprised to learn that you can enjoy everything from fishing and boating, to ATVing and golfing. The sunsets can’t be beat either.
This is the spot for art lovers. Haliburton not only offers lakeside cottages and resorts (if you’re looking for something more all-inclusive), but the area is also home to a thriving arts community, with galleries, studios, and resident artists to visit between kayaking and hiking. After enjoying the local art, or visiting one of the museums, explore the many lakes and rivers that snake through this county. Then, head back to your homebase and enjoy an evening dip in the warm waters just outside your cottage door.
Home to the longest freshwater beach in the world, Wasaga Beach is cottage country at its finest — and it’s only 2 hours outside Toronto. This 14.5-kiometre stretch of sand is home to a bustling beach, complete with a boardwalk and all the bells and whistles that go with it. Plus, you seriously won’t believe these bright blue waters are in Ontario. If you visit in August you’ll be able to check out Centre of Gravity, dubbed “Canada’s Hottest Beach Festival,” featuring music, watersports, and guaranteed good times. If you’re not into the busyness of the main beach, don’t fret. Thanks to its size, the beach is separated into eight areas, so you can choose your own adventure. Once you’ve gotten enough sun, head back to your cottage for an evening hotdog roast and a classic game of cards.
Tucked away in nature three hours northeast of Toronto, Algonquin Park provides a rustically remote experience for city dwellers. Whether you explore by foot or canoe, you’ll want to spend a few days taking in the shining waters and towering trees. Though there are few cabins in the area — just over 300 cottage leases in the park total — there are also lodges and campsites that will give you a spot to rest your head after a day of exploring. Spend a day on the water fishing, look for moose, or just enjoy watching wildlife pass you by.
1000 Islands, Gananoque
In the opposite direction of most of these spots, the 1000 Islands in the St. Lawrence River provide a different cottage life vibe.While you cruise to your humble abode, about three hours east of Toronto, you’ll pass elaborate mansions, like the Singer Castle, and basically be able to wave to your pals in the States — the 1000 Islands sit along the border of Northern New York State. Then, you’ll be in the midst of a unique archipelago that provides a great place to relax or practice all of your favourite outdoor activities. Whether you’re up for a cruise or rafting, a wine tasting or food tour, the mix of urban and nature found here is something you’ll want to visit time and time again.
The best part about cottage life? It can be as relaxing or as adventurous as you like. We know that one of these spots will definitely be able to check several (if not all) of the boxes when you’re planning your next summer escape.
For more on Ontario escapes, check out the Ontario Travel website.