Muskoka bills itself as “Once discovered, never forgotten.” That’s a pretty fair statement and it’s hard to deny its beauty and charm. It’s busy during the summer months but in the quiet of winter there is also much to explore.
One of the fun things to do as you drive along famed Highway 11 is to look for Inukshuks watching over you on the granite ledges. They may not be as old as the area itself, but people have been making their way to vacation in Muskoka for more than 140 years. The wintertime here is perfect for many outdoor pursuits such as skating, skiing, tobogganing
Things to do
No need to go all the way to Ottawa or Quebec for winter outdoor fun: Muskoka has its own skating trail and winter carnivals. There’s something special about skating outdoors. Arrowhead Provincial Park has taken the outdoor rink one step further, creating a 1.3 km trail where you can watch for wildlife while you glide through the thick Muskoka forest, lush with evergreen trees. At night during Fire & Ice Nights (select Saturdays in January and February), the trail is romantically lit with hundreds of Tiki torches.
The park is also the perfect place to engage in other experiences every Canadian likes to enjoy: beautiful cross country ski trails (28 kms to be exact), snowshoeing trails and a tubing hill. Don’t worry about having to haul up your own equipment since rentals are available.
Once you’ve got a few traditional winter activities under your belt, save some time for a festival or two. The Bracebridge Fire and Ice Festival hits downtown Bracebridge in January with a unique approach to a traditional winter carnival. There are fireworks, ice displays, a tube run and skating trail. Nearby Port Carling is holding its 50th Port Carling Winterfest this year. Take part in a polar bear dip, wagon rides, lumberjack-style events and good food.
Where to stay
Even if you don’t have a friend or relative with a cottage, you can choose the type of accommodation you’d like and there’s plenty to choose from in the winter: cottages, B&Bs and resorts are all here. There are in fact more than 80 resorts in the area – everything from luxury resorts, family friendly lodges, rustic inns, cottage resorts and historic B&Bs. The Rosseau Muskoka – ranked number seven of the Top 20 Resorts in Canada by Conde Nast Traveller – is situated in luxurious surroundings with magnificent views overlooking Lake Rosseau. The Blue Spruce Resort is located on beautiful Oxtongue Lake, just five minutes from Algonquin Park. An upscale lake view cottage or suite offers a crackling fireplace and Jacuzzi tub. Individual lakeside cottages complete with wood burning fireplaces at the Cedar Grove Lodge will welcome you after a day outdoors. Three meals a day are also included. You’ll have immediate access to skating on the lake, groomed trails to explore or reading by the fire. Plus, it’s just a 10-minute drive from the Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail. A landmark destination is Muskoka’s popular Deerhurst Resort, also 10 minutes from the Arrowhead trail.
Where to eat
Experiencing independent restaurants, diners and cafés is always a fun part of vacationing, and the Muskoka Region doesn’t disappoint. The Rosseau Muskoka offers both fine dining and less formal options. There are many “must-try” eateries scattered throughout the area, including The Little Place by the Lights, Spencer’s Tall Trees and On the Docks (all in Huntsville), Cast Iron Restaurant (Baysville) and The Creative Plate (Gravenhurst). These are noted as some of the most popular places to enjoy a meal.
Before calling it a night, wouldn’t it be nice if every winter’s eve were capped off with a roaring fire and a hot beverage? When you’re on vacation in Muskoka, that’s a definite must.
by Becky dumais
Bracebridge Fire & Ice Festival
Port Carling Winterfest
Arrowhead Provincial Park