Vacationers and cottagers have been flocking to Ontario’s Muskoka region for decades. American President Woodrow Wilson had a home here, while present-day celebrities like Shania Twain and Goldie Hawn continue the tradition. 48 hours is all you need to forget about the daily grind while staying in this lake-filled, forest-covered paradise just a two-hour drive north of Toronto
Since the 1860s, Muskoka has been a vacation getaway for the Canadian and American gentry. Muskoka welcomed prime ministers, presidents, lords and ladies and “Captains of Industry” to its grand hotels and estates. Some of those impressive mansions have been converted into some of Ontario’s finest resorts and inns. Resorts like Windermere House, Clevelands House and Deerhurst Resort all date back to the late 1800s, while newer properties like Delta Sherwood Inn, The Rosseau J.W. Marriott Resort and Taboo Resort re-imagine the romance of those properties of yesteryear. Whether staying at a resort, inn, lodge or your own private cottage rental, you’ll find any number of activities to enjoy such as canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, boating, sailing, tennis, golf, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, spa treatments and more.
Of course the number one activity for any Muskoka guest is a hike along the many forest trails. Summer is an ideal time to witness the early morning mist rising to greet you, accompanied by the iconic call of the loon as you head out past a carpet of spring wildflowers along dense tree-lined trails. Come autumn, those trees put on a colourful display not to be missed, while winter puts its own unique stamp on nature with a blanket of shimmering snow ideal for skiing or snowmobiling through forest trails. If your time in Muskoka allows, be sure to make time to trek the trails of Algonquin Park, the crown jewel of Ontario’s provincial parks. Each year, visitors from near and far seek out Algonquin’s famed wilderness for a chance to reconnect with 765,345 hectares/1,891,167 acres of unspoiled nature.
Muskoka has a rich cruising history. And why not? There are over 1,600 lakes here! Gone are the giant cruise ships of the turn of the century, but you can relive that decadent past aboard North America’s oldest operating steamship, the Royal Mail Ship Segwun and its sister ships the Wenonah II and the Wanda III - this restored private yacht belonged to Lady Eaton of Canada’s former famed department store chain, and as such is a unique piece of Canadiana as well as a fine example of the private steamship era. Enjoy a tranquil lunch cruise or do some awesome sightseeing as you pass “Millionaires’ Row.” This is where you’ll find the impressive summer homes and cottages of today’s wealthy and even a few Hollywood celebrities.
Visit the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre in Gravenhurst to discover ‘the real Muskoka experience.’ The 1,858-square-metre facility dubbed “Grace & Speed” explores the romantic era of steamships, wooden boats and luxury hotels that defined the Muskoka experience. The centre’s interactive exhibits allow visitors to start a working steamship, blow the steamship whistle, view up to 20 varnished-to-perfection wooden boats at an in-water display, view the process of boat restoration or visit the recreated dining room of a grand old Muskoka hotel.
The Precambrian rock of the vast Canadian Shield is responsible for the rugged and rocky terrain that provides the defining geography of Muskoka. Sculptural granite outcrops dot the rolling forest-covered lands of spruce, pine, birch and balsam trees, while hundreds of freshwater lakes lie in between. Golf enthusiasts recognize the splendid opportunity this unique topography affords and have been flocking to the area for decades. Muskoka is synonymous with golf, boasting 30 championship courses carved into Muskoka’s dramatic landscape, many designed by some of the greatest names the game has ever known.
To name just a few there is the The Rock, the only Canadian golf course designed by six-time major winner Nick Faldo; Deerhurst Highlands by acclaimed architects Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom; Muskoka Bay Golf Course, voted Canada’s best new golf course; and the course at Muskoka’s famous Windermere House, one of the first few lavish hotels to set the tony appeal of the region, designed by Canada’s own renowned golf architect, Stanley Thompson.
Orville Wright, one of the famous American brothers who invented the airplane, had a cottage in Muskoka. Follow in his footsteps and take to the air with Cloud Air Services, Lake Country Airways or Four Seasons Aviation for a bird’s-eye view of the region’s shimmering blue lakes, rolling lands, rocky crests and lush forests. Come September, sure, the brightly coloured display of autumn can be seen along driving routes and hiking trails, but only from up on high can Muskoka’s expanse of crimson, orange and yellow be truly appreciated. Of course, Muskoka’s eastern edge borders Ontario’s UNESCO Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve so be sure to round out your aerial adventure with a tour of this unique and beautiful region with Georgian Bay Airways.
The night sky above Muskoka is just as beautiful as the ground and water below, thanks to the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve. Located southeast of the town of Bala, Torrance Barrens consists of 1,900 hectares of protected crown land free of urban light pollution. As such, the natural beauty of the night sky comes alive as millions of stars twinkle overhead and the Milky Way cuts a magnificent band of intergalactic light across the sky.