Laced with lakes, rivers and streams, this is Canada’s favourite cottage country destination.
Just saying its name conjures myriad images, and in many ways, Muskoka is a state of mind. A region extending from Georgian Bay to Algonquin (and north as far as Lake Couchiching), this is where kicking back is fully expected, where lakes like Joseph and Rosseau are lined with docks, boats, and plenty of namesake Muskoka chairs. Once you arrive—probably by car, although an air service now connects the area with downtown Toronto—slow down with a pint on a patio, a paddle on the lake, or just an afternoon with good friends on the dock.
Algonquin Provincial Park Bigger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island, this sprawling 7,500-acre park offers a range of natural attractions. If staying along Highway 60, which runs east-west through the southern end of Algonquin, you’ll find museums, drive-in campgrounds, and 14 interpretive trails. But the truly outdoorsy can venture into the vast backcountry, filled with thousands of lakes perfect for a weeklong trip portaging from one to the next. Georgian Bay Islands National Park Part of the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, Georgian Bay can feel a little like a voyage on the sea. White-sand beaches are lapped by aquamarine waters, and a boat trip will take you past as many as 63 islands. Hike through tall pines and the Canadian Shield to vistas stretching all the way to the horizon, then bed down for the night at a campsite or cabin. Mikisew Provincial Park Small but lovely, this park on Eagle Lake is an excellent place to paddle—rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard, and explore the islands. After a dip at one of three sandy beaches, dry off with a round on the 18-hole disc golf course. Massasauga Provincial Park Often known as just “the Massasauga,” this park offers opportunities to get away from it all. Boat around hundreds of windswept islands, anchor in a quiet cove, and camp and swim right from shore. When you’re ready for some action, hike one of three trails, the most challenging of which runs more than five kilometres between two historic places: Calhoun Lodge and the Baker pioneer homestead.
Summer definitely brings the best weather, with hot, humid days that warm the waters to a relatively comfortable temperature for swimming. But July and August are also very busy, with masses of people driving north from the Greater Toronto Area. April is rainy, but May and June can be quite pleasant, if a bit buggy. Evenings cool through September and October, when the autumn leaves pop with countless shades of gold, orange and red.
- Highway 11, which connects Toronto with Muskoka, gets extremely busy in summer, especially on weekends—plan your drive up accordingly. - If you’re looking to buy camping gear, Huntsville, Gravenhurst, and Bracebridge are your best bets, but if you’re coming from the south, you’ll probably find better prices in Toronto or Barrie. - When visiting in spring, pack bug spray, as mosquitoes and blackflies can be irritating, especially around twilight. - Fishing requires a license, easily purchased at local hardware stores and retailers.