Destination Ontario – Muskoka: A Truly Canadian Destination
By Cece Scott www.cecescott.com
High praise was received from National Geographic Traveler editors in 2011, when they included Muskoka cottage country on their Top 10 Best Summer Trips’ list. It’s no secret for most Ontarians, or anyone who’s had the privilege to visit our northern environs, that there’s no other place like it.
THROUGH THE EYES OF ARTISTS
On Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s quite fitting that a notable Canadian painter, Tom Thomson, is being recognized on the 100th anniversary of his death. In 1914 Thomson worked intermittently as a fire fighter, ranger and guide in Algonquin Park, but found that it didn’t allow him enough time for painting. From 1915 to 1917, he produced some of his most famous works, including The Jack Pine, The West Wind and The Northern River. On July 8th, 1917 Thomson died under mysterious circumstances on Canoe Lake.
In honour of Thomson’s memory, The Portage Store on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park is hosting exclusive tours. Also available by The Portage Store are full- and half-day summer tours that highlight moose sightings and water features. Full-day adventures include a canoe, paddles, life vests and a picnic lunch.
While Thomson was influenced by, and worked with, other artists who became known as the Group of Seven, the group wasn’t officially formed until after his death. Also located in the park is the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery that showcases 80 superlative reproductions of the groups’ famous art pieces.
Exterior walls of buildings in the Huntsville, Lake of Bays and other Algonquin regions have become huge canvases for mural artists from across Canada.
The Muskoka region
extends from Gravenhurst
in the south to Huntsville
in the north.
With an abundance of parks, shimmering lakes and centuries travelled canoe routes, Muskoka’s waterways are the definitive way to experience the area. Kayaks and canoes are available to rent from a number of outfitters, including Algonquin Outfitters and Liv Outside.
The Muskoka region extends from Gravenhurst in the south to Huntsville in the north. Self-guided cycling routes wind through a variety of landscapes, with varying endurance challenges. Cycle through hilly towns such as Bala, Ontario’s cranberry capital, or Bracebridge, which has views of three spectacular falls. The 63-kilometre Muskoka Lakes Route #1 track winds through the Muskoka countryside, where, tucked in the rolling hills, cyclists will see farmlands and barns (a rarity in this area), as well as glistening views of Lake Rosseau.
Horseback riding through the forests, farmland and the jaw-dropping vistas of Muskoka is a great way to go. Beyond Equine Centre has horses suitable for all riding levels, as well as wagon rides, marshmallow roasts and farm tours. Twin Maples Farm in Severn Bridge, ten minutes south of Gravenhurst, offers a variety of horsedrawn services that are available for special events.
Dogsledding is a winter highlight in Muskoka. Huntsville’s North Ridge Ranch will make up a team from more than 50 Alaskan Huskies to sled you through the wilds of Muskoka.
Other ways to tackle the winter blues include downhill and cross country skiing, as well as fat biking. Fat bikes, with wider-than-normal tires, allow riders to explore snow covered landscapes.
Ranked as one of Canada’s best golf destinations, Muskoka has eight golf courses on SCOREGolf’s Top 100. The area’s rugged terrain and plunging elevations make for some interesting challenges, but courses are available for all levels.
Craft breweries are gaining in popularity throughout Muskoka. Lake of Bays Brewing Company, Muskoka Brewery and Sawdust City Brewing Company are, reportedly, three of Ontario’s best craft breweries. Beer enthusiasts can hop on Brew Tours, which are chartered behind-the-scene peeks at all three breweries (including lots of free samples), with a stop at Bracebridge’s Griffin Gastropub.
Check out the Bog to Bottle Discovery, which is a guided journey from cranberry marsh to Muskoka in a bottle. The tour begins at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh and finishes with a wine tasting session at Muskoka Lakes Winery. Local favourites include Red Maple Dessert Wine, Cranberry Wine and the Georgian Bay Rose Wine, a blend of Georgian Bay apples and local cranberries.
Heli Muskoka provides a quintessential Canadian experience with their summer and fall sightseeing tours, and aerial photography junkets. The company, which has helicopters that seat three to six passengers, offers a unique fly-and dine tour that flies over the Muskoka region and lands at the five-star, four-season Couples Resort on the shores of Lake Galeairy adjacent to Algonquin Park. Visitors from around the world come to marvel at the spectacular fall colours that this region has to offer.