Whether you're planning a day trip, a weekend or an extended say, Muskoka is best explored by water, as it is truly the heart of this beautiful piece of Ontario. You can trailer your boat and camp or lodge off the water, or stay at one of the many resorts that offer dockage.
If you are fortunate enough to have a cottage with access to one or more of the Muskoka lakes, you are likely already familiar with the multitude of places to visit and explore. For thos boaters hoping to planning on travelling to the area this season, we've compiled some information on things to see and do while in the region.
As you might expect, there are many public launch ramps available. You will find a complete list in the "About Muskoka" section on the Muskoka Tourism website. Howerver, if you are not familiar with the area, your best bet may be to launch from a marina. Not only will the facility have supplies for your day trip, the staff will be able to offer advice on where to and what to see, as well as any precautions you may want to keep in mind.
The Gateway to Muskoka, Gravenhurst is a great place to start your exploration of the area – especially if you are travelling up from Toronto. It is at the southernmost tip of Lake Muskoka, the largest of the Muskoka lakes.
The Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre, located right on the water at Muskoka Wharf, will be of particular interest to boaters. Opened in 2006, the 20,000 square feet of exhibition space offers visitors a glimpse into the history of steamships, wooden boats and luxury hotels that helped define Muskoka. Interactive exhibits include North America's only in-water display of working antique boats – Muskoka's Wood Boats, as well as A Fleet of Steamship and Summers on the Lake.
Muskoka Wharf is also the home port of the Muskoka Steamships, including the R.M.S. Segwun, whichi is the oldest operating steamship in North America. Stroll the shops and restaurants, or plan to visit during one of the many events hosted at the Wharf, such as the popular Gravenhurst Farmers Market (Wednesdays), the Antique and Classic Boat Show (July) or the Dockside Festival of Arts (August).
Built around the junction of Lake Muskoka and the Moon River, Bala boasts a rugged landscape and offers visitors a leisurely escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Known as "The Town of Bridges," Bala provides an opportunity to take a stroll through shops and eateris on the main street while soaking in the beautiful surroundings.
If you have any Anne of Green Gables fans on board, you will want to plan a visit to the Lucy Maud Montgomery display at Bala's Museum, which was once a boarding house where the author actually vacationed. Since its opening in July 1992, the Bala Museum has become known as one of the best Lucy Maud Montgomery museums in all of Canada.
Bala is also home to The Kee. Opened in the summer of 1942 as "Dunn's Pavilion," The Kee is the music hot spot in Muskoka. A unique ambience is created with the décor, a sunken dance floor, and a huge patio overlooking Bala Bay – all built directly over the water. Patrons can take in the beauty of Muskoka evenings while enjoying a beverage or two and a night of music. Such music greats as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong headlined at the old Dunn's Pavilion. Now, The Kee has present-day greats like Blue Rodeo, David Wilcox, Kim Mitchell and Ashley MacIssac selling out concerts all summer long.
The Bala area is also only one of two cranberry bogs in the area: Johnston's Cranberry Marsh on Medor Lake Road, just north of Bala, and the Iroquois Cranberry March, on Hwy 69 north of Muskoka Road 38. At Johnston's Cranberry Marsh visitors can take a tour of the Cranberry Marsh as well as the Muskoka Lakes Winery. If you happen to be in the area in October, Bala always holds its annual Cranberry Festival the weekend after Thanksgiving – lots of things to see and do throughout town!
Aptly dubbed "The Hub of the Muskoka Lakes," Port Carling is located on the Indian River, nestled between lakes Muskoka and Rosseau (with access to Lake Joseph). Although it is about a half-hour boat ride off Muskoka (due to the speed limit zone along the river), Port Carling is a great spot for boaters to dock, stretch the legs and grab a bite to eat, as everything is within close proximity to the water.
Welcoming visitors to Port Carling is the breathtaking 111-by-45-foot photo mosaic, affectionately called "The Wall." It comprises 9,028 pictues that collectively create the image of the R.M.S. Sagamo passing through the Port Carling locks (circa 1922). When viewed up close, however, each photo captures a moment of time in the lives of Port Carling residents during the village's first centrue (1860-1960).
In total, there are 905 individual photographs on The Wall, which are all displayed in a nine-foot-high "viewing section" in the lower portion of the mural. Above the viewing strip the 905 photos are replicated over and over in a fashion that allows the bigger picture to appear when viewed from a distance. When it was unveiled in August 2055, The Wall was the largest historic photo mosaic mural in the world.
James Bartleman Island Park, adjacent to both the large and small locks, is a good spot to enjoy a picnic lunch and watch the boats lock through (it also houses washroom facilities). The Muskoka Lakes Museum is situated in the scenic park, which can also be accessed via a footbridge from the main street. Exhibits in the museum include the Hall Family Homestead, a log cabin built in 1875 that allows visitors to experience what life was like in the era, and the Marine Room, where visitors can experience the rich marine heritage of the Muskoka Lakes region.
If you're simply looking for a quick break stop, the many shops and restaurants close to the locks will offer a brief respite from the boat. If you're in the area and want some more information on what to do and where to eat and stay in Port Carling, visit the Muskoka Lakes Visitor Information Centre (located on Joseph Street).
Muskoka offers lots of water to explore, but th real highlight of the area is the many activities and attractions close to shore that allow boaters to travel from place to place better than possible even in a car.
And if the allure of Muskoka starts to take hold, you will find plenty of places to stay – just beware of late summer weekends that book up fast.