Muskoka-bound? Here are five fun stops for families touring cottage country:
Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre, Gravenhurst
Enter Muskoka at the south end along Highway 11 and it won’t be long before you encounter Gravenhurst. Its Muskoka Wharf—gateway to the southern portion of Lake Muskoka—has long been known as the home of the Segwun and Wenohah steamships. It’s now also home to Grace & Speed, Muskoka’s new Boat and Heritage Centre. It’s a museum that walks you through Muskoka’s water history, paying special attention to the transportation early cottagers and resort-goers used around the turn of the last century. But most captivating for kids is the in-water display of beautiful old wooden boats, plus the boat bells and whistles kids are invited to sound.
Santa’s Village, Bracebridge
Bracebridge is synonymous with Santa’s Village, a charming, low-key kind of amusement park that’s a thrill especially for kids aged two to nine. It’s home to a collection of rides, all of them of the ‘mini’ variety — roller coaster, train, ferris wheel — as well as deer, slides, bouncy castles, a riverboat, paddle boats in Lemonade Lagoon, and of course, Santa Claus himself. Pack a picnic and enjoy it under the shady pines. Older kids can hang out at nearby Sportsland where they can zipline, drive go-karts and pound ‘em outta the park in batting cages. Santa’s Village is open seven days per week all summer.
Muskoka Heritage Place, Huntsville
At Muskoka’s north end sits Huntsville, a pretty junction between two equally pretty Muskoka lakes (Vernon and Fairy). Huntsville is also the home to Muskoka Heritage Place, a 90-acre outdoor site that recreates life in Muskoka in the 1800s. Costumed guides lead families through its museum and 20 pioneer dwellings. Kids make candles, pet the animals, and learn of pioneer and First Nations communities. Best of all, they can board a Thomas-like steam train titled The Portage Flyer, once commissioned as the world’s smallest commercial railroad in nearby Dwight, Ontario. The Portage Flyer now runs along a one-kilometre, Muskoka Heritage Place track four times per day from Tuesday to Saturday.
Dorset Lookout Tower, Dorset
One of the best views of Muskoka and its lakes is from the Dorset Lookout Tower, a massive 30-metre-high metal structure atop a steep Dorset hill overlooking Lake of Bays ($5 per car). The tower is so high (142 metres above the lake) it was once used for spotting fires. This is one of the best Muskoka stops for kids. Forget the view, however incredible. Kids get the biggest kick out of climbing all those steps (there are at least 128 of them), and reading the graffiti along the way (Jim Luvs Debra 4Ever). If you’re really in for a workout, climb rather than drive to the base of the tower from the village of Dorset. Warning: your legs will tire. On the other hand, the climb may be worth it. Pretty Dorset, located alongside a particularly narrow section of eastern Lake of Bays, will reward you at the finish with cones of high-calorie ice cream.
Muskoka Swimming Spots
Tour Muskoka for the day and chances are the family will want a swim. Much of the shoreline along Muskoka’s lakes is privately owned, but there public spots for a swim. Swims can be had at Gull Lake and Muskoka Beach parks near Gravenhurst; Bracebridge’s Bracebridge Bay Park, Kirby’s Beach and Bowyer’s Beach; Port Carling’s Hanna Park Beach, and the Port Sydney Beach in Port Sydney, between Bracebridge and Huntsville… just to name a few.