We fell in love with the Muskoka region after visiting for the first time in 2019 - it's no wonder the National Geographic awarded Muskoka multiple recognitions from "one of the top 20 must-see world destinations" to "#1 summer trip destination" in numerous years! A convenient 1.5 to 2 hours away from Toronto, it's perfect for locals and international travelers alike to get away from the big, over-crowded city.
In this post, we'll be sharing what we got up to on our budget-friendly and socially-distanced 3-day trip based out of Skeleton Lake (Muskoka Lakes/Huntsville area). We hope you'll be able to draw some inspiration and enjoy the beauty of cottage country as well!
The Muskoka Region Explained (Briefly)
If you're a first-timer researching this area, you may be wondering - "Huntsville? I thought you were talking about Muskoka!" Skip ahead if you know this already, but yes, the Muskoka District is quite large (it spans 6,475 km2 and is home to 1,600 lakes!) so it can get a bit confusing. It's made up of a handful of municipalities, so every time we planned a trip here, we found it useful to understand the geographical regions so we could decide where to stay.
As a side note, the autumn foliage is also different per region and the leaves change colours on different timelines, but that's a blog post for another time!
The municipalities are quite close to one another; for example, it takes about 40 mins to drive from Gravenhurst to Huntsville. We haven't visited Muskoka enough to develop a preference for staying in one region over another, but this trip, we stayed in the Muskoka Lakes Municipality in an area called Skeleton Lake. This lake is known for its clear waters, and its basin is thought to have been formed by a meteorite 800 million years ago.
While most vacationers station themselves at a cottage on one of the lakes, we're the type of travelers that enjoy getting in the car and going out of our way to explore the surrounding areas.
Muskoka is adjacent to Algonquin Provincial Park, one of five largest provincial parks in Ontario which has some of the most beautiful hikes in Ontario in our opinion. There aren't as many places to stay in Algonquin so you could easily use Muskoka as a base, which is exactly what we did.
Where we stayed
Our off-grid tiny home dreams were fulfilled this trip by WestCliff Cabin Co! We actually planned this getaway around staying here (usually it's the other way around and accommodations is our last consideration...we could be sleeping in our car for all we care).
Some of our favourite features included the fact that:
- The cabin was incredibly new and clean, inclusive of the compost toilet and solar shower outside. There were outlets for our phones (despite not having service/internet) and beautiful lighting throughout. We were eco-glamping in a luxury cabin, two phrases you don't often hear in the same sentence!
- The hosts were attentive and committed to making our stay incredible. They included Muskoka craft lagers in the fridge (which were very refreshing after our long day hike), coffee and tea, a water cooler...pretty much all the amenities you would need to be comfortable.
- It was fully equipped with a kitchen, bbq outside, and a fire pit. We didn't want to go into town for restaurant food especially during Covid. After our day's adventures, we'd cook, relax by the fireside, and stargaze.
- The location was perfect - the cabin is on a hill facing west so you can watch the sunset. It's in close proximity to Skeleton Lake as well - perfect for fishing in the summer and skating in the winter.
(This is not sponsored by Westcliff Cabins who don't know we're writing about them, but they were so amazing we have to share!) WestCliff recently opened their second lodge so you have another chance to stay at their hard-to-book properties.
We commenced the two-hour drive to Skeleton Lake around 10AM in the morning and had lunch on the road.
Strawberry Bay Point Trail (5km hike near Bracebridge)
- Location: Latitude: 45.0113000, Longitude: -79.3531000 (provided for your convenience because the trailhead can be hard to find)
- Would we recommend? Nope
On the way, we made a 1 hour pit stop at Strawberry Bay Point Trail, because we had read (here) that it was a "difficult" hike (we're always looking for a challenge) and that there were nice views. Honestly the views didn't live up to its hype, and it was an easy hike.
Skeleton Lake Fish Hatchery Trail (1km hike to a waterfall, in the Muskoka Lakes region)
- Location: 45.22306N, 79.51611W
- Would we recommend? Yes
From Strawberry Bay, we drove 35 minutes to Skeleton Lake Fish Hatchery Trail - we would recommend this one! We reached a small scenic waterfall after a leisurely walk through the woods. Although small, it's actually one of the best waterfalls near Lake Rosseau. It's perfect for a family swim and was quiet, especially for a summer long weekend.
If you like chasing waterfalls, here are other ideas in the Muskoka region that we hope see when we return.
Cabin at Skeleton Lake
After our excursions, we settled down at our cabin, filled the fridge from our cooler, and read our books by the firepit (a rare moment of rest during the season of life we're in). Then, Geoff cooked an incredible steak and stuffed potato meal on the barbecue. After the sun had set, we retired in the cabin's loft area and watched movies in our sleeping bags.
Algonquin Provincial Park - Track and Tower Trail (9 km hike)
In the morning, we drove 1.5hours from our Airbnb to Algonquin Provincial Park. We didn't mind this drive since we really wanted to experience the tiny cabin in Muskoka and the hikes in Algonquin within the same trip.
This hike was a glute workout! It's only rated moderate but was one of the more challenging hikes we've done in Ontario. While it was supposed to be 7.5km, we followed signs that took us on the longer path and ended up hiking 9km in 2 hours and 20 minutes, excluding the rest stop at the peak.
Speaking of the peak, the views over Cache Lake were spectacular! We didn't come across many people on the trail and everyone was well spaced out at the view point. This is one of the best places to view the foliage in the fall, and we can't wait to be back!
A few tips (obvious but must be said)
- Bring bug spray. You've been warned! I (Candace) got eaten alive with 30+ mosquito bites even after dousing myself with mosquito repellent.
- Pack a lunch and lots of hydration
- Wear hiking boots, especially ones that cover your ankles to protect you from a sprain on those sneaky tree roots.
The day ended with cooking hotdogs and smores by the fireside - moments we don't take for granted since we live in a small apartment in Toronto!
Canoeing on Muskoka River
No cottage country trip would be complete without some sort of boating activity. Through LivOutside, We booked a 2-hour paddle to Sharpe's Creek and Falls. The boat trip starts on the river right behind their shop. It cost around $36 for the canoe and 2 paddles.
A couple tips:
- Bring a dry bag for your essentials (phone, keys, etc). The base of your boat will likely be wet.
- Don't forget the SPF! It goes without saying that one should wear sunscreen for any outdoor activity, even if you're the type that tans but doesn't burn.
Downtown Huntsville - Momma Bear Ice Cream
After a morning of canoeing, we were (naturally) pretty hungry, so what do we have for lunch? Ice cream of course! We had to make a pit stop at Momma Bear's Ice Cream and Sweets for two massive scoops of their Kawartha ice cream before heading home. This ice cream shop has become a tradition every time we road trip to Muskoka.
And that's it for our weekend adventure! As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions!