great•can•ad•i•an•win•ter (ɡreɪt kəˈneɪdɪən ˈwɪntər)
n. a period of time that exemplifies the winter season at its finest. Characterized by incredible beauty, unrivaled excitement, and authentic Canadian winter activities. Most often associated with Muskoka.
Muskoka is known internationally as Canada’s summer hotspot. When you hear the name Muskoka, images of boating in crystal clear lakes, lakeside campfires, and a cozy Muskoka Chair come to mind. With photo sharing services like Instagram and Facebook, Muskoka is gaining a lot of attention as a winter hotspot thanks to thousands of Ontarians sharing images of their #GreatCanadianWinter in Muskoka.
Local Muskokans and cottagers are well accustomed to the winter months up here, and a surprisingly large percentage love it when the snow flies. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, but locals and cottagers have been affectionately referring to Muskoka as a ‘winter wonderland’ for generations. Spend a winter weekend here and you’ll see why very quickly!
One of the greatest aspects of the Great Canadian Winter in Muskoka, is the one thing we get a lot of, snow! Our ample supply of snow allows us to have some of the best – and most authentically Canadian – winter activities available in the country. It is what makes Muskoka ‘post card’ pretty during the winter. It is what creates family memories, or memories with the love of your life. It is the bringer of all things awesome during Muskoka’s Great Canadian Winter.
Before getting into all the fun you can have in the winter, we first need to appreciate the beauty of winter. Muskoka’s unique landscape creates awe-inspiring winter scenes everywhere you turn. Nowhere is this more evident than the snow-covered evergreen trees of Muskoka’s rugged landscape. It is difficult to describe the feeling of wonderment after a fresh snowfall blankets your surroundings in white, fluffy snow, but it will undoubtedly make you rethink your ordering of the most beautiful season.
Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that Muskoka in the winter is just downright stunning, you can start to understand all of the other reasons that make Muskoka the Great Canadian Winter, namely, our authentically Canadian winter adventures. The most popular of which in recent years, has been Arrowhead’s Ice Skating Trail. As more and more folks would recount tales of their magical experience skating through the forest on an ice skating trail in Huntsville, word began to spread like wildfire. The trail has gone from being the best-kept secret in Ontario, to being Ontario’s most sought after winter experience. Much of the same ‘bucket-list’ fanfare is expected for this year, but we’ve got the inside scoop. The best time to visit the Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail is midweek in January and February because the traffic is significantly less, making for better ice conditions and a more enjoyable skate. So book off a few days’ vacation, skate the amazing trail, stay in cozy accommodations, and treat yourself to delicious dining before retiring to sip specialty coffees by the fire. You’re future self will thank you!
The Ice Skating Trail is relatively new, but there are tons of other winter experiences that Muskoka has been perfecting for over a century. More snow means winter activities thrive with better conditions, longer seasons, and a stunning backdrop of Muskoka’s Great Canadian Winter scenery.
Muskoka has some of the best snowshoeing and cross country skiing in Ontario. Both of these activities are relatively simple to try, all you need is a trail to trek on and rentals to strap on, and we’ve got a plenty. Many resorts and accommodations even offer on-site trails and rentals as part of your stay. The popularity of these activities is deeply rooted to the Great Canadian Winter you will get to experience first-hand. The beauty you uncover on your journey, the crisp, clean air, the exercise, and the feeling of never actually being cold despite the winter weather, all contribute to making these winter experiences so special.
For those that like their adventures with a little more horsepower, Muskoka is a prime sledding destination. Being the closest snowbelt to Toronto has its advantages for snowmobilers, like an extended snowmobile season and better conditioned trails. Cross our borders, drop your sled, and have access to over 1,600km of meticulously groomed trails that crisscross the region. There are a lot of hidden gems to discover, such as the magical forest on Trail D101B in Dwight (below). A number of accommodations in the area offer sled and stay specials specifically for snowmobilers.
One of Canada’s oldest and most beloved pastimes is widely available across Muskoka, all you need to do is lace up a pair. Outdoor ice skating rinks are maintained across Muskoka for you to use, and many resorts in the area spend their winters clearing, flooding, and re-flooding their on-site rinks for their guests to use free of charge. Whether you are looking for a leisurely skate or you want to play pond hockey well past sunset, there is room for everyone. New this year, you will certainly want to try the Memorial Park Winter Village in Bracebridge, and the Lake Muskoka Skating Trail on the Wharf in Gravenhurst.
Another experience you can knock of your ‘bucket list’ is dogsledding. It is an amazing thrill to experience a ride with these beautiful animals; whipping around the trails at impressive speeds, leaning into turns, pushing forward along the straightaways, and mushing through trails lined with snow-covered evergreens. North Ridge Ranch in Huntsville offers dog sledding excursions throughout the winter, and a number of resorts offer dog sledding on-site for guests to book their Great Canadian Winter experience.
One of the newest adventures to hit the scene in Muskoka is fat biking. Simply put, it is biking in the winter time, with wider than normal tires that let you traverse your way on hard-packed, snow-covered trails. If you want to get outdoors this winter and try something new, this should be right up your alley. There are a number of groomed trails as well as places to rent fat bikes in Muskoka, and the activity is easy enough to get the hang of … it’s just like riding a bike.
The one amazing thing about snow, is it has the ability to let any adult be a kid again. Playing in the snow is one of the purest forms of enjoyment, and something that every Canadian can relate back to their childhood. You know, the days before bills, mortgage payments, responsibilities and the like.
Hours upon hours can be (well) wasted outside constructing forts, building snowmen, or just making snow angels. If you are on a romantic getaway, it is encouraged that you and your hunny play in the snow, and have a carefree afternoon together before warming up by the fire. If you have young kids, this is your opportunity to show them what the good ol’ days were like, before you could build snowmen on an app you downloaded. It may be simple fun, but simple is good.
The seemingly never ending opportunities for winter adventure in Muskoka are just that, never ending. The next Great Canadian Winter experience on the list is ice climbing, a sport made famous on the west coast that has made its way to Muskoka. This one is for the adventurer on your list! No experience is necessary, as Liv Outside offers guided ice climbing excursions that include all your gear plus instruction. Muskoka’s Canadian Shield creates natural ice falls over cliffs and rock ledges that reach to ground below, offering over 100 feet of natural climbing. This is an experience you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else, and is well worth the trip north.
Tobogganing and/or GT sled racing is still legal in Muskoka! This quintessentially Canadian experience for kids and kids at heart makes for some great fun during the winter months. Kerr Park in Bracebridge has an excellent town-managed facility, and many resorts in the area offer free use of toboggans on their on-site hills including Cedar Grove Lodge and Bondi Village Cottage Resort.
A horse drawn sleigh ride through the beautiful Muskoka wilderness is just another stop on the Great Canadian Winter tour. Whether you are looking for a romantic hand-holding experience with your beau or belle, or looking for a fun-filled day with the entire family, a horse drawn sleigh ride is a magical winter experience you won’t soon forget. Back of Beyond Equine Centre offers sleigh rides throughout the winter on their private wooded horse farm. As an additional option, following your sleigh ride you can warm your toes and roast marshmallows over a crackling campfire while sipping a mug of piping hot chocolate. Deerhurst Resort also has stables on on-site for guests to book horse-drawn sleigh rides, trail rides, and children’s fun including a petting zoo and pony rides.
Muskoka gets downhill all winter long! Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area in Huntsville is known locally for its friendly atmosphere, as well as the home club of Canada’s golden girl, Olympic Gold Medalist Dara Howell. Hidden Valley likes getting out on the slopes as soon as possible, making snow at the first opportunity. Depending on the weather, the ski hill often opens in December and stays open past March Break. A number of local accommodators offer Ski and Stay packages, and Hidden Valley has great rates throughout the week, especially Thursday nights for night skiing.
One winter activity that has picked up a great deal of interest over the years is ice fishing, and why not? This Great Canadian Winter experience combines sport, with socializing. Time spent with friends and family on the lake during a sunny, blue sky winter’s day is what ice fishing is all about. You might not even care if you catch anything other than a few laughs with good company. A good day on the ice can turn into a great day if you are able to reel in a nice catch. The experience is heightened when you are able to take your fresh catch and have your own fish fry right on the ice for everyone to share. Everything you need to tackle this exciting winter adventure is made available for you, whether you are looking for ice hut and gear rentals, or overnight ice fishing adventures that include accommodation.
The possibilities for your Great Canadian Winter are endless. Just when you think that you have experienced all the winter excitement there is to offer in Muskoka … you see a couple dogs pulling a cross country skier down a trail. The sport is called skijoring, and it is as cool as it looks! Usually, a few beginner classes are offered throughout the winter at Arrowhead Provincial Park. Check back on our website often as we will have the info up as soon as the dates are set. If you have the gear and the pooch, skijoring is allowed in Algonquin Park on the Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trail.
NEW FOR 2016, the Muskoka Maple Festival will be taking place on April 23, 2016! Check back regularly for more updates as they become available.
The Muskoka Maple harvest usually begins around the middle of March, and is characterized by the delicious smell of the sugar shack’s boiled sap filling the fresh Muskoka air. Sugarbush Hill Maple Farm offers free sugarhouse tours and tastings at set times throughout the winter, and the tour sure is sweet! The Farm currently rates eighth of 3,212 things to do in Ontario on TripAdvisor! That is pretty good company to be keeping. Check their website for tour hours to avoid disappointment.
From the horsepower of a snowmobile, to the horsepower of a magical sleigh ride, from a skate through the forest to a game of pick-up on a frozen pond, there are countless Great Canadian Winter adventures for you to experience. Remember, the one thing that makes these adventures truly remarkable and memorable, is the stunning snow-covered landscape that you get to enjoy them on. Muskoka’s winter wonderland is truly the most beautiful season of all, get out and enjoy it.