Hello winter! Bring on the snow-covered trees, the frozen landscape and the adventure that awaits! That’s right winter in Ontario opens up a whole new world of outdoor activities. And Muskoka is the heart of Ontario winter. The Muskoka region is cottage country, but during the colder months, it turns into a snow-lover’s paradise. And there are so many things to do in Muskoka in winter, so let me tell you about the top choices!
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First off, why visit Muskoka in winter? The District Municipality of Muskoka, or more commonly referred to as Muskoka, is Ontario cottage country. It sits between Georgian Bay and Algonquin Provincial Park and is home to over 1,600 lakes due to its spectacular location in the Canadian Shield.
Three major towns make up the Muskoka district, Gravenhurst to the south, Bracebridge in the centre and Huntsville to the north.
Muskoka is just two hours north of Toronto and has been designated by National Geographic as the #1 best summer trip in the world.
But what about winter?
When the snow starts flying, is when the Muskoka region comes along with amazing things to do in Muskoka in winter. From skiing to skating to dog sledding, there’s something for everyone.
Muskoka receives a lot of lake-effect snow, averaging over three metres of snow every winter! And the temperatures aren’t kind either, with an average low of -17 degrees Celsius. But all this means is that you have to be prepared. If you’re driving, you need good winter tires or preferably a 4×4. And you need to dress warmly with lots of layers.
Winter in Muskoka can be incredibly rewarding, so pack your snow pants, your warmest clothing and let’s go!
How to get to Muskoka
The easiest way to get to Muskoka is to drive. Taking Highway 400 North and then Highway 11 North will get you to Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville. Be warned; this highway can get nasty in the winter, so plan your drive accordingly.
If you don’t want to drive, you can fly! That’s right, FlyGTA has a Muskoka route that takes you from Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto to the Muskoka Airport near Gravenhurst. You can rent a vehicle from there!
If you just want to come up and stay in the Provincial Parks, there’s also the Park Bus that leaves from Toronto and travels to parks across Ontario.
Where to Stay in Muskoka in Winter
There are so many options in Muskoka. Seriously, hundreds upon hundreds of hotels, motels, inns, resorts, camps, cabins, cottages, and more.
To get the full Muskoka experience, I was hosted by Garth and Rebecca at their lovely Airbnb cottage near Huntsville, the Wolegib Modern Waterfront Retreat. This three-bedroom cottage is right on the Muskoka River and feels like you are in a secluded and relaxing place.
This modern cabin is only a few minutes from downtown Huntsville, and in the winter feels like a little slice of paradise on its own three-acre lot.
Inside has a modern rustic vibe to it with heavenly beds, a large sectional couch that surrounds a wood stove fireplace, and large windows so you can watch the snowfall from the comfort of inside. Downstairs is a recreation room with games aplenty!
The only issue with this space is getting there. It’s located about 1.5 kilometres from the gravel road, and the last 100 metres there is a giant hill that you will absolutely need all-wheel drive to navigate. Of the three vehicles that we had between us on our girls’ weekend, only mine was able to tackle the hills (Go Jeeps!) The other two had to be towed out.
If you’re looking for a smaller stay, then check out the Aux Box, an off-the-grid style mini cottage nearby the Wolegib. This tiny cabin is perfect for two people looking to get away.
Things to do in Muskoka in Winter
There’s no end to the amazing things to do in Muskoka in winter. From snowshoeing to ice skating to skiing, it’s all happening here. The region consists of three small towns and incredible wilderness found at Arrowhead Provincial Park. You can also check out the adjacent Algonquin Provincial Park, which is the oldest one in Canada.
Snowshoe in Arrowhead Provincial Park
Snowshoeing is easily one of my favourite winter activities. You’re out in the fresh snow, breaking trail and using an awesome Indigenous invention that allows you to walk atop deep snow. Most of the trails in Muskoka turn to snowshoe trails once there’s enough snow accumulated on the ground.
The best place to tackle snowshoeing for the first time is at Arrowhead Provincial Park. There is an easy two-kilometre trail that only has a few hills and leads you to a scenic spot overlooking Stubb’s Falls.
This place is the most scenic in the whole park! But you can’t miss seeing Big Bend. This short, easy trail leads you to an awesome lookout point over the meandering Big East River. It’s like our own little Horseshoe Bend in Arizona!
If you don’t have your own snowshoes, you can rent them from the Visitor Centre for $10.
Arrowhead isn’t the only place to go snowshoeing in Muskoka. You can strap them on at the Limberlost Forest, at Algonquin, and so many other great trails around the region.
Winter in the Wild Festival at Algonquin Provincial Park
Want to get more into the winter activities at Provincial Parks, like hiking, skiing and camping, but you’re not sure where to start? Then head up to Algonquin Provincial Park during their annual event, Winter in the Wild Festival.
During this weekend-festival, you can participate in group activities like hiking, snowshoeing, and birding, learn about winter camping at a demonstration, go ice skating, peruse the Algonquin Art Centre, and listen in on wilderness lectures.
It’s the perfect way to throw yourself into winter activities while still having access to expertise and guidance! Winter in the Wild Festival is held every year on the family day weekend (mid-February) and is hosted by Friends of Algonquin Park and Ontario Parks. All of the activities are free with purchase of a daily vehicle permit.
Skating on an outdoor trail
Outdoor skating trails have increased in popularity over the last several years. It’s easy to see why! You have the fun activity of ice-skating set in a beautiful location, making the whole thing feel magical. Plus, skating trails are usually on the ground rather than a frozen lake, so it’s easier to maintain! (And fewer nightmares about the ice breaking and falling in, whoops did I say that out loud?)
Arrowhead Provincial Park has a 1.3-kilometre skating trail that winds through one the park’s forested campground. It should top your list of things to do in Muskoka in Winter.
Fair warning, this skating trail is very popular on weekends. If you go, try for a weekday where there are far fewer people. Arrowhead Provincial Park also has Fire and Ice nights, where they line the skating trail with torches, and you can skate under the stars.
Don’t have your own skates? Don’t worry, you can rent them from the visitor centre for $10.
Other places you can skate outdoors in Muskoka include the Cranberry Ice Skate at the Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery, where you can skate along the cranberry marsh and sip on mulled wine, or Algonquin Provincial Park’s Mew Lake campground has an ice rink.
Stargazing at Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve
The best part about winter is that crisp, clear nights are perfect for stargazing. This means you have to check out Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve and see how many constellations you can trace. Because it’s surrounded by undeveloped land, this dark sky preserve (the first one in Canada), is great for stargazing. There are trails you can follow, but I suggest sticking close by to the lot since you’ll be navigating while it’s pitch black.
Don’t forget to wear lots of layers, since clear nights are always the coldest, but the views of the stars will be worth it. You never know, you might just see the Northern Lights!
Tip: Getting to the preserve can be dicey in the winter, so try to get there while it’s still light out. Plus, the roads are much easier coming from the north rather than the south, which is full of twists and turns.
Winter hike at Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin is one of the largest and oldest provincial parks in Canada. There are several trails in the park, with a range of difficulties. You can take a short jaunt on Spruce Bog Boardwalk or Algonquin Logging Museum trails. If you’re looking for a challenging snowshoe or hike, try out Track and Tower, Two Rivers or Hemlock Bluff trails. Check in to the West/East gate or the Visitor Centre before you set off on any hike. They have descriptive maps you can buy for only 50 cents that are well worth it.
My friend Lindsay and I were wanting to check out the Hardwood Lookout Tower. Sometimes adventures don’t really work out the way you plan. We ventured up to Algonquin during our stay in Huntsville, and only wanted to do a quick trail before heading out.
First off, a sign at the beginning of the loop trail said, “Don’t start out on any trail after 3pm.” I looked at my watch, which read 2:54pm. We weren’t going to do the whole trail; in fact, we only wanted to see the lookout, which was the last stop if we were to go backward on the trail.
So off we went, trudging through a foot of snow, uphill, to get to this lookout. At the last 30 metres is a nearly straight uphill climb. Up until this point, neither of us had fallen, which was quite the feat, since under the snow was solid ice.
Lindsay was able to make it up just fine. I was not so lucky. About a third of the way up, I slipped onto my knees, and because of the slope and the ice, I couldn’t get back on my feet. I ended up crawling up the rest of the way. While I’m doing this, it starts to snow. You know the wet tea bag-sized snowflakes. So, when we reach the lookout, all we see is just a white blizzard.
Despite seeing absolutely nothing, we couldn’t help but laugh at our circumstances and made the best of it. It was very beautiful in the forest full of snow! By the time we (carefully) made it back to the car, as luck would have it, the snow had cleared up a little bit, and we had missed our chance!
Other places you can winter hike in Muskoka include the wonderful trails at Limberlost Forest and Arrowhead Provincial Park!
Snowtube at Arrowhead Provincial Park
Guys, tobogganing is one of the greatest winter activities. I mean, not only is it so much fun, but it brings back all those good memories from childhood about sledding and injuring yourself (aka me).
At Arrowhead Provincial Park, you can relive those good times (without the injuries) at the snow tubing hill. The tubes are provided for free with the daily permit. The groomed packed tubing hill runs right through the forest. It’s a pretty steep hill so you can pick up a lot of speed going down.
Follow the park on Twitter for the trails report, which includes the tubing hill, skating trail and ski trails.
Cross Country Ski at Arrowhead or Algonquin
Remember how I said there are ~snow~ many trails for winter hiking or snowshoeing? Well, there are 10 times more for cross country skiing! There is a range of difficulty levels and lengths, so choose what you are comfortable with, especially since skiing is a really great workout for your leg and butt muscles! (AKA, you’ll be sore for days.)
Go Dog Sledding!
Are you thinking about going on a one-of-a-kind wilderness adventure? Then look no further than dog sledding with pups that just love the cold and love to run! There are a couple of outfitters that offer Dog Sledding excursions, including North Ridge Ranch and Snow Forest Adventures.
At Arrowhead Provincial Park, you can try out Skijoring – “ski driving” – where you are strapped to skis and mush with dogs. The parks hold clinics throughout the winter season, so be sure to check it out.
Head up to Lions Lookout
You won’t want to miss the view from Lions Lookout in Huntsville. The beautiful Canadian shield opens up, giving you a 360-degree view of the surrounding Muskoka Region. In the summer, getting to Lions Lookout is simple, just drive up the hill to the parking lot at the top. But in the winter, the road is closed, meaning you have to make the trek.
It’s only 300 metres, but you gain quite a bit in elevation, and the road can get quite slick with ice. Bring crampons if you have them, or stick to the side of the road, where it’s easier to grip. As someone who slipped, trust me on this.
The views from the top are well worth the climb!
Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery
I don’t think there is anything more Canadian than the Group of Seven, a group of impressionist painters from the early 20th century who dedicated their lives to capturing the beauty of the Canadian Shield. And boy, do they capture it well.
To honour their spirit, visit the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery, a collection of over 80 reproductions of the famous art pieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. The large murals are completely free, and you can explore all of them by foot in downtown Huntsville.
This was unexpectedly one of my favourite things to do in Muskoka in Winter.
Warm up in a café
Are you al wintered out? Well, don’t worry, it’s not time to warm up in one of the several cafes in town. In Huntsville, there’s Seven Main Café, a great spot with delicious drinks and fun trinkets, Frenchie’s Crepe Café, known for their delectable crepes, and Affogato Café and Gelato where you’ll find scrumptious desserts and specialty coffees.
But, if you love coffee, you won’t want to miss checking out the Muskoka Roastery. They are Canadian to the core, with names like Black Bear, Northern Lights, and Loon Call. You can check out the roastery and learn how their coffee is made first-hand at their facility in Huntsville, which is open weekdays with a special live roasting on Fridays.
Get some comfort food at a tasty restaurant
The best way to warm up after a day playing in the snow is to have a tasty warm meal. There are so many options in Huntsville, so you’ll never go hungry. Try brunch at Main St Local Kitchen or go for a pasta dish at the Little Place By The Lights.
No matter what you choose, you won’t go wrong!
Have a pint in town
With coffee and dinner taken care of, it’s time to wash it all down with a brew. There’s five to choose from in Muskoka, including Clear Lake Brewing Co. near Bala, Sawdust City Brewing Co. near Gravenhurst, the famous Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Lake of Bays Brewing Co with spots in Bracebridge and Huntsville, and the newest Canvas Brewing Co.
Again, no matter which place you choose, you’ll enjoy the fine selection of brews that taste just as good as the land is beautiful!
Top things to do in Muskoka in Winter
To recap, here are the best things to do in Muskoka in Winter:
- Snowshoe in Arrowhead
- Winter in the Wild Festival
- Skating on an outdoor trail
- Stargazing at Torrance Barrens
- Winter Hiking at Algonquin
- Snowtube at Arrowhead
- Cross Country Ski at Arrowhead
- Go Dog Sledding
- Head up to Lions Lookout
- Explore the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery
- Warm up in a café
- Enjoy a hot meal at one of the great restaurants
- Have a pint in town at a brewery
With so many amazing things to do in Muskoka in Winter, like snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing, you’ll never have a dull moment in this stunning and quintessentially Canadian landscape!