Where the Canadian Shield dips into the crisp, clear northern water, picturesque country roads offer unparalleled lakeside views.
Within the District of Muskoka there are many different driving tours, from a cruise of Georgian Bay coastline in the west to the large loop around Lake of Bays in the east. But the most popular route is around one or all of “the big three” lakes, as they’re known locally. Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph are home to some of the most exclusive properties in the entire province and a road trip around the lakes offers a sense of what makes them so sought after.
The obvious starting point for a driving tour around the big three lakes is at the Gateway to Muskoka, in Gravenhurst. Situated on the most southerly portion of Lake Muskoka, Gravenhurst is home to the Muskoka Wharf, which features restaurants, niche boutiques and the oldest steam-powered vessel in North America, the RMS Seguin.
From there head north along Highway 169 towards Bala, perhaps stopping for a hike at the Hardy Lake Trails or Torrance Barrens hiking trails.
The small town of Bala boasts the Kee to Bala – a traditional concert venue which has hosted such musical acts as Louis Armstrong, Rush, and Drake over the course of its long and illustrious history.
Continue north on Highway 169 as it winds along the western shore of Lake Muskoka and then merges onto Lake Joseph Road past the quaint communities of Glen Orchard and Foot’s Bay. Turn right onto Highway 141 and follow it east along rocky shorelines, past opulent cottages and boathouses into the crossroads town of Rosseau.
The Rosseau Farmers Market is one of the biggest and best in Muskoka, running until the end of September, and the waterfront park is breathtaking when the fall foliage bursts into colour.
Muskoka Road 632 (Peninsula Road) runs south with Lake Joseph to the west and Lake Rosseau to the east. There are countless stops along the winding roadway but a side trip to Minett is well worth your time. This charming village is home to Muskoka landmarks like historic Clevelands House Resort, the luxurious JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa Muskoka Lakes, and St. John the Baptist Church, which sits perched on a rocky outcrop above Lake Rosseau, welcoming its congregation by boat and automobile.
Across the canal and over the province’s oldest swing bridge in Port Sandfield, the road ends at Highway 118 in Port Carling. A stop at the massive 45-foot-high mural wall in Port Carling is a must. The wall is comprised of some 9,028 pictures that together create the image of the RMS Sagamo passing through the Port Carling locks circa 1922.
Along Highway 118 east along the northern edge of Lake Muskoka, visitors can pass through the famous 118 rock cut and stop at Huckleberry Rock in Milford Bay for one of the most picturesque lookouts in the region.
Take a right onto Golden Beach as it skirts along the edge of the Muskoka River and past Patterson Kaye Resort and Muskoka’s very own amusement park – Santa’s Village.
The final leg of the tour is a true highlight, as Muskoka Beach Road connects the towns of Bracebridge and Gravenhurst via a small winding road slicing through the heart of a dense deciduous forest. The road winds past farms and Taboo Resort and golf course before emerging once again on the southern shores of Lake Muskoka in Gravenhurst.
The tour can be done in a full day, but it’s recommended to break it down into a trip of each one of the lakes on its own. That way you can take some time to get out of the car, stretch your legs and truly appreciate all the sights and sounds offered by Muskoka’s shorelines.
Written by Matt Driscoll
Photography by Taylor Nullmeyer