Heading Out To Visit Toronto Cottage Country
If you live in Toronto, you would be familiar with the regular weekend migration to Toronto Cottage Country leaving the city far behind! From the long weekend in May until after Labour Day in September, rush hour starts early on Friday as people leave for the weekend. The major roads into Toronto cottage country are clogged until late on a Friday night and then the rush begins again as the weekend draws to a close.
If it was a warm, sunny weekend, people will often leave later and some people even put off returning until the next morning. Most people I have ever talked to grumble about the crazy, long drives to escape but it does not stop them from doing it most weekends!
I have never owned a cottage nor a boat on the waters of cottage country, so I have never really got into this weekend commute. I once said that I would never own a cottage unless I could fly into it. When I got my private pilot’s license, I only half-heartedly considered looking for cottage property. We have instead been only occasional visitors – to northern resorts, rented cottages or to friends places. Every time we go, I wax poetic about how nice it would be to have a quiet place on a lake, but it passes in a few weeks.
I have seen too many people become tied to a vacation property, wanting to amortize the cost by going every weekend even when they don’t want to. I would much rather have the flexibility to try different places.
Living in Toronto, I long for the summer months. Last year we were away for the month of June, road tripping down the west coast and spent much of the rest of the summer dealing with a family crisis. This year we would be in Toronto for the whole summer and we planned to make the most of it with local Toronto events and with long weekends out of town. Late in May, my friend offered us her cottage in the Muskoka cottage region in exchange for some gardening. Seemed like a great deal to us!
While it had been warm in Toronto for a few weeks, Murphy’s Law was in play and the weekend we were to head north the weather was forecasted to be cold and wet but improving on Monday. Since we had the flexibility, we planned to leave on Saturday and return on Tuesday. This would put us out of cottage country traffic and minimize the time we would be in the less desirable weather. Of course, it did mean driving north through the rain!
The drive north on Saturday to Toronto cottage country at noon was easy and we arrived at the highway turnoff in less than 2 hours. The GPS had my friend’s cottage pinned, on a twisty turny dirt road deep into the woods between various bodies of water. You never really realize how much water there is in this part of Ontario until you see it on a map or GPS.
Many of the tiny roads are gravel dead end roads, coming to an abrupt end at water, rock or a private cottage.
I remembered the first time we had visited this cottage without a GPS, doubling back at least twice thinking that we couldn’t possibly be in the right place only to be told when we called to check on directions to just keep going! If you think you can just pick a road that starts in the direction you want and hope it will go right through – don’t do it!
Where Your Closest Neighbours Are Not Two Legged
Finding the right driveway, we knew we were in trouble when we were almost immediately engulfed in a swarm of mosquitos – we could even see mosquitos in the back up camera lens as we got parked! We grabbed an armful of stuff, quickly got out of the car and ran for the cottage door. While we tried to swat them away as we went in the door, we spent some time chasing down the few faster mosquitos that got in with us. I would not be gardening quite yet. Welcome to Toronto cottage country!
We woke the next morning to find it grey and cold but we got lucky and the rain stayed away. Dressed in thick clothes from toe to head we ventured out to do a few hours of gardening. Luckily the mosquitos were slow and we could swat and dig at the same time! Over two days we made good progress planting the flower beds we had picked up at the local garden centre and earned our keep.
While we planted, the curious chipmunks came up to inspect our work. I was sure they would be digging in the newly turned earth as soon as we were out of sight!
We kept a close watch out for the dreaded black flies that plague Toronto cottage country at this time of year but saw little of them. We figured the dragon flies must have been gorging themselves on black flies when one day we saw swarms of dragonflies skimming the lake.
We saw lots of caterpillars on the sunny side of rocks in preparation for a healthy butterfly population later in the summer.
And on almost every side road we drove, we kept our eyes peeled for large turtles or snakes that might be crossing the roads!
Toronto Cottage Country Landscape
As we are known to do, once we had relaxed for a bit, we headed off in the afternoons to explore the country roads. Armed with a map and a general knowledge of the area, we wandered. The roads themselves provided a constantly changing landscape, carved or blasted from granite in every changing rock faces.
While much of the land is lakes or rock, in the valleys fertile farmlands were found around iconic country barns with fields of lazy but curious cows and horses.
Dotted along the small roads you could find the small towns of Muskoka. Twice we visited Coldwater for our afternoon break – once finding the small new Em’s Cafe and once succumbing to Kawartha Lakes ice cream at the Coldwater Fudge and Ice Cream Shop.
On one drive we drove around the larger Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau, stopping in both Port Carling and Bala.
There are no shortage of little towns to visit when you wander in Toronto cottage country and no end to the iconic images of Muskoka!
Locks Big and Small
The Trent Severn Waterway runs from Georgean Bay to Ottawa, comprised of a large number of lakes, rivers and locks. Doing a trip along the Trent Severn is on our “list” for this summer. During this Toronto cottage country break, our day trips let us see two extremes of what you might find in the lock system.
The first lock we visited was the Big Chute Marine Railway. I had actually been in a boat and gone over the marine railway many, many years ago but this we a new discovery for David. If you looked out over the rocky “Big Chute”, you could immediately see what they needed to get innovative to move boats the 60 feet vertical distance between Gloucester Pool and the Upper Severn River.
This marine railway lock essentially suspends the boats in a large railway car and carries them out of the water along railway tracks from one side to the other. We got really luck on a cloudy, cool Sunday to see a single boat moved over the railway.
You could see the old marine railway lines and the railway car sitting beside the new system. This lock was also a hydro generating system, putting electricity onto the grid.
At the other extreme, we visited the locks in Port Carling. Not officially part of the Trent Severn system, these are traditional water locks with a water drop between the two sides of only about 1 foot. While we were wandering about, two fisherman in a small boat paid their lock fee ($4) and we got to see the lock in action. After having seen the 75 feet drop at Gatun Lock on the Panama Canal earlier in the year, this was quite a different experience!
The End To A Perfect Day
With our gardening done, it was a lazy few days by the lake. There was no wifi and cell service was at times intermittent. We could check out for a few days, sitting in our colourful Muskoka chairs. The water lapped against the rocks when the few boats went past. You could hear the loons call and the birds slapping the water as they swooped in to grab fish.
And once the clouds moved out, we could catch both a great sunset over the lake as the full moon rose!
It is moments like these that always leave me with warm memories of cottage country. While we live on the lake in Toronto, we never get this same quiet peaceful goodnight. If you are visiting Toronto, make sure you leave for a few days and explore how different Toronto cottage country can be!
Do you visit cottage country every weekend? What is your favourite view?