Cottage country is a popular name for destinations in the province of Ontario (and some other regions in Canada as well) that people head to for a weekend or longer trip. Ontario’s cottage country is full of vacation homes close to lakes, nature and small towns where visitors can unwind, find good food and drink, and discover Ontario’s beautiful outdoors. Muskoka, the Kawarthas, and Haliburton are favourites to get away from it all, but there are lots of other up and coming vacation spots in the region. These are some of our favourite reasons to head to cottage country.
Scenery is quite literally a breath of fresh air for city slickers and cottage country is an ideal place to soak in some nature. The Haliburton Highlands are a prime location for an impressive landscape and anywhere in the Kwarthas is equally as mesmerizing as are Muskoka, Prince Edward County, and Bruce Country. Ontario is rich with parks, lakes, beaches, various terrain, greenery, and forest so the scenery will be breathtaking wherever you decide to go.
Cottage country will bring you closer to some of the best lookouts and viewpoints in Ontario. Osler Bluff Lookout, the highest point along the Bruce Trail is 540 metres above sea level and overlooks a stretch of the Niagara Escarpment and luminous waters of Georgian Bay. To reach it follow the Pretty River Valley Provincial Nature Reserve’s blue-blazed trail in Collingwood.
Muskoka is also full of stunning viewpoints, from world-famous Algonquin Park to sunset at Huckleberry Rock to the wonderful unadulterated views of Fairy Lake at Lion’s Lookout. Muskoka’s real gem is Georgian Bay Islands National Park where you can look at 30,000 freshwater islands and the iconic pine trees.
From lovely hotels to cozy inns and rustic lakeside homes, one reason to escape to the country is for the blissful and serene places to stay. Sanctuary In The County, in the heart of Prince Edward County is just one example of the vacation homes found in these areas that will put you seconds away from wineries, beaches, trails, and other top attractions. Whether you’re looking for an adventure in the great outdoors or just a weekend of relaxation with a campfire by the lake, there are plenty of amazing places to stay that will let you enjoy the best of cottage country.
Cottage country has a massive brewery culture. Whether it’s Side Launch Brewing Company’s wheat beer in Collingwood, or a bitter IPA at Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, or a spicy stout from Gravenhurst’s Sawdust City Brewing Co., craft beer aficionados will love what they find! In Prince Edward County head to Picton and look for Barley Days Brewery and try the Loyalist Lager or Scrimshaw Oyster Stout. Boshkung Brewery in the Algonquin Highlands has a dark ale called Black Rock that’s not to be missed. Lake of Bays Brewing Co. lies between two cottage country jewels, Haliburton and Muskoka, and their 10-Point IPA or Spark House Red Ale are must-haves.
Ontario’s cottage country has some fantastic wineries where you can discover the province’s vineyards and wine-making traditions along with culinary delights. At Muskoka Lakes Winery, the award winning wine is made from what is growing locally, cranberries, blueberries, apples, and even maple syrup. Prince Edward County, home to the unforgettable Sandbanks Provincial Park, is one of Ontario’s newest wine destinations where many of the vineyards serve brick oven pizzas.
Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island has the same latitude as as northern California and Bordeaux, France and is one of the oldest grape-growing regions in Canada. Point Pelee is one of the largest remaining wetlands in Southern Canada, and every year 300,000 visitors head to this tiny national treasure of lush forestation, grasslands, and marshes.
The wineries in cottage country have their own special allure, but imagine being able dine al fresco in a vineyard that is serving up fresh wood-fired pizza. Prince Edward County has a number of spots that now offer pizza alongside their selection of wines, TerraCello Winery, Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard, and Hillier Creek Estates Winery. Along the shores of Lake Eerie in the Essex Pelee Island Coast wine region of Harrow, Paglione Estate Winery also serves pizza from a wood-burning clay oven.
In addition to wine, beer, and pizza, cottage country has a delicious food scene. The large number of restaurants, cafes, and eateries in every destination speak for themselves, but the locally baked goods, cheeses, maple syrup, pickles, mustards, and other edible delights are not to be missed. A lot of the areas also have farmers markets where you can pick up seasonal and fresh local produce.
The urban landscape of cities is exciting, but small towns offer an opportunity to discover local culture at an easier pace. Getaways to cottage country will take you closer to some of Ontario’s small town gems where you can indulge in local attractions like cute bakeries, tea shops, and eateries, historical landmarks, boutique stores, and strolling through postcard perfect streets.
In cottage country there are festivals all year round to suit every interest, from food and drink to arts and culture and music all weekend. One of the biggest music festivals is WayHome which takes place at Oro-Medonte in Simcoe County, another regional gem in Ontario’s cottage country. Riverfest Elora and Parry Sound’s Turtle Music Festival are also hot tickets that will let you discover more districts that are just made for a getaway. While most of the festivals take place in the summer, during the winter holiday season and colder months there are still a number of events worth checking out. Countylicious in Prince Edward County celebrates all things culinary with and runs twice a year.
One of the best things about heading out of the city is leaving behind the artificial light pollution. Some areas in cottage country are particularly remote and give visitors an opportunity to enjoy the splendour of clear, dark skies. There are a number of places to see the stars like you’ve never seen them before. The pitch-black darkness of Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve in the heart of the Muskoka area is perfect for stargazing and even viewing meteor showers. Point Pelee National Park and Bruce Peninsula Fathom Five National Park in Tobermory are other unique places to experience the beauty of starlight.
From a leisurely paddle to adrenaline-pumping rapids or winter sports and activities, outdoor adventures are easily had in cottage country. You could kayak in Georgian Bay, paddle any one of Ontario’s half a million lakes and rivers or explore shipwrecks at Fathom Five National Park. During the winter, spend your weekends at cottages that are close to the slopes, so you can practice flying down snowy hills and explore frosted forests.
One of the best ways to discover cottage country is on foot. Muskoka’s incredible looping terrains through lakes and woodlands offer plenty of options for day hikes. The cottage region around Arrowhead Provincial Park in the heart of Muskoka is very popular. The trails surrounding Lake Mayflower and Lake Arrowhead have the historical remains of homes from 1870 which make for an interesting vista.
At almost 900 kilometres, the Bruce Trail runs from Niagara to Tobermory and is Canada’s oldest and longest footpath. There are plenty of vacation homes close to this UNESCO biosphere reserve that will let visitors discover the waterfalls, limestone caves, and forests along this trail. Haliburton’s extensive trail network is a dream come true for avid for hikers and mountain bikers. In Prince Edward County, hikers can wander through Cedar Sands Trail and experience the unique ecology of a dune forest.