The Best Lakes in Muskoka, Ontario to Visit

Muskoka has over 1,300 lakes to choose from, but what are the best lakes in Muskoka to visit? Picking the best one to go to can be hard, so we’re here to try and help you with that! As a cottage rental company in Ontario representing over 200 private cottage rentals, we feel qualified to answer this question for you.  Muskoka is deservedly the most well known cottage destination in Ontario; in fact most people unfamiliar with cottage country will still have heard of Muskoka, and perhaps think of it as the only area of Ontario that is suitable for cottaging. While that’s definitely not the case, as there are many other spectacular areas of Ontario that are well-worth exploring, Muskoka does have spectacular scenery and clean, clear freshwater lakes that are perfect places to spend some leisure time.

Many of our Muskoka cottage rentals are located on the very lakes detailed below, so don’t fear, if you aren’t lucky enough to own your own cottage it’s still possible to visit the area and pretend you’re a local for a week by renting your own little piece of paradise on one of the lakes in Muskoka!

Muskoka lake on a misty morning in early fall
Misty morning on one of the many Muskoka lakes

Despite there being over 1,300 lakes in Muskoka, the four largest lakes, Joseph, Rousseau, Muskoka and the Lake of Bays, take up 30% of the total lake surface in Muskoka, so that gives you an idea of just how much larger they are than the rest!

Each lake has a unique charm, and all offer the standard activities expected of lakes in Muskoka, including fishing, swimming, and boating. Below you’ll find more detail on each of the best Muskoka lakes and the nearby communities.

The Best Lakes in Muskoka – Southern District

Lake Muskoka, Muskoka, Ontario

Lake Muskoka, Ontario waterfront, from a boat
Source:  Wikipedia

The first best Muskoka lake is Lake Muskoka, the largest inland lake in the Muskoka Lakes region, covering an area of approximately 12,100 hectares, with a perimeter of about 269 kilometers. It’s about 73 meters deep at its deepest point and has an average depth of about 18 meters. The water has good clarity, with a clear depth of about 3.5 meters. The water is perfect for swimming and boating, and the surrounding area offers numerous hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts, including a new lookout trail, the Walker’s Point Lookout Trail, a short but challenging uphill climb, with a spectacular view of Lake Muskoka as the reward at the end of it!

Anglers can find a variety of fish in Lake Muskoka, including Northern Pike and Smallmouth Bass. The lake’s extensive frozen surface in winter is ideal for ice fishing, providing opportunities to catch various fish species beneath the ice.

Nearby Towns in South Muskoka, Ontario | Gravenhurst | Bracebridge | Bala

Lake Muskoka is bordered on the south and east by Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, Port Carling to the North, and Bala to the west. Bracebridge and Gravenhurst are bustling towns and are filled with attractions, including the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre in Gravenhurst, and Santa’s Village in Bracebridge. 

Bala is known as the “Cranberry Capital of Ontario”, famous for the yearly Bala Cranberry Festival, and many will also have heard of The Kee to Bala, a popular night spot!

So, in Southern Muskoka you won’t want for interesting towns to visit when you can tear yourself away from the lake! Lake Muskoka is just a two-hour drive from Toronto, approximately 185 km away.

The Best Lakes in Muskoka – Western District

Lake Joseph, Muskoka, Ontario

Affectionately known locally as “Lake Joe”, and our second best lake in Muskoka, Lake Joseph is located in Seguin Township, Ontario, about 2 hours from Toronto.  It’s considered one of the “big three” lakes in Muskoka, along with Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka. With a maximum depth of 93 meters, it’s even possible to scuba dive here, and if that’s your sport, the Wall and the Grotto are popular with more advanced divers. The water is exceptionally clear, making it ideal for swimming and boating, and with more than 60 islands, many of the cottagers in the area need to access their cottages by boat rather than by car.

Rock wall shoreline in Burnegie Bay, Lake Joseph, Ontario
Burnegie Bay, Lake Joseph – Source: Northern Ontario Travel

The original inhabitants on the lake were various First Nations tribes, who fished and hunted in the area. When it became popular as a summer getaway for wealthy Toronto families in the 1800s, a number of summer homes and resorts were built on its shores.  

Today Lake Joseph is known as one of the prestige vacation destination lakes in Ontario.  On the north end of the lake there’s a stretch of shoreline with cottages so luxurious that it has its own nickname: Billionaire’s Row, and since this is one of the lakes that many Hollywood celebrities have cottages on, it’s quite possible that the familiar looking person you run into in town is indeed someone famous! 

Fishing is, of course, a popular activity on Lake Joseph, with species such as Lake Trout and Smallmouth Bass being the main species to be expected. The lake is also known for ice fishing in the winter months, with the thick and reliable ice cover providing a generally safe and stable surface for anglers.

Lake Rosseau, Muskoka, Ontario

Lake Rosseau is in the northern part of Muskoka, between Lake Muskoka and Lake Joseph.  Also popular with celebrities, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn own a cottage on this lake. The lake is surrounded by picturesque scenery, including forests and rocky outcrops, providing ample opportunities for hiking and exploration.

One of many island cottages on Lake Rosseau, Muskoka, Ontario
One of the many island cottages on Lake Rosseau – Source: Toronto Life

The lake covers an area of approximately 6,390 hectares and has a maximum depth of 89 meters and an incredible 151 kms. of shoreline, and it’s one of the largest and best trout lakes in the area, but you’ll also find lake whitefish, cisco, walleye , smallmouth bass, largemouth bass,  muskellunge, northern pike, burbot & black crappie. The lake’s frozen surface in winter is ideal for ice fishing, with many anglers targeting Pike and other species beneath the ice. There are many islands on the lake, including Tobin Island, the largest, and hosts a number of cottages on its shoreline.

Lake Rosseau is approximately 215 km from Toronto, around a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

Nearby Towns in Western Muskoka | Rosseau | Mactier | Port Carling

Although tiny, the nearby village of Rosseau is worth visiting.  The Rosseau General Store is a wonderful old general store, meeting the needs of nearby residents and cottagers quite well.  Of course, there are also arts and crafts stores, an antique shop and a furniture/home décor shop to round out your shopping trip.  Rosseau has a vibrant arts community, and visitors can explore various art galleries and studios. The town also hosts a popular farmers’ market during the summer months, on Fridays at the Waterfront Park.

Mactier is another very small community along the western shore of Lake Joseph. One of the most popular attractions is the Mactier Memorial Museum. Mactier also has several parks and lakes, including Mactier Memorial Park, which is a popular spot for picnics.

Port Carling is known as the “Hub of the Lakes” between Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka.  There are some amazing golf courses in the area, if you’re so inclined, and there are a range of activities including shopping, boating, and dining. While in Port Carling, be sure to check out the truly breathtaking “Welcome to Port Carling” mosaic, a 111-by-45-foot mural that comprises over 9,000 separate pictures that put together form a huge mosaic of a steamboat, affectionately known as “The Wall”. As you get closer, you will see each individual photo captures an individual moment of time from residents of Port Carling from 1860 – 1960.  Visitors can explore the Muskoka Lakes Museum in Port Carling to learn about the area’s history. 

The Best Lakes in Muskoka – Eastern District

Lake of Bays, Muskoka Ontario

The Lake of Bays District of Muskoka, southeast of Huntsville, Ontario, is known for a more laid-back vibe of cottaging, with Lake of Bays Lake being the main, central draw to the area, and is almost exclusively within the Lake of Bays District’s borders.  Lake of Bays is approximately 215 km (or 2 ½ hours) from Toronto.

Cottage dock on Lake of Bays, one of the best lakes in Muskoka
Pine Groove Rental Cottage dock – Lake of Bays

Lake of Bays Lake is a large, deep lake, one of the largest in Muskoka, Ontario. The lake’s clear waters are a lure for watersports, including swimming, fishing, and boating.  The surrounding area is a haven for hikers, with Algonquin Park being a short day trip from your Muskoka cottage rental on the lake.  The lake is large, with a varied shoreline, perfect for exploring in a boat, or canoe. For fishing enthusiasts, you’ll find mainly Lake Trout, Pike, and Bass are the main sport fish found in the lake, but you may also encounter Black Crappie, Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Whitefish. The lake is also a popular destination for ice fishing in winter too!

Ril Lake, Muskoka Ontario

View from a cottage deck over Ril Lake, one of the best lakes in Muskoka, Ontario
Lake View from Bayview on Ril Rental Cottage

Also in the Lake of Bays District, Ril Lake, with a depth of 30 meters, is one of the smaller lakes in Muskoka, Ontario. Located approximately 30 minutes east of Bracebridge, it’s about 2 ½ hours from Toronto.  Despite its smaller size, the lake offers the same clear waters typically expected in Muskoka, and a peaceful environment for swimming, boating, and fishing. The lake is surrounded by natural beauty on all sides.

Fish species found in Ril Lake are mainly bass, both smallmouth and largemouth, and it’s also an ideal destination for ice fishing during the winter months.

Nearby Towns in Eastern Muskoka, Ontario | Dorset | Dwight | Baysville

Robinson's General Store in Dorset, Muskoka, Ontario
Robinsons General Store – Dorset

The nearby towns of Dorset and Dwight offer unique attractions, including the iconic Dorset Lookout Tower, an old fire lookout tower last used in 1961 for fire spotting, but now is available for visitors to climb to view the spectacular scenery.  The tower provides a panoramic view of the lake and its surroundings, and is especially beautiful during the fall colour season, the best viewing spot in the area! 

Also in Dorset you’ll find the famous Robinson’s General Store, pictured above, a fixture in Dorset for over 100 years,. After briefly closing down operations, we’re happy to report the store has been reopened for business!  This store is a must visit, offering everything from groceries to hardware to home decor and clothing.  It’s the perfect place to shop for souvenirs of your stay in Muskoka! When in Dwight, be sure to stop by Erika’s Bakery and pick up some goodies!

The nearby town of Baysville is a charming small community located on the south branch of the Muskoka River, home to one of the best restaurants in Muskoka, Cast Iron, known for its cast iron burgers!  Be sure to spend a little time in this town too.  Rafters of Muskoka offers home and cottage decor, and Yummies in a Jar and Humble Pie Butter Tart Factory and Pizzeria (which both sound too delicious to miss!). Lake of Bays Brewing Company is also located here, if your tastes run to craft beers.

With the western entrance to Algonquin Park being so close, a day trip to the Park is also definitely in order!  With over 7,700 square kilometres of protected wilderness to explore, there are hiking and biking trails throughout. If that’s not your speed, take a scenic drive through the Park, where you might even spot wildlife from your car, or stop by the Visitor’s Centre. With so much to see and do, the Park is a great destination for a day trip while you’re in the area.

The Best Lakes in Muskoka – Northern District

Lake Vernon

Lake Vernon is believed to have been formed during the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago.  Early settlers included Charles and Janet Hood, who constructed a dam and water-powered sawmill.  By the late 1800s there was a post office, several stores and churches, one hotel and a dozen homes. The lake has a rich history, having been used as a trading and transportation route by indigenous peoples, and the site of early European settlements.

Lake Vernon, one of the best lakes in Muskoka, as seen from a canoe

Lake Vernon is one of the larger lakes in Muskoka, with a surface area of approximately 7,000 acres, and a maximum depth of 24 metres, fed by several small creeks and streams. The water in the lake is generally clear and clean, with an average visibility up to 3 metres.

Fishing in Lake Vernon is a popular activity, with various fish species inhabiting its waters. The lake’s frozen surface in winter provides a great arena for ice fishing, adding to the year-round appeal of the lake.

Lake Vernon is approximately 215 km from Toronto, a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

Skeleton Lake

The name Skeleton Lake comes with a unique history, having been given that name when local land surveyors discovered human skeletal remains on the shoreline.  From then on it has been known as Skeleton Lake. The lake basin is thought to have been caused by the impact of a meteorite millions of years ago, but it has not yet been proven. 

The lake is approximately 2075 hectares in size, with a perimeter of 42 km, and depth up to 65 metres. Located midway between the towns of Rosseau and Huntsville, Ontario, and approximately 2 ½ hours from Toronto, Skeleton Lake offers some of the highest and most spectacular shoreline cliffs in Muskoka, and with a 9.1 water clarity rating, Skeleton Lake is very well known for its exceptionally clear waters, thanks to being spring fed.  

Skeleton Lake in the fall, one of the best lakes in Muskoka
Source: Go Global Today

Fish species found in the lake are mainly smallmouth bass, rock bass, northern pike, and lake trout, and in winter, the lake’s frozen beauty makes it the perfect destination for ice fishing!

Nearby Towns in Western Muskoka, Ontario | Huntsville

Huntsville is one of the largest towns in Muskoka, especially during the busy summer season, and there’s a great downtown to spend a few hours shopping in.  Huntsville is very busy during the summer especially, and there’s always lots to see and do there, including many shops and restaurants to choose from.  Here are the top things to do around Huntsville while you’re staying nearby.  

Nearby hiking trails include the Lions Lookout trail, a popular spot for panoramic views of the lake and the town, and Arrowhead Provincial Park is just 10 minutes away, and Algonquin Park is within 40 minutes of Huntsville.

Other Great Lakes in Muskoka

Of course, the above lakes are just a start – don’t stop there, because there were so many others we could have mentioned, including Healey Lake, Hardy Lake, McRae Lake, Kahshe Lake, Fairy Lake, and many more!  Bring your own boat if you have one, or look into renting a boat to fully enjoy your time in Muskoka.  Here’s where to find a Muskoka boat rental on your vacation.

With the Lakes Frozen Over, is it Worth Visiting Muskoka Lakes in the Winter?

Frozen Muskoka lake in winter

Winter is an amazing time to visit Muskoka’s best lakes too! During the winter months the lakes are generally frozen over with sufficient ice thickness to provide winter sporting opportunities too, including ice fishing, ice skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and much more. The top winter activities to do in Muskoka are awaiting your participation! At CottageLINK Rental Management we also offer winter cottage rentals in Ontario.

So, what are the best lakes in Muskoka to visit? We hope you’ll agree that each of Muskoka’s lakes will offer visitors a memorable experience, and the surrounding towns are perfect for grocery needs, day trips, restaurant meals, souvenir shopping, and even nighttime entertainment. In our opinion, the best lake is the one you’re visiting! Book your Muskoka cottage rental today and embark on your own journey to one of the best lakes in Muskoka!

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