The Best Ontario Cottage Locations

Ontario’s Cottage Country is made up of several regions, each one with distinct features that make it special among cottage enthusiasts.  You’ve probably heard of Muskoka as that is the one most people think of when they think of what a cottage vacation is about, but you may be surprised to learn about other areas that are just as beautiful, much less crowded, and can offer better value for your vacation dollars.

Here’s a brief tour around Cottage Country with our take on what you should see and do.

Eastern Ontario

Head east of Toronto on Highway 7 to Ottawa or Hwy 401 to Kingston and you’ll get to a region of tranquility known as the Land’O’Lakes.  Tiny villages and bustling towns welcome you with open arms, quaint shops and bakeries, festivals and a wealth of fishing opportunities.  There’s over 5,000 lakes in this vast area – many hidden down kilometres of winding country roads and others a little more accessible.

Westport

Most people will have heard of the Rideau Canal – a 7.8 kilometres stretch of it holds the Guiness World Record for longest maintained ice surface on a natural body of water in the world. But the Canal itself is 202 kilometres and connects Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, to the mighty St Lawrence River in Kingston. There are a total of 45 locks at 23 stations along the route which passes through a number of delightful communities.

While cottage rentals are a great way of experiencing life in rural Ontario while taking in all the lake activities, there are also opportunities to live on the water and explore the Rideau Canal by boat. Renting a cabin cruiser and self-driving through those locks, lakes and rivers either north to Ottawa or south to Kingston from the Leboat base in Smith’s Falls is a truly unique way to spend a vacation. Each of the luxury boats comes fully equipped with everything you need to have a truly outstanding water-based holiday.

Visit:  Bon Echo Provincial Park and see the iconic rock face

Shop: Westport

ExploreHell Holes Nature Trails and Caves

Haliburton

For rugged scenery, great hiking and biking trails, a winter wonderland, and the best geocaching in Ontario, give Haliburton County a look.  The towns of Haliburton and Minden are hives of activity in the summer with plenty of restaurants and quirky stores.  For those who love to be active, there’s so much to do outdoors in every season from kayaking, canoeing and boating in summer to downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter.  The fall colours shouldn’t be missed either!

Haliburton sign

Twenty years ago Haliburton was a sleepy little town that came alive in the summer with cottage owners and visitors heading to the hundreds of lakes in the area. Not a great deal has changed except there’s now a Tim Horton’s, a large supermarket (just outside of town) and there’s probably twice as many people.

You don’t have to go far to get away from the summer crowds and get back to nature. From a range of hiking trails to suit any ability, to water activities on the internationally renowned Minden Whitewater Reserve, to golf on numerous courses, this is an outdoor lover’s mecca.

VisitSir Sams for year-round activities

ShopAgnew’s general store in Wilberforce – the Geocaching Capital of Ontario

Explore: Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve

For more information and links to cottage rentals in Haliburton

Kawartha

Sometimes referred to as ‘the Kawarthas’, the region to the east & south of Peterborough (Northumberland County)  is home to some of the best carp fishing in Ontario, as well as some great little towns to visit such as Warkworth to the south and Buckhorn & Lakefield to the north.  The great Trent Severn Waterway winds its way through the area so you’ll find plenty of waterside eateries and places to just sit and watch the boats pass by.

Peterborough Lift Lock

VisitKawartha Country Wines to sample locally grown fruit wines

Shop: Lakefield Village

Explore:  Take the Butter Tart Tour

For more information and links to cottage rentals in Kawartha

Kawartha Lakes

Drive north and to the east of Lake Simcoe and you are in the Kawartha Lakes.  Visit Bobcaygeon, the town made famous by Tragically Hip; stop by the Kirkfield Lift Lock as boats are carried down the Trent Severn, or cycle the Victoria Rail Trail.  The meandering Burnt River is wonderful to canoe and kayak, and a stop in Fenelon Falls for an ice cream is a must on a hot summer’s day.

VisitHighlands Cinema in Kinmount – unique film-going experience in heart of cottage country

Shop: Bigley’s Shoes in Bobcaygeon – over 40,000 pairs of shoes + clothes and kitchen store

Explore: Balsam Lake Provincial Park

For more information and links to cottage rentals in the Kawartha Lakes

South Western Ontario

Not strictly ‘cottage country’ but a great choice nonetheless if you like the idea of a Great Lake vacation.  There’s some wonderful spots bordering Lake Erie that have been vacation favourites for generations such as Port Stanley and Port Colborne – holiday towns with lots of fun stuff for families to enjoy.  The big draw are the beaches so you may not get your own private waterfront, but that’s made up for in the long stretches of sand to run and play.Not strictly ‘cottage country’ but a great choice nonetheless if you like the idea of a Great Lake vacation.  There’s some wonderful spots bordering Lake Erie that have been vacation favourites for generations such as Port Stanley and Port Colborne – holiday towns with lots of fun stuff for families to enjoy.  The big draw are the beaches so you may not get your own private waterfront, but that’s made up for in the long stretches of sand to run and play.

Port Colborne Promenade

Visit:  Take a day trip to Niagara Falls

Shop:  For local farm produce at DeBackere Farm Market

Explore:  The coastline by bike on Elgin County cycling trails

For more information and links to cottage rentals in South West Ontario 

Georgian Bay & Lake Simcoe

Lake Simcoe is the closest big lake to Toronto and is home to big fishing, sandy beaches, and the traditional lakeside towns of Keswick, Beaverton, and Orillia at the northern end.  Then go north west a little to find endless sand on Lake Huron from Midland to Wasaga Beach.  This is a great winter playground too with Blue Mountain, Hardwood Hills and Mount St Louis Moonstone to help get your snow on!

Mt St Louis Moonstone

Visit: Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene

Shop:  At the best bakeries in the Georgian Bay/Penetanguishene area

Explore:  Historic Orillia and visit the Mariposa Market

For more information and links to cottage rentals in Georgian Bay/Simcoe 

Parry Sound

Head up Hwy 400 to where it merges with Hwy 69 and you’ll be in Parry Sound in no time.  Quieter than its bustling Muskoka neighbour but with the same Canadian Shield terrain, this is a beautiful area to stay awhile.  The town of Parry Sound is easy to reach from most lakes so a trip into town isn’t a long journey, but you may not want to from your deck or dock on one of the area’s gorgeous lakes.  This is traditional cottage country and you’ll find everything here from tiny cottages to mega mansions – with the one thing everyone wants…perfect waterfront.

Parry Sound

Visit: Bobby Orr Hall of Fame in his hometown of Parry Sound

Shop: For local produce at Farmer’s Markets

Explore:  The 30,000 islands on the Island Queen Cruise

For more information and links to cottage rentals in Parry Sound

Muskoka & Almaguin Highlands

Why did we leave Muskoka to the end?  So you could appreciate all the other areas before coming to the one everyone knows and loves.  And of course, there is a reason it’s  popular.  It’s easy to access – just drive Hwy 400 and onto Hwy 11 at Orillia and you are heading north to Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville.  Go a little west and discover Bala and Port Carling and Rosseau.  If you like to explore an area, find towns and villages packed with restaurants, great shopping, and drive winding roads with a sparkling lake around every bend, this is the place.  It’s a little more expensive to stay here because of all the above, but if you want a great cottage country experience and be fairly close to shopping and eating out, this may be a good choice.  If you are willing to drive a little further north, you’ll find the Alamguin Highlands just beyond Huntsville.  There’s great value cottages in this area and some cool things to do.

Muskoka Wharf – Gravenhurst

Visit: Port Carling for a great waterfront restaurant experience

Shop: Downtown Huntsville

ExploreArrowhead Provincial Park for summer and winter activities

For more information and links to cottage rentals in Muskoka and the Almaguin Highlands

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