As I’ve always enjoyed the novelty of new places, I never entertained the idea of owning a cottage or a cabin in the woods. But in 2021, after a long spring lockdown, I found myself yearning for a quiet spot in nature to escape to.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one. The price of recreational property in Canada has increased by almost 12% since 2020, and in some regions, like eastern Ontario and Muskoka, the cost has shot up almost 30%. Multiple bids are now becoming the norm in prime cottage country near big cities, and inventory is at an all-time low.
This may all sound discouraging for non-cottage owners, but fortunately, there are wonderful options available for those looking to escape into nature. And none of them requires any maintenance or a second mortgage. Thanks to vacation rentals, you can go to the cottage without the commitment at one of these Ontario cottages.
Spencer Lakehouse, Haliburton
Located two and half hours north of Toronto, Spencer Lakehouse is an Ontario cottage dream come true.
The moment we opened the door, we were greeted by an expansive view of the lake made possible by the floor-to-ceiling windows. A sign in the entranceway read This is our Happy Place and soon, it was ours, too. The open-concept design was as modern as it was warm, and there were thoughtful touches throughout.
“It was a labour of love,” said owner Hue Nguyen, who completely renovated the property to reflect her vision of an ideal cottage stay.
She explained that she wanted to change the experience to emulate the more luxurious accommodation she had enjoyed abroad.
“We want it to feel like a vacation and don’t want guests to have to worry about anything.”
Nguyen’s vision is realized in every corner of Spencer Lakehouse, though I must say that the coffee bar was my favourite touch. As I often do when I travel, I had brought my trusty French press and own supplies only this time, they stayed in my suitcase. On the shelves were four different coffee makers, a choice of high-quality coffee beans and even a grinder. The aroma of freshly ground coffee was just one of the extras we discovered at Spencer Lakehouse. Others included a candy station, shelves of books and board games, toys and colouring books, cooking supplies and spices, toiletries, diapers and baby supplies, and a Wii video game console. Also, in the 2000-square-foot property were the more essential features for a luxury cottage experience, including washer and dryer, BBQ, fire pit and a large deck. All four bedrooms were beautifully decorated, but more importantly, they had super-comfy beds with Endy foam mattresses.
Elmhirst Resort, Keene
Located near Peterborough, 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, this 340-acre property on Rice Lake has 30 self-catering cottages. All are along the lakeshore and equipped with lake-facing decks, BBQs, living areas with fireplaces and complete kitchens. We stayed at the newly renovated Free Spirit unit, fully accessible with ramps and extra-large wheel-chair friendly showers. With three bedrooms and three bathrooms, it was as spacious as it was comfortable. Its best feature, though, was the serene view of Rice Lake from the back patio and large living room windows, the type of iconic view we love to see at Ontario cottages.
Activities at Elmhirst Resort include ice skating and snowshoeing in winter and hiking, swimming and fishing in summer. Guests can enjoy the spa, pool and dining room all year-round.
Mabee Marsh Cabin, Long Point Eco-Adventures Wilderness Resort
What can be more fitting for a wilderness adventure than a log cabin? Located two hours southwest of Toronto on Lake Erie’s shores, the Mabee Marsh Cabin is part of the Long Point Eco-Adventures Wilderness Resort in Norfolk Country. With a long wooden dining table, a wood-burning stove, gas fireplace, four bedrooms and a bathroom, the accommodation can fit an extended family of up to 11 people. At your doorstep is 90 kilometres of hiking and mountain bike trails through the Carolinian forest. On the resort, there are the Burning Kiln Winery, Marshview Patio and Hometown Brew Company.
Starting May 1st, 2021, the resort also offers Glamping Suites and Pods and activities like axe-throwing, bike tours, nature tours, ziplining, paddle-boarding and kayaking.
Rustic Shelters in Ontario’s Parks
If you’re up for a little more adventure with your family, a yurt is an affordable option that’s available in some of Ontario’s most scenic parks. These tent-like structures, which can accommodate up to six people, are equipped with electric heating, outlets and lighting. Outside the yurt, you’ll find a fire pit, kitchen shelter, picnic tables and a propane BBQ. The best part is that your home away from home is a protected wilderness area with interpretive activities, hiking trails, beaches, and all that nature offers at your doorstep.
Macgregor Point Provincial Park, situated approximately three hours southwest of Toronto along the shores of Lake Huron, is the ‘Yurt Capital of Ontario Parks’ with 12 available. This all-season favourite park features a 400-metre skating trail through the forest in winter and a birdwatching festival in spring that coincides with the migration of 200 + species that fly over the region.
Other provincial parks that have yurts include Algonquin, Killarney, Pinery and Charleston Lake. The latter also has the Tall Pines cabin, which is located on its own island. Though you need to rent a boat or canoe to gain access, it’s well worth it to have this park inside a park all to yourself, not to mention the sunset views of the lake.
Parks Canada also boasts its shelters called oTENTiks that combine the structure of an A-frame cabin and a tent. Similarly equipped to the yurts, they’re a wonderful family-friendly way to enjoy a more comfortable camping experience in some of the most geologically unique wilderness areas of the province, including 1000 Islands, Point Pelee and the Georgian Bay Islands.
Note: Roofed accommodation fills up quickly, especially during peak season, so book early. Ontario Provincial Parks can be reserved online or by phone up to five months in advance of your arrival date (1-888-668-7275). Parks Canada normally opens its reservations in January, but in 2021, it is delayed until April due to the pandemic. Reserve online or call 1-877-737-3783.