Ever hear of the term, I take my own backyard for granted? You could probably retire on every dollar you’ve ever said or heard that saying. That’s because as Ontarians we tend to want to go away from our own surroundings to find warmer weather, great attractions, cocktail masters, culinary geniuses and family-friendly options.
Well, what if I told you that within a few short hours of driving distance from Toronto, you could find all the above? With over 250,000 lakes in the province alone, (containing approximately one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply) here are just a couple of options for you and your family to explore Ontario, either for the day or a weekend:
Day Trippin’: Peterborough & The Kawarthas
Located in Central Ontario, Peterborough & The Kawartha’s feature some of the most secluded and stunning lakes such as Rice, Chemong and Belmont in Peterborough and Scugog, Sturgeon and Four Mile in the Kawarthas. Only a 140km (or 1hour and 40 min.) drive from Toronto you’ll find a plethora of activities for the whole family.
I’ve narrowed it down to three, but feel free to check out all the activities you can plan for every season here:
Canadian Canoe Museum:
Featuring the world’s largest collection of canoes, kayaks, and paddled watercraft with engaging and interactive activities for all ages. Check out their Drop-In activities for kids, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month. October’s feature: Weave a coaster that the kids can decorate for the Thanksgiving dinner table. In 2022, The Canadian Canoe Museum will be moving to the historic Peterborough Lift Lock but there’s still plenty of time to learn about the stories of significance from this fascinating museum.
Indian River Reptile Zoo:
Snakes, lizards and crocs, oh my! The Indian River Reptile Zoo is home to more than 400 reptiles. The zoo acts as a sanctuary for abandoned reptiles and government seized smuggled reptiles, ninety-five percent of them being rescues. It’s also the only zoo in Canada where crocodiles can get outside during the summer months, and if they’re like us Canadians, we’ll do anything to get outside while we can.
Be sure to see the new Croc-Walk, featuring dozens of alligators and crocodiles. The little ones can also ride the Giant Gator Slide (be sure to bring socks) and take part in a Dig In The Bone Yard, where if they find a bone they get to take it home with them.
The whole family can enjoy walking through the nature trail and visiting the Life-Size Dinosaurs exhibit. Educational and fun, you’ll feel like you’re in your own version of Jurassic Park!
Plus, you can play a round of golf on your way out with the new exclusive design 18-hole mini-golf.
BELMONT Lake Brewery
A little something special for mom and dad, how about an English style craft brewery with a Canadian twist plunked right in the middle of cottage country? No seriously, this hidden gem is in its third summer of production on Belmont Lake. Being the only brewery on the lake, people come on boats, canoes and paddle boards in the summer months and snowshoes, skidoos in the winter to grab a pint. Brewing about 1200 liters of beer per month and featuring 5-6 different kind of brews, all named after surrounding areas, like their most popular brew, Croe River.
Originally from England, Norrie and Julie enjoyed Belmont Lake so much that they gave up their home in England to live the dream; on a secluded island doing what they love to do.
Whilst the adults are enjoying a brew, the kiddies can swim in the lake or play with the ever so friendly and adorable dogs, Eddy and Frank.
Stay a little longer: Multi-Generational Muskoka
It’s difficult nowadays to get the entire family together. Especially extended family with everyone having such busy schedules and trying to find a place to suite the kids, adults plus grandma and grandpa. Well, I’ve found just the place. Muskoka Soul is situated on the shores of Lake Muskoka, just a two-hour drive from Toronto. With two cottage rental properties to best serve you, the Cliff Bay location accommodates 2-12 people and is built for accessibility from ages 2-92.
The stunning architecture features big windows to see out to the remarkable views and tranquil settings. The décor is cozy and modern and suited for a relaxing stay with the family. You’ll find six bedrooms including two on the first floor which you could reserve for gran and gramps whom will likely be the first one’s awake enjoying the deck and Muskoka room listening to birds chirping and chipmunks gathering nuts. There’s four bathrooms, the Great Room which features comfortable couches and a piano and guitar for the music enthusiasts, as well as a media room with TV and board games. The gorgeously designed giant kitchen is fully-equipped with everything you’ll need during your stay, along side a table setting you only see in commercials with family gatherings and smiling faces. You’ll find a fire-pit for roasting smores and star gazing, and oh ya, the fabulous dock that sits right on Lake Muskoka. Watch the kids swim in the lake whilst sitting on the deck and enjoying some local eats and drinks, like Sawdust City Brewing.
With Gravenhurst being less than a ten-minute drive from Cliff Bay, the option is yours whether you want to pick up groceries or something from Relish Real Food featuring all kinds of freshly made sandwiches, wraps, and salads or some artisan bread, rolls or world-famous Chelsea Buns from The Bakery.
For a real family treat, bring in Chef Don Potter from Muskoka Catering and he’ll be sure to cater to everyone’s taste buds. It’s like bringing a high-end restaurant right to your doorstep. Chef Don can prepare everything from a tasting menu to a 7-course meal providing all the necessary components so all you must do is sit and enjoy!
With everything at your doorstep, your entire family has options to choose from including a trip into town to visit local shops like Arts at The Albion or plan a visit to The Wharf and check out the Muskoka Shipyards marketplace. Housing 23 different vendors, most of them local, as well as the first Starbucks north of Barrie. From there, you can board a 1913 Minett launch boat at Muskoka Bay for a tour with Gary Campbell’s Landing Marina.
One for the kids (and adults alike): A visit to The Muskoka Steamships Discovery Centre where you’ll find a one-of-a-kind interactive family experience as you discover the history of Muskoka including the Steamship Segwun, check out the Watershed Wonders exhibit, including an interactive virtual Aquarium. The newest addition is the KidZone featuring multi-sensory and hands-on family fun.
Be sure to ask Muskoka Soul for recommendations on what activities you can do during your stay. It’s the added touch of having someone cater to your family’s specific needs. When was the last time you took part in a scavenger hunt? Well, that’s something they can help with. Brydons Bay Trail is a family-friendly trail that runs a 2.3km novice loop, ending at the perfect spot for sunset. Or for a more relaxed activity, bring the fam together on the dock for a morning yoga experience with Freedom Yoga Muskoka.
Regardless of your reasons you and the family decide to explore the beautiful province of Ontario, taking in the moment is what it’s all about. And when you have a backyard filled with so much beauty, the only job you have is to enjoy it.