Cottage Country Riding at Its Best…


Related: Muskoka Snapshot


 

What will you find when you snowmobile Muskoka Ontario? Simply put, great sledding, plenty of services and some of the province’s best trails…

The sight took my breath away. Ahead, the trail seemed to reach the far horizon. First down a huge hill and up an incline. Then rolling across several dips and rises to where it finally met the sky. I hit the throttle to surge my machine forward along that exhilarating white ribbon. I felt like the king of the snow.

In my snowmobiling adventures, I’ve come across other primo trails like this in many faraway places. But Muskoka Trail 95 is in my own backyard.

Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario on trails like this!

Trail 95 photo © by Craig Nicholson

Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario Overview

Thousands of vacationers flock to Muskoka every summer. Consequently, this region has become iconic as Ontario’s ultimate cottage country playground. No wonder then, that this notoriety has also made Muskoka a magnet for winter lovers in search of memorable snowmobiling.

So now snowmobiling generates about $94.9 million annually for the region, according to the 2019 OFSC Economic Impact Study. And that’s why our Supertrax crew set out to discover why going to snowmobile Muskoka Ontario is special.

Good trail signage helps to snowmobile Muskoka Ontario.

Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Muskoka Trail System

Of course, no sledding destination can be credible without good snow and trails. And Muskoka can deliver both. Positioned just east of Georgian Bay, the region is in a lake effect snowbelt. It dumps an average 336 centimetres every winter, and often much more. This regular snowfall enables Muskoka’s 11 snowmobile clubs to deliver about 1,600 kilometres (almost 1,000 miles) of well-maintained snowmobile trails. These include both Trans Ontario Provincial (TOP) and local club trails.

Our recent visit confirmed that their trail network is seamlessly connected. It’s also well signed, both on-trail and at intersections. What’s somewhat surprising is that, despite Muskoka’s approximately 1,600 lakes, most snowmobile trails are on land. But where traversing a lake is necessary as part of the trail, Muskoka clubs do an excellent job of marking official ice crossings with stake lines to follow.

Lake effect snow covers trails and helps riders to snowmobile Muskoka Ontario.

Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Favourite Muskoka Trails

These land trails run through Muskoka’s rugged terrain, rocky courtesy of the Canadian Shield. They go from lower elevations near the shores of Georgian Bay to high ground in the east beside Algonquin Park. This varied topography makes for an interesting mix of trails, These run the gamut from some tight and twisties to many wide open logging roads. And everything in between.

Some of my favourites on this ride are TOP Trails D, D101B and D102B. Plus local trails 37, 45, 51, 76, 77 and or course, 95. Muskoka trails also connect to other cottage country destinations like Haliburton in the east. They also link to both the Almaguin Highlands and Parry Sound District to the north. So there’s a lot of great riding to be had staging when you snowmobile Muskoka Ontario.

Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Muskoka Hospitality Services

That’s one reason we decided to base out of one Muskoka location, and ride three day loops in various directions. Another reason is that one of Muskoka’s special attributes is its robust tourism infrastructure. Yes, many of the same hospitality providers that service the summer crowd are also trail accessible to snowmobilers.

These vary from lodgings suitable for overnighting on your RAP (Round Algonquin Park) saddlebag tour to full service accommodations for stay ‘n’ play day rides. These include several of Ontario’s foremost resorts that cater to snowmobilers all winter, comparable to anything on offer in Quebec.

Sled parked in front of Deerhurst Resort.

Ready to ride from Deerhurst Resort – Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario Staging Location

Main entrance to Deerhurst Resort Pavillion building.

We chose to stage out of Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville. The location of this classy, 400-room resort suited our intent to focus on riding the northeast area of Muskoka. It’s bounded by Port Sydney, Baysville, Huntsville, Dorset and Kearney. (Although not officially in the Muskoka Tourism Region, Kearney is the northern-most boundary for grooming by Muskoka snowmobile clubs).

What’s more, this resort is only a couple of hours drive north of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) on four lane highway all the way. It’s also positioned on-trail near the intersection of Local Trail 88, 78 and TOP Trail D102B. Plus, Deerhurst Resort provides on-site restaurants and fuel, and plenty of parking. There’s also a myriad of outdoor and indoor family activities including pool & hot tub, plus sled rentals and guided tours. What’s more, downhill skiing is nearby.

Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario Riding Choices

We rode three day loops out of Deerhurst. One was an official snow tour called the Lake of Bays Watch Tour. As its name suggests, this loop circles that large water body. It also takes in Dorset and Baysville, both of which have gas stations. We ate at the Cast Iron Restaurant. Another day, we rode a loop north to Kearney. We fuelled at Dwight and stopped for lunch at Suds On Main. And the other ride, we headed south to Bracebridge, where we topped up out tanks, before riding north to lunch at Bass Lake Roadhouse.

For lack of time, we didn’t get to ride the Muskoka Magic Snow Tour around Lake Muskoka. Nor the 80’s series trails west of Huntsville or the 60’s series trails east of Dorset. We also didn’t get to ride the Muskoka section of TOP Trail D, the Sequin Trail. These and many other trails can be found online on the Interactive Trail Guide at Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs’ website. They are also on the printed OFSC District 7 Trail Guide.

All are proof that there’s plenty of great riding in Muskoka. And all are good reasons to return to the region multiple times. But that’s only part of what makes it special to snowmobile Muskoka Ontario…

Dorset Lookout – Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario Sledding Amenities

Muskoka is open to welcome visitors all winter long, including seven Park ‘n’ Ride locations marked on their trail guide. Moreover, its numerous tourism opportunities make Muskoka an ideal location for couples and families. Especially those looking for snowmobiling getaways that also include other social, cultural and winter activities.

What’s more, Muskoka is tops for places to rent a sled and gear and book a guided snowmobile ride. Or for novices to try snowmobiling for the first time. And if you need repairs or parts, Muskoka provides dealers from all four manufacturers, some of whom also rents sleds.

Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Factors To Consider To Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario

But as with any popular destination, there are other factors to take into account while planning your visit. One is that typically, some Muskoka trails take longer to open early in the season. Why? Because groomers require a lot of snow to get the rugged terrain ride-ready. So don’t plan to go until trails show as Yellow or Green on the Interactive Trail Guide.

Trails Can Be Busy

Second, Muskoka weekends can be busy. Especially Family Day, Valentine’s and March break. So either book well in advance, include some weekdays in your itinerary, or plan to go other weekends. Fortunately, Muskoka clubs usually groom on weekend nights to keep trails as smooth as possible. So also consider starting earlier than usual on Saturdays and Sundays for a better ride.

Lake effect snowy trail – Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Some Road Running

A third factor, as in many other areas of Southern Ontario, is road running. As hard as Muskoka clubs work to deliver great trails, there are locations where trails follow roads briefly. This is usually where private land use permission isn’t possible or has been revoked due to trespass by snowmobilers or ATV riders. Detours by trail or even on ice crossings may not be possible either. So the only way to get to where the trail continues is by road running.

Generally during the heart of the winter, most of these are hard packed and snow covered at least on the shoulders. But in thaws, they can become bare. So pick your time to go and where to ride. As many snowmobilers have been advocating, I agree that sections of road used to get from trail to trail must be designated on the Interactive Trail Guide. Another huge plus would be if enough cooperation existed between all municipalities and clubs to make more room for snowmobiles on snow covered road shoulders or the road allowances beside them.

Lake Running

A fourth consideration is that despite so many land trails, lake running is a huge part of Muskoka snowmobiling. Especially for locals, cottagers and other frequent visitors. But wandering away from the stake lines is sort of the elephant in the room. That’s because even for those most familiar, ice riding is never 100% safe, especially at night or bad weather. Also, there are areas where the water never freezes properly or where dock bubblers unexpectedly create weak ice and open water.

Full disclosure here: I wanted to check out Muskoka lake running for this article. So I enlisted knowledgeable local snowmobilers Dan Carty, Al Fletcher, Jim Heintzman and Tony Robinson, to guide me around. It was a blast riding the full length of Lakes Muskoka and Rosseau, part of Lake Joseph, and also Lake of Bays. But I confess to never being completely at ease even though the ice was supposedly at peak thickness.

So my advice is that if you aren’t familiar with the lake or don’t have a knowledgeable guide, stick to land trails and stake lines. There are more than enough to ride without taking unnecessary risks.

Lake running by rock face – Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

Snowmobile Muskoka Ontario Riding Areas

By my observation, Muskoka includes three distinct snowmobiling areas. The western area includes trails near Highway 400 that are somewhat separated by geography. They run south to north from Port Severn and Honey Harbour along Georgian Bay to the top of Lake Joseph. Only two TOP Trails, C101D and C02D, run eastward connect them to trails surrounding the Highway 11 corridor.

Along Highway 11, the largest Muskoka towns of Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville anchor another swath of trails in the central area. They increase in number the farther north you go, all the way to Emsdale. These trails tend to see the most traffic, being closest to the major towns and the most popular access highway to the region.

The third area is in the northeast of Muskoka, where we did most of our riding. It includes Baysville, Dorset and Dwight, and extends north to Kearney. Benefitting from the highest elevation in Muskoka and many old resource roads, this area east of Lake of Bays typically tends to get started earlier, have more snow, and go later than the others.

Muskoka Welcome Sign – Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario

My Last Word

Put them all together, add in its many other benefits, and there’s no doubt that Muskoka delivers the full package for snowmobile enthusiasts. As experienced snowmobilers who’ve visited most bucket list trail riding destinations, we were impressed by Muskoka riding and its top notch trails.

And more than any other destination, Muskoka may also be Ontario’s top choice for winter-loving casual riders, couples, families and newbies to share an easy-going, stress-free snowmobiling adventure.

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The tips and advice in this blog are the opinions of the author, may not work in every situation and are intended only for the convenience and interest of the reader, who has the personal responsibility to confirm the validity, accuracy and relevancy of this information prior to putting it to their own use.

 

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