Leaf peeping crowds

Some say fall is Muskoka’s most beautiful season, a time when fiercely glowing leaves are set against the glowing backdrop of blue skies and bluer lakes.

A sunny afternoon in October can look like perfection… which would explain why fall can also seem like Muskoka’s busiest season. Popular lookout points or hiking trails can be jammed to overflowing, with cars and buses filling parking lots and even clogging road shoulders.

Among the busiest places this weekend will be Huckleberry Rock near Milford Bay, Hardy Lake Provincial Park near Bala, the Dorset Fire Tower, and just about every trail along Highway 60 in Algonquin Park. In fact, Algonquin is so busy that Ontario Parks has done a blog post about how to see the fall colours without getting stuck in traffic.

Fortunately, in Muskoka it’s not hard to find somewhere a little less congested, where the leaves and scenery are every bit as stunning.

In the Gravenhurst area, one of the most unusual and charming spots is the Tree Museum. Located on Doe Lake Road a few kilometres east of town, this is a 200 acre former farm site that’s been converted into an open-air museum showcasing avant-garde sculptures. Signage is minimal, but there’s a parking lot near the road and a trail that meanders a couple of kilometres through the woods.  This isn’t the spot for sweeping views of the hardwood forests, but it’s a fascinating – and intellectually stimulating – spot to explore, and it’s at its utterly charming best in the fall.

Hardy Lake is the hotspot on the west side of Lake Muskoka, but there are a couple of options with smaller crowds. The Torrance Barrens are located just off Southwood Road. This is a great spot for walking – either along a trail or just by meandering over the rocky, open areas. The colours here won’t be stunning, as the landscape is dominated by rock, with clusters of oaks, conifers, and a handful of maples. But if you’re looking for an interesting spot to explore, this is ideal. Just be aware that it’s easy to get turned around, and there’s an awful lot of open space between here and Gravenhurst.

If you’re up for a drive or a cycle, Southwood Road itself is delightful. Motorcyclists absolutely love this road, with its dips and turns and rugged scenery. If you drive it, be aware that there will be bikes, and there will also be potholes and patches of loose gravel… and watch out for the railway crossing near Nine Mile Lake: the sign that says “Rough Crossing” is not kidding!

In Port Carling, Hazelwood Trail can be surprisingly quiet. Perhaps it’s because it’s so short – just 2.5 km in each direction – but this charming little walk from Port Carling to Port Sandfield often feels like an unexplored gem. To extend the walk, you can go out on the trail and then wind your way back along Fernwood Road.

Perhaps one of the most surprisingly underused trails is the provincial park on the Oxtongue River. More than a million people drive by it every year, on their way up Highway 60 to Algonquin Park, and the vast majority are so focused on the big park that they don’t think to stop and check out this little gem. That’s fortunate for those who do – as the name implies, there’s a very ragged falls here. In spring it’s a thunderous, roaring beast of a chasm; by fall it’s usually a bit quieter, but with all the rain we’ve seen this year it’s sure to put on a good show this autumn.

There are plenty of other trails to enjoy in Muskoka, and most of them will be surprisingly quiet even on Thanksgiving weekend. But if you’re really looking for sweeping views of the colours, the best spot of all is on the water. If you haven’t docked your boat for the season, be sure to take it out for a cruise; if you have, all of the cruise boats are still running this weekend, or you can also look into renting a boat for the weekend.

Posted in Connecting with Nature.