In a typical year, this would mark the end of the season for many cottage owners.
But this is not a typical year. And many cottagers have decided that Muskoka is not just gorgeous, it’s also a safe place to be during the pandemic. People are making plans to stay here into the fall, or even staying longer term.
Of course, retiring to the cottage has always been a popular option, and many people do just that every year. And every year, some of those people are caught off-guard by some of the realities of off-season life in Muskoka.
If you’re making plans to stay in Muskoka this winter, that’s great. Let us know what we can do to help ensure your property continues to look wonderful throughout the year.
In order to help make the transition, here are a few things that people have told us over the years about what they have found surprising the first time they stayed in Muskoka after summer ended.
The year-round population of Muskoka is around 60,000 people. In summer, that number more than triples. When cottagers and tourists go home in the fall, many of the shops and restaurants that serve them close their doors. Others reduce their hours dramatically. There simply aren’t enough people here in the winter for them to bother staying open.
It’s particularly noticeable in the smaller villages like Port Carling and Bala, where the year-round population is just a few hundred people. In the larger towns, the effect is much less dramatic.
Restaurants and specialty stores are particularly likely to close for a few months. Grocery stores, hardware stores and the like may shorten their hours, but they tend to stay open to serve the permanent population.
Snowplowing takes time
It’s still a few months away (hopefully!) but when the snow arrives, Muskoka gets a lot of it – 11 feet a year on average.
The snow clearing crews here are excellent, but with a small population and a lot of roads, they have to prioritize. That means that back roads with just a few homes are among the last to be cleared and sanded.
If you need to be somewhere in the morning and there’s heavy snow in the forecast, be prepared that you may not be able to get out until your road is cleared.
School buses get cancelled
If you have school-aged children and you’re planning to enroll them in Muskoka for the year, there are almost certainly going to be some bus cancellations in your future.
Cancellations are usually announced fairly early in the morning – typically by 7 a.m., if not before – and are announced on local radio stations as well as on the school boards’ social media feeds.
Public and Catholic schools themselves are almost never closed, so if you can get your children to school and pick them up afterward, they can still go. Private schools will sometimes close on snow days.
Snow tires are not optional
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking your all-season tires are good enough for a Muskoka winter! Even if you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle, snow tires make a dramatic difference in your ability to keep all four wheels on the road, or to stop suddenly if you need to.
If your cottage is in Parry Sound district – and you’re making that your new permanent address – you can go one better and install studded tires. They’re allowed in Northern Ontario. Muskoka district is technically considered to be Southern Ontario, so studded tires are not allowed here.
Nights are dark
It may sound obvious, but people are often caught off-guard when they first experience winter nights outside the city.
It’s not as noticeable in the summer when darkness doesn’t arrive until later. But in December when the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon, there’s a lot of night, particularly if you’re uncomfortable driving in the dark.
The off-season can be relaxing
While there are challenges here, there’s also a wonderful change that happens in Muskoka when the summer season ends.
For starters, there are just fewer people here, particularly on weekdays. Locals know that they can stop trying to second-guess when to go grocery shopping, and just go to the store when they need to. (And here’s a pro-tip for next summer: to avoid the crowds, get your groceries on a bright, sunny day when everyone else is on the dock. A rainy Saturday is the absolute worst time to go shopping.)
The lakes may not be as warm, but fall boating is amazing – the colours are incredible, and the boat traffic is lighter.
Many businesses begin to slow down, particularly once winter arrives, and landscaping and other outdoor work is forced to stop. Not as many people feel rushed or harried, and you can almost feel that in the air.
Muskoka is wonderful in summer, but many of us who live here like autumn best of all. So if you’re staying longer, welcome. We know you will enjoy some of the delights this region has to offer.
Photo by Travis Nicholson