There’s no better place to see the fall colours than from a ano, kayak, or SUP. And while you can paddle anywhere, there are some places that just seem to be custom made for human-powered vessels. Everyone knows about Algonquin Park, but the park can be crowded. In fact, in fall, it can actually become completely full, with cars backed up for miles at the gates.
If you’re in Muskoka and you have a paddle and a boat we can get you on the water without the crowds.
Muskoka has around 1,600 lakes and a number of rivers. Not all are accessible, of course, but it’s amazing how many quiet backcountry waterways there are to enjoy without massive portages. These are a few of our favourites.
To get even more, you can’t find a better resource than Canoeing and Hiking Wild Muskoka, a guide book by Hap Wilson. It’s a few years old, but it has details on many of these routes and others besides.
No matter where you go, treat the water with respect. Wear your life jacket, even when the water is warm, and don’t ever attempt to run rapids beyond your ability. And be sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back — you may be mere minutes from the cottage, but you are still venturing off the beaten path.
Muskoka River South
The Muskoka River is actually two separate rivers for most of its length. The north branch flows from Fairy Lake in Huntsville, down through Mary Lake (Port Sydney). The south branch flows out of Lake of Bays at Baysville. The two branches unite as a single river in Bracebridge, and then flow a short distance to Lake Muskoka.
The south branch is the wilder portion, with a number of rapids and waterfalls, particularly between Baysville and Fraserburg.
For novice paddlers, a really nice route is to put in above the Mathiasville Dam on Mathiasville Road (located off Hwy 118 east of Bracebridge) and paddle upstream as far as you wish before turning around. There’s even a municipal park on this section — David Thompson Paddling Park, named for the famous explorer.
If you have two cars, park one at Mathiasville and drive the other to Fraserburg (go out Fraserburg Road, past the Bracebridge fairgrounds). There are some class 2 and 3 rapids right below the Fraserburg bridge, but you can put in just below them and then paddle with almost no portages down to Mathiasville.
Another gorgeous spot to explore on the river is Spence Lake. There’s a small boat launch in Muskoka Falls, from which you can paddle around the submerged logs and stumps of what was once a forest. Turn and head upstream and you’ll arrive at the charming Trethewey Falls. Portage around the falls and you can keep going up to Mathiasville if you wish.
Muskoka River North
For a long run with no rapids at all, you can’t beat the trip between Huntsville and Mary Lake. There are cottages dotted along the river, but it’s generally really quiet and quite lovely.
Take Brunel Road to the Brunel Locks in Huntsville, and put in below the locks. You can paddle all the way to Port Sydney if you have a car waiting, or just do a there and back trip as far as you like.
Between Mary Lake and Bracebridge, there are only three sets of rapids but all of them are for serious paddlers only. People have died on these rocks, so please only attempt them if you are an experienced whitewater paddler!
The much safer route is to launch at High Falls Park. It’s right beside Hwy 11 on Cedar Lane in Bracebridge, and seems like an odd place to paddle, but trust us! Put in above the falls and head upstream. You’ll soon leave the noise of the highway behind.
The first section of river has plenty of cottages, but boat traffic is minimal and people are friendly. The farther you go, the fewer the cottages. Eventually you’ll find yourself paddling past the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre, a lovely section of forest that is also a fabulous (and accessible) hiking and cross-country skiing centre. This route ends at Duck Chutes. You can portage around and continue for another couple of hours, or turn and let the current guide you down.
Nine Mile and Turtle Lakes
This west Muskoka location is a real hidden gem. Part of the Gibson River system, it forms a canoe route that can take you all the way to Georgian Bay if you wish to follow it.
For a great day paddle, put in at the marina on Nine Mile Lake, just off Southwood Road. Head north (right turn up the lake). After about an hour, you’ll see signs for a portage on your left. A short carry through the woods and you’re on Turtle Lake, an uninhabited charmer. Bass fishing here is good, and there are even some campsites if you’re inclined to stay.
There is a portage at the lower end of Turtle Lake that leads you into Brotherson’s Lake, and then on into other lakes.
To avoid the portage, you can also just stay on Nine Mile Lake and go up to the top of the lake. While the lower lake has plenty of cottages, the upper lake is all Crown land. Stop where you like, have a swim and a picnic, and just get a taste of what Muskoka was like many years ago.
Dee River and Clark Pond
Another charming paddle, this one begins just off Dee Bank Road and takes you to Lake Rosseau.
Put in at the park on North Shore Road and head downstream on the Dee River. You’ll find a couple of small rapids and beaver dams which you will need to lift over or portage around, but other than that it’s pretty easy going. Eventually you’ll come to Clark Pond, a surprising bit of wildness on the edge of Lake Rossseau.
A waterfall at the bottom end of the pond feeds into Lake Rosseau. From here you can turn around and go back, or you can portage around the falls and paddle Lake Rosseau a couple of kms to Windermere. You’ll then need a shuttle back to your car on the Dee River, or you can walk back then return for your boat (it’s just under 3 kms, so not a difficult trek.)
Photo by Derek Sutton