Touring Ontario: Muskoka and Rainbow Country

Late-summer fun in Southern Ontario

For years, television commercials advertising ‘Back to School’ specials were the utter bane of my existence. To a child, this signals the impending conclusion of yet another season of climbing trees, building bike jumps and camping in the backyard, but most lamentably- the end of summer vacation. As a motorcyclist, even years later the aforementioned advertisements would trigger the same spiteful reactions from my inner child as a sign of the riding season winding down. More recently however, these once-dreaded ads have served as a kick in the pants reminder that life is short, summers are shorter and I better start building some serious seat time while I still can. As the old saying goes, “Make hay while the sun shines,” so back in September I decided to pack the old saddlebags and head out on the road again before it was time for my bike and I to both hibernate for the winter.

In order to cram as much into a long weekend as possible, I decided to choose an area where I could take part in a number of activities and enjoy a variety of riding in a relatively central area. Southern Ontario offers many great destinations, but I decided to stick to the areas known as Muskoka and Rainbow Country.

The ride from Toronto to Muskoka offers countless views of rock formations and tree-lined lakes.

When heading North from Toronto, most people favour the four-lane Highway 400 for simplicity sake since it is the most direct route, but I always opt for the two-lane Highway 27 for its lack of traffic and slightly better scenery. Once North of Barrie, the decision between taking Highway 11 or 69 usually balances on how long it’s been since I’ve had one of Weber’s famous charbroiled burgers. Heading up either highway will offer a lesson in geography as Precambrian rock formations and the lakes they created begin to overtake the landscape. Once in the area known as the Muskoka Lakes Region, one literally cannot help but find rewarding and endlessly entertaining roads where the grade, camber and scenery changes with every turn.

Free of transport trucks and RV traffic, the smooth, winding roads of the Muskoka area allow hours of riding through rustic scenery without having to sacrifice luxurious accommodations and amenities. For the first few nights I stayed at the recently completed Red Leaves Resort on Lake Rosseau - the initial phase of a $750 million dollar project. Just getting there is half the fun as the surrounding area offers some of the most entertaining roads I have ever hit on two wheels. Cottage traffic can put a damper on the fun during summer long weekends but this time of year the roads are wide open and just waiting to be enjoyed. Canada’s first J.W. Marriot resort, Red Leaves was designed to assimilate into the classic Muskoka tradition in a manner that pays homage to the days when guests trekked to resorts from the city by train and steamboat. Not only that, but it also boasts a 700-acre nature preserve ensuring that the scenery will remain as unspoiled as it is today.

Touring Lake Rosseau in style.

Offering majestic accommodations with breathtaking views, Red Leaves is the perfect way to pamper yourself all year round. Trails covering hundreds of miles used by ATVs and mountain bikes in the summer become well-groomed interconnected highways for snowmobilers come winter. Home to the Nick Faldo designed golf course The Rock, Red Leaves also caters to guests with a premium spa, swimming pools and a multi-purpose marina where guests can rent various bow riders, fishing or pontoon boats. I decided to give my derriere a rest and spend an afternoon exploring the area from the water, touring Lake Rosseau in a Crownline 220LS.

A quick break for a hot beverage at a scenic spot during our ATV ride with Bear Claw ATV Tours.

Having ridden from sea to shining sea, experiencing the wide variety of geography this great continent has to offer, many of my most favourite moments have occurred right here in Southern Ontario. Such experiences as taking wakeboarding lessons at Basecamp in Minett from pro-boarder Scott Duke are ones that won’t soon be forgotten. Strapping on a board for the first time would have been far less intimidating if I hadn’t received an astounding demonstration from Basecamp coaches first, most of whom have been wakeboarding roughly since they exited the womb and many of whom are ranked on a national level.

Getting a tour of Ontario’s landscape from the cockpit of one of Georgian Bay Airways floatplanes was another that was merely icing on the cake for an adventure that saw most of my time in the saddle of a 2009 Harley-Davidson CVO Springer. I decided to take in the aerial scenery on my way to Bear Claw ATV Tours in Parry Sound in lieu of riding there since I would be spending all day on a quad. Nick, my pilot for the day, picked me up straight from the dock at Red Leaves in his Cessna 180 equipped with floats and delivered me to Parry Sound harbour, where Bear Claw owner Andrew Ryeland was waiting to escort me to my next adventure.

Bear Claw Tours offers adventure excursions through the rugged wilderness on current model ATVs, or visitors are free to bring their own if they wish. Ryeland personally escorted our group through rocky trails and muddy bogs, even keeping us entertained during breaks with his side-splitting sense of humour. Getting stuck was half the fun and none of us escaped without getting a little dirty. Every person in our particular tour was of a different skill level and came with a different purpose, but one thing is for certain – everyone left with a giant smile on their face.

Is there a better way to travel than this?

After a long day of riding, I dined at the Bay Street Cafe in Parry Sound Harbour before heading to the Bayside Inn. Clearly I was not alone in this choice of accommodation as the entire driveway was filled with motorcycles, ranging from Hondas and Suzukis to Harleys. A pack of riders on BMWs arrived just as I was about to shut it down for the night but I couldn’t resist sitting around the fireplace, exchanging stories of the day with fellow riders. If Mother Nature intervenes with poor weather, there are numerous activities to keep you busy in Parry Sound, like visiting The Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, The Bobby Orr Hall of Fame, and the West Parry Sound District Museum.

We stopped for a rest and some sustenance at the Crossroads restaurant.

After spending a day riding around the Parry Sound region, I circled back on Hwy 141 to Rosseau to have lunch at The Crossroads restaurant. Flocks of bikes and riders of all shapes and sizes stopped in to top up their tanks, proving that the area is a popular destination, and with good reason. Gassed up and ready to go again, I headed Westward across Hwy 632 which turns into Highway 7/Peninsula Road as it snakes south towards Port Carling by way of Minett and Port Sandfield. After stopping in Port Carling to take a closer look at the assortment of vintage wooden boats on display, I adjusted my course to Bracebridge. As District Road 118 descends down a long, sprawling hill before heading East over Lake Muskoka, motorists are treated to such a gorgeous view, it makes it difficult to keep one’s eyes on the road. With no shortage of scenic roads, northern hospitality and excellent accommodations only hours north of the Greater Toronto Area, it is no surprise that this area has become a motorcycling Mecca. Complimented by the soundtrack of the roaring 110 C.I. V-Twin between my legs and the sun on my face, it would be nearly impossible to imagine a better way to spend a weekend.

Tourism Ontario knows just how rich this scenic area is with entertaining activities no matter what the season and they want to share them with you. Enter the Choose your Dream Ride contest for a package worth $5,000 where you and a friend can experience motorcycling, ATVing, boating or snowmobiling in the Muskoka or Rainbow Country area - including travel, dining and accommodation. No matter what your preference in motorsports or time of year to travel, Ontario has you covered.

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Touring Ontario: Muskoka and Rainbow Country