By Claudia Larouche
Muskoka is famous for its pristine lakes and unforgettable summer memories. It’s also one of those places in Canada that becomes a winter wonderland once the snow flies, and its intimate and small-town feeling makes Muskoka a dream destination to witness and experience the magic of Christmas.
To help you plan your festive fun, here’s our list of the top things to see and do in Muskoka over the holiday season.
1. Muskoka Heritage Place – Portage Flyer Christmas
Get into the Holiday spirit right from the start at Muskoka Heritage Place in Huntsville with its Portage Flyer Christmas. This memorable train ride will take you along the Muskoka River and bring you to your final destination at Fairy Lake where Santa will greet you. The train coaches have a thousand lights making the ride even more magical.
Each train ride takes about 20 minutes in open air carriages, so dress warmly! Once you’ve told Santa you’ve been nice (not naughty), warm up with some hot chocolate and cookies, and sing one or two carols. Muskoka Heritage Place is Huntsville’s leading historic attraction, and in addition to the train ride is also the home of two museums and18 authentic pioneer buildings located on a 90 acre site.
For details, visit www.muskokaheritageplace.org/en/
2. Santa’s Village – SantaFest
Celebrate the return of Santa at SantaFest! He’s a very busy guy this time of year, but always has time to ignite the magic of Christmas at his traditional summer retreat in Santa’s Village in Bracebridge. SantaFest includes a spectacular light display in the natural beauty of the 60-acre theme park. Of course, Santa’s winter favourites also include gingerbread cookie decorating, marshmallow roasting, Christmas ornament making, writing letters to Santa, face painting and a petting farm.
SantaFest is hosted at Santa’s Village, a tourist attraction established in 1965 that just so happens to be located halfway between the equator and the North Pole on the 45th parallel. It’s definitively worth dressing the kids up for. Afterwards, be sure to take a stroll along Manitoba Street in downtown Bracebridge with all its great shopping and dining opportunities.
Learn more at www.santasvillage.ca
3. Hidden Valley Resort – Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade
Nestled along the shoreline of Peninsula Lake near Huntsville, Hidden Valley Resort is the only lakeside and skiside resort in Muskoka. It’s basically the best of both worlds all year long.
At Hidden Valley, Christmas is celebrated in no small way. The Holiday season kickstarts with the longest running tradition in Muskoka – the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade. The evening begins with hot chocolate, goodies and Christmas music before the Snow School and Ski Patrollers light up the slopes with coloured torches as they descend the hill. And even though he’ll be quite busy, Santa’s expected to put in an appearance and test the slopes.
Ringing in early enough for youngsters to participate, the Muskoka Ski Club hosts a spectacular fireworks show and live music on New Year’s Eve, an always fun event after a day of skiing.
Visit their website at www.skihiddenvalley.ca for further details.
4. Gravenhurst Opera House
For the lover of arts and culture in you, the Gravenhurst Opera House offers excellent theatre and music shows throughout the year, and their All-Canadian New Year's Eve celebration promises to be a fitting conclusion to a great season. Highlights include performances by award-winning musicians, along with a great dinner and show package.
For tickets and details, visit their website at www.gravenhurst.ca/en/opera/opera.asp
5. Muskoka’s Craft Breweries and Winery
Ahhh… beer! Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge is the oldest craft brewery in the region and sells its well-known Mad Tom IPA and Cream Ale on-site and through area LCBOs. Over in Baysville, Lake of Bays Brewing Co has been pumping out excellent brews since 2010, and was recently named one of the top 11 breweries in Canada by the Huffington Post. In addition to its fine beers (also available at LCBO locations), the brewery’s onsite gift shop sells a variety of related item perfect for Christmas gifts.
Sawdust City Brewing Co operates out of Gravenhurst is a cozy, cottage style brewery offering a variety of fun weekly events, including a Trivia night on Tuesdays and live music on Saturdays, and a well-stocked retail outlet. The brewery will host a New Year’s Eve party on December 31st with live music.
And let’s not forget Muskoka Lakes Winery. Located in the picturesque town of Bala and encompassing one of Ontario’s largest cranberry marshes, a winter visit entails tasting its various fruit wines, sampling its famous cranberry wine, purchasing homemade cranberry goodies, as well as skating, snowshoeing (rentals available) and enjoying hot mulled wine and cider around a bonfire.
Claudia Larouche is a Muskoka-based writer and translator who offers digital solutions through her business, www.fitstylecreative.net