Lake Muskoka, Canada
It's been called "The Hamptons of Canada" but our experience on Lake Muskoka was more rustic backwoods retreat than a fancy vacay. And we like it that way.
On a map, the water that makes up Lake Muskoka seems to bleed into the land, as if the hundreds of tiny mini lakes that perforate the province of Ontario have combined together over the centuries to create one big lake. From the air, you can practically feel the fingers of water — small mirrored striations that interrupt the dense forests — stretching into an intricate hopscotch pattern so limitless, it seems inevitable that one day the land will simply give way again, dissolving everything in its path and blending into the nearby great lakes. So much water, everywhere.
From the ground, the water is just as omnipresent. Even driving to the grocery store in Bracebridge, the nearest town to the cottage where we stayed, we would glimpse pockets of water peeking out from unlikely places — from behind a grassy knoll or an abandoned shack in a farm field. At the small cottage where we stayed, the vastness of Lake Muskoka stretched out before us, its entirety obscured only by all the many small islands that dot the horizon. The pull of the lake was magnetic and constant, helped along only by the glimmer of sunlight rippling across the surface in the afternoon, or the eerie calls from unseen loons that circled the water at night.
Our time at the cottage was tranquil and easy, and we barely left the water's edge. Mornings were spent drinking coffee on the dock; afternoons, cruising the lake on an '80s-style inboard motorboat we came to call the Barbie. Dinners were filled with grilled cheeses cooked on a grill, and afterdark we'd sit around a campfire talking until late, fueled by glasses of whiskey and small tipplers of tequila. The end of the weekend, as is so often the case, there was the feeling that it was all over just a little too soon.
Several towns are nestled on the shores of Lake Muskoka: There's Gravenhurst to the south, Bracebridge to the east, Port Carling to the north, and Bala to the West — each with its own vibe and plenty of cottages to rent. No matter which area you're headed the drive north from Toronto should take just over two and a half hours. Muskoka also has its own regional airport servicing small jets and private planes, but if you're coming from the US, bare in mind customs at that airport closes at 5pm.