We all need time away from the hectic pace of our busy lives to feel refreshed and recharged. While I love to travel, big vacations require a lot of planning and usually come with a hefty price tag. And if you’re anything like me, you try to cram so much sightseeing into such a short amount of time that your whirlwind trip can leave you feeling in need of another vacation. Sometimes a quick, local getaway is the best and easiest way to unwind.
Last week, I spent four days at a rented cottage in the beautiful Muskoka region of Ontario. I’ve visited this region countless times, but generally during the summer. Visiting in late September was a completely different experience. It was so quiet and peaceful, without the throngs of tourists typical of July and August. Every morning, we woke to the sight of mist rising off the lake. We spent our days canoeing and hiking. Evenings were passed curled up around the fire (and playing Trivial Pursuit, which we found in some old dusty cabinet. Turns out I’m terrible at Trivial Pursuit).
We arrived in Muskoka just a few days shy of the peak autumn colour change in the trees. The leaves were absolutely spectacular; blazing shades of yellow, red, and orange. With easy access to two provincial parks, there were tons of opportunities for reconnecting with the outdoors and taking in all the glorious beauty that fall has to offer.
Algonquin Provincial Park
I spent many childhood summers camping at Algonquin, and it’s a place I will never tire of. There are several excellent hiking trails ranging from easy (as in, a boardwalk) to difficult (steep climbs, rugged, lots of wheezing) and a vast network of lakes and rivers to be explored by canoe. Just driving through the park along Highway 60 provides beautiful vistas of shining lakes and forested hills, and lots of chances to spot wildlife. If you’re lucky. We weren’t. The biggest thing we saw was a squirrel. For a short hike that offers a great autumn view, I recommend the Hardwood Lookout trail. Minimum effort, maximum payoff.
Oxtongue River – Ragged Falls Provincial Park
Until last week, I’d never been to the Oxtongue River – Ragged Falls park, which is located just outside of the west end of Algonquin. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it is – the falls have actually been named one of the top 10 waterfalls in Ontario. I got to see the falls twice last week. The first time was by canoe, when we paddled up the Oxtongue River from the cottage to the base of the waterfall. We spent about half an hour clambering on the rocks at the bottom before deciding it was impossible to reach the top that way. Later that afternoon, we returned to the park by car. A short, easy trail leads to amazing views of the thundering waterfall below. It’s no Niagara Falls, but it’s still pretty awesome when you stop and think about the sheer amount of water gushing over that cliff. In the words of my dad, “24/7. 365.”
For me, the best part of the entire trip was just the limitless amount of time. When you’re living the cottage life, the days seem to pass more slowly. There’s time to read. Time to think. Time to gaze at the stars. Time to just be.
For more information about the parks we visited, check out the Ontario Parks website at www.ontarioparks.com.