We took a Sightseeing Cruise aboard the 300-passenger Miss Midland and experienced the crystal clear and choppy waters, the pines and rocky grandeur of Muskoka-Georgian Bay's 30,000 islands. The cruise starts from Midland in Simcoe County, but covers a major portion in Muskoka waters, encircling Georgian Bay Islands National Park. A welcome part of the cruise was Karaoke session that we had where a number of passengers played to the background music of their favourite songs.
Another cruise that the same company offers is a 2 1/2 hour Fall Colour Tours on the Muskoka Trent-Severn Waterway departing from Port Severn, Ontario. This will be on our list for next year.
We visited the Welcome Centre at Lock 45 on the Trent Severn Waterway to learn more about Georgian Bay Islands National Park that we wanted to paddle our canoe and kayak to. The Centre has many exhibits showing the natural and cultural heritage of the national park as well as general information on such things as ‘invasive species’ in our eco-system.
Lock 45 is at the heart of two major transportation corridors: the Trent-Severn Waterway and Highway 400. The friendly staff assisted us with Park information, season’s passes and trip planning. It should be noted that the Welcome Centre serves not only the park but also Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site and Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site.
The Welcome Centre is open from mid-May to mid-October.
There are water taxis operating from Honey Harbour to take the passengers to the Georgian Bay Islands National Park.
When we reached Honey Harbour after battling a two hour traffic jam, it was already 1 pm and the village was bustling with tourists. Cottages and resorts dwellers were busy shopping and many tourists were sailing or motor boating and motor rafting off into the lakes. My son and husband thought of putting our canoe and kayak in the water but then looking at the large wakes by speed boaters decided not to head for the national park. Obviously, it was too late in the day to be paddling for the national park and coming back.
There is an interesting story about how the village was named. The most possible incident says that it was named on the eve of the summer solstice around June 22, in the mid 1800's at Georgian Bay's first outdoor marriage. Mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey, a European tradition in celebration of marriage dating back to the Celts, was being consumed in large quantities. After the ceremony the young couple was bold enough to name the location Honey Harbour. The young couple canoed across the channel naming it Honeymoon Channel, and then proceeded into Georgian Bay to the perfect bay to spend the night. It was named Honeymoon Bay on Beausoleil Island.
Port Severn is considered by boaters as the Gateways to Ontario's Lakes and rivers including Georgian Bay and the Historic Trent Severn Waterway in Ontario, Canada.
We stopped here for gathering information on the Georgian Bay Island National Park, which has its modest Visitor Centre located here. The staff has multiple duties and operates the Lock 45 also. The Lock operation interested us and so did the nearby village shops, restaurants and ice cream parlours.
The Trent-Severn Waterway has been called one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world. At 386 km long the canal is impressive. Originally used for commercial and military purposes the canal is now used exclusively for pleasure crafts connecting Lake Ontario at Trento to Lake Huron at Port Severn. Its natural waterways include The Trent, Severn and Otonabee Rivers, Kwartha lakes, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Couchiching. The canal begins at Trento, Ontario and apx 32 km of man-made channels. There are 45 locks in total, including 36 conventional locks, two sets of flight locks, hydraulic lift locks at Peterborough, Kirkfield and Swift Rapids and a marine railway at Big Chute which transports boats between the upper and lower sections of the Severn River. The highest point it reaches is at Balsam Lake which is also the highest point on Earth to which a vessel can be navigated from sea level.
We reached Muskoka district by exiting Highway 401 near Toronto for taking Highway 400 North to Barrie. Pass Barrie, we took Highway 11 North and then pass Orillia, we took the diversion for Highway 118 East. Then, we took Highway 35 for Dorset, which turned out to be the most beautiful and picturesque drive for Fall colours for us.
Highway 35 meanders through rolling hills, forests and lakes and is a two way road where the speed limit is 80km per hour for a very good reason. One is tempted to stop the car every now and then to enjoy the scenic views. All along this road, we had beautiful views, but the true colours of fall season came to limelight only when we climbed the Scenic Lookout Tower at Dorset.
This is a moderate 2.3 km circular trail around the Lookout Tower to view 800 sq. km’s of area adjacent to it. This is good for people afraid of heights and are unable to climb up the tower. Although the crowd made taking pictures somewhat difficult, the presence of same was refreshing in a way.
Part of the lower portion of the trail system toward Dorset was created with the aide of the many resident deer who feed below during the winter months. The Trail base starts across from the the Dorset school and again close to Hwy 35.
We reached Dorset on Highway 35 and had to wait in our car for about 45 minutes to be allowed entry to the ridge top where the legendary and very popular Scenic Lookout Tower is located. The number of cars entering the park is regulated due to limited parking space on the top of the ridge. The ticket is a paltry $ 5 per car, but you can park the car at the parking lot next to the entrance and walk up. This will cost you nominal $2.00 only.
Climbing the tower itself turned out to be difficult on account of two reasons: 1. It was very steep and 2. It being a long Thanksgiving weekend, was crowded with tourists like us.
The tower offered panoramic views of the Muskoka and Haliburton regions. I will let the pictures speak.
The original tower was constructed in 1922 as part of a network to help protect valuable stands of timber from forest fires. The small cabin used by towermen as a temporary home is still on site. The tower is now owned and maintained by the Corporation of the Township of Algonquin Highlands and it is estimated that well over 60,000 vehicles access the site annually.
Much of the coast line (including the large islands of Browning and Ileen Gowan) is privately owned. If you are a visitor to Canada and find yourself in the Muskokas you are probably a guest in one of the many cottages.
When family members from Italy visit they always look forward to pleasant weekends on the lake.
New boat slips have been built at the wharf to accomodate the various crafts that frequent the lakes, including the cruise steamship Segwun.
From downtown Gravenhurst, it is a 5 minute drive to the wharf. The Muskoka Wharf area is under reconstruction and should be fully open to the public by the summer (2005).
Boating is the main mode of transportation in the lakes. Many of the cottages are on islands and are only accessible by boat in the summer and snowmobile in the winter months.