Fall’s Hidden Gems: Unique Attractions in Ontario’s Cottage Country

Tucked away on side streets and down country roads, or sometimes hidden in plain sight, there are plenty of neat spots to discover all over the great Canadian wilderness.  This fall, when you head to Ontario’s cottage country to take in the spectacular autumn colours, venture off the beaten path and check out something new too.

Gypsy Market Mews

Photo shows Gypsy Market Mews entrance.

Able to boast of some of the finest preserved history in the province (including the famous Muskoka Steamships), the town of Gravenhurst is a-buzz with some cool new stops as well. Tucked behind North Market Café on Muskoka Road South, the Gypsy Market Mews is an antique store you’ll want to take your time in. Themed display rooms are filled to the brim with vintage and retro finds, up-cycled antiques, original Canadian art, collectibles and home décor – so much to look at that you’ll want to plan for a leisurely browse.

tea beardsUp the street (and to the left in the photo from their Facebook page) you’ll find Tea Beards: Part classic barber shop, part tea café, part try-before-you-buy games room, this one-of-a-kind shop features poetry slams, Dungeons & Dragons nights, and vinyl spinning on the turntable at all times. Totally ‘Ahsome’!

A short drive to the east of Gravenhurst you’ll find The Tree Museum, an outdoor gallery with installations that change over time with exposure to wind, rain, snow and sun. Bring good walking shoes – the first installation is a kilometre from where you’ll park your car – and be prepared to revel in the power and beauty of nature. If you’re keen to stay in the car, consider a tour of the Ryde Barn Quilt Trail just a little further east.

Heading north to Bracebridge you’ll find the Griffin Gastropub at the top of Chancery Lane off main street. This cosy spot packs a big punch with its incredible food, the fine selection of craft beers available, and a vibrant live music scene. Owned and operated by the presenters of the popular Session Toronto and Session Muskoka beer events, if you’re a “beer gourmet” you’ll want to check out their home base this fall (and taste all the great seasonal ales).

West across Highway 118 and into Muskoka Lakes township you’ll find Bala’s Museum, featuring ‘Memories of Lucy Maud Montgomery.’ The museum was inspired by recollections of L.M. Montgomery on her summer holiday in Bala in 1922, which inspired her great work, The Blue Castle. (Don’t miss the annual Cran-Anne Look-Alike-Contest on October 17, celebrating Anne of Green Gables and the cranberries Bala is famous for…same weekend as the Bala Cranberry Festival.


Photo shows Lucy Maud Montgomery at Roselawn Lodge in Bala in 1922

In Huntsville, Muskoka you’ll find an incredible testament to love – one that will evoke some powerful emotions. Tucked away in the woods, the Dyer Memorial is a beautiful, towering stone monument commissioned in 1956 by Detroit-based lawyer Clifton Dyer in memory of his beloved wife, Betsy. The ashes of both are interred at the top of the monument, and the site is now a heritage spot stewarded by the Muskoka Conservancy.  Surrounded by stunning natural landscape, a trip to the Dyer Memorial provides a quiet, contemplative place to ponder the nature of love and life. (A great spot for a date too!)

dyer memorial arrowhead provincial park blog

Photo of the Dyer Memorial from the Arrowhead Provincial Park Blog posted on June 4, 2009

For more natural beauty, head east of Huntsville to the Limberlost Forest Reserve where you can enjoy a network of well-maintained hiking trails that are high on stunning scenery and low on crowds.

In Lake of Bays to the east of Huntsville, the Oxtongue Craft Cabin and Gallery (featured in the header photo) is housed in a quaint log cabin off Highway 35, and showcases fine crafts and original art by more than 100 Canadian artists and artisans. On the way there, stop in at Portevino Wine Bar, above The Bush Company Bar and Grill, to sample from a selection of 110 wines and a delectable menu that changes by the week.

The Almaguin Highlands just north of Muskoka is home to one of the most unique outdoor art installations around. More than 100 larger-than-life sculptures – locally known as the Screaming Heads – grace a vast property to the west of picturesque Burk’s Falls. They get a different reaction from everyone who visits – some describe it as eerie, others say it’s just plain cool – but the heads are a spot you’ll definitely be telling friends and family about when you return home.

screaming heads 2

Photo show the Screaming Heads

Also in Burk’s Falls, the spiritually-inclined will not want to miss visiting the Circling Hawks Centre and its sundry items to help you along your journey, including an outdoor meditation labyrinth, a gratitude wall to affix a prayer flag to, drums of all sizes, crystals, jewellery, books and more. A spot that’s good for the soul.

Head west on Highway 518 toward Parry Soundwhere the heavenly scents from Orrville Bakery Barista will stop you along the way. The butter tarts alone are reason enough to pull over, but you’ll also find a tantalizing selection of baked goods and fresh-brewed coffee. In Parry Sound, don’t miss the G’zaagin Art Gallerywhich showcases traditional and contemporary Native art like quill boxes, beaded jewellery, carved antlers, and leather moccasins at their downtown location. And while waiting for the hockey season to start, consider a visit to the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame at the Parry Sound harbour.

And perhaps the greatest hidden gem this region?  The entire Loring-Restoule area, west of Powassan and south of Lake Nippissing along Highway 522. Lovingly referred to as “the P.E.I. of Explorers’ Edge,”  this “Golden Valley” is one of the most beautiful spots in Ontario – in any season. Head off the grid a bit as nature intended, and discover for yourself how stunning it is, and why it’s a particular favourite for Fall Drive fans.

Loring Restoule

Photo by Stonethrow Pottery shows the view from their studio in Loring-Restoule

This fall, head out and discover some hidden gems in the great Canadian wilderness just north of Toronto.  See the fall spectacular colours, and make some unforgettable stops along the way.

To plan your stay in the great Canadian wilderness this fall, click here.

Got some more hidden gems to recommend in our region? Email [email protected].

Feature photo shows the Oxtongue Craft Cabin & Gallery.


PhotoGuest Blogger: Dawn Huddlestone
Dawn Huddlestone is a freelance writer, as-yet-unpublished novelist, and wannabe photographer. She’s living the dream in Muskoka with her family and a growing zoo of pets. 

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