Winter Adventuring in the ‘Heart of Muskoka’

Outdoor adventurer Martin Lortz discovered plenty to see and do this winter in Ontario’s cottage country.

It’s well known that Bracebridge, Ontario is a bustling town throughout the warmer seasons. But what’s it like to visit ‘the heart of Muskoka’ in winter?

There are no shorts or flip-flops this time of year, but if outdoor adventure in the snowy season is what you’re after, Bracebridge is a fantastic playground to discover just a two-hour drive north of the GTA.

We had two days to take in as much as we could – and we were excited to get outdoors!

We started with a first for all in our group: ice climbing. One of the benefits of having a big chunk of the Canadian Shield in your backyard is that all the towering rock seeping moisture all year creates impressive ice formations, perfect for ice climbers of all levels. The good folks at LivOutside by the foot of the Bracebridge Falls are the local ice experts, and they offer guided ice climbing adventures in February and March.

A 45-minute drive leads us to the edge of a frozen lake, and a short hike from there to the base of an impressive wall of ice known as Blue Boy. Peter deMos, owner of LivOutside and our guide, set the ropes and provided how-to instructions. Being first-timers, progress started slowly as we figured out all the sharp points that would propel us upwards. Once in the groove, it is surprising how secure the ice climbing tools make you feel. The group consensus? “Fun! I’d do that again!”

We traded the crampons for snowshoes and headed out for adventure number two.

There are several snowshoeing opportunities near town to choose from. We decided on the Wilson’s Falls Trail just 10 minutes away, sold by the promise of trails meandering through a forested landscape along the Muskoka River and the rushing waters of Wilson’s Falls. The silence of the snow-covered forest was soul-soothing as we walked among the cedars by a river that, for the most part, is hidden beneath ice and snow. As for Wilson’s Falls? Frozen solid (not surprising with the recent cold spells).

Day Two brings sunshine and blue skies along with temperatures that dropped to negative double digits. Not a problem, as the day’s activity plan would keep us warm. Back at LivOutside, we made fit adjustments on some very interesting backcountry skis. Referred to as skin skis, they are designed to explore winter terrain. They are short, wide, and feature a large section of synthetic hair placed underfoot of the ski that allows the ski to move forward but not slip back.

All setup, we pushed off into the forest, which happens to be conveniently located just a few hundred meters from the shop. We shuffled uphill, eventually emerging at an open snowfield overlooking the town. While the view is appreciated, it’s not why we were here, and we turned our attention to the undulating terrain. We searched out every mini slope that allows gravity to take over and the skis to glide. The downhill runs are not long or fast, and most end with a face full of snow, but the smiles and laughter say it all, such a good time.

Next up – fat biking.

Thanks to the Muskoka Off-Road Cycling Association (MORCA) efforts, the mountain biking trails at the nearby Bracebridge Resource Management Center have become some of the best in the province. That effort continues into winter trail grooming and some of the best fat biking fun around. The cool temperature made for solid trails and easy riding. If you have experienced mountain biking here in the summer, you know that the terrain can be challenging; in the winter, the snow is the ultimate equalizer, filling in the rocks and bumps, allowing for a smooth, continuous ribbon of snow.

Despite the trail’s half-meter groomed width, staying within its confines is, for some reason, challenging for beginners. Judging by the body size divots along the trail, this learning curve is not uncommon. Luckily the surrounding snow makes for soft landings. Yes, we did leave a few imprints of our own!

Every adventure plan needs a base camp, and ours was at the Inn at the Falls.

Nestled on the banks of the Muskoka River in Bracebridge, the Inn dates back to 1870. We enjoyed the comfortable rooms and a cozy atmosphere. You can walk to nearby shops on Manitoba Street or follow the trail to the beautiful Muskoka River. After a day of adventure, we refueled the body at the recently-renovated Pub at the Falls, located at the lower level. Delicious food and an enjoyable atmosphere inside, and around the fire pits outside.

So – is Bracebridge, Muskoka, Ontario a winter adventure town? Absolutely! Fat bike, snowshoe, ski, ice climb and more – minus the shorts and flip-flops.

For more information on visiting Bracebridge, click here.

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

Guest Blogger: Martin Lortz
Martin is a freelance photographer and writer specializing in the outdoor lifestyle. Whether he is covering power sports or family-oriented pursuits, his passion for capturing the beauty of nature and the people who partake in it is evident in his work. His photos and articles have appeared in magazines such as Ski CanadaExploreBikeMountain LifeSnow Goer,Kayak Angler, and Family Camping.

All photos @MartinLortz