The pleasant waterside destination of Huntsville boasts beautiful landscapes, convenient amenities and a laidback, small-town feel – perfect for a relaxing getaway. With a strong arts scene, plenty of local history and outdoor adventures throughout the seasons, there really is something for everyone.
Downtown Huntsville, particularly Main Street East, has a good selection of independent boutiques and shops as well as a variety of restaurants, pubs and cafés and a small indoor shopping centre. The streets are enhanced by the Group of Seven’s beautiful ‘outdoor gallery’ consisting of ninety paintings displayed on the sides of buildings throughout town. Culture is a big part of this little town - many artists are inspired by the lovely scenery and there are many studios and galleries to browse. One of the town’s main attractions, The Muskoka Heritage Place, is within walking distance of downtown, and consists of a museum, pioneer village and the handsome Portage Flyer steam train. It gives an excellent insight into years gone by and the settlement of the area, with some fascinating, informative displays, demonstrations and events.
Perched between two lakes, with a river running through it, downtown Huntsville has some pretty waterside parks and a dock where you can hire canoes or boats to explore further afield. There are boat trips of all kinds available nearby: take a tour around Lake Vernon or Fairy Lake in town, charter a fishing boat, enjoy a three-course lunch while cruising past Millionaires Row on Lake Muskoka, or head to Dorset to pick up the beautifully restored historic wooden steamship SS Bigwin for a trip around the pristine Lake of Bays. The waterways are also the backdrop to many fantastic walking and biking trails from town, beside the local lakes and those through the nearby scenic provincial parks of Arrowhead and Algonquin.
Arrowhead Provincial Park is just a ten minute drive from downtown and boasts several quiet sandy beaches, with shallow waters for families to paddle in. There is plenty of space to explore with trails winding through forests, around lakes and beside waterfalls. Deer, moose, chipmunks, beavers and the occasional bear are just some of the wildlife you may encounter along your way. The Algonquin is a much larger park with a huge number of hiking and biking opportunities including some interpretive trails ranging from one to eleven kilometres which, when combined with their trail guide booklets, offer not only spectacular scenery but some fascinating facts and information. Algonquin is also suited to longer overnight backpacking trips for those who want to delve deeper into the wilderness, and day trips through the backcountry by canoe.
In the winter months, many of these beautiful trails are also accessible on snowshoe or cross-country skis. There are several skiing and snowboarding hills as well as plenty of winter activities to try such as dog sledding, sleigh rides, ice skating or simply sledging! Huntsville also warms the cold with the hugely entertaining Winter Comedy Carnival in February, which features plenty of winter sports events and activities such as skiing or igloo building, live performances, an ice bar, a roaring fire and tasty food.
From its vast and beautiful countryside to its charming boutiques, its sun-soaked waterways to its frozen waterfalls, Huntsville is an all-round holiday spot perfect for those who like their trips with a whole lot of outdoors and a sprinkling of culture.
Things to do
Top tips for visiting Huntsville
Top Tip 1
• Huntsville’s surrounding landscapes offer endless beautiful trails whatever time of year you visit. A good place to start is the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre which has some interesting historical exhibits, a great observation deck, and plenty of information and trail maps.
Top Tip 2
• Explore the town by walking the Group of Seven outdoor mural tour and see stunning works by Canadian artists such as Tom Thomson.
Top Tip 3
• During the winter months, one of the most magical things to do is ice skate the forest trail in Arrowhead Park at dusk when it is lit up by oil-burning torches. Enjoy the bonfire with a warming hot chocolate at the end. Get there early to avoid the car park queues.
Top Tip 4
• There is a good selection of gift and speciality shops downtown but for a shopping trip out of town, head down the road to Oxtongue Craft Cabin in Dwight for some unusual artwork, including garden sculptures, pottery and lovely handmade jewellery.
Top Tip 5
• Another place to visit out of town is Sugarbush Hill, the maple syrup farm, which is a fascinating place to tour. Expect warm, friendly hosts and some delicious maple products to try, including candy floss!
Top Tip 6
• Huntsville has four lakes connected by the Muskoka River, perfect for swimming, paddling, or getting out on the pristine water, from self-guided canoeing or boat trips to tours on larger vessels. Many of the lakes, such as Mayflower Lake in Arrowhead, prohibit motor boats so your surroundings remain beautifully tranquil.
Top Tip 7
• When the snow falls there are plenty of ways to enjoy the scenery, from cross country skiing and snowshoeing to horse drawn carriage rides. For a fun alternative, hire a ‘fat bike’ and experience the unusual sensation of riding along snow-covered trails or frozen lakes on these custom designed bicycles.
Top Tip 8
• For a different perspective on the spectacular landscapes, spend the day swinging high in the canopy at the huge aerial rope and zipline course just outside Huntsville and enjoy being immersed in the forest.
Top Tip 9
• Huntsville has a wide variety of restaurants, cafés, pubs and markets, from fresh coffee and pastries at Lucy’s Lunchbox or sweet delights at the Nutty Chocolatier, to authentic Italian food at That Little Place by the Lights. For a fine dining treat head to Spencer’s Tall Trees and sample some of his elegant, delicious dishes.