Must-Visit Ontario Boating Destinations for Spectacular Fall Colour

Don't get your boat ready for winter just yet—with calmer crowds and gorgeous colours, taking a fall boating trip in Ontario is a must.

With the official end to the summer season fast approaching, many people who love boating in Ontario are already thinking about winterizing their boats and putting them to bed for the winter. Labour Day traditionally marks the end of the busy boating season, but with waterways open until Thanksgiving weekend, some of most scenic boating in the province can be found in September and October.

I’m talking about fall colours. That short period where the lush green foliage of summer gives way to the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn. While many visitors tend to enjoy the sights from their cars, the real beauty of an Ontario fall is best experienced from the water. 

The kids are back in school, and while weekend traffic can still be substantial, most Ontario waterways are pretty quiet during the week. It’s the ideal time to hitch onto the boat and head out for a quiet day on the water.

Here are a few of my favorite places to enjoy the fall colours:

The serenity of cottage country, as experienced in Georgian Bay area—the perfect place for a final fall hurrah.

Port Severn / Georgian Bay

Any part of the Georgian Bay area is spectacular for enjoying the spectacular fall colours from your boat, but if had to narrow my pick down to just one spot, I’d pick Port Severn. It’s within easy reach of the big city, has plenty of accommodations and with the locks on the Trent-Severn Waterway open until 5pm on Thanksgiving (October 9th), you’ve got endless kilometres of connected waterways to explore. You can venture out into the main waters of Georgian Bay, or head east, further into the interior of the province. Regardless of your choice, you’ll be surrounded on all sides by the beauty of cottage country.

Where to Launch: There’s a public launch on Kelly Road, next to Rawley Resort, Spa & Marina. It’s not the easiest ramp to use, considering it's a giant slab of rock, but it is free. For less experienced boaters, there’s a great launch at Bush’s Marina, but you’ll have to pay.

Where to Stay: You’ve got several choices. There are some really nice resort properties in the area, but Christie’s Mill Inn & Spa would be my personal choice.

Where to Eat: There’s a waterfront restaurant on-site at Christie’s Mill, but my favorite eatery in town is next door at The Grill. Great views of the water from the patio or the restaurant and excellent food.

Muskoka Lakes / Cottage Country

Speaking of cottage country, it’s hard pressed to beat the Muskoka Lakes any time of the year. But in the heart of autumn, these three lakes provide an even more impressive vista. These lakes are still busy in the fall, especially on the weekends, but during the week, traffic drops and you can find some semblance of peace on this popular waterway. The shops and businesses of Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst are open, and if you need conveniences or a great place to spend the night Residence Inn by Marriott might be your spot.

For me, I’d head for Rosseau. It’s a much quieter area with a great launch ramp, small beach, and wonderful park area. It’s about 20 minutes east of Parry Sound, so the amenities aren’t as convenient. There is a marina, but for restaurant and accommodations, Parry Sound is your best bet.

Where to Launch: Lake Rosseau Boat Launch is easy to find and easier to use. It’s a great launch.

Where to Stay: Nearby Parry Sound has several affordable chain hotels right of the highway. The Super 8 is the closest to Lake Rosseau. 

Another option would be the Parry Sound KOA. They have tent-sites, yurts, and cabins available through the Thanksgiving weekend.

Where to Eat: Again, Parry Sound is your place. You’ve got all the major chain restaurants, fast food joints, and family restaurants you need.

Parry Sound in autumn is breathtaking, even more so when you experience it by boat. 
The red maples alone are worth the trip to Muskoka.

The North Channel / Manitoulin Island

There's no more scenic place in the province to boat than the North Channel, regardless of the season. It's further north than the other two destinations on our list, but worth the extra drive. The North Channel is considered by many to be one of the premier freshwater boating destinations in the world

With the sparkling blue waters of Lake Huron, the rugged shoreline of Manitoulin Island and countless square kilometers of dense forest, there's plenty of natural beauty to explore. In the peak of autumn, when all that forest changes colour, the vista is spectacular.

Where to Launch: Most of the communities along the North Shore have excellent marina facilities. My personal favorite is Blind River, with Little Current on Manitoulin Island coming in a close second.

Where to Stay: For a taste of island First Nations life—the hotel design was inspired by the First Nations people of the area—the Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre in Little Current is a great choice. The pool might be closed, but the view of the water from the dining room is worth the trip.

Where to Eat: The North 46 restaurant at the Manitoulin Hotel offers an upscale atmosphere with a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. For more casual fare, the Anchor Inn Hotel is located downtown and has excellent food.

There's a reason why so many photos of fall colours show reflections of the trees in the water. It makes for a more interesting and colourful photograph. Imagine being surrounded by those reflections as you venture out on calm water, undisturbed by other boaters. 

The waterways I listed in this article are popular, so it's unlikely you'll be alone, but with 250,000 other lakes to choose from in Ontario, you'll be able to find that perfect spot. 

Grab one of the many maps that show the most scenic driving routes in the province and hitch onto your boat. Find a lake along your chosen route, launch your boat and explore the beauty of an Ontario autumn from the water. There's no better way to see the natural beauty of our great province.

Imagine yourself boating through these reflections—it's not too late!
About Steve Sansford

Steve has spent most of his life in and around boats. His father was a marine mechanic and Steve studied Marine Navigation in college. He currently holds several Transport Canada navigation and safety ratings. His work has been published in Powerboating Canada magazine and various other online outlets. Check out his Instagram feed for updates on his latest adventures.

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