Snowmobiling Ontario's Cottage Country

What goes on at the cottage over the winter? If you're a sledder you know that the call to get away from it all can be answered any time of year.

With 250,00 lakes within its boundaries, Ontario is an almost limitless freshwater playground. To take advantage of the recreational opportunities, tens of thousands of urbanites flock to “cottage country” for summer weekends and holidays. But that’s not the only season they show their affinity for the great outdoors. When Old Man Winter arrives, Ontario cottage country becomes a snowmobilers’ paradise.

While there are many cottaging areas throughout the province, the big three are located in Central Ontario, a two to three-hour drive north of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Muskoka, Haliburton, and the Kawarthas comprise what many Ontarians mean when they say they're headed to "cottage country." So on any given winter’s day, it’s easy to spot vehicles on northbound highways towing snowmobile trailers to these snowy destinations. 

Why Cottage Country makes for a great snow-cation

There are good reasons riders like snowmobiling Ontario’s cottage country. One is certainly its proximity to Southern Ontario’s major populations along the 401 corridor. This makes much of cottage country great for day-riding or weekend getaways. Another reason is that there is good access from main highways like the 400 & 11 (Muskoka), and 115/35 (Haliburton & the Kawarthas).

Then there’s the peace of mind of travelling to a familiar destination—frequenting the same routes, pit stops, and communities familiar from the summer. Plus, cottage country provides many good lodging, restaurant, and service choices that cater to snowmobilers in winter just as enthusiastically as they do to cottagers, ATVers, and motorcyclists in the summer. What’s more: these three cottage country regions are connected by snowmobile trail for anyone whose ambition is up to the challenge. Best of all, during a typical winter, much of cottage country benefits from lake effect snow off the Great Lakes.

This is as bad as cottage country traffic gets in winter months

When it comes to snowmobiling, Muskoka, Haliburton, and the Kawarthas share many attributes. Although each is famous for its lakes, the mostly land-based snowmobile trails employ the waterways mainly as scenery, not for travel. Visiting riders can get around easily in each region, crossing little, if any, ice—if that’s their preference.

From the main Kawartha Lakes north, these regions mark the start of the Canadian Shield, where the forested terrain gets more rugged and rocky than it is in areas further the south. This topography makes for an interesting variety of snowmobile trails. Finally, each region has strong local snowmobile clubs, is well signed, and shows its trails on both a paper snowmobile trail guide and the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide.

Sledding the hills of Muskoka

Snowmobiling in Muskoka

The Muskoka Snowmobile Region (MSR), formerly OFSC District 7, is located in the Explorers’ Edge Tourism Region. MSR comprises nine snowmobile clubs that operate 1,200 kilometres of OFSC trails that connect to Haliburton in the east. The region also provides handy Park ‘n’ Ride locations for day riders. These trails connect towns such as Bala, Baysville, Bracebridge, Dorset (one Park ‘n’ Ride location south of town), Dwight, Gravenhurst (two Park ‘n’ Ride locations), Huntsville (one Park ‘n’ Ride location west of town), Port Carling, and Port Sydney (one Park ‘n’ Ride location southwest of town). Other Park ‘n’ Ride locations are at Emsdale and Port Severn.

Muskoka offers two OFSC-promoted Snow Tours, the 125-kilometre Muskoka Magic around Lake Muskoka and the 200-kilometre Lake of Bays Watch, which circles that lake. Besides being a great destination itself, Muskoka is also the western side of the popular RAP (Round Algonquin Park) Tour.

Exploring the trails in Haliburton County

Haliburton Country Snowmobiling

The Haliburton County Snowmobile Association (HCSA) is part of the Snow Country Snowmobile Region (formerly OFSC District 6) and operates 370 kilometres of OFSC trails. They run between Kinmount and Algonquin Park and include the only motorized trail through the Park, which is also the southern-most trail of the RAP Tour. Their trails also crisscross the Haliburton HIghlands, so called because they are the highest part of the Canadian Shield in cottage country.

Snowmobile bridge crossing in Minden, Ontario. Photo: Craig Nicholson

The spine of the HCSA system is TOP Trail B013, the north-south rail trail that runs from Lindsay in the Kawarthas north to the Village of Haliburton. Here, there’s a good Park ‘n’ Ride location at the old railway station beside Head Lake. The other main population centre in the region is Minden, accessible by TOP Trail B112. For snowmobilers looking for something different, the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve offers 300 kilometres of reservation-required private snowmobile trails from its base camp at Kennisis Lake. Learn about snowmobiling the Haliburton Forest here. Haliburton is part of the very snowmobile-friendly Ontario Highlands Tourism Region.

Fun times on OFSC trails in Ontario's Kawarthas. Photo: Nadine Nicholas

Snowmobiling in the Kawarthas

The Kawarthas are the most easterly section of cottage country and part of the Kawarthas Northumberland Tourism Region. Located just north of Peterborough and Lindsay, riding the Kawarthas also includes snowmobile-friendly towns like Apsley, Havelock, and Fenelon Falls. Within this region and north of it, the main chain of Kawartha lakes, the Central Eastern Area Snowmobile Region (formerly OFSC District 2) operates about 1,000 kilometres of OFSC trails. This system connects to the Haliburton trails to the north and also includes 28 convenient Park ‘n’ Ride locations. In addition, it includes two OFSC-promoted snow tours—the 138-kilometre Kawartha Highlands Tour and the 243-kilometre Hastings Highland Tour.

As you see, there’s plenty of remarkable trail riding available when you snowmobile Ontario’s cottage country. Don’t put your love of cottage country away for the winter just yet—instead, find out what the snowy season in some of your favourite areas has to offer. With many options to choose from, you can start planning your next sledding adventure there today. 

About Craig Nicholson—The Intrepid Snowmobiler

Popularly known as The Intrepid Snowmobiler, Craig Nicholson is an International Snowmobile Hall of Fame journalist who specializes in recreational snowmobiling activities. Craig has snowmobiled in every region of Canada and many states. His one-of-a-kind tour book, “Canada’s Best Snowmobiling – The Ultimate Ride Guide”, chronicles his adventures, as does his website and Facebook page.

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