Bizarre is the only word thats top of mind with this winter’s weather patterns in Muskoka.  In late November I was still boating, top down, in a t-shirt.  December we got walloped in a 48 hour period and it was as picturesque as a snow globe. January started on a chillier edge but between a totally unexpected overabundance of sunshine followed by drizzle – on repeat – I can’t even begin to tell you what it’s like to attempt to maneuver your way around the area, other than ice roads.  4 ft of snow melts to a wet mush by sunny day, and then freezes with a blast of cold overnight on repeat for 2 weeks straight; 6/10 snow days for the kiddies since being back at it after the holidays!  It’s impossible to walk, forget about drive; at one extreme it’s the bumpiest snow-holed filled ride of your life, at the other its a skating rink!

As we not-so-patiently-wait for the lakes to build up enough ice to be safe to go out on, and the sled trails in south Muskoka to open, we’ve been knocking other winter activities off the roster.  Last weekend we had the most incredible day that we encourage every single one of you to make a point of doing this winter.  It’s the PERFECT day trip from where ever you may live and an incredible way to experience how wonderful Muskoka is in the winter.

That’s right … that’s me mulled wine in hand, on the 1.2km skating trail at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh outside of Bala, ON.  If you’re not familiar with the Cranberry Marsh at it’s commonly called, you clearly need to add ‘blueberry hill tour’ to your summer to do list or  ‘bog to bottle tour’ to the fall equivalent.   Every time we go we are blown away by what this family-run establishment has got in their line up … ridiculously fun would be an understatement!  By winter, their Cranboni (= Cranberry + Zamboni) creates this ice skating trail around the South Marsh.

Let me be the first to say you’ll be thankful for the benches cleverly staked at the quarter-mark points on your first spin!   I swear it was my skates, not my cardio finesse 🙂

Proud to report by the fourth go around I did it without a bench break but was pleasantly surprised by the length of the track (read I was hauling ass to attempt to catch up with my speedy husband and dad who skated again for the first time in 26 years after 2 bouts of cancer and 1 X heart surgery?!); my calculations say 15 minutes to do the trail.

We got a bluebird day (which will likely be hard for you to time perfectly), but rest assured it’s still worth the trek because its SUPER easy to make a perfect day trip by tacking on a few other amazing stops.  Here’s what I suggest:

First, factor in the south marsh loses sun earlier in the day with the towering trees along one side.  If the snows flying your timing factor is irrelevant, but should you see the sun when you wake up, know your optimum skating hours are just past noon ie mid-day.

Day tripping or not, don’t stop for breakfast until you get to Gravenhurst.

  • If it’s a weekday get off Hwy 11 and head straight to the Station (in the old train station) and get Kylie or Flor to whip you up their amazing waffles or breakfast sandwich and my fav, a caramel latte.

  • If it’s a weekend pass through town and out towards Bala immediately.  10 minutes farther and you’ll find Creative Plate Eatery where Connie serves up a mean weekend brunch (10am -2pm)

Once you’re fueled up head continue onto the Marsh and before unloading your gear or suiting up, head straight into the bustle of the store.

  • Sample the jams and jellies
  • Decide whether you prefer a mulled wine or cranberry cider to get into the groove
  • Choose whether you want to ice skate or do 1/3 snowshoe trails
  • Get in the line and order up both your trail pass ($5 for a 1 time, or $15 for the ENTIRE winter!!) and anything you said yes to on the list above
  • Head back on to the car,  suit up and head out!

Once you’ve had enough, enjoy the comfort of your boots around any of the outdoor roaring fire pits – and decide whether a cheese plate or wine tasting next suits your mood.  Either way, I guarantee you’ll easily busy yourselves through 3-4pm at the Marsh.  When you decide to call it a day and get back in the car, you’ll start to feel the effects of fresh air and 5 minutes in, you’ll need more fuel.

Stop in to Bala on your way home.

On the ride side of Hwy 169 to Gravenhurst, just after you pass the police station, is Cottage Cravings.  Forewarning: it’s currently masked by ginormous snowbanks so be on the lookout for the green plaza which it’s in – easy to miss.

Now for those that know me, you know my winter jam is …


Correct … as Muskoka’s hot chocolate connoisseur this is where its at!!

My fav: white caramel choc (busted: I love caramel everything!)  Drinks aside, Henny and her posse make some mean soup and sandwiches – squint you’ll make it clear 🙂 

You seriously don’t want to miss out on any of this yumminess, and it’s a perfect way to casually round out the best day trip idea you’ve ever had.  Better yet, open their freezer and stock up on whatever you think you might like for dinner because I guarantee between the fresh air, laughs, smiling and driving you won’t possibly have any energy left to do anything other than curl up on the couch and relive your day via selfies and video you took as these two did on either end 🙂

Friends, family, food, drink, fresh air, activity, Muskoka …. see a theme?!  Tell them we sent you and be sure to take photos so you don’t forget how much fun this day was (tag @coffeestationcafe @creativeplate14 @cottagecravings @ johnstons_cranberries) #supportlocal #gravenhurstproud #bala #muskoka

PS No skates or snow shoes, no problem: rentals on site.  Enjoy!