Muskoka; Wood, Water & Wheels

Story by Tim Shamess// Photos by Tim Shamess
September 1 2007

Motorcycle tour of Muskoka There is something almost spiritual when two hands, weathered by years of hard work, are able to put tools to wood and turn rough hewn lumber into a boat worthy of display in any art gallery; its piano-like finish and deep mahogany glow shimmering in the sun. These works of art are even more at home plying the lakes and rivers of Muskoka. Muskoka’s spiritual pull draws both the boat aficionado and the motorcyclist alike, urging exploration. Readily accessible from Southern and Northern Ontario, there are plenty of routes and areas to begin to explore.

Living close to the area, I have an unfair advantage over most people. I am able to travel many of the roads in the area on a regular basis. A favourite route of mine begins at Highway 518, south of Parry Sound. Highway 518 is the remnants of a former colonization road and as you twist and turn, you catch glimpses of its past; abandoned farmland, now overgrown, homesteads that once kept families sheltered and warm, peak through the trees.

Highway 518 is presently seeing some major re-construction and while progress is necessary, I do find it a little sad, as the road is slowly being straightened and leveled. The road does suffer from frost heaves and damaged pavement, but is still a fun road. Keep the re-construction in mind, there will be some loose gravel that may jump out and bite you.

At the village of Orrville, 518 continues on through the villages of Bear Lake and Sprucedale eventually ending at Highway 11. The route through to Highway 11 is a very fun road to travel, with plenty of tight turns and hairpins. At one point the road even bends around a barn right at the edge of the road. Again, bear in mind the frost heaves and rough pavement.

Just before Orrville on 518, however, a right turn onto TallyHo/Swords Road will provide more twists and turns through some farmland and some forested areas. The road snakes all the way to Highway 141 and provides some nice sweepers, but again there is some rough pavement to watch out for.

At Highway 141, a left turn will bring you through a few nice smooth sweepers and into the village of Rosseau. Highway 141 has just seen a major re-construction effort and is very smooth and nice to travel. However, as you enter Rosseau, the speed limit drops to 50 km/h and is a community safety zone. Behave yourself or a slap in the wallet from the local constabulary will be yours.

In Rosseau a visit to the local general store will give you a glimpse of the colourful past of the area. The floors creak under foot; there are old photos and memorabilia on the walls. It is hard to believe that once upon a time this small town was once the gateway to the west. More importantly, there is the ice cream shop next door; I highly recommend the butter pecan flavour blast, in a waffle cone, of course!

Rosseau’s waterfront has been completely revitalized and if you have your swim trunks in the saddle bag you can take a nice dip. There are washrooms and change areas, as well as a playground for any young passengers to enjoy.

Highway 141 east of Rosseau provides some of the most scenic areas on the route as the highway runs right along the shore of Lake Rosseau. There is a series of hairpin turns that are determined by the lake on one side and the other side of the road is a shear rock face left from the days when the glaciers carved out this region. There is no room for error, miss a turn and you are either into the lake or into the rock. The turns are well posted with signs so there is no excuse to come in like a hotshot and miss a curve. Further along 141 more hairpins (again all are well marked) will keep the footpegs dragging and the heart thumping as you climb out of a small valley.

At Dee Bank Road a right turn will take you through more farm country, a few more hairpins and into the village of Windemere. Dee Bank Road underwent some re-construction a couple of years ago and remains nice and smooth. As you crest the hill and look out onto Lake Rosseau you will understand the appeal that this area has. I always seem to stop here and sit on the dock for a few moments.

You can’t help but notice the grand lady of the lake; Windemere House. Windemere House is one of the grand hotels Muskoka is famous for. Her red roof and bright white paint, dress her like the lady she is. A phoenix in her own right, Windemere House caught fire while a film crew was filming the movie, A Long Kiss Goodnight. In a mere 10 months, she was rebuilt to her former glory with all the necessary modern amenities added.

As you leave Windemere, stay right and take Muskoka Road 4 to Muskoka Road 25/Brackenrig Road. As you crest a hill, Brackenrig Road will appear, it can sneak up on you and often there is loose gravel. Be careful. Brackenrig Road snakes its way along the southern most tip of Lake Rosseau. There are some nice tight curves and the lake will peak through the trees at you. Be advised there are a lot of hidden driveways on this road.

Brackenrig Road ends at Highway 118, a right turn will bring you through a really nice decreasing radius S-bend and into Port Carling. Port Carling has a nice park right downtown at the locks between Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka. There is a museum there that you can learn some of the local history and the rich boat-building heritage of the area. Across the street there is a huge mural of The Segwun, one of the classic steamships that ply the lakes. The mural, on the side of the Duke Boats building, is worth a closer look; it is made up of historical photos and is really very cool. Duke Boats is one of the many classic boat builders in the area and a peak in the window may provide a glimpse of one of their world-famous boats.

As you head west out of Port Carling, watch for Peninsula Road and make a right turn onto it. Peninsula Road will bring you into Port Sandfield; another one of those spots where I like to stop and sit on the dock for a few moments. There are some public washrooms and a small park on the water.

Peninsula Road turns into Highway 632 and snakes itself along the shores of both Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph. At the Minett corner store, turn onto Juddhaven Road for a short side trip down a nice tree shrouded road that will bring you to another grand lady of the lake; Cleveland’s House. Definitely worth the short side jaunt.

Highway 632 is a smooth tar and chip surfaced road that twists and turns its way back to Rosseau. There are a few well-marked bumps to watch for, but pose no threat. There are some fantastic decreasing radius turns as you near Rosseau that may sneak up on you so watch for the sign to reduce your speed to 50 km/h. Be advised that there is often wildlife along 632, every time I have been on this road I have seen a deer or a bear. There is a short single-lane bridge to cross before you enter Rosseau, so beware of on-coming traffic.

Highway 632 ends at Highway 141 in Rosseau, if you missed the ice cream shop beside the General Store earlier, make a right turn and the ice cream shop is just up the road.

What better way to spend a day than to ride on the twisty roads and see some of the amazing scenery that the Muskoka region has to offer.

A few more recommended roads

The Muskoka area has plenty of scenic and challenging roads to offer the explorer. Here are few other roads that are worth the trip while you are in the region.

Bala Road 38 runs from Highway 400 to Bala on Highway 169. It’s a smooth road with some nice sweepers running through the Wahta Mohawk Territory. Traffic is generally light on this stretch of road.

Southwood Road 13 exits from Highway 11 just North of Severn Bridge. This is a very narrow and tight road and the turns on it are very technical. There is no room for error. Be especially careful in the spring as there is often left-over sand from winter road maintenance. This road twists and turns its way around rock outcrops and through forested areas leaving many blind tight corners. A very interesting area is Torrance Barrens Provincial Conservation Reserve. This area is strewn with twisted, gnarled trees and will make you will feel as if you are in another world.

Muskoka Road 3/Aspdin Road runs between Huntsville and Rosseau and provides a tree-shrouded route that was recently resurfaced. Watch for wildlife trying to sneak across the road as this is another route I often see animals on. The road runs right into downtown Huntsville where a Tim Horton’s awaits.

Muskoka Road 2 runs between Huntsville and Baysville, it’s a bit rough but well worth the time it takes to ride it.

Highway 117 between Highway 11 and Dorset is a nice twisty route skirting the Lake of Bays. It runs through thick maple forests and is a favourite route for bikers during the fall when the colours are at their peak. At Dorset, it’s well worth a visit to the Fiery Grill for some of the best suicide wings I’ve ever sampled. No worries for the less adventurous, there are other selections on the menu.


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