If you are thinking about buying a cottage in Ontario, there’s one area that sits in a class of its own. The District Municipality of Muskoka or just Muskoka is the crown jewel of cottage real estate in Canada. It was the #1 most searched vacation rental destination in Canada, in 2017 according to Daily Hive, and was ranked #1 for the best trips of 2011 by National Geographic.
Located just two hours north of Toronto, Muskoka spans 6,475 km2 and sees more than 2.1 million visitors annually. The region is bordered on the west by Georgian Bay, runs east to the westernmost edge of Algonquin Park. Lake Couchiching marks the southern border, and you’ll find the aptly named Border Road is commonly noted to be the Northern edge.
A playground for the whos-who, here you’ll find a section of Lake St. Joseph called Billionaires row. You’ll also find heads of industry, Hollywood celebs, sports stars, tech millionaires and others from around the GTA, across Canada and the US who sing Muskoka’s praises. That being said, there are still some areas that are within reach for those who live a more modest* life. All told, if you can afford the real estate, the Muskoka region is worth the price of admission.
Muskoka is made up of many communities including Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Penetang, Midland, Port Severn, Honey Harbor, Lake of Bays, Huntsville, Port Sydney, Hidden Valley, Bala, Port Carling, MacTier and so many more – each one offering something slightly different for those looking to purchase real estate in the area.
Water lovers will find that there is much more to the region than the lakes most often name-dropped – in fact, there are 1600 lakes in the Muskoka region. From swimming to canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, powerboating, sailing, fishing, waterskiing and more, you can do it all here. Newbies will find all the training and instruction needed close at hand. And, old pros will find endless bodies of water to explore as they hone their craft.
Of course, there’s so much more than what lies at the end of the dock. This region also offers exceptional dining, music, theatre, craft beer, and an emerging distillery trend. There are 27 golf courses in the Muskoka region. Whether you’re looking to join an elite members-only club or a public course to play a quick nine on a Saturday morning, you won’t have to go far.
Lakeside vacation hotels and resorts, country clubs, marinas, outfitters and quaint shops line main streets in towns and villages from one end of the region to the other. These, along with coffee shops, bakeries, speciality stores, and larger chain retailers, making it easy to find what you need without having to travel back to the big city.
The trip north is prone to legendary traffic woes, but there have been road improvements over the years to lessen the strain. And it’s tough to lament the drive once you see the familiar Webers sign on Highway 11. This fan favourite burger joint has been the signal that you’ve arrived in Muskoka since 1963.
Related: How to Buy a Vacation Home or Cottage
The Real Estate Scoop
Real Estate in Muskoka
In the Muskoka or Georgian Bay area, Tiny Beaches are the one thing everyone craves - cottagers, renters and tourists alike. It is the absolute best option for “back-lot” cottage purchases where it’s less than a 10-minute walk to one of the many, many beaches. Entry-level teardown cottages are as little as $250k and can get to $800k for the best ones. Rents will vary on the number of “heads in beds” but there is always a very strong demand.
Direct waterfront real estate for the entire Georgian Bay region starts at 600k and up to 4M with rental rates beginning at $2000/wk. for a small 3- bedroom cottage, creating the perfect investment solution. Island cottages abound once you hit Beausoliel Island/Honey Harbour. You save a bit to have the inconvenience of water-access only, with the sale prices generally 25% less than comparable road-access cottages. Don't think of islands as a “deal” necessarily, as these can also sell for well over $1M - especially for whole private island properties. Plus, you must factor in the seasonal use, which is limited in ways that road access properties are not.
In Muskoka, entry-level teardown cottages can be found for $350k on the smaller lakes and rivers in the region. Often these are set up for 3 season use and are not winterized. They can also be on seasonal access roads so that needs to be a consideration when looking at entry-level purchases. For a 3-4 bedroom cottage on one of the more sought-after lakes, a budget of $650k-900k is ideal. The further you are from a town the more opportunities you have in this price range, although there are still many properties “in the boonies” that exceed 1.5M.
If you have your heart set on the Big 3 Lakes or Lake of Bays, you’ll need to up the budget. Entry-level tear-downs here generally start at 850k-900k. If you’re looking for a place that will more “move-in ready”, prices start at $1.4M. If you are willing to do the legwork, this offers lots of room to buy and develop your perfect spot, for less than you would pay for one already finished to your standards.
Muskoka Real Estate for Investors
The entire Georgian Bay area is in need of hotels/motels and large resorts, so cottage rentals and Airbnb's are a strong pull for investors. In Muskoka, both investors and buyers who want to cover off some of the mortgage and taxes will find rentals and Airbnb rewarding. The rental tenants are usually young families or older couples but they can vary to be guests at a wedding who can’t find a motel, entire groups from a company for a bonding week, etc. There is a better return on quality cottages than there is on a regular home being rented all year round. As the waterfront market grows in popularity and price, and it always does, there is a higher demand for rentals as more and more buyers are pushed out of the Muskoka real estate market.
Rents will vary on the number of “heads in beds” but there is always a very strong demand. Rental rates for Georgian Bay and the smaller lakes in Muskoka begin around $2,400/wk. for a small 3-bedroom cottage. The Big 3 and Lake of Bays would command at least $3,200/wk. for the same. They only go up from there.
Flipping real estate in Muskoka can be a prosperous decision but that decision needs to be well thought out, researched and implemented. A good strategy is to buy, renovate, rent and sell in 3-5 years. There are joint venture opportunities with builders as well as opportunities of purchasing small, older cottage courts/resorts to increase the revenue and sell.
Real Estate Prices in Muskoka
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Georgian Bay- Tiny Township, Penetang, Midland, Port Severn, Honey Harbor, MacTier
Georgian Bay Township is located an easy 90 minutes north of Toronto. Comprised of the towns Honey Harbour, MacTier, and Port Severn, the Township has a population of just 2,482 permanent residents. This explodes to about 16,000 seasonal residents in late spring, summer and early fall – with 55% of seasonal properties being water access only!
When you see the geography change as you make your way up the 400, you’ll know you are close. Georgian Bay Township marks the entrance to Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Trent-Severn Waterway and the UNESCO-designated 30,000 Islands, which includes the Georgian Bay Biosphere. Stretching approximately 175 kilometres, the biosphere reserve contains the most extensive collection of freshwater islands in the world. The islands and shoreline of the region are characterized by the Canadian Shield granite rock formation and windswept pine vistas made famous by The Group of Seven.
This is an area that runs on tourism. Popular activities include camping, hiking, boating, fishing and cycling. In addition to these, there are countless local festivals, community events, quaint shops and local cafes. Come fall, most of the summer cottage crowd returns home. The towns become quiet again, and year-round residents take advantage of water and air are still warm enough for kayaking and canoeing in peace.
Gravenhurst- Gravenhurst, Killworthy, Severn Bridge
Gravenhurst is known as the Gateway to Muskoka. The lakes, forests and rocky landscape captivated the first visitors and have drawn people to cottage country for more than 150 years. Back then, those looking to get away would take the train down to Muskoka Wharf, then wait for the steamship to take them to their summer homes and holiday resorts.
Today, the rich marine history remains, but cottage goers now hop on the 400 heading North from the GTA, veering off at the highway 11 split. The drive from TO is about 90 minutes in good conditions. This year-round town, and surrounding communities Killworthy and Severn Bridge, offer tourists and permanent residents a busy schedule of weekend events and festivals. They begin in late spring and continue into the fall.
Beach lovers may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the Gravenhurst boasts many great sandy spots. In particular, Gull Lake Rotary Park and Muskoka Beach with long wide, sandy shores are worth a visit.
From great food to historic buildings, art galleries, small shops and breweries, this area has one up on the sleepy regions where summer folk only come into town for provisions. From live music like the Sunday night tradition at Barge at Gull Lake – hint, bring your lawn chair – to the scenic boardwalk along the shoreline, to the historic Gravenhurst Opera House building, there is much to explore. And with a slew of events and festivals, including the Sawdust City Music Festival, The Dockside Festival of the Arts and the Craft Beer Festival, Gravenhurst offers new experiences with every visit.
Muskoka Lakes- Bala, Port Carling, Minett, Windermere
While the Muskoka region covers a vast area, the heart lies in the Township of Muskoka Lakes. Here, among the 80 lakes within its borders, you’ll find the big three: lakes Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph. Articles singing the virtues of Muskoka Cottage Country in National Geographic, New York Times and more, are set right here in what many consider paradise.
The township includes the communities of Bala, Port Carling, Minett, Windermere and MacTier. Arts, culture, food, festivals and more, ensure that residents and seasonal visitors enjoy the very best that cottage country has to offer. There are also 12 public and private golf courses. And you can’t mention Bala without mentioning music - The Kee to Bala hosts top Canadian bands every summer. This tradition that began way back in 1942, when big-band sounds had people dancing the night away in the same spot, then known as Dunn’s Pavillion.
Many of the cottagers here enjoy properties that have been passed down through generations. Here, knowing these lakes and lands will be appreciated by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, preservation is top of mind. Township of Muskoka Lakes has long been a leader in ecology, taking great strides to protect the geological and biologically diverse region. Here, more than 80% of the land retains its natural cover, and the municipality maintains 85% of naturally vegetated shoreline. It is also North America’s first dark sky preserve.
There are also many newcomers to the area from the GTA, and the rich and famous flock here too. The property here does come at a premium, but it’s not all mega-mansions. There are smaller, classic Muskoka cottages that come up for sale, but you need to act quickly when you find one. The area is hot, hot, hot, and for those looking for the picture-perfect, Muskoka experience, there is no substitute.
Voted one of the 10 most historic downtowns in Ontario, Bracebridge, located 2.5 hours north of Toronto, is definitely worth a closer look. This is particularly true if you are searching for a place you might consider moving to full time in the future. In 2016, MoneySense Magazine named Bracebridge one of the top 25 places to live in Canada – high praise for a community of 16,000.
In Bracebridge, you’ll find history blend seamlessly with modern-day in the perfect combination of quaint charm and all the amenities you need. Bracebridge Falls and the iconic Silver Bridge offer a picture-perfect example of what has drawn artists, authors, photographers, sculptors, and culture seekers to this community for years. This is a beautiful town. From historic buildings like the clock tower the centre of it all to picturesque Manitoba street, you’ll find so much to see, do and explore in “The Bridge.”
Foodies will appreciate a vibrant culinary scene, catering to both the summer people, and residents who live here all year long. With award-winning local-craft been, locally grown fresh produce, cafes, delis, diners and more, you’ll find the flavours here are to your liking. This rich food culture culminates in the annual “What’s Cooking Bracebridge Food & Drink Festival” each fall, held right on the Silver Bridge.
But there’s no need to wait to get out and have fun! The summer calendar is full of community festivals, exciting art, music and theatrical events, culinary experiences and weekly Farmer’s Market.
Want to see the town from a different perspective? Head to the water and climb aboard The Lady Muskoka or one of the other signature ships to get a better taste of what cottagers see when they head to town by boat. Enjoy the great outdoors at one of the many beautiful park spaces or beaches. Take in a round of golf at one of the 4 courses nearby. Or lace up your hiking shoes and hit one of 6 spectacular trails in the region. Plus, for family fun, Santa’s Village is a delight for kid’s of all ages.
Lake of Bays- Baysville, Dorset, Dwight
If you want to answer “The Call of The Wild” with a second property off the beaten path, you may want to start your search in the Township of Lake of Bays.
Located east of Huntsville in northeastern Muskoka, this area sits beside world-renowned Algonquin Park. A natural, four-season playground, here you’ll find picturesque landscapes and endless opportunities for four-season recreation. The Township boasts over 100 pristine lakes, including Lake of Bays, one of the largest lakes in the Muskoka region. Here you'll find exceptional opportunities for outdoor fun, from paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and waterskiing to ice fishing and snowmobiling. You may find you want to spend time at your “summer place” all year long.
The three welcoming communities of Dwight, Dorset and Baysville set the stage for memorable experiences with every visit. From self-guided heritage tours to all the modern amenities, even the most intrepid outdoors person needs, you’ll be well outfitted, well cultured and well-fed. Seasonal farmers markets offer artisanal jams and butter tarts. Plus, you can feast on wood-fired pizza and decadent baked treats and tour a craft brewery to toast the beauty that surrounds you.
And while most of the areas in the Muskoka fill the event calendar through the summer months and into the fall, here each village keeps the excitement going with unique winter festivals throughout February. Just in time for your winter getaway.
Huntsville - Huntsville, Port Sydney, Hidden Valley, Novar
Tucked in next to Algonquin Park, Huntsville and the surrounding communities offer visitors a four-season experience like no other. Here, under the bows of iconic wind-swept white pines, you’ll find culinary excellence, boutique shopping, art, history and culture. Outdoor Group of Seven murals greet you at every turn, reminding you that this is a community that connects souls with the outdoors.
Forget traffic woes and the hustle and bustle. Here you can search for ingredients and take in handcrafted goods with friendly small boutique shop owners or in larger supply stores at Muskoka’s only indoor mall. Local, artisanal flavours are as abundant as the beautiful pines and lazy lapping waters that surround the communities in this region.
There is always something to do here – whether you want to convene with nature on your own or join in the fun at one of the countless family-friendly events. These take place almost every weekend, all year long. From triathlons and marathons to hockey tournaments, winter carnivals, fishing derbies and farmer’s markets, there is absolutely something for everyone. There's even a maple festival! Who doesn’t like maple?.
The area attracts talent, as well as tourists, with the Festival of the Arts, an organization that brings talented artists, musicians, live theatre and other events to the community all year long. All of this takes place next door to world-renowned Algonquin Park, with over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers within its borders.