Bala is chock-a-block with hidden-gem restaurants, old-school arcades, and a cranberry marsh that’s become a staple stop for locals and tourists alike. It’s one of those spots that comes alive no matter the season, whether it’s ice trail skating in the winter, cottaging in the summer, or taking in the harvests and hues come fall. Here’s our itinerary for a perfect weekend in Muskoka’s little hideaway, perfect for an urbanite in need of an escape.
Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery
Known for its infamous, Rick Mercer-approved cranberry plunge (see our episode of The Detour for the full experience), Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery is the only farm in Ontario that grows cranberries, and it’s a must-stop during the fall pre-harvest. Not cran season? No worries. In the winter, Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh freezes over and becomes a 1.2 kilometre ice trail, lit by tiki torches at night from 6-9pm—it’s open seven days a week, hosts bog hockey tourneys, and has skates and snowshoes available for rent. Stop by the nearby waterfalls and warm up by the fire, then head back to the winery for mulled wine or hot cran-apple cider. Leashed doggos welcome.
The time capsule of your nerdy lil dreams. Balacade is a vintage arcade that’s been around since 1947, and a summer hotspot for families and nostalgic grown-ups alike. Channel your inner pinball wizard and shoot hoops, shuffle boards, and hunt pixelated bucks to your heart’s content.
The Kee to Bala
A summer concert tradition since 1942, the Kee has hosted everyone from Aerosmith to Avicii, The Tragically Hip to The Ramones. Keep an eye out for events during your Muskokan stay—you never know who’ll show up for a cameo.
Moon River Lodge
Hot tub. Cathedral ceilings. Turntable and vintage records. Wooden beams aplenty. Moon River Lodge is the perfect outpost for groups of six, with three bedrooms and a sprawling kitchen for lazy breakfasts and countertop board games. An indoor wood stove and outdoor fire pit top it off, so you can stay comfy-cozy no matter the season.
Winter Glamping on the Moon (River)
The lake may be frozen, but your digits will stay defrosted in this brand-new, retro camper decked out with all the necessities: a furnace, mini fridge and freezer, gas stove and barbecue. Your hosts have thought of everything, from ground coffee to hot chocolate to flashlights to snowshoes to board games. There’s no running water from November through May, but at under $100 a night, you won’t be left wanting for too much more.
The Bala Retreat
*Summer season only*. 10 guests, 6 bedrooms, raw wood aplenty: this group chalet is perfect for big groups and family getaways. A short walk to ‘downtown’ Bala, but right on the water, you get the best of both Muskokan worlds rolled into one.
Clear Lake Brewery
A new microbrewery in Muskoka Lakes, serving up crisp pints and delicious bites. We’re big fans of their classic cans, tables with built-in board games, and the burger (served on a Don’s Bakery fresh bun from down the street).
Mrs. H’s Fish & Chips
An unassuming counter where head chef Berta serves up buttery battered fillets worthy of even a Londoner’s palette. Grab a gingham-lined basket of fresh-from-the-fryer Halibut and dig in.
Grab a New York Times-approved butter tart at this 70-year-old Bala staple. Expect slow service, long summer lineups of cottagegoers, and a flaky, sticky-sweet reward worthy of sticking it out.
Tacos, enchiladas, homemade guac—don’t expect designer toppings here, just the good old standards, and lots of ‘em.