Dragon boat
Photo by dragonboatfestival.org

50 fun things to do in cottage country this spring

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You don’t have to wait until school’s out to enjoy life outside the city. In fact, there are countless events taking place across Ontario cottage country in the next few months that you won’t want to miss. From March to June, you can gorge on local fare, watch wildlife, sample some craft brews, and even get your adrenaline fix.

March

1. Treat yourself to dinner at Deerhurt Resort’s Eclipse restaurant, where their seasonal, maple-infused specials are available until the end of March.

2. Collect stamps on your maple passport. Now until June, Lake Country’s Tap Into Maple experience provides sweet routes with stops at local businesses and restaurants along the way. Business-owners and vendors encourage you to participate in a fun event, and you get a passport stamp in return. Collect at least three stamps and you are eligible to win a prize!

3. Didn’t get out and enjoy the snow as much as you wanted to this winter? If you’re worried about that melting powder, Sauble Ski Club has two days of scheduled group cross-country skiing and snowshoeing left from March 27 to 30.

4. Aside from Lake Country, there are plenty of communities throughout cottage country that celebrate maple syrup season at the end of March. Elmira, Sunderland, and Paisley all have small-town (but big spirited) festivals. Some locales have devoted an entire weekend to nature’s sugary treat, including Maple in the County, Buckhorn Maplefest, Maple Magic with Wiarton Willie, and the informative Sweetwater Harvest Festival in Midland, all of which are being held March 28 and 29.

5. Catch a wagon ride, see a magic show, get your face painted, and eat way too much candy at the Chappell Farms Spring Festival, held the last weekend in March and the first weekend in April.

6. If you’re brave enough, Collingwood’s 3rd Annual Polar Bear Dip is at the public boat launch on the last Sunday in March.

Collingwood Polar Bear Dip
Photo courtesy of theenterprisebulletin.com

April

7. Bancroft is getting a warehouse-sized thrift shop that promises to have great bargains on furniture, housewares, and more. It opens next to the infamously drool-worthy Kawartha Dairy in April.

8. Lucky for you, we made this to-do list just in time to attend Lake of Bays’ 1st Annual Spring Fling. A party with live music hosted by a beer company born in prime cottage country? We’re there. Even better? All proceeds go to a local Baysville food support program.

9. Go on a day trip and check out the Waterfalls of Prince Edward County. Starting in Picton, the tour stops at two local falls—don’t forget to bring your camera!

10. If you want a nice meal without the price tag to come with it, head to Blue Mountain Village for Springlicious, or Countylicious in Prince Edward County, and receive reduced prix-fixe menus at some of the area’s best restaurants.

11. Sample products from Norfolk-area restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and vendors at one of Ontario’s favourite spring events, Eat & Drink Norfolk, April 9 to 11.

12. From April 10 to 26, you can visit a participating restaurant and Tap Into Maple Flavours of Ontario’s Lake Country by enjoying a prepared, three-course meal infused with local maple syrup for just $20 to $30.

13. Learn gardening tips from local experts, browse collections, and exchange your seeds at Seedy Saturday, a free, community-boosting event that takes place on Saturday, April 11 across all 17 Bruce County Public Library branches.

14. Every April, hundreds of paddlers head to the excellent whitewater conditions in the quaint town of Marmora for M.A.C.K. Fest (Marmora Area Canoe and Kayak Festival). Admission is $5 and includes live music, a bonfire, and a free morning coffee from the neighbouring Tim Hortons.

MACK Fest
Photo courtesy of ontariohighlands.ca

15. Catch Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk as she performs at multiple venues across northern Ontario, including Kenora and Sioux Lake.

16. You’ve heard that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, but has it ever applied to you? From April 17 to May 24, the 10th Annual Found Art Competition will be on display at The Barry’s Bay Railway Station. Submissions are completely open to the public, with a small fee of $10. Artists must create their piece out of at least one found object—that means anything from old textiles to natural elements like driftwood, bark, and stones.

17. Fishing fun for all ages is up for grabs at Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, where the three-week-long Orillia Perch Festival celebrates 35 years as one of Canada’s largest registered fishing derbies.

18. Get ready for a night of belly laughs as Debra DiGiovanni and three other comedians grace the stage of the same venue Shania Twain got her start at. Just for Laughs comes to Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, April 24 to 26.

19. If you missed out on the maple syrup festivals happening across cottage country in March, Elmvale hosts one of the largest in the province, and is celebrating their 50th anniversary, on April 25.

maple syrup candy
Photo by Sylvie Bouchard/Shutterstock.com

20. Near beautiful Grand Bend and alone the Lambton Shores, Pedal the Pinery is a fun, leisurely Sunday bike tour that runs through the lush Pinery Park area in support of future environmental projects. There is both a fun 20 km ride or a walk route.

21. Artists Kristina Mau and Julie Heinrichs have organized a Cape Croker leisure tour that incorporates hiking and drawing. On April 27, follow the group through 5 km of South Bruce Peninsula terrain, where you will stop various locations along the trail to do some sketching. There is no drawing experience required, but be sure to bring a snack.

May

22. Starting May 2 and the continuing through the rest of the month, the Tap Into Maple fest hosts a Pancake Breakfast from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Breakfast is held in an 1830s homestead at the Coldwater Canadiana Museum, where you can stuff your face with sausages, orange juice, and pancakes loaded with fresh, local syrup.

23. On May 2, it’s Shimano’s Take a Kid Fishing Day at Belwood Lake. Free with registration, the event is ideal for kids ages 8 to 14.

24. The May Marche hosted by Huntsville Festival of the Arts is one of the biggest social events in the Muskoka region, year after year. The event is a major area fundraiser with a popular silent auction and food and spirit samples from great area restaurants. Early-bird tickets are $65.

25. Make a point of going to Collingwood at least one Saturday this spring. Art on the Street—which has vendors selling painted Muskoka chairs alongside oil canvas paintings—and the Downtown Farmers Market both open for the season on May 16 and run every Saturday until October 10.

26. Head up to Barry’s Bay on May 16 where the main roads are shut down for one of the largest street festivals in the area, Bay Day.  

27. Carrying their great reputation north, the  behind super delicious and equally popular barbecue and taco joints in Toronto’s west end (Electric Mud BBQ and Grand Electric) are opening Grand Electric Muskoka in Port Carling. Set to open over the May 2-4 weekend, this destination is a must for taco cravings in cottage country.

Grand Electric Muskoka
Photo courtesy of foodandcoblog.com

28. Prince Edward County is known for its artisanal cheeses, meets, wines, and odd finds, so if you’re in the area over the May long weekend, it is definitely worth checking out the Antique Spring Show and Sale in Picton.

29. The twice-annual Buckhorn Craft Show has its spring showing on the Victoria Day long weekend and will feature handmade furniture, homemade pottery, and garden accessories as well as candy, honey, jams, and jellies made in The Kawarthas.

30. Assist the Haliburton Forest in its long-term monitoring of local bird populations at the annual Birdathon. During spring migration, the forest’s employees ask bird lovers of all kinds to assist and document all that they find. The May 17th Birdathon is free, though a regular day pass must be purchased.

31. Normally you have to pay membership fees to be an active member of the Bancroft Horticultural Society, but on May 20, the group opens their doors to locals, cottagers, and visitors for their Annual Plant Sale.

32. The Huron Fringe Birding Festival in Port Elgin is one of the most popular festivals in cottage country and runs over the last two weekends in May. The festival is named after the rocky migratory pattern the birds follow along the Bruce Peninsula in the spring. An ideal weekend for those interested in informative, guided hikes, nature photography or bird identification.

Huron Fringe Birding Festival
Photo courtesy of parksreports.com

33. Foodies, farmers’ market aficionados, and fans of the locavore movement will be happy to hear that Huntsville’s Farm Fresh & Homemade 100 km Market opens May 23 for Saturdays the rest of the summer.

34. The time for bake sales and cook offs has arrived, and Simcoe-Grey’s 1st Annual Chili Cook-off, Euchre Tournament & Dance comes to a grand finale at the Nottawa Memorial Community Centre on May 23. The event was created “to maintain good community spirits and relations during election year,” but let’s be honest, we’re here for the chilli. Prices range from $15 to $45 for adults, depending on how many events you want to participate in. Admission for kids is just $5.

35. Buy a bird and place your bets, or observe as a wild sea of yellow rubber ducks float through Coldwater, Ontario in the annual Duck Race. A popular event for local crowds, the event also includes a pancake breakfast and a parade.

36. Take in a music festival right on the shores of Lake Ontario. Live music, food, games, and fishing come together for the Quinte Isle Bluegrass Celebration, May 28 to 31. Admission is $65 with all profits donated to a local charity.

37. Get your toe-tappin’ shoes on and get groovin’ to Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot at Orillia’s Casino Rama, May 30.

Gordon Lightfoot
Photo courtesy of gordonlightfoot.com

38. Looking for an activity to share with your canine companion? Barks By The Bay is an annual dog festival held the last Saturday in May that brings pooches and their owners to the Trenton waterfront to browse unique pet vendors, groomers, hospitals, and pet stores. Demonstrations of agility, tracking, and herding also take place throughout the day—and it’s free!

June

39. For car buffs, scavengers, or those looking for a well-rounded, family-fun event, check out the Barrie Automotive Flea Market from June 4 to 7. Now in its 33rd year, the show has grown to include something for everyone, including live entertainment, model replicas, and delicious food vendors.

40. Green thumbs, nature lovers, and anyone into rare plant species will appreciate the Orchid Festival held in Tobermory, June 5 and 6. The Bruce Peninsula is home to a wide selection of orchid species—two of which are not native to the area. The Bruce is also home to a diverse range of ferns, wildflowers, and ancient old-growth cedars.

Blooming orchid
Photo by somjade dachklung/Shutterstock.com

41. Located about 30 km north of Peterborough, Buckhorn hosts an Ole Fashioned Fish Fry with live entertainment, a dance and, of course, tons  of food. The cost is $15 per serving, but children under six eat free.

42. As part of a wilderness skills training program, Frontenac is hosting a canoe clinic to give folks a refresher on their paddle skills and help people improve steering strokes and safety manoeuvres. The clinic (held on June 6) will also help with equipment selection and tell you what you need to know for planning backcountry trips.

43. Love cheese? Who doesn’t? Known for recognizing the best in homemade foods and artisanal products, Prince Edward County brings together more than 150 of the best cheese-makers in the country at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival, June 6 and 7. The first 1000 patrons get a free sampler of cheese curds!

44. Head to Parry Sound on June 13, where the Dragon Boat Festival will show you what team power, agility, and muscle can really accomplish.

45. Ontario is filled with butter tart tours and trails—all claiming to offer the best in the province. But Midland is one of the few places that hosts a scheduled event. Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival runs from June 13 to 14, hosting amateur and professional judges who are searching for the best “freestyle” tart. Last year the accompanying street market sold more than 50,000 butter tarts in one day. On Sunday there’s the Butter Tart Trot, a 5 km jaunt along Midland’s waterfront to run off the calories from the day before.

46. Whether you’re into more leisurely biking through the countryside or racing to the finish line, the Bay of Quinte Road Race Challenge and Tour has something for all cyclists. Now in its third year, the tour is separated into two levels: one competitive ($75) and one for enjoying the scenery ($45). Both offer delicious treats and fun stops along the way.

47. Looking to spice things up a bit? When the Ontario Salsa Tour (the dance, not the delicious dip) hits Blue Mountain Village for a weekend in June, the entire village transforms into a Latin showcase of life, complete with dance lessons, live salsa music, parades, and soccer demonstrations.

48. Dads usually luck out with a Father’s Day spent relaxing at the cottage, but this Father’s Day Beer Tasting Cruise in Dorset might by too hard to pass up. The SS Bigwin and Lake of Bays Brewery have partnered to offer an hour-long cruise aboard the wooden steamship while tasting some locally-crafted brews.

Muskoka
Photo courtesy of Stonehouse Studios

49. The Kawartha Craft Beer Festival takes place in Peterborough and features samples from craft breweries across Ontario as well as delicious food vendors and live music. The fact that it’s held the day before Father’s Day and is just $10 for admission suggests this may be the perfect last minute gift.

50. Cottage country is notorious for old car shows, and the most popular is the 500+ car show at Gravenhurst’s Gull Lake Rotary Park on June 20. This year is its 22nd annual show and includes live entertainment, classic and modified vehicles, and lots of free giveaways.