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Marsh Lake, Yukon

While rustic living on Yukon’s Marsh Lake has been transformed by electricity, water delivery, and school bus service, the attraction of the area for cottagers remains unchanged: the mountain-ringed beauty of this large glacial lake and its proximity to Whitehorse. Driving time from town is less than 45 minutes and there are also several places to put a boat in.

In recent years, Marsh Lake has become more of a year-round community with a permanent population of around 500 and an active community centre that organizes Canada Day parades and ski and bike loppets. But you won’t find cookie-cutter suburban housing stock on these treed lots. The homes retain their Yukon character. Each seems built to express the peculiar quirks—or dreams—of the previous owners, be that a fish pond, wall-to-wall pine, or even an outhouse with a Load Limit road sign hammered on.


Ingraham Trail, Northwest Territories

Extending 70 km east of Yellowknife, the Ingraham Trail runs alongside rivers, waterfalls, and a network of lakes. It literally is the end of the road for locals and the start of the temporary winter route made reality-TV famous by Ice Road Truckers. But it’s not diamond mines that draw cottagers (and year-rounders) here: it’s the scenery of granite hills, the canoe routes, and the Jack pine forests.

Popular cabin lakes include Prelude, with its many islands, and the expansive Pros­perous Lake. Cottages here are all off-grid, from a few that are one-room cabins with woodstoves to fully equipped houses with solar power, propane heat, and diesel generators. What else do they have in common? They’re hard to come by. Unresolved land claims have halted land development, so what has already been built on federally leased land is in short supply. Tip: get a realtor who will alert you when something comes on the market, or cozy up to a local for a private sale.


The Cariboo, British Columbia

The Cariboo is cattle country, a landscape of steep, spectacular canyons, stands of pine, aspen, and spruce trees, and grasslands with thousands of small trout-filled lakes. Like the Okanagan, it has a drier climate than the coast. Open rolling countryside is perfect for walking (don’t mind the free-ranging cattle), horseback riding, ATVing, hunting, and a host of winter activities. The lakes are generally clear, with few weeds, and surrounded by Crown land. Lake access roads may be long and rough, but are generally accessible, except in winter.

Small, simple cabins vastly outnumber fancy million-dollar estates. There are also plenty of large acreages for privacy-seekers. Prices vary across the region. While much of the forest land in the interior of B.C. was ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, healthy forests are now regrowing.


Bamfield, British Columbia

On the west coast of Vancouver Island, tiny, remote Bamfield sits on a protected inlet on Barkley Sound’s south shore. Bamfield Inlet divides the village, with a local water taxi linking the two sides. In West Bamfield, there’s the post office, a general store (with a premium selection of single malts, thanks to the local Scotch Club), and a pedestrian boardwalk cantilevered over the inlet. East Bamfield has a school, a café and market, a pub, and a building centre. Cottage properties overlook the sheltered inlet and exposed outer coast. In all weather, hikers explore the open beaches and lush rainforest trails, dodging fat yellow banana slugs. The West Coast Trail ends at Bamfield’s doorstep, traversing 77 km of coastline northward from Port Renfrew. The nearest centre is the city of Port Alberni, 76 km by road.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia

There are hundreds of picture-perfect islands off the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island. Rocky, moss-covered bluffs, sheltered bays interspersed with sandy beaches, and dense stands of cedar, fir, shore pine, and arbutus characterize many of them. The area is prime cottage country because of its setting, easy access by boat from Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and protected waters for swimming, boating, and salmon fishing.

The larger islands have good amen­ities and regular ferry service. Demand is high and bargains are few, although starting prices have softened. Saltspring Island, the largest and most populous, is also the most expensive. Other islands with regular ferry service include North and South Pender, Mayne, Galiano, and Gabriola. As with the Sunshine Coast, ferries are busy on summer weekends. Most properties on the larger islands have road access and electrical service. Many small islands are off-grid, but that doesn’t translate to bargains.


Sunshine Coast, British Columbia

The Sunshine Coast’s relative quiet, abundant sea life, and natural beauty make it one of the most desirable cottage areas near Vancouver, especially since it’s only a 40-minute ferry ride away. (Be warned: The ferry is very busy on summer weekends.) This area’s protected waters are a haven for recreational boaters, saltwater anglers, and kayakers, while lush forests offer excellent hiking. Inland mountains get plenty of snow and are popular for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

The major communities on the lower coast—Gibsons, Sechelt, and Pender Harbour—and Powell River on the upper coast, offer the amenities and services of larger cities, and both Sechelt and Powell River have hospitals.

Stretching about 100 km, the Sunshine Coast has road-accessible waterfront along its entire length and dozens of islands just offshore. In some areas, waterfront homes are clustered tightly along the shore, while other areas offer complete privacy.


The Okanagan, British Columbia

The sunny Okanagan region, about a four-hour drive east from the Lower Mainland, is centred on 135-km-long Lake Okanagan and is home to the waterfront cities of Penticton, Kelowna, and Vernon—and the legendary Ogopogo lake serpent. Drier and warmer than the coast, this is a popular summer boating and cottage area. The water is clean and deep; the hills are rolling, arid, and dotted with productive orchards and vineyards. Penticton, Kelowna, and Vernon have excellent amenities, including many marinas and marine services. Watersports and the nightlife here attract a young crowd. There are also nearby ski resorts with condos and chalets.

Island Lake, Alberta

Enveloped by boreal wilderness, the Summer Village of Island Lake (est. 1952) hugs the west shore of its namesake. Free of the algae blooms that plague nearby lakes, eight sq. km Island Lake—181 km north of Edmonton and 29 km southeast of Athabasca, the nearest town, on Hwy. 2—has a paddler’s bounty of islets, secluded coves, and narrow passages. There’s an eclectic mix of cottagers and residents, rookies and old timers; properties range from humble backlot cabins to million-dollar waterfront mansions. All cabins have road access. The lake’s 67 islands (some just weedy mounds) are Crown land and cottage-free.

Cottagers swim, wakeboard, show off on two waterski courses, and socialize around three public docks. Hikers, ATVers, and snowmobilers delve into the boreal forest on a network of trails and back roads that stretches across northern Alberta to the Swan Hills and beyond. Everyone turns out in July for Lake Days for softball games, a golf tournament, and a wet and wild cannonball contest. Winners and losers celebrate afterward at a giant barbecue.

Wildlife is abundant, with beavers, muskrats, great blue herons; nesting loons in summer, migrating waterbirds like Canada geese and mallards in fall; and, occasionally, elk, black bears, and wolves. It’s almost impossible not to catch a northern pike. The real prizes, though, are the great-tasting wild perch.

Photo credit to


Wabamun Lake, Lac Ste. Anne, Isle Lake, Alberta

About an hour’s drive west of Edmonton, these three lakes are noted for watersports and year-round fishing for trophy whitefish, jackfish, and walleye.

Wabamun Lake has drawn Edmontonians since the railway started promoting the area in the early 1900s. It’s spring-fed, making it one of the cleanest lakes in Alberta. Most cabins are handed down, so listings are rare. The two most popular villages on the lake are Wabamun and Seba Beach. The lake has a marina and three sailing clubs, and non-waterfront owners can access the water through shared community docks.

According to local First Nations and early Christian missionaries, Lac Ste. Anne has healing properties; some 40,000 pilgrims arrive each July to take the waters and for religious events. Water quality is good, though it can be affected by blue-green algae in the summer. The village of Alberta Beach is bustling, with many amenities, though no marinas.

Isle Lake, so called for its several islands, was the site of a Hudson’s Bay post in the 1870s. Unfortunately, aquatic vegetation grows widely in the lake and summer blue-green algae blooms are a problem. Because the islands offer protection from wind, the lake is popular for competitive waterskiers. There are more than 20 km of ATV and snowmobile trails nearby. There are no marinas and very limited amenities.


Pigeon Lake, Alberta

Big, shallow, and convenient, Pigeon Lake reigns as one of the most popular cottage destinations in Alberta. Sitting in farming country, an hour southwest of Edmonton and about two hours north of Calgary, the lake has more than a dozen communities spread along its sandy shore. The oval-shaped lake is not immune to late-summer algae blooms, but the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association is educating cottagers, local farmers, and businesses about best practices to improve water quality and has had some success.

A typical summer day hits the mid-20s with cool nights. The lake’s usually swimmable by Canada Day. While the water may be the main attraction, there’s plenty to do on land, including hitting the links at five golf courses. Trails wend through the forests in Pigeon Lake Provincial Park. Strict retention rules for the area help maintain excellent fishing. There’s perch, northern pike, and whitefish in the lake, but walleye is what most people are after.

Most of the communities around the lake are a mix of waterfront and backlot cottages, few farther than a street or two from water. There are boat launches, but no public marinas. Property ranges from $2-million waterfront estates to off-lake country acreages for a lot less; 70-year-old summer cabins to modern cottages. The Village at Pigeon Lake is the area’s commercial centre and social hub, with events throughout the summer, culminating with the Lakedell Country Fair.


Sylvan Lake and Gull Lake, Alberta

Two of the largest and most popular lakes between Calgary and Edmonton are Sylvan and Gull. Surrounded by farmland, aspen stands, and prairie grassland, these tree-lined lakes have easy year-round access, warm water, and good fishing. Like most lakes in Alberta, the shoreline is generally marshy with some sandy beaches.

Sylvan is busier, with clear water, little algal growth, and excellent beaches that make it a watersports mecca. The town of Sylvan Lake has a good marina and the area’s best amenities. Activities include an impressive waterslide, golf (mini and premier 18-hole), go-carts, and beach volleyball; it’s no surprise the lake is popular with a young crowd.

Gull Lake is less developed and less expensive. Marsh grasses along its shore filter agricultural runoff and help reduce algae. Only about 25 per cent of the lakeshore is developed, and most cottages are set well back from the water. Several marinas serve the lake, and most amenities are available in nearby communities.


Ghost Lake, Alberta

At the edge of the Rocky Mountain Foothills, the glacier-fed Ghost Lake reservoir, on Hwy. 1A, about a 40-minute drive from northwest Calgary, is an all-season attraction. Brisk winds funnel up the Bow Valley, fuelling summer windsurfing and winter ice sailing, and anglers catch whitefish and trout year round. Ghost Lake has some of the province’s best ice sailing and an active club founded in the 1950s. Boats can zip along at 90 km/h when winds are strong.

A hydroelectric dam built below the confluence of the Bow and Ghost Rivers created the man-made lake in 1929. TransAlta, the power company, owns the immediate lakeshore, which it leases to the cottage community; there is no public access. The Summer Village of Ghost Lake sits midway along the 12 km lake’s north shore. CottageClub, a gated resort community, has sprouted up at the lake’s east end. For 40 years, the summer village has hosted an August long weekend regatta with sailing and canoeing races, an obstacle course, a scavenger hunt, a talent show, a barbecue, and more.

The Ghost Lake marina has 50 powerboat slips and mooring for 50 sailboats. In the village, there’s a six-hole golf course and a tennis court. The CottageClub recreation centre has an indoor pool and an outdoor hot tub. Beyond what’s available in the local convenience store, residents and cottagers go to Cochrane, 23 km east. There are deer and elk in the area, geese and swans migrate through in spring, and cougar sightings are not uncommon.


Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan

A satellite map of 1,413 sq. km Lac La Ronge reveals an exceptional feature of this north-central Saskatchewan lake, which borders the Canadian Shield. Some 1,300 ice age–carved granite islands fill the lake’s northern half. Sand is rare along the granite islands, but there’s a beach nearly 40 km long on the lake’s sparsely populated south shore. Lac La Ronge Provincial Park encompasses much of the lake, and most people lease land for their water-access cabins from the Saskatchewan government.

Because the area is so remote, cottagers usually visit for at least a week; many stay for the whole summer. Also, it can be difficult to get contractors out to these remote cabins. The government stipulates that cabin lots must be at least 800 metres apart or on separate islands, so quiet and solitude are the main attraction. There are about 20 title properties and 250 lease sites, most on islands. This far north, at 55 degrees latitude, summers are warm, short, and occasionally very windy.

The small town of La Ronge is the nearest centre and has groceries, a hardware store, a medical centre, and most services. Cottagers typically boat in to Eagle Point Marina and drive the 5 km into town.


Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan

Last Mountain Lake is nicknamed locally as Long Lake: stretching a slender 93 km from north to south, it’s the largest natural lake in southern Saskatchewan. The southern tip is only about 40 km northwest of Regina, earning it “beach within reach” status.

The area features sandy shores, rolling prairie hills, and native vegetation like Saskatoon and chokecherry bushes. Roughly 50 hamlets rim the lake, and a wide variety of road-access cottages are available, from modest lots with small cabins to more expensive four-season getaways. There’s also a decent selection of vacant lots on the lake.

Cottagers love the long prairie summer evenings; the watersports; summer and winter fishing for pike, perch, and walleye; and winter activities such as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Regina Beach offers grocery stores and once-weekly medical care (the closest hospitals are in Regina). The Last Mountain Lake Bird Sanctuary, the first federal bird sanctuary in North America and a National Historic Site, at the north end of the lake, is home to more than 280 bird species. There are two small provincial parks on the eastern shore.


Lac du Bonnet area, Manitoba

Lac du Bonnet and the rivers to which the lake is connected (the Winnipeg, the Bird, and the Lee) lie about 100 km northeast of Winnipeg. Tucked between Lake Winnipeg and Whiteshell Provincial Park, this transitional area offers lots of variety: part former agricultural prairie flatland, part rocky Precambrian Shield.

The picturesque Still Cove and Bird River areas are coveted for their access to the bigger lake though they are on quieter adjacent waterways. Overall, there are only a few water-access sites; nearly all properties are accessible by road. A hydroelectric dam to the northwest keeps water levels fairly constant.

Cottagers take their pick of recreation: 60 km of waterways for boating; summer and winter fishing for pike and walleye, including a thousand-hole ice-fishing derby; birdwatching (prairie and boreal species reflect the area’s diversity); a vast network of snowmobile trails; and three golf courses. The towns of Lac du Bonnet and Pinawa in the southern part of the region offer med­ical facilities, grocery stores, and other ame­nities, and there is a marina at a private campground on the lake.

Photo courtesy of Tammy Beutel, Royal Lepage Top Producers


Lake of the Woods & Rainy Lake, Manitoba & Ontario

Two big lakes dominate cottage country in Northwestern Ontario: Lake of the Woods (LOTW) and Rainy Lake. Both areas include much Crown land, so cottages aren’t easy to come by. The 3,150 sq. km LOTW is speckled with more than 14,000 islands, innumerable sandy beaches along its south shore, and countless coves throughout, making it a boater’s playground. Most LOTW cottagers hail from Winnipeg, a two-hour drive, or the U.S.—no surprise, considering parts of the lake are in Manitoba and Minnesota. The 4,000-member-strong Lake of the Woods District Property Owners Association’s current concerns include preventing blue-green algae blooms.

Rainy River links LOTW with the western end of Rainy Lake, which also straddles the Minnesota border. At 741 sq. km, Rainy Lake is considerably smaller than its neighbour to the northwest, but it still boasts more than 1,300 km of shoreline on the Ontario side. Fishing is great—you’ll find walleye, pike, trout, and crappie—and every July the lake is home to the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championships. As at LOTW, wildlife includes moose, deer, eagles, and, for lucky spotters, lynx and martens.

Want a virgin island of your own? Good luck. All vacant islands owned by the Crown were designated as conservation reserves in 2002, which means that no new development can take place.


Georgian Bay North, Ontario

The Group of Seven were among the first to publicize the sublime beauty of Georgian Bay’s Thirty Thousand Islands, a vast paradise of blue water, wind-bent pines, and undulating pink granite islands stretching from Severn Sound to the French River. It didn’t take long for cottagers to see the area’s potential, especially in the mix of protected water next to open stretches of Georgian Bay. Boating options range from sea kayaking or canoeing among tiny islands to big-water cruising, although low water levels have made some cottage docks inaccessible to large boats. An endless vista looking west across the bay has made sunset cruising a favourite pastime here.

As highways 400 and 69 are widened, cottagers have been coming here in increasing numbers and pushing prices up, especially as the area takes in spillover cottagers from Muskoka. But while there are multi-million-dollar private islands at Pointe au Baril, for example, you can still find rustic hideaways near Killbear Provincial Park. Attractive shoreline abounds, since so many cottages are on islands. Getting to these cottages in winter can be challenging.


Haliburton, Ontario

In Haliburton, with its wide swaths of Crown land, the granite shore can be steep and rugged, flanked by white pines and leafy trees that turn fiery bright in fall. Many lakes are sparsely inhabited by cottagers, but filled with fish. In winter, groomed trails draw recreational snowmobilers. Haliburton’s true claim to superiority over some other Ontario cottage areas, however, may be the drive. Avoid the multi-lane highway, if you like, and the route takes you on two-lane highways and county roads that wind past grain silos, grey barns, and blue lakes.

Many cottagers are drawn to Haliburton’s small, quiet lakes, though Kennisis, Kawagama, and Kashagawigamog offer big stretches of water for sailors and windsurfers. Many lakes in this region are reservoirs for the Trent-Severn Waterway farther south, so water levels are controlled by a series of dams and can fluctuate greatly over the course of a season.

For many years, Haliburton was under­valued. But as more buyers from Toronto discover this Shield country, within three hours of the city, those days are ending. A boat-access cottage that cost $7,000 in the early 1970s could easily fetch several hundred thousand dollars now.


Thousand Islands & St. Lawrence River, Ontario

Ontario’s portion of the mighty St. Lawrence River has two vastly different stretches. East of Brockville, the river flows wide and almost island-free. From Brockville west to Kingston and Lake Ontario, it flows even wider around a bewildering maze of islands. The Thousand Islands archipelago is the eroded remnant of billion-year-old mountain peaks, where the Canadian Shield lifts its ancient backbone through the rolling plains of Southern Ontario.
There have been cottages on the Thousand Islands for more than 100 years, and many are under fifth- and sixth-generation ownership. Communities date from Loyalist and American Civil War days, with strong ties across the border. Summer people today, just as in decades past, cottage on both mainland and island shores, drawn to the granite landscape, the rich forests, and the myriad channels, large and small.

This area has perhaps Canada’s richest ecology: five of the continent’s forest regions converge here. The islands, more than 20 of which are in the Thousand Islands Nat­ional Park, attract visitors from around the world and boaters from all over Lake Ont­ario, who camp on them or drop anchor in their sheltered bays, making the area boisterous on summer days. A downside for cottagers is that security along the Canada-U.S. border means mandatory government check-in on both shores, no matter how short the visit. Regardless of this inconvenience, a large number of Canadian waterfront cottages are sold to Americans. Many properties, particularly on the mainland, are year-round homes.


Acadian Shore, New Brunswick

New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province, and many of its vibrant Francophone communities are arrayed along its east coast, known as the Acadian Shore. Here, cottage country has traditionally meant Shediac, a 20-minute drive from Moncton. The town is the self-proclaimed lobster capital of the world, and the July festival devoted to this succulent crustacean is one of many family-oriented events. But with such a short commute to the city, many Shediac cottages are becoming year-round residences.

Farther north along the shore, waterfront dwellings tend to be more affordable, though you’ll likely find these in a fishing village rather than in a cottage community. For those willing to try a more remote area, there are beautiful beaches on Chaleur Bay, and Bathurst is an attractive regional centre with a tradition of multi-generational family cottages on its outskirts.

In northern New Brunswick, undeveloped waterfront lots are a popular investment for rural New Brunswickers working out west in the oil patch. More generally, though, the much-loathed “double tax” on second homes (actually a provincial tax on top of municipal property taxes) likely dampens the cottage market province-wide, potentially putting buyers at an advantage.


North & South Shore, Prince Edward Island

Waterfront property has long been something of an industry in P.E.I., and the whole province is smaller than the Greater Toronto Area, so we’re talking about a limited commodity. The first wave of construction was from the 1940s to the 1960s, and some of these rustic places may be available. Many fully equipped summer homes, built over the past 30 years, are in developments, and a place one or two lots back from the water, with easy access to the beach, will be more affordable, while true oceanfront will definitely cost more.

The north shore (the Gulf shore) is more commercialized, especially near Cavendish, a tourist draw as the childhood home of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The beaches here are protected Parks Canada land. Properties in the vicinity, especially near Crowbush Golf Course, come at a premium for P.E.I.

The south shore is somewhat less built up than the north, and offers great swimming in the relatively warm Northumberland Strait. For bargains, check out both tips of the island, especially toward O’Leary at the western end. If the price for waterfront seems too good to be true, there’s one word to consider: erosion.


South Shore, Nova Scotia

The most famous town on Nova Scotia’s South Shore lends its name to a prized Maritime architectural feature: the “Lunenburg bump,” a protruding dormer over a house’s main entrance. It’s not exclusive to Lunenburg but is seen as a mark of historical authenticity. Chester, closer to Halifax, is known as a summer playground for the well-heeled. Gatsby-esque waterfront places here are priced accordingly, so many people settle for a cottage on a side street, within walking distance of pubs and restaurants, the yacht club, and the theatre. From Chester, the ferry goes to Tancook Island, with its isolated, less expensive waterfront properties. Just southwest of Lunenburg, Bridgewater is the area’s commercial centre—downstream, on the both sides of the LaHave River, are some lovely shoreline properties with boating opportunities on the tidal estuary.

Along the South Shore, an affordable waterfront home may require some work and renovations to retain its historical character. Drive toward Liverpool and Shelburne and there are spectacular white-sand beaches.


Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

In 1955, Cape Breton Island was connected to North America via the Canso Causeway; a strong island identity prevails, expressed as quasi-nationalistic pride and warm hospitality. Sydney residents maintain a tradition of “going to the bungalow” in summer, but cottage life across Cape Breton now includes many out-of-province owners.

There are famously beautiful beaches at Inverness on the west side and at Ingonish on the east, near the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. But many small, secluded beaches are scattered along the coast. There are affordable places on freshwater lakes, but most Cape Breton cottagers want the saltwater experience. For a little of both, try the brackish waters of Bras d’Or Lake. It’s a boater’s paradise with protected coastline and access to open ocean for adventurous sailors. Places with deep-water mooring are pricey, but this inland sea is served by marinas in communities such as St. Peter’s, Baddeck, and Ben Eoin.

Ceilidhs, traditional Gaelic social gatherings, are held regularly in many communities, often featuring world-class fiddlers. And if you cottage into October you’ll enjoy spectacular fall foliage as well as an extensive lineup of international and local musicians at the Celtic Colours festival.


Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador

Oil and gas, mining, and hydroelectric pro­jects have brought unprecedented prosperity to Newfoundland and Labrador, so the cottage market is jumping. Locals have traditionally looked for cabins on “ponds” (lakes), a number of which are concentrated along Route 90, known as the Salmonier Line, running southwest from St. John’s. Rudimentary cabins can still be found and are affordable. Oceanfront is another story. There’s high demand for older saltbox dwellings on the water. Demand has also spurred new cottage development.

There are popular beaches around Bay Roberts and Carbonear, on Conception Bay, although icebergs in the spring discourage swimming until later in the season. If beaches are not a priority, there are cheaper properties farther south on the Avalon in communities such as Trepassey or St. Bride’s. Or, heading north, the Avalon’s spectacular coastal cliffs resemble some of Ireland’s most dramatic coastline—Irish tradition runs strong here, with accordion and fiddle music frequently heard at impromptu kitchen parties.

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