If you love music, make sure to check out the Tall Pines Music & Arts Festival, happening June 16–17. Code CottageLife15 gets you 15% off tickets!
The drive to the cottage can be long (especially on summer weekends when you’re stuck in traffic). If you’re looking to keep the kids in the backseat entertained or just need a walk to stretch your legs, we’ve got you. From hiking to shopping and from artwork to antiques, here are nine places to stop and explore along highways 400 and 11 on the way to Ontario’s cottage country.
Round the Bend Farm in Kettleby
Where: On Jane Street, five minutes from Highway 400 at Lloydtown-Aurora Road
If you’re in need of groceries but also want a fun and family-friendly stop along the way to cottage country, look no further than Round the Bend Farm, located on Jane Street, just a few minutes from Highway 400. Late summer and early fall is the best time to stop by, as they have a variety of seasonal activities, such as a sunflower field, a pumpkin patch, and a corn maze. Year-round, they have a petting zoo with adorable farm animals and a farmer’s market that offers fresh produce, baked goods, and, at select times of year, farm-raised, organically-fed turkeys. You might spend more than an hour here—it’s just that fun!
The 400 Flea Market in Innisfil
Where: Highway 400 and Innisfil Beach Road
If you drive up to the cottage on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the 400 Flea Market is the place to be for both food and shopping. Conveniently located just a minute off the 400, this is an indoor farmer’s market, antique emporium, and mystical bazaar all rolled into one. It shares a building with Roadshow’s 400 Antiques Mall, a warehouse filled to the literal roof with fun gadgets and home decor in just about every style. During the summer, they sell fresh produce outside, and inside they sell everything from neon signs to chicken schnitzel, and from homemade pierogies to clothing and accessories. They are only open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Centennial Beach in Barrie
Where: On Lakeshore Drive, five minutes from Highway 400 at Dunlop Street
Centennial Beach is located in the heart of downtown Barrie, on the shores of Kempenfelt Bay on beautiful Lake Simcoe. Nearby parks and playgrounds make this place fun and family-friendly, but you’ll probably want to spend more time lying on the sandy beach or strolling along the boardwalk. They also have great bike paths, volleyball courts, and mini-golf. It’s the perfect mid-way point on the drive up to cottage country and an ideal spot to stop and stretch your legs. Don’t have a lot of time? Grab a quick ice cream cone or a hot dog from a nearby food truck, and you’ll be pleasantly refreshed for the rest of your commute.
Where: Downtown Gravenhurst located 5 minutes from Highway 11 at Bethune Drive
Nowhere specific in Gravenhurst, just Gravenhurst itself! This cottage country town is the gateway to Muskoka and has so much to offer packed into a relatively small community. The waterfront is the most popular attraction, where you can go on a steamship cruise, learn about the history of boating in Muskoka, or browse the shops and restaurants along the boardwalk. Gravenhurst is also famous for its farmer’s market, which runs exclusively on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., June to October. The main street boasts some fashionable boutiques, historic buildings, lots of artwork, and delicious restaurants (try the Albion Tavern, which doubles as an art gallery!).
The Tree Museum outside of Gravenhurst
Where: 10 minutes from Highway 11 at Doe Lake Road
The Tree Museum is a hidden gem just outside of Gravenhurst, open from May to October. It features artwork, sculptures, and installations from dozens of artists, both local and international—plus, it’s completely free to visit. The Tree Museum is less a museum and more of a hiking trail that takes you past the various artworks. It’s a quick hike from the trailhead at Doe Lake Road to the museum and a great place to walk the dogs or go for a family stroll. There are countless things to see and explore along the trail, but our favourite installations include a glass outhouse, an Inukshuk garden, and huge faces and skeletons carved into rocks.
High Falls in Bracebridge
Where: Highway 11 and Cedar Lane/High Falls Road
We’ve covered High Falls in more detail before, but this place is worth seeing and exploring again and again. High Falls is located just north of Bracebridge, on the north branch of the Muskoka River, and directly off Highway 11 at either Cedar Lane or High Falls Road (the most direct access is from Cedar Lane). It’s one of the best waterfalls in cottage country, featuring some impressive rock formations and a steep, cascading waterfall. The area is surrounded by picnic sites, and you can even rent kayaks and canoes to take around the falls and paddle down the river. If you want to see more waterfalls in Muskoka, stop in at the Bracebridge Falls in beautiful downtown Bracebridge.
Lions Lookout in Huntsville
Where: Downtown Huntsville located 10 minutes from Highway 11 at Highway 60
This is another quick and easy hike you can squeeze into your drive up north. In fact, you don’t even need to hike to the top of the lookout—you can drive to the top from Forbes Hill Drive, park in the parking lot, and see the view from your car. Lions Lookout provides spectacular views of the town of Huntsville and Fairy Lake, and it is also a prime spot to see beautiful colours in the fall. After you’re finished taking in those stunning views of the town, head back down the hill to explore the town itself. Huntsville is arguably the art capital of cottage country, featuring paintings by Group of Seven artists spread out around the downtown area and a statue of Tom Thomson in the heart of the town.
Screaming Heads in Burk’s Falls
Where: On Midlothian Road, 15 minutes from Highway 11 at Burk’s Falls
Similar to the Tree Museum, Screaming Heads is an outdoor art installation located just west of Burk’s Falls. It features huge cast-concrete sculptures of—you guessed it—screaming heads, with wide open mouths and immense concrete hands stretching up from the ground. It’s somewhat of a creepy spot, but the sculptures themselves are awe-inspiring in their size and scale. Local artist Peter Camani created these surreal statues on his own property, which doubles as his artistic canvas. The site offers free parking and a donation box if you wish to contribute to the maintenance and upkeep of the sculptures.
Crystal Cave Mineral Exhibit and Crystal Shoppe in South River
Where: On Mountain View Road, 5 minutes from Highway 11 at South River
If you’re a fan of crystals, Crystal Cave in South River is the place for you. But it’s also a great spot to learn about the fascinating geological history of crystal and rock formations. Owned by husband and wife team, Julia and John Breckenridge, the couple have been collecting crystals, gems, rocks, and fossils for more than 60 years. The museum features crystals from all over the world and some that are local to Ontario. Crystal Cave is more than just a museum—it’s a hub for local artists and craftspeople to showcase their work, collaborate on projects, and connect with locals and small businesses. There’s even a food truck!
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