The desire for escape may be no greater than it is now, in the midst of a pandemic that has caused Canadians endless worry and anxiety. So the idea of cottage country and the joys it brings means more this summer than perhaps any other.
Muskoka for years has been Canada’s premier cottage destination — a getaway for Torontonians and residents of the Capital Region. Filled with endless lakes, beguiling night skies, and nature encounters that become mementoes in themselves, the region has developed into a global draw — except for 2020. The focus these days is caution, devising a balance between welcoming guests from within Ontario and maintaining protocols that ensure public health amid the COVID-19 crisis.
One of Muskoka’s most enduring properties, Deerhurst Resort, exemplified the kind of care and guest consideration that has made it a favourite place for generations as it tiptoed into reopening on June 12. After a heartbreaking closing in March when the resort told approximately 800 guests they had to leave because of the rapidly spreading virus and telephoned others who were en route to alert them to turn back, Deerhurst has adopted a measured strategy to its resumption of business.
It began with only 25 per cent of its rooms available for booking, moved to 35 per cent a week later, and crept to 50 per cent by Canada Day. The see-how-it-goes approach allows Deerhurst to adjust quickly to good developments or bad as health authorities monitor for outbreaks.
Muskoka Resort Adapts to Change
Guests have the chance to check-in at the front desk, where clerks are stationed behind a glass barrier, or park their vehicle at a designated spot and call in to have keycards brought to them.
The reduced occupancy size and check-in process is one of many ways Deerhurst is hoping to assure peace of mind for its guests. The property, which turns 125 years old in 2021, has effectively created more green space to allow for physical distancing by temporarily using the back nine holes of its Lakeside Golf Course for more lawn area for guests. Its beach on Peninsula Lake provides another site for relaxation and a chance to stare into alluring foliage.
Guests familiar with Deerhurst will be pleased with the culinary adaptations. In-room and take-out dining is now available, perhaps for good. Family options have been added. For example, a fish-and-chips dinner for four ($82) includes eight pieces of haddock, fries, and salad, and can be delivered to your room. Restaurant dining is limited to terrace and patio options, with servers wearing face coverings, and tables placed at appropriate distances apart and sanitized between seatings. Similar protocols can also be found at restaurants in Huntsville, the fun little town that’s a short drive from the resort.
On the property’s Highlands Golf Course, carts are for individual use only (or shared by members of the same household), rakes are not used, and pole markers must stay in the holes. The views remain exquisite and the course very challenging.
Algonquin Park Is Pristine as Ever
As always, Deerhurst is a gateway to Algonquin Provincial Park, whose western entrance is a 35-minute drive away. The park is an icon, having been masterfully depicted in the work of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven painters of the early 20th century. At 7,630 square kilometres (2,946 square miles), Algonquin is larger than Prince Edward Island and can take days to satisfactorily explore.
Although the park has reopened with the easing of Ontario’s pandemic restrictions, the hiking trails remain quieter than usual, making this summer one of the best times to plan a visit. Canoe and kayak rentals are available for exploring pristine lakes and rivers, where moose sightings are possible.
While all is not back to normal in Muskoka — and may not be for a long time — some aspects of the region remain eternally delightful. Its lakes, parks, and finest resorts being among them.
MORE ABOUT VISITING MUSKOKA IN 2020
The traffic from Toronto will likely be calmer than you’ve experienced in decades, if not ever. With less vehicles on the road because of COVID-19, the drive along Highways 400 and 11 is pleasant and relaxing — a positive change from the norm.
You may want to avoid stops to limit exposure to the coronavirus, so gas up before you depart and bring road-trip snacks. GOODTO GO and MadeGood Foods provided me with their organic, non-GMO treats to try out. The GOODTO GO bars are keto-friendly and have the texture of a soft cookie. They have a variety flavours and none of them have more than 2 grams of sugar. MadeGood snacks include granola bars with seven flavour options and soft-baked mini-cookies. The treats all have vegetable extracts to give nutritional value. I had been turned off of granola bars for a long time because of the high level of sugar in most brands, so I appreciated finding these tasty and healthier options.
For packing, remember essentials for an Ontario summer: sunscreen, mosquito repellent (I recommend Natrapel eucalyptus-based spray), and bear spray if you’re planning on deeper hikes. During COVID-19, also remember: your mask (of course), hand sanitizer, and, if you have one, a life vest to avoid using one that is shared at outfitter stores.
Where to Stay: Deerhurst Resort has 575 units after it opened its Lakeside Lodge in 2019. The expansion has helped offer more physical distancing.
Location: 1235 Deerhurst Drive, Huntsville, Ontario (see map below)
Reservations: Visit the property’s website or telephone 1-800-461-4393 (toll-free)
Room Rates: Nightly start at $279 for a weekend stay in July (minimum two-night stay). Save up to 20 per cent with the Stay Longer and Save promotion when booking rooms for 3-5 nights.
COVID-19: Deerhurst has done an outstanding job in preparing guests for what they will experience during the coronavirus pandemic. Visit the webpage devoted to learning about its COVID-19 measures for details.
Algonquin Provincial Park
Park Permits: $18 per vehicle for day use.
COVID-19: The park has a list of what’s open and what rules are in place during the public health emergency. Its COVID-19 webpage also includes important information for campers.