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9 Top-Rated Things to Do in Gravenhurst, Ontario

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Dec 11, 2020

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Popularly known as the "Gateway to Muskoka," Gravenhurst, Ontario is the closest of Muskoka's big three towns to Toronto. An easy two-hour drive north of Canada's largest city, it has for well over a century been the first town travelers would see as they made their way to the historic lodges and resorts that drew the first tourists to this area of beautiful lakes; thick woods; and that iconic exposed rock, the Canadian Shield.

Gravenhurst's role as the entrance to "cottage country" continues to be of importance to this day. Visitors can still get a taste of the lifestyles of these first cottagers aboard the RMS Segwun. This historic steamship, built in 1887, still ferries tourists the length of Lake Muskoka, and the blast of her iconic steam whistle can be heard all summer long reverberating around the Muskoka Wharf where she docks.

Now a four-season destination, Gravenhurst offers fun things to do for all ages, whatever time of year you visit. While shoppers can enjoy the locally inspired products at its art galleries or boutique shops in the downtown area and at the wharf on Muskoka Bay, those who enjoy great cultural activities can take in professional theatrical shows and concerts at its various venues across town, or even watch a drive-in movie.

From fun outdoor activities and adventures to great dining experiences, Gravenhurst should definitely be included on your list of places to visit in Ontario. To find out more about the many great sightseeing opportunities in this beautiful part of Muskoka, read through our list of the best things to do in Gravenhurst.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Explore The Muskoka Wharf

Muskoka Wharf
Muskoka Wharf

Since it opened in 2005, The Muskoka Wharf on Muskoka Bay has been one of the big must-see draws for visitors to Gravenhurst. This impressive multi-million-dollar project offers a mix of great accommodations; excellent dining (stop for afternoon tea at the Blue willow Tea Shop!); and attractions such as the famous RMS Segwun, North America's oldest still-operating steamship.

As the development's anchor attraction, the influence of the town's marine history can be seen pretty much everywhere along the Wharf. It in fact influences everything from the architecture to the themes of the many events and festivals held here each year, most notably the popular Vintage Boat Show.

From the steamships, wander along the 609-meter-long boardwalk, which connects them to a public boat launch and the Residence Inn by Marriott at the far end of the Wharf. Here, you'll also find the Muskoka Discovery Centre. This excellent interactive museum features displays and exhibits relating to Gravenhurst's rich boat building history, with restored antique classic boats and numerous period artifacts.

Add to this mix numerous lookout points offering panoramic views of Lake Muskoka, as well as nature trails, fishing, and boating activities, and it's easy to see why the wharf has become such an integral part of Muskoka's rich tapestry of fun things to do.

If you want to stay in this area, the Residence Inn Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf is a great option and one of the best hotels in Gravenhurst.

Location: Muskoka Bay, Hwy 169, Gravenhurst

Official site: www.gravenhurst.ca/en/explore-and-play/muskoka-wharf

2. Sail aboard the Muskoka Steamships

Muskoka Steamships
Muskoka Steamships | Photo Copyright: Kim Dearsley

Moving with a grace that belies her age and still captivating the crowds gathered along Muskoka Wharf to catch a glimpse of her, Muskoka's majestic "lady of the lakes" – RMS Segwun – is the main draw for Gravenhurst's Muskoka Steamships attraction.

The sole survivor of a class of ship that was once quite common in Muskoka, the Segwun was launched in 1887 and still carries over 50,000 passengers each summer. It's an impressive load, and one she now shares with her sister ship, Wenonah II. Though a very modern ship – she was launched in 2002 – the Wenonah was designed to look like she, too, comes from another century.

Sightseeing cruises run from May to October, with options that include sailing the length of Lake Muskoka as far as Lakes Joseph and Rosseau. Along the way, you'll see such sights as Millionaire's Row, where many of the world's elites own "cottages" (really mansions), with some trips taking in charming Port Carling at the top end of Lake Muskoka. Special "Fall Colour" cruises are also an option, with dining available on both ships.

For those wanting to learn more, be sure to also visit the Muskoka Steamships' Discovery Centre. Also located on Muskoka Wharf, the center houses a number of classic vintage wood boats, along with displays relating to the town's early years as a boat-building and lumber center. There are also numerous fun hands-on experiences and activities for the kids.

A new addition (2021) is the Wanda III Boathouse. This attractive addition houses the historic vessel after which it's named – an impressive steam yacht once owned by Canada's wealthy Eaton family – along with displays and exhibits related to the history of the region's once prolific fleet of steamships.

Address: 185 Cherokee Lane, Gravenhurst, Ontario

Official site: https://realmuskoka.com

3. Enjoy a Show at the Gravenhurst Opera House

Gravenhurst Opera House
Gravenhurst Opera House | Photo Copyright: Gravenhurst Opera House

Muskoka's cottage season truly arrives when the historic Gravenhurst Opera House throws opens its historic doors for its always awesome Summer Theatre program. Known among professional actors as the birthplace of Canada's tradition of summer theater, it was here in 1934 that actor John Holden decided to create what is known as "summer stock" – an opportunity for actors to keep busy in the traditionally quieter summer seasons.

Already well established – it was built in 1901 – the Opera House became home to the John Holden Players, which eventually morphed into the legendary Straw Hat Players, before winding up as the home of the long-running Muskoka Festival. Many of Canada's best-known actors graced its stage, including Donald Sutherland, who got his start here in the late 1950s.

The Gravenhurst Opera House continues to be an important part of the local (and cottager) community, hosting concerts and entertainment year-round. Indeed, a highlight of taking in a show here is enjoying the building's beautiful wood interior, which also just so happens to boast some of the best acoustics in Canada. Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, is a regular here.

Address: 295 Muskoka Road South, Gravenhurst, Ontario

Official site: www.gravenhurst.ca/en/explore-and-play/opera-house

4. Learn about Canada's Hero at Bethune House

Statue of Dr. Norman Bethune
Statue of Dr. Norman Bethune | Richard Eriksson / photo modified

It often comes as a surprise to visiting Canadians that Gravenhurst is well known internationally as the birthplace of one of the world's most famous humanitarians. Now a fascinating museum and national historic site, Bethune Memorial House was where Dr. Norman Bethune spent the first years of his life after being born in 1890 in what was, at the time, the manse of Gravenhurst's Knox Presbyterian Church.

Now home to the museum, this historic green wood-clad Victorian-era home and the adjacent visitor center are one of Muskoka's most-visited attractions. Exhibits and artifacts commemorate Bethune's impressive achievements, with a particular emphasis on his time serving as a pioneering doctor on the frontlines in China during its war with Japan in the 1930s. Bethune died a national hero in China in 1938.

Today, a visit to Bethune House kicks off with a 10-minute video showcasing his achievements. A guided tour of the historic home is included in your visit.

Address: 297 John Street North, Gravenhurst, Ontario

Official site: hwww.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/bethune

5. Stargazing in Torrance Barrens

Torrance Barrens northern lights, Muskoka, Ontario
Torrance Barrens northern lights, Muskoka, Ontario

Just a stone's throw from downtown Gravenhurst (it's less than 30 minutes' west by car on the road to Bala), the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve is one of the best places to visit in Ontario for stargazing. The preserve was established in 1999 and is one of only a handful of such locations across Canada free from light pollution, ensuring uninterrupted views of the star-filled Muskoka sky.

While the location is itself easily accessible with ample parking, be sure to take a flashlight, as there's no lighting at all. If you can, try to arrive a few hours before nightfall in order to explore the attraction's more than 5,000 acres of Crown land, much of it accessible by well-marked trails. Along the way, you might be lucky enough to spot wildlife, including rare birds and reptiles. And if you visit in winter, you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

Address: Southwood Road, Gravenhurst, Ontario

Official site: www.rasc.ca/torrance-barrens-dark-sky-preserve

6. Hike the Hardy Lake Trail

Hardy Lake Trail
Hardy Lake Trail

On the way to Torrance, you'll pass one of Muskoka's most popular nature preserves: Hardy Lake Provincial Park. The big draw is the park's trail network. There are three to choose from, ranging in length from an easy-to-walk paved surface from the car park, to the longer circular route that circumnavigates the picturesque lake.

In addition to the typical Muskoka vegetation, you'll see plenty of examples of Atlantic coastal plain species of plants. Something of a rarity in Ontario, these species were left here after the ancient Lake Algonquin receded after the last Ice Age. Sharp-eyed hikers will also see a section that resembles the rugged shorelines of Georgian Bay, displaced over millennia and still intact here.

Address: Highway 169, Torrance, Ontario

Official site: www.ontarioparks.com/park/hardylake

7. Rock On at Peter's Players

Peter's Players flag
Peter's Players flag | Photo Copyright: Peter's Players

Mention Gravenhurst to a professional musician, and they'll more than likely wax lyrical about Peter's Players. This iconic music venue located south of the downtown core (just past the town's famous Gateway arch) has earned a reputation not just for the quality of its acoustics, but for its setting.

Buy yourself a ticket for one of its year-round roster of intimate concerts, and you'll find yourself in an audience of only 115 fellow concertgoers peering down onto the stage from comfortable seating – and so close you could literally reach out and touch the performers (but don't!).

Founded in 2008, this fun venue has seen a stream of great musicians grace its small stage, from the great Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo fame to The Cowboy Junkies, Ron Sexsmith, Ashley MacIssac, Colin James, and Kiefer Sutherland.

Visiting in summer? Check out Peter's Players four-hour-long Muskoka Lakes music cruises. Departing Muskoka Wharf aboard the Wenonah II, these fun sightseeing cruises feature live music and a buffet dinner.

Address: 830 Muskoka Road S, Gravenhurst, Ontario

Official site: www.petersplayers.com

8. Play Some Golf

Taboo Muskoka Golf Course
Taboo Muskoka Golf Course | Photo Copyright: Taboo Muskoka Golf Course

Muskoka is blessed with somewhere around 30-plus championship golf courses, and Gravenhurst has two of the very best of them. Topping people's list of must-play Muskoka golf courses is Taboo. Located across the road from the Taboo Muskoka Resort, Taboo Golf Course features 18 holes, each of them defined by that rugged Muskoka rock.

This par-72, 7,200-yard-long course is simply a delight to play. With no two holes alike, it's a fun mix of manicured greens and nature in all its splendor, taking you past everything from dense pine forests to marshland.

Gravenhurst's other top course, Muskoka Bay, is equally stunning. Set on 280 acres of stunning Muskoka countryside and consistently ranking as one of Canada's top golf courses, its mix of mature forests and wetlands make for a beautiful backdrop to this lengthy 7,367-yard, par-72 course.

And be sure to visit the club's spectacular Clifftop Clubhouse. Perched on a clifftop overlooking the course, this 14,000-square-foot recreational center features a great restaurant with patio seating, a lounge, a pro shop, plus a fully equipped fitness room.

Address: 1209 Muskoka Beach Road, Gravenhurst, Ontario

Official site: www.taboomuskoka.com/muskoka-golf/taboo-muskoka-golf-course/

9. Visit Gravenhurst in Winter

Icebound steamships in Gravenhurst
Icebound steamships in Gravenhurst

When the snow flies, Gravenhurst becomes a whole other place to explore. Boasting around 400 kilometers of well-groomed snowmobile trails and connected to Ontario's extensive trail network, Gravenhurst attracts enthusiasts from far and wide, all wanting to take their sleds out for a spin across Lake Muskoka.

Don't have a sled of your own? Don't worry – many Muskoka marinas have rentals and can deliver them to your resort or cottage rental (packages include gear and permits).

Quieter winter pursuits include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at places like Gravenhurst KOA, which offers over 117 kilometers of groomed trails to explore. Muskoka Bay Resort, too, features an extensive trail network – with the benefit of free hot drinks on weekends.

The ever-popular Gravenhurst Winter Carnival is another great excuse to visit Muskoka in winter. Held each February at locations across town, the carnival includes fun family activities like skating, pond hockey, ice sculpting, dogsledding, and even a polar dip.

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