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When you find the perfect cottage for you and your family to rent, it's like finding nirvana. Relaxation, fun and enjoyment are yours for the asking and you can finally let your shoulders come down from up around your ears where they tend to sit the rest of the year round.

Perfect Ontario cottage rental
Perfect Ontario cottage rental

But if you are an inexperienced renter, there are many things that can ruin your plans for nirvana. The most likely cause will be disappointment in the rental that you have spent time looking for and planning around. Those disappointments are usually the result of forgetting to ask something of the renter before you sign on the dotted line.

We all have visions of what 'cottage life' is like and those visions are fuelled by movies and perhaps experiences in our youth. But the reality can be starkly different and it's best to figure out exactly what you need before you rent, so that you can ask the right questions.

On a basic level, you need to decide on the following:

  1. Do we want a cottage on a lake, river, or not on water at all?
  2. Do we want a motorized lake or not?
  3. Does the renter allow pets?
  4. How many rooms?
  5. Indoor plumbing?

Okay, that last one is a bit of stretch, though there are plenty of 'old time' cottages out there that don't have indoor plumbing, let alone dozens of lamps and air conditioning. You may think that the above list is obvious. If you do, you're a step ahead but perhaps the following questions aren't so obvious:

  • Can you drink the water at the cottage or do you have to bring in drinking water? For a large crowd, this can be quite a task, so it's important to know in advance.

  • Is the water accessible by a beach or does it seem to drop off from a cliff and set of stairs? If you have small children, this is a real safety issue! Moreover, small kids will much prefer a beach to play on than a bunch of jagged rocks.

  • Is the cottage flanked by a road? Well travelled or not, a road can be noisier than you expected and it could also be a safety hazard for pets or kids.

  • If the lake is motorized, what's the boat traffic like? Some lakes are quiet and peaceful. Others, in the height of summer, end up looking and sounding like Wakefest with boats and Sea-Doos ripping around in front of the cottage all the long day and half the night.
  • What kind of animal encounters are likely? Find out if there is much in the way of deer, skunk, bears or other animals around the cottage. Be sure you have a good understanding of how you are expected to deal with waste / garbage, as this is a big issue in bear country and you wouldn't want to find one visiting your kitchen. Bugs are another dimension of the animal encounter issue – knowing what bugs are 'in season' at the time of your trip will help you to cope with them with the right gear / spray, etc... With small children about, an even better option is a cottage with a screened in porch or gazebo.

  • If anyone in your party has health issues, be sure to pick a cottage that has a hospital and emergency services nearby. It can take a long while in rural areas for an ambulance to arrive so it's worth noting whether there is a local. Many small communities have a public walk-in clinic. While you're at it, find out about local vet emergency services – if you're bringing your four footed friend along for the vacation!

  • Does the cottage have WIFI or are any of the cell networks accessible at the cottage, allowing for phone calls or tethering / Internet access, via a data plan? If you can't be without your email, this might be an important consideration. Some cottages don't even have telephone service, so the availability of cell service might be more than just for fun and catching up on email! It could be important in an emergency.

  • Does the cottage have TV with cable / satellite / DVD? A lot of people feel a cottage should be a retreat from all things electronic. So they keep a minimal amount of 'technology' around. If you know this in advance and have kids who can't live without their Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs, as we have, you learn to pack a portable DVD player!

Many of these questions can be answered by advanced search engine at FindCottage.ca that would help you to filter cottages that qualify your criterias.

The old saying 'When in Rome, live as the Romans do' might not be comforting if the cottage you rented doesn't have half the amenities you assumed it would. Not everyone has the same idea of the perfect cottage experience so be sure that you are clear about what you are looking for and ask, ask, ask!

Whether or not to allow pets at your rental property is a tough choice – one often made based on personal preference, but there is one reality you cannot ignore: the pet industry in Canada is worth about $4 Billion dollars. That includes food, accessories, clothing (yes, clothing), and vacations. FurKids have become a necessary accessory for many young couples and just as many empty nesters. In parts of the country, it is difficult to find a family that doesn't have a pet of some sort. But more than just a pet, these animals are members of the family and as such, the idea of going on vacation without Rover is less and less appealing.

Dog at the cottage rental
Dog at the cottage rental

So if you are thinking of allowing pets at your cottage, here are some points to consider:

  • How many and what size? If your property accommodates more than one family, you could be getting requests to allow more than one pet. You have to decide, depending on the size of your cottage, what it can support. As to size, many places restrict the size to a certain weight limit. Just keep in mind that a quiet Golden Retriever at 65 lbs might still be a whole lot better than a yappy 5 lb Yorkie that will drive the neighbours crazy. Sound carries across the water!
  • What species will you permit? While I have referred so far to dogs, people often travel with cats, birds, rats (no thanks to the Harry Potter craze) and even snakes! So what will you allow? You need to consider that and be ready for the requests!
  • Be clear about the pet rules. Life is easier when you start as you mean to finish. It's infinitely more pleasant for all concerned if you decide what the rules are and state them plainly on your website and other materials. As a FurMom, I hate having to ask for clarification on the pet rules and am less likely to rent from a place if I have to dig to find out basic FAQs about bringing our Golden with us on vacation. Let your guests know what is allowed and what isn't and be sure to advise any extra items that you would prefer that they bring for their pet from home. Examples? A sheet for covering the sofa and protect it from fur and muddy paws. Extra towels so they don't use your bath towels to dry off the dog! Bowls for their food and water. If you aren't going to provide it and don't want them using the things you do provide for their pets, be clear and say it up front.

Focusing specifically on dogs and cats, many places simply tolerate pets but the ones that get the Golden Paw award and a bigger slice of that $4 Billion dollar pie are the ones that really welcome their little guests. How do you do that? Here are some suggestions:

  • Provide a Doggie Kit - a pail with some doggie doodoo bags, instructions on where to put the filled doodoo bags, a few biscuits, a de-skunk kit (recipe below). For kitties, a little bag of treats and a scratching post that comes out only when cat owners are renting is a good idea.
  • Dogs that spend a great deal of time in the lake are happy, happy dogs. But in the case of long fur dogs, they are in a matter of two days, the smelliest creatures on earth! A great addition is a tin tub and a bottle of oatmeal / hypoallergenic dog shampoo – it will allow a place to bath Rover and can double as the de-skunking bath place, should it become necessary.
  • Let your guests know if there is poison ivy or other poisonous plants on the property. Poison ivy doesn't bug dogs unless they are virtually hairless but it will ruin everyone else's trip when the dog rubs up against them with his or her urushiol oil covered fur! You can't see it, you can't smell it but you sure know when you've been hit with it. Many plants are poisonous to dogs and cats and you will do your visitors a service if you let them know about any of them on the property. Check sites like the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association for a comprehensive list.
  • If there is a nearby vet / vet emergency clinic, let your visitors know this information. It seems to be a rule that pets get sick at 2 in the morning! So if they owners know who to call, they won't be calling you!
  • If you provide linens, you might want to save the old, ratty towels that need replacing for the visiting pets - it could be one of those things that your guests forget and you don't want them using the good Egyptian cotton towels that you have provided in the bathroom.

Now down to the important bit: the recipe for de-skunking! You can buy pre-made de-skunking shampoo and they do work to some extent but depending on the level of spray your friend received, and if you got hit too, it might not be enough. Tomato juice? No. The real tool for de-skunking is peroxide!

  • 4 cups 3% hydrogen peroxide (1 litre)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda (60 ml)
  • 1 tsp liquid hand soap (5 ml)

Yes, that says 4 cups of hydrogen peroxide. Don't skimp - buy the big bottle - your friends, family, and Fido will thank you for your attention to detail. Mix the formula in an open container and use immediately. (Do not store it; the magic elixir becomes volatile in a closed container.) Shampoo your pet, keeping well away from its eyes, until you can't smell skunk. If the pet is not immediately deodorized, let the shampoo sit for five to 10 minutes. Rinse. If some smell still lingers, wait a day before repeating. (Source: Cottage Life Magazine July / August 2006 issue)

Needless to say, you don't have to do any of these things – simply allowing your guests to bring their FurKids to the cottage is a gesture in and of itself. There are whole resorts that have made it their business to cater to the four-legged market and they have done well during these recessionary times, more so than some who cater to only the two-legged variety of guests. With a few precautions and rules in place, having a pet or two about can greatly enhance a vacation with minimal extra effort for you.

Picture it: you're sitting on the deck, drink in hand. The sun is setting over the tree lined lake in front of you and you are feeling your shoulders come down from around your ears, the stress slowly leaving your body. Then you hear it. That ubiquitous whine that is tied to cottage living. No, I'm not talking about the kids wanting a s'more. I'm talking about bugs. In Ontario cottage country, the biggest impediment to a good time is bugs. They can drive you indoors faster than a leaking honey wagon driving down a bumpy road!

In my world, there are two types of bugs: Flighters and Biters. Flighters fly around and are pesky, but overall, they don't sting / bite. Biters are the nasty beasts that drive us crazy. So what biting / stinging bugs are endemic to cottage country in Ontario? Black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, stable flies and horse flies are the most common. Of course, there are flies, bees and wasps but, frankly, they won't bug you much (yes, pun intended) if you don't bug them. When it comes to black flies and mosquitoes, however, you might think at times that they are hiding in the bushes, plotting for the arrival of exposed human skin! One thing to avoid is cedar trees - if you have some on the property, it isn't the place to set up the hammock! Flighters and biters of all types love the sweet scent of cedar.

The Weather Network (www.theweathernetwork.com) has a very useful feature: a bug report. Simply click on this link. From there, you simply pick the closest town / city to your cottage and ... voila... an update on whether certain biters are "in season" or even if they are native to the area selected. It doesn't give you a long term forecast, however, so if you are planning for the summer or fall, this will give you a quick guideline for most of Ontario cottage country:

Mid-May to end of June - Black flies are at their worst. They have a real partiality to head / ear flesh. One of the best tools we've found to cope with them are Fly Patches - you stick a sticky patch on the back of a baseball cap and the black flies get stuck on it. A little gross when you take off your hat and they're still flapping, but better than having a chunk of your scalp removed. They really don't like windy areas but they do like fast running rivers and shady spots so find one and avoid the other, during black fly season!

Black flies at the cottage
Black Flies at the cottage

Mid-May to August - Mosquitoes. These are ever-present, particularly in the shade or after sunset. Many a summer wedding has been ruined as the guests flapped their arms around, avoiding the skeeters, sending wines glasses and cake plates flying! More importantly, as carriers of West Nile Virus, mosquitoes are more than just annoying. Keeping the bites to a minimum is important to your families' health.

Mosquitoes at the cottage
Mosquitoes at the cottage

Want to avoid them entirely and you don't have to worry about back to school? September is perfection! Want to brave them anyways? Be sure to be covered up: if you're going for a hike, wear light, long pants and tuck them into socks and a long sleeved shirt, all in light colours - they are more attracted to dark colours. You might want to consider a bug hat and shirt - not the height of fashion but better than being covered in red, itchy bites.

Head net to protect against black flies and mosquitoes at the cottage rental
Head net to protect against black flies and mosquitoes at the cottage rental

Bug spray containing DEET is the order of the day. I love the idea of citronella... it's safer, it smells nice... I loved it until I found myself running directly into the river near my home while wearing it because I found out that it didn't work! Remember that DEET products aren't recommended for small children (under 6 months) - their bodies simply shouldn't be exposed to DEET. If you can keep your wee one in a play pen, get a bug net so that they can still enjoy the great outdoors with you. According to Today's Parent magazine (Originally published in Today's Parent, July 2009) for older kids: Children aged six months to two years should use bug repellent with 10 percent DEET and only once a day. Those aged two to 12 should use the same concentration, with applications up to three times a day. Only children over age 12 should use 30 percent DEET and, even then, sparingly. Never apply it on the face and hands, regardless of age. It needs to be washed off with soap and water at the end of the day.

With a little planning and time management, bugs don't have to be the bane of your cottage existence. So get the bug spray out and enjoy your summer!

A week booked at a cottage and it rains for two days. Reason to panic? Visions of kids running amok, trying to braid the dog's fur out of boredom?

Rainy day at cottage rental
Rainy day at cottage rental

As I said in my "What to Take to the Cottage" article in March, the key is to 'be prepared'. Books, board games and playing cards help but here is a more specific list of fun things to do:

  • Research the area around your cottage before you leave to see if there are any attractions to visit (HINT: FindCottage.ca always has some new and interesting listings for different cottage country areas! Check them out!) Make note of location, hours of operation, GPS locators and so on.
  • Go to town! Small villages and towns thrive on summer visitors and rainy days can be the best of fun, with bakeries and little cafes filling up quickly! Check out the local boutiques and get an ice cream cone. Rain or shine, nothing is better than a cone with sprinkles!
  • Drop in on the nearest tourist office or Chamber of Commerce! They often have listings of local events going on, including indoor activities, and can direct you with maps and coupon books! If you have kids with you, many communities have indoor playgrounds that you can visit for a 'per kid' fee. These are great for burning off that energy!
  • Bring rain gear! Short of a full on thunderstorm, a little rain shouldn't stop you from going on a nature hike! In fact, it can be a perfect time as a little rain will help to keep the bugs down and keep things nice and cool for walking. Make sure everyone has appropriate shoes though, as rocky trails can get slippery when wet!
  • Don't want to leave the cottage? Set up a fort! All you need is cushions and blankets to make your own fortified city, complete with a snack corner with popcorn and drinks! Turn off all the lights and use flash lights for extra fun! This is a great way to distract little ones during a thunderstorm and the big kids have some fun too!

Time at the cottage is meant to be family and friends time. It's easy to digress back to old habits and simply flip on the TV or put in a DVD to watch, when the weather turns bad.

While there's nothing wrong with curling up with a cup of tea and a good book, take some time to do something as a group and getting people talking to one another. One way? Bring a box of old photos, some glue and a couple of big pine picture frames with backing (easily found at stores like IKEA). You know that box that you have in the closet that you keep meaning to organize but never seem to get around to? Now's the time! Spread out the pictures and start getting everyone involved in putting them into a collage on the picture frame backing. You just have to put them in place to start and can glue them later. It's absolutely guaranteed that someone will pick up one of the pictures and say: "Do you remember when ...?" Off you go down nostalgia lane!

Family fun at cottage rental during the rain
Family fun at cottage rental during the rain

Of course, one of the best ways to avoid rainy day blues is by making sure you have something special tucked up your sleeve for meal times... Like a sundae bar? Different ice creams, bananas, jelly beans, gummy bears, chocolate chips, chocolate and caramel sauce and sprinkles of all kinds... Let the kids, young and old, make their own sundae and soak in the silence as everyone digs in and enjoys their very own creation!

Map with attractions

1. Santa's Village

The question is not 'What can you do at Santa's Village?'. It's 'what CAN'T you do!' After all, where else would Santa choose to summer but in the heart of Muskoka? Three parks in one - Santa's Village, Sportsland and Eaglecrest - make this the attraction with something for everyone. At Santa's Village, you can take a leisurely boat ride down the Muskoka River on Santa's Summer Sleigh, or try your luck at prize winning with Candy Cane Lane's games of skill! Of course, there's Santa's SplashZone for when the wee ones get too hot. Sports fans will enjoy the Go-Kart track, mini golf and zipline or treetop adventures at Sportsland and Eaglecrest!

Website: http://www.santasvillage.ca

Price: 2010 rates aren't posted yet, but you can buy a season's pass for only $59.95 plus tax (before June 18, 2010).

2. Muskoka Wildlife Centre

It's not a zoo. It's a place to learn about wildlife conservation in an interactive way. In addition to the indoor exhibits and 50 acres of walking trails, visitors can participate in animal encounters of their own! Daily encounters could include a bird of prey demonstration, a wolf howl or even a 'Meet the Creature' event! Many of the animal residents were pets at one time, but all have been placed at the Muskoka Wildlife Centre to live their lives in safety and comfort. The Centre provides a tremendous opportunity for people of all ages to learn about Ontario wildlife.

Website: http://www.muskokawildlifecentre.com

Price: Adult $12.75 Teen/Senior $10.75 Child $9.75 Family (2 adults & up to 3 children) $45.00

3. Muskoka Back Country Paintball

16 acres of pure adrenalin rush fun can be found at Muskoka Back Country Paintball. A family business just outside of Bracebridge, this field of fun is laid out among the rocks and trees of the real Muskoka landscape! Whether as a family fun day or a team / group outing, Muskoka Back Country Paintball has it all, including a Pro Shop for anything you might need to make your day complete! All players need to be at least 10 (ten) years of age to participate but be sure that players of all ages above 10 will have a... blast? Groups big and small can get some exercise while having a great time amongst the trees of the Muskoka wilderness.

Website: www.backcountrypaintball.com

Price: Regular Paintball Entry Fee $20 per player includes; Rental marker a set of goggles and unlimited HPA or CO2. Additional paintballs, group rates and more are available on the website.

Nothing ruins a cottage vacation faster than spending the better part of each day listening to kids of all ages whining: "What's for dinner?"... Me? I'd rather be attacked by a thousand mosquitoes rather than hear that every day.

The key to avoiding the 'whine' is to plan your menu in advance and arrive prepared with easy recipes, the best of which can be done on the barbecue! Who wants to be in front of a hot stove in July?

If you're into cooking and food, check online for local farmer's markets and bakeries – you can get fruit & veggies, bread, desserts and more, all in one easy stop. Some will even have local meat producers, which is always a treat. If you're like my husband, more of a weenies and beans kind of guy while on vacation, then you'll have the easiest time of all. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, so here are some easy barbecue recipes to tempt most palates:

Boneless Marinated Flat Chicken with Veggie Packets:

Most butchers have these available: it is a vacuum packed boneless flat chicken – if you're lucky, it will be a capon and so really heavy on the breast meat. Even better if it pre-marinated! All you have to do is open the package and pop it on a pre-heated barbecue!

  1. Pre-heat the barbecue to the maximum - at least 500 F
  2. Place the chicken on the lower rack and sear the chicken for 2-4 minutes, depending on the size of the thickest part of the breast. Flip it over and do the same for the other side.
  3. Move the chicken on the upper rack to one side. Adjust the heat to about 350ºF, turn off the flame under the chicken then close the lid. At this point, the heat needs to be indirect to allow for a moist and tender end result. Leave on for about 20 minutes, flip once only and leave on for another 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Remove and let rest for about 10 minutes!


Grilled Boneless Marinated Flat Chicken
Grilled Boneless Marinated Flat Chicken

Now, for the accompanying veggie packets - what you put in a veggie packet is all up to personal taste, but this is a family favourite:

  1. Take pieces of foil, about 12 inches wide, and lay out one piece for each packet (1 packet per adult).
  2. Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of each one and sprinkle liberally with either Montreal Steak Spice or a combination of salt/pepper and Herbes de Provence (all of which can be bought pre-mixed in the herb jars at the grocery store).
  3. Start laying a stack of veggies - here's a sample list:
    • Really thin slices of yam / sweet potato (too thick and they won't cook)
    • Slices of red onion
    • Slices of mushroom
    • Slices of red, orange, yellow peppers
    • Small chunks of zucchini (for greenery!)
    • Some finely chopped or grated garlic
  4. Sprinkle a little more oil on top, and a little more herbs and you're done! Simply fold up the packets and make distinctive 'ears' or other markers to show which packet belongs to which person. This is a fun way to get the kids involved - they can each make their own packet!
  5. These should be placed on the lower rack when you have lowered the heat to medium (350 F) for the chicken - and moved to the upper rack when you flip the chicken. The yam is the longest to cook and can burn because of the sugar content so be careful not to place them directly over the flame!

Barbecue Pizza

Another hit with kids of all ages as each person can prepare their own toppings!

The easiest way is to get pita bread - individual sizes - to use as the pizza bases - avoids mixing, kneading or otherwise messing about with dough on your vacation!

Prepare the following toppings:

  • Grated mozzarella cheese or use slices of bocconcini cheese for extra gooey oomph
  • Fresh bay leaves, if you can get them, ripped up
  • Canned pizza sauce
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or slices
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Sliced red onion
  • Pepperoni - pre-sliced or sometimes we buy pepperettes and slice them up thinly - makes tiny but packed with punch tasty pepperoni!
  • Canned pieces of pineapple
  • Cut up cooked ham

You can vary any and all of the toppings based on your likes / dislikes…

  1. Brush each pita with a little olive oil and place an pre-heated to medium heat grill for 2 minutes to warm up.
  2. Remove and quickly add toppings.
  3. Return the pizzas to the grill and close the lid - leave them in there 2-5 minutes, depending on the amount of toppings.
  4. Remove and serve!

Barbecue Pizza
Barbecue Pizza

What would dinner be without a great dessert? How about Grilled Peaches with Vanilla Ice Cream

You're going to need:

  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp. fresh ground black peppercorns
  • 2 large fresh peaches with peel, halved and pitted

  1. In a saucepan - either on the grill or in the kitchen - simmer, over medium heat, the sugar, balsamic vinegar and peppercorn. When the mixture is reduced by half and has become thicker, remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Preheat grill to medium-high (350-400 F)
  3. Place peaches on the grill with the peel side up. Grill for five minutes or until the peach is caramelized. Turn the peaches and coat the top with the balsamic vinegar mixture. Grill for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Serve vanilla ice cream in a bowl, topped with a peach half and the remaining balsamic vinegar mixture poured over!

Grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream
Grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream

Like the Boy Scouts, your best bet when renting a cottage is to “Be Prepared”. Every rental is different in terms of what the renter is providing and if you're there for a week or more, you don't want to find yourself driving to the nearest store to stock up on all the things you forgot!

The first step is to read the list of what is provided very carefully. Many rentals do not provide linens or towels, which are essential unless you enjoy sleeping in your clothes! Some don't have a coffee machine, which if you are like me, is a life saving instrument! Know what you're getting and then make a list of all the things you will need.

Here is a useful list to get you started:

  1. First aid kit, including specific items for kids and dogs, like children's pain reliever and doggy bandages! You could be a fair distance from a doctor or vet. When in doubt, ask your paediatrician and veterinarian what you would be best to pack. Do a little research beforehand and make sure you know where the nearest emergency clinic / hospital is and the phone number, for both the two legged and four legged kids of all ages!
    Make sure also to include some remedy for poison ivy / poison oak, like calamine lotion. Nothing ruins a trip faster than a good dose of the itches!
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Bug spray
  4. Bed linens, bathing towels and kitchen linens (cloths) if not provided. If they are provided, you will still need item 5 (below)!
  5. Beach towels (separate from bathing towels): the cottage owners probably didn't intend for you to haul their cottage towels down to the water, to get full of sand and such.
  6. Any special kitchen utensils - we once received a set of weenie roasting forks and these have accompanied us on every trip since! They're also perfect for marshmallows!
  7. A board game or two, for rainy weather.
  8. DVDs (if a player is provided), for evenings or rainy days.
  9. Books, magazines and playing cards.
  10. Clothes - I have yet to rent a place that has a washer / dryer, so consider the possibility that you might need to hand wash a few "essentials" but that otherwise, you've got to last the duration of your rental or make a trip to town to the local laundromat. Sweatshirts / sweaters for evening and long pants too, in case it's cool and buggy! A wind / rain jacket will allow outdoor fun to continue, no matter what the weather brings.
  11. Depending on where you are going and what time of year, you might want to consider bug suits: they aren't fashion show pretty but they certainly make that hike in the woods more palatable!
  12. Food Glorious Food! There is nothing worse than a restful vacation where you are shopping and cooking, as if you were at home! You know what I mean, Moms! Pre plan your menu for the duration of the trip and focus on BBQ related recipes (assuming you have a BBQ) as well as a few oven based items. In a thunderstorm, you'll appreciate the frozen lasagna you can pop into the oven, instead of getting soaking standing in front of the BBQ. Don't forget the all important snacks and drinks. Verify if the water at the cottage is potable - if not, you should bring your own. Don't forget things like coffee, tea, and other drinkables of the adult variety, if that's your pleasure!

Preparing for trip to the cottage
Preparing for trip to the cottage

Other Items to Consider:

  1. With little kids, don't forget sand / water toys and their favourite bed time item. If you have a baby with you, consider bringing their own portable play pen with a bug net, so they can be outside too!
  2. We always bring some toilet paper and paper towels with us – while these are generally provided, one man's paper needs aren't always the same as another's and you could find yourself running short.
  3. If you are renting near a town, plan a trip to town about midway through your vacation – you can stock up on any dwindling supplies and it makes for a change of scenery for kids of all ages. It usually means a stop at the local ice cream outlet but hey, that's what summer is all about!

Of course, there will be things that aren't on this list that you consider as essential to your trip. The really important part is making the list and, like Santa, checking it twice. Otherwise, it is almost guaranteed that you will be half way to your destination and groaning that you forgot something!

Map with attractions

1. Rent a cottage in Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain is the most famous ski resort in Ontario. Beside Intrawest resort there are many cozy ski chalets and beautiful lake cottages available from private owners and professional cottage rental agencies. Blue Mountain offers amazing weekend getaway just 1.5 hour drive from Toronto where you can combine threal of downhill skiing with the relaxation in Scandinavian spa. To find the best cottage based on your needs use FindCottage.ca unique search engine.

Website: Blue Mountain cottage rentals

Price: Prices start as low as $700 per winter weekend and drop a little during summer months. Be ready to pay the premium price if you want to spend New Years or Christmas at Blue Mountain.

View of Blue Mountain village along with rental cottages
View of Blue Mountain village along with rental cottages

2. Ski from the top of Blue mountain

Blue Mountain stretches across the Niagara Escarpment with 720 vertical feet, 15 lifts, and 36 trails ranging from beginner to double black diamond. You will enjoy plenty of on-snow time, with four high-speed six-person lifts across the resort. If you prefer to hit the hills after the sun sets, Blue Moutnain has you covered with 24 trails and 11 lifts under the lights. Blue Mountain Ski Resort is the largest ski resort in Ontario and it offers ski rentals, beginner lessons, 4-star accommodations and has very cozy ski village.

Website: http://www.bluemountain.ca/

Price: Lift tickets are $56 per adult during the day and $45 during the night skiing. If you come to Blue Mountain often or stay there for a week - season passes provide great value. For example, Sunday-Thursday day plus all week night (5x7) skiing will cost you only $169 per season.

Skier and snowboarder at Blue Mountain
Skier and snowboarder at Blue Mountain

3. Relax in Le Scandinave Spa

Le Scandinave Spa is a Nordic-style spa in woodland setting with all-weather pools and saunas. While enjoying the steaming-hot pool and thermal waterfall, bathers can observe beautiful Blue Mountain. Spa treatments-Swedish, hot stone and Thai yoga massages-typically follow the hot-cold bathing routine: first heating the body in the log cabin sauna, steam room or any of the three hot pools to open up the pores, then plunging into a cold water pool. After performing the ritual three times, your muscles are considered sufficiently softened up for a massage.

Website: http://www.scandinave.com/en/bluemountain/

Price: The cost is $44 for bath and $115 for an hour session of high-class massage.

View of Scandinavian Spa at Blue Mountain
View of Scandinavian Spa at Blue Mountain

4. Hit Wasaga Beach

Wasaga Beach is the longest freshwater beach in the world - 14 km long. The beach itself is white and sandy.

The beach is divided into smaller beaches with the public beaches numbered 1 to 6 sequentially from east to west. A boardwalk runs most of the way along Beach 1 and 2. Beach 1 draws the largest crowds, with the popularity quality of the beaches decreasing the further west.

West of the main beaches is another large beach (New Wasaga) that has many houses and cottages with direct access to beach.

Wasaga Beach has a good variety of accommodations and restaurant choices. Throughout the summer there is a different event almost every weekend, lots of choices for evening entertainment and an endless variety of summer sporting activities.

Price: Free

Wasaga Beach near Blue Moutain
Wasaga Beach near Blue Moutain

5. Visit Scenic Caves and Walk the Suspension Bridge

Both Scenic Caves and Suspension Bridge are conveniently located in the park just minutes away from the Blue Mountain.

Take part in a self-guided hike along the trails through the caves and caverns.

Once inside the labyrinth of caves you will feel a connection with the Petun people who once used these very caves as protection and shelter from the weather and their enemies.

For the more adventurous, you can descend into the ice cave that is so deep and cold that snow and ice can usually be seen even in the early summer.

The Suspension Bridge is at the highest point on the Niagara Escarpment, suspended high above the ground. Visitors have the most spectacular view of Georgian Bay and the surrounding countryside that is 10,000 square-km of awe-inspiring view. At 126 meters long, 25 meters above the valley and stream, and more than 300 meters above Georgian Bay, it is the longest suspension footbridge in Ontario.

Website: http://www.sceniccaves.com/

Price: Admission to the Scenic Caves adventure park (both Scenic Caves and Suspension Bridge) is $19 per adult. Park operates during May-October. It is also open in winter for cross-country skiing.

Suspenstion Bridge at Blue Mountain
Suspenstion Bridge at Blue Mountain

6. Take a Plunge!

Plunge! is the ultimate, all ages, four season water adventure at the base of Blue Mountain Ski Resort.

Inspired from the tradition of cottage-style boathouses, Plunge! is an authentic and magical expression of a place and its people. Indoor-outdoor pools, indoor water playground, hot tubs, rope swings, docks and slides are sure to provide year-round fun. Or, if you prefer, simply watch all the action from the comfort of your dock chair.
Plunge! has something for everyone, infant to senior. With swimming lessons, water fitness, and more, kids and children will have fun, as will the adults in the family.

Website: http://plungebluemountain.ca/

Price: Rates are flexible: full and half-day, family pass, etc. Regular full day rate for adult is $17 and for 3-13 year old child - $12.

Pool at the Plunge in Blue Mountain village
Pool at the Plunge in Blue Mountain village

Map with attractions

1. Rent a cottage in Haliburton Highlands

Haliburton Highlands is one of the top cottage destinations in Ontario that has activities for everyone on hundred of interconnected lakes, forests, golf courses and in beautiful Haliburton village.

Website: Haliburton Cottage Rentals

Price: In summer average price is $1500-$3000 CAN per week and most cottages rented on weekly basis only starting from Saturday. In winter prices drop to $1000-$2000 per week and the duration of the rent become more flexible.

View on Haliburton Village with many cottages on the lake shores
View on Haliburton Village with many cottages on the lake shores

2. Go on the Canopy Tour - "Walk in the clouds"

"Walk in the clouds" is unforgetable 4-hours trip for nature lovers that takes you thorough basic element of nature - earth, water and air. It starts through guided van trip through the private lands of Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve.
Then you will have short half-a-kilometer walk along the scenic Pelaw River following guided canoe ride across a wilderness lake to the final destination.

The canopy boardwalk is the ultimate highlight of this outing. Over half a kilometer long - and as such the longest of its kind in the world - the canopy boardwalk winds through the treetops some 10-20 meters above the forest floor.

A spectacular view across the lakes and forests becomes a fitting closure to your tree top tour.

Website: http://www.haliburtonforest.com/canopy.html

Price: $95 per person including Wolf Reserve visit and it is required to reserve your tour in advance. The tour runs every day during the summer and children 10 or older allowed for this tour.

Amazing trail up in the air - Canopy Tour in Haliburton
Amazing trail up in the air - Canopy Tour in Haliburton

3. Visit Sculpture Forest

The Haliburton Sculpture Forest is a unique outdoor collection of sculptures by Canadian and international artists. The trails in the Sculpture Forest for walking and bike riding in spring, summer and fall and skiing in the winter, provide changing perspectives of the forest and the sculptures in each of the seasons.

The Sculpture Forest experience, which is unstructured and unscripted, is ideal for families looking for an interesting outing, for those who enjoy outdoor trails, and for people looking for a unique artistic experience.

A full tour takes approximately 1 - 1.5 hours and includes a tour guide who will provide you with background on the artists, the sculptures and the Sculpture Forest.

Website: http://www.haliburtonsculptureforest.ca

Price: The price of the tour is $5 per person, however you can take advantage of free admission on every Tuesday in July and August.

Metal sculptures in Haliburton Sculpture Forest
Metal sculptures in Haliburton Sculpture Forest

4. Visit Haliburton Forest Wolf Center

The Wolf Centre contains large indoor observatory overlooking the feeding area within the wolf compound. Most likely you will have a chance to observe wolf pack or individual members especially if you stay for longer period, but it is not guaraneed. There are also numerous exhibits, a small cinema/classroom, a retail area featuring a wide selection of wolf related books, tapes and graphics. So, at the end of you stay you will become a wolf expert.

Website: http://www.haliburtonforest.com/wolf.html

Price: Adult: $9.00; Children and Youths under 18: $6.00; Family: $20.00

Wolf in Haliburton Forest Wild Life reserve
Wolf in Haliburton Forest Wild Life reserve

5. Play golf in the Pine trees

If you're looking for a scenic and challenging golfing experience, Haliburton is the place to be.

The main feature of most Haliburton golf courses is amazingly tall pine trees and beautiful landscapes featuring hills and lakes.

Most golf courses offer varied terrain, lush fairways and excellent greens-keeping, as well as a fully equipped golf shop, cart rental, rental clubs, and driving range where you can warm-up before the game.

Here are some main golf clubs and hotel resorts that have website and are available to public:
Pinestone Resort,
Martinwood Resort,
Haliburton Highlands Golf Course,
Blairhampton Golf Club.

Price: Around $25-$40 for 9-holes and $50-$80 for 18-holes courses.

Golf course in MartinWood resort, Haliburton
Golf course in MartinWood resort, Haliburton

6. Drive ATV on Haliburton terrain

ATVs are all-terrain vehicles where the driver sits on and drives like a motorcycle. The only difference with motorcycle is that ATV gives you more stability.

With one of the largest trail systems in Ontario, Haliburton has over thousand kilometers of breathtaking ATV trails to offer outdoor enthusiasts. You and your family or friends can choose from easy scenic forest trails or more intermediate trails filled with mud bogs, river crossing steep hills, and one of a kind fault line terrain.

If you have your own ATV, you can just register with Haliburton ATV association and for $12 they will give you a map with the trail pass. If you don't own ATV and you still want to try it, you can rent ATV from Back Country tours.

Website: http://www.backcountrytours.ca

Price: Starting from $70 per hour

ATV on Haliburton trails
ATV on Haliburton trails

7. Climb Dorset Lookout Tower

Dorset Lookout Tower is a former fire tower that is over 100 feet tall and stands 365 feet above the Lake of Bays and the village of Dorset. It has beautiful breath-taking views and many radiant trails that start from the Tower.

You can enjoy picnic areas along with hiking trails. It is open to the public from end of May till middle of October.

Website: http://www.algonquinhighlands.ca/tower/index.html

Price: $4 per car

View of Dorset Lookout Tower in Haliburton
View of Dorset Lookout Tower in Haliburton

8. Kayak in Minden Wild Water Preserve

Minden Wild Water Preserve is the site of past Provincial and World Cup whitewater events.

Come and see professional paddlers challenge the tumbling waters of our World Class white water course. You can watch pros and amateurs battle it out in annual competitions, or even try it yourself through the beginner courses offered throughout the summer.

Powered by "Whitewater Ontario", the introductory kayak clinic is intended for first time paddlers or for those who wish to improve their basic kayaking skills. The course is designed as an introduction to recreational kayaking. The skills you will learn can be used for whitewater, touring, or sea kayaking.

Website: http://www.whitewaterontario.ca/index.php

Price: Kayak Clinic costs $220 per adult and $180 per junior

Kayak at Minden Wild Water Preserve
Kayak at Minden Wild Water Preserve

9. Ride the horse on Algonquin Trails

South Algonquin Trails offers you a horseback riding experience with certified trail guides.

Conveniently located between Haliburton and Bancroft, the area provides a natural environment for seeing rock outcroppings, ponds, beaver dams, streams, rivers, rugged hills, huge pine trees, and bear claw marks on the beech trees.

Operated during the summer months.

Website: http://www.southalgonquintrails.com/

Price: The prices start from $50 per hour per rider.

Horse riding in Algonquin trails, Haliburton
Horse riding in Algonquin trails, Haliburton

10. Discover Haliburton arts

Haliburton is famous for its artists.

You will find hundreds of artists that specialize in oil, acrylic and watercolour paintings, pottery, creative woodworking, needle art, sculpture and wood carving, metal works and blacksmithing, photography, sepia drawings, fabric art, home decor, handcrafted gifts, cottage accessories, folk art just to name a few.

Around every corner in Haliburton you'll see a gallery, a studio, a museum, or a theatre.

You can visit numerous shops and art galleries in Haliburton village, observe artists or even take short course.

Haliburton School of arts offers an amazing range of week long and weekend courses throughout the year.
Straw bale construction, digital photography, stained glass workshops, and watercolour painting classes are just a few of the courses available.

Website: http://www.haliburtonschoolofthearts.ca/

Price: Starts as low as $1.

Glassblowing workshop in Haliburton School of Arts
Glassblowing workshop in Haliburton School of Arts

11. Ski Haliburton Nordic Trails

The Haliburton Nordic Trails Association maintains a series of distinct trail systems comprising nearly 100km of groomed trails for the cross-country ski enthusiast.

Trails feature skate and classic grooming patterns, a 1.5 km lit-loop for night skiing, some trails suitable for novice skiers, and some of the most challenging terrain for cross-country skiing in Ontario.

Website: http://www.skihaliburton.com/

Cross Country skiing in Haliburton
Cross Country skiing in Haliburton

Map with attractions

1. Rent a cottage in Bruce Peninsula

Bruce Peninsula offers very unique nature envrionment based on crystal blue water, ancient rocks and clear sky that is very healthy for humans. The best way to enjoy Bruce Peninsula is to spend whole week exploring its wonders in the wide variety of cottages offered by private owners and professional rental agencies. And the best way to find the perfect place from this wide variety is to use FindCottage.ca website.

Website: Bruce Peninsula cottage rentals

Price: In summer most cottages are rented on the weekly bases starting from Saturday. Average price during the summer months is $1000-$2500 per week. During late spring and early fall you can get the best deal and in winter most cottages are closed.

View of the Bruce Peninsula shore with kayak
View of the Bruce Peninsula shore with kayak

2. Explore Flowerpot Island

Flowerpots are rock formations that have a shape of flowerpots and are formed by erosion and separation of portion of the mainland rock. The process takes millions of years and it is still happening today. Flowerpot Island is an island (that was part of the land bridge connecting Bruce Peninsula with Manitoulin Island) that has two Flowerpot Formations is just short boat ride away from Tobermory.

The island contains 6 km trail system that takes you around the island interior. It leads you through variety of forest settings and naturally formed caves (you get to them climbing beautiful wooden staircases). This place is also a beautiful nesting place for many birds and other animals. To get to the island you need to take the tour boat.

Website: http://www.pc.gc.ca/amnc-nmca/on/fathomfive/index_E.asp

Price: The tour boats prices range from $25 to $40 per adult.

Flowerpot Island in Bruce Peninsula
Flowerpot Island in Bruce Peninsula

3. Hike Bruce Trail in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Bruce Peninsula Nation Park was established in 1987, and it is a part of the Niagara Escarpment. The park is 156 square kilometers, and is considered to be one of the largest protected park areas in southern Ontario. Visitors of the park get an opportunity to see how the southern Ontario wilderness once looked.

The park is great for outdoor adventures such as hiking and camping. The parks main attraction is its preserved wildlife such as deer, chipmunk, red squirrel, black bear and foxes. The park also features a wide variety of flowering orchids, of which there is 44 species in the park.

Hikers should check out the breath taking views from the Overhanging Point, Halfway Rock point, Cave Point and Halfway Log Dump.
All of those are very famous sightseeing places, and if you are there, make sure to check out the Grotto, a huge cave formation with Georgian Bay water in its bottom.

Website: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/on/bruce/index.aspx

Price: Daily parking is $11.70 per car. Camping is $23.50 per night.

Hiker at Bruce Peninsula Trail
Hiker at Bruce Peninsula Trail

4. Dive clear waters to see ship-wrecks

Tobermory, small village that is located on top of Bruce Peninsula, attracts many diving enthusiasts, mainly because there are tons of stuff to see underwater. There are over twenty ship wrecks in the clear waters of Tobermory, many of them dating back to mid-19th and early 20th centuries. The underwater beauty doesn't stop with the ships; beneath the water you will find beautiful corals, underwater caves and stunning geological formations.

There are few locations in Tobermory that organize scuba adventures and rent diving gear:
Diver's Den, G+S Watersports.

Website: http://www.diversden.ca/

Price: The prices start from $40 per dive and packages that include gear and dive start from $120. You are required to have a diver license.

Diving at ship-wrecks in Bruce Peninsula
Diving at ship-wrecks in Bruce Peninsula

5. Ride Chi-Cheemaun Ferry with your car

The MS Chi-Cheemaun is a passenger and a car ferry service that has been in operation since 1930s. The ferry goes between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manatoulin Island and connects the two geographically-separate portions of Highway 6, the service runs seasonally from mid-May to mid-October.

It completely worth to spend one full or even multiple days on Manitoulin Island that is the world's largest freshwater island famous for its spectacular sunsets, scenic landscapes and tranquility.

The ferry has a capacity for carrying 648 passengers and 143 vehicles, including room for large transport vehicles such as buses and transport trucks.

Website: http://www.ontarioferries.com/chi/english/index.html

Price: The prices for Adults start at $15.95, rates per vehicle range from $34.70-$74.50.

Ch-Cheemaun Ferry at the pier in Bruce Peninsula
Ch-Cheemaun Ferry at the pier in Bruce Peninsula

6. Hit Sauble Beach

Sauble Beach is a resort area on the eastern shores of Lake Huron, and it is a very popular tourist attraction in Bruce Peninsula. The shoreline is over 11km long, and is said to be the second longest freshwater beach in the world after Wasaga Beach. The shoreline has an interesting phenomenon that has developed sand dunes, which keep the beach very shallow and warm, and that makes it a perfect family getaway with children.

Sauble Beach is endless for the activities such as swimming, windsurfing, water-skiing, tennis, beach volleyball and etc. Sauble Beach is also very popular among the cottage owners and renters, to accommodate a lot of people, Sauble beach is filled with local business that provide great food, restaurants, hotels, daycare and a medical clinic. Many restaurants on Sauble Beach provide free high-speed internet connection, so even if you are on vacation, you can always stay connected.

Website: http://www.saublebeach.com/

Price: Free

Sauble Beach entrance in Bruce Peninsula
Sauble Beach entrance in Bruce Peninsula

7. Enjoy the spirit of Tobermory village

Tobermory village is a small community (local population - 500 residents) that is located at the top point of Bruce Peninsula. The village itself is very popular tourist attraction - there are a lot of restaurants and cafes (popular dish is the local white fish), beautiful harbour with many private and tour boats, cozy motels and Bed & Breakfast cottages.

The lives and activities of Tobermory's residents have always centered around boats and the two, fine harbors of Big Tub and Little Tub. Its strategic location has made Tobermory a port of refuge for canoe, mackinaw boat, schooner, steamer and yacht. The harbors have also provided an ideal base of operations to fleets of fishing tugs, the Manitoulin car ferries, guide boats, dive tugs and tour boats. At the begining of past century during the boom of logs cut, there were 3 sawmills operationg in Tobermory. In 1930s the focus sweetched to guide boats and eventually it became one of the main tourist destinations in Ontario.

There are a lot of restaurants and cafes in Tobermory. Popular dish around the village is the local white fish. There is also a wide range of local accommodations such as hotels, cottages, Bed & Breakfasts and campgrounds. In general, Tobermory is a perfect getaway spot for families, photographers, divers, hikers and everyone who loves beautiful nature.

Website: http://www.tobermory.org/public/jpage/1/p/Home/content.do

View of Tobermory Village in Bruce Peninsula
View of Tobermory Village in Bruce Peninsula

8. Camp at Sauble Falls Provincial Park

Sauble Falls Provincial Park is located in south part of Bruce Peninsula, in the lower base of Sauble River. The park is divided in campgrounds, the side on the west is a quiet site, while the east side is not, and perfect for group camping. The park is also great because you don't necessarily need to camp there, as you can just enjoy Sauble Falls.

During spring and fall the area is perfect for fishing enthusiasts as Rainbow Trout and Chinook salmon are popular fish in the Sauble Fall. In the summer people tend to do a lot of water activities around the park, such as water rafting and cliff jumping.

Website: http://www.ontarioparks.com/english/saub.html

Price: Camp site rentals are usually from $25.75 to $40.00 depending if the site has electricity or not.

View of the falls at Sauble Falls Provincial Park in Bruce Peninsula
View of the falls at Sauble Falls Provincial Park in Bruce Peninsula

9. Ride a Mountain Bike at Adventure park

For adventures mountain bikers Bruce Peninsula can offer Mountain Bike Adventure Park - the Eastern Canada's first legal free-ride mountain bike park. The park is located just north of Wiarton. The park has over 20 km of trails and it features rock drops, skinnys, suspension bridges, teeter totters and dirt jumps. The trails also vary by difficulty levels, so this makes the park appealing to all kind of riders. Admission to the park is FREE!

If you are more into recreational biking, you can still enjoy on many paths around Tobermory and if you don't have a bicycle, it is not a problem since there are rentals available right in Tobermory.

Website: http://www.mtbthebruce.com/

Price: Bicycle Rent is around $15.50 to $23.50 per day of biking.

Entrance to the Mountain Bike Adventure Park in Bruce Peninsula
Entrance to the Mountain Bike Adventure Park in Bruce Peninsula

10. Visit Neyaashiinigaamiing First Nations reserve

Neyaashiinigaamiing or in other words Cape Croker is the name of the reserve located just north of Wiarton. A First Nations community that still lives there is big part of Bruce Peninsula and its history, as they have lived there for centuries.

Neyaashiinigaamiing is surrounded by Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment, so the scenery is incredible. The area is saturated with exotic plants and wildlife, and of course the native community. While visiting you can check out the trails that take you through the reserve, you can also purchase souvenirs and learn a lot about Bruce Peninsula and its First Nations history.

Website: http://www.capecrokerpark.com

Native American in Neyaashiinigaamiing First Nations reserve
Native American in Neyaashiinigaamiing First Nations reserve

11. Explore Bruce's Caves

Bruce's Caves Conservation Area is located 4.8km northeast of Wiarton. The conservation area is almost 7 hectares in size; it consists of Niagara Escarpment, rock talus, upland hardwoods, wooded swamp and caves.

The main cave has a 20 m high portal with a stone pillar in the entrance. The caves are significant in that they dramatically illustrate ancient weathering processes and the magnitude of post-glacial lake levels created 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. The caves are for you to enjoy for free, parking is also available near by.

Website: http://www.brucegreytrails.com/trail.php?Trail=15

Price: Free

Bruce's Cave in Bruce Peninsula
Bruce's Cave in Bruce Peninsula

We decided to spend Labour weekend at Bruce Peninsula, famous for its crystal clear water, ancient stone plates and rocks, pebble beaches and challenging hiking trails. Our initial thought was to stay at Cyprus Lake or private campground, or in worse case scenario at the motel. But all sites and rooms were booked. It was possible to get a regular motel room for $173 per night, but we thought it is too pricey.
And then we were lucky enough to book so called “backcountry campsite”. There are only 18 sites like these offered by Bruce Peninsula National Park. These sites can be only accessed by feet through moderate difficulty hike trails and don’t have electricity, therefore are not popular among regular tourists. They offer true wilderness experience. And unbelievably 3 sites out of 18 were still available two days prior one of the most popular long weekends in Canada!

Hiker overlooking Bruce Peninsula trail
Hiker overlooking Bruce Peninsula trail

Of course, such camping requires some fitness and special equipment, but I already collected all camping items over last 8 years of camping. Some important items for two-day backcountry camping are: hiking boots, large backpacks (75-85 liters), light-weight tent (I love my $400 MSR Mutha Hubba tent), small gas stove, light-weight sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Also you need to take proper amount of food to last at least 5 servings, as the calories burn fast.

So, after one day of preparation, we left Toronto on early Saturday morning to get to Cyprus Lake Park around 10 am. It took us 4 hours to get there. At Cyprus Lake you pay the fees and register your vehicle for overnight parking.

Stone and Forrest path along Bruce Peninsula trail
Stone and Forrest path along Bruce Peninsula trail

Bruce Peninsula has 2 backcountry campgrounds called “High Dump” and “Stormhaven”. There are four main access points: from the south it is north end of Crane Lake road (Highway 6 -> Dyers Bay -> Crane lake), in the middle we have Halfway Log Dump that is the end of Emmett Lake Rd and Cyprus Lake; and you can access the trail from the north at the end of Little Cove Rd.

Ideally, you can spend 3 days of hiking starting from Crane Lake to High Dump on the first day (8km), then hiking 12km to Stormhaven on the second day finishing in Tobermory on the third day with 20 km hike. But since we had only 2 days, we decided to hike from Cyprus Lake to Stormhaven and then hike back on the second day. The backcountry campsite costs around $30 per night plus you pay $12 for each night of parking.

Kayak at the Georgian Bay shore
Kayak at the Georgian Bay shore

Initially we hiked from Cyprus Lake to Grotto. Grotto is the most popular attraction for all Cyprus Lake campers (hundreds of them), so don’t expect any privacy or piece there on the long weekend . In a summer weekend it reminds a zoo. But once you get away from the Cyprus Lake trail, it is getting very quite and wild. We met only few people during our 1.5 hour hike.

Boat at the Grotto Bay
Boat at the Grotto Bay

The water is very clear therefore it does not get warm even by the end of the summer. I would assume it was around 15 degrees Celsius, but it was completely worth getting through the chill due to the amazing snorkeling in the blue wonderland.

Amazing colors of water along Bruce trail
Amazing colors of water along Bruce trail

The hike trails gives very good variety of shore line, steep rocks and deep woods. It is marked with very visible white marks that are hard to miss. By the way, the trail is part of the larger Bruce Peninsula trail that is 863 km long and connects Niagara Falls with Tobermory.

Stone road at the Bruce Peninsula trail
Stone road at the Bruce Peninsula trail

Once we arrived to the site, we were impressed with the quality of campsites. Campsites had wood platform for the tent, special ropes for storing the food away from bears and very fancy composting bathroom that uses sawdust.

Food storage device at the Bruce Peninsula campsite
Food storage device at the Bruce Peninsula campsite

Because of few campsites, the community of campers is very small and cozy. It consists of hikers and kayakers and most of them are very experienced travelers with many interesting stories to share. The sunset was breathtaking. In the morning we had our breakfast prepared on gas stove (open fires are prohibited), packed backpacks and hiked back from this small paradise.

Breathtaking sunset at Bruce Trail campground
Breathtaking sunset at Bruce Trail campground

Morning bath tub
Morning bath tub

Another kayak on the shore
Another kayak on the shore

There are a lot of great rental cottages at Bruce Peninsula and hiking the Bruce Trail can be great one day adventure.

Google map of the Bruce Peninsula hiking trail

Beside amazing panaramic views, fine dining and gambling opportunities, Niagara Falls offers great hiking.

Our favorite trail starts just 10 minutes drive from the famous Niagara Falls down the Niagara River. This trail is part of Niagara Glen Nature Reserve maintained by the government, and this reserve has free parking, washrooms, picnic tables and look-out points.

The trail goes along the Niagara Falls river that separates Canada from United States and it is kind of cool to see the foreign country on the other side of the river. Actually, I would say that Niagara river forms a mini-canyon with relatively sharp descend from the main road. You can make various loops as part of this trail, but I prefer to go opposite to clock-wise direction descending right to the whirlpool and returning on the top of the rim.

So, the trail starts with a sharp descend to famous Whirlpool, place where Niagara river makes a sharp 90 degrees turn towards lake Ontario.

Sharp descend from the top of the rim to the Niagara Whirlpool
Sharp descend from the top of the rim to the Niagara Whirlpool

This place is famous among fishing enthusiasts especially in the fall season.

Fight between man and 10-kg salmon on the Niagara River
Fight between a man and 10-kg salmon. Fish won.

You can also observe large masses of water that pass through narrow parts of the river. The trail has many huge rocks that over time fall from the top of the rim. As time passes, these rocks get integrated into the landscape by plants that cover them from bottom to top. I even like them more than famous Flowerpot rocks at Bruce Peninsula.

Huge masses of water moving on the Niagra River
Huge masses of water moving on the Niagra River

Narrow path on the border of the Niagara Whirlpool
Narrow path on the border of the Niagara Whirlpool

Huge rocks on the Niagara Falls trail
Huge rocks on the Niagara Falls trail

At some point you get a feeling that the whole place is a battlefield bombed with the huge rocks. The river is also utilized by the Whirlpool Jet Boats that offer a thrill of flying through the rapids. I personally enjoy watching them rather then being part of the ride. The trail featuring beautiful breach and maple trees and it gets even prettier in the fall.

Breach tree on the Niagara river
Breach tree on the Niagara river

Niagara whirlpool jet boat going through the rapids
Niagara whirlpool jet boat going through the rapids

Be prepared for medium difficulties ascend to get on the top of the rim. Once there, you will be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views and asphalt pedestrian road. Overall, this is amazing trail that can be used as half day adventure at your stay in Niagara Falls area.

Panaramic view on the Niagara River from the top of the rim
Panaramic view on the Niagara River from the top of the rim

Google map of the Niagara falls hiking trail

Here are the things that can go wrong:

1. Cancelation.
Situation: You booked a cottage in advance, but you cannot go due to some emergency (death in the family, illness, jury duty, your house burned down, etc).

Solution: First, you need to become familiar with the cancellation policy of your rental. All respectable cottage owners or rental agencies should have Terms and Conditions document that you sign/agree during the booking process. This document should clearly outline the cancellation policy. In most cases if you can notify the cottage owner in advance, there is chances that the cottage can be re-booked and you will get refunded. Even if your rental dates are getting re-booked, rental agencies still charging cancellation fee that is in $100-$200 range.

Second, you can purchase cancellation insurance. There are multiple brokers that provide such kind of insurance for cottage rentals, e.g. TravelGuard.ca or InsureMyTrip.ca. These companies will insure your trip, but you would need two documents if you want to claim your insurance - prove of payment and prove of accident (death certificate, doctor's note, pink slip, etc). Please note that they will note reimburse your money if you "just changed your mind".

The cost of cancellation insurance is very reasonable - usually less than 5% of your trip cost. For example, I was charged only $75 for my $2,000 1-week vacation at the private cottage.

2. Damage.
Situation: something was broken/damaged during your stay at the cottage. It can be furniture, doors, windows, toilet, roof, etc.

Solution: Terms and Conditions document should outline your responsibilities in case of damage. Most cottage owners should have their own cottage insurance that covers damages caused by renters. Be aware that some cottage owners are not disclosing the fact that the cottage gets rented by the outsiders to their insurance company in order to save money on insurance premiums. In these cases the damage caused by renters is not covered.

Cottage insurance has a deductible that usually equals to your damage deposit. So, if something will go wrong, cottage owner can use your deposit to fix the damage and if it is not enough - claim his/her own insurance.

It is almost impossible to get the insurance from 3rd party for your damage deposit, however some rental agencies provide Damage Protection plan, e.g. RentCottage. The price of such plan is around $50 and it gives you complete coverage (but it does not mean that you can go completely wild :)).

Here are some tips how to make sure that you are not losing your damage deposit:
- inspect the cottage at the arrival and inform cottage owner about all existing damages;
- if you or somebody from your party caused a damage, please inform the cottage owner. First, you always need to be responsible for your deeds and second, you will have a chance to negotiate the price of your damage rather than losing complete deposit;
- upon departure, arrange second inspection with cottage owner or his/her trusted person to make sure that there are no new damages. Ask to put the results of the inspection in writing and keep this document until your damage deposit if fully refunded;

Unfortunately, if the cottage owner does not want to return your damage deposit and you feel that it is not fair, there is nothing much you can do except going to the Small Claims Court and/or sharing your experience on the internet by writing review on the sites like FindCottage.ca.

3. Medical Emergency.
If you live in Canada and renting cottage in Canada, you don't need to worry about your Medical Insurance, since all Canadians are covered by the government. All you need to do is not to forget your Health Card.

If you are travelling from abroad, I strongly recommend you to purchase the medical insurance from travel insurance company (the companies outlined above also provide medical insurance).

Before arriving to the cottage, you need to find out where is the location of the closest hospital. In case of real emergency, call 911 (preferably from the local phone).

Most likely your vacation will go without any accidents, but don't leave everything to chance.

Here are some tips on how to book cottage rental:

1. Make up your mind.

Before even starting a search for rental cottage, you need to decide for yourself what you want from it. First - define your goal. For example, big family get together, friends gathering, celebration of some event, exploration, get away into wilderness, etc. Once the goal is set, identify people who will join you, your maximum budget and "must have" features of the cottage rental. For one type of renters "must have" features would include popular location with many attractions and direct access to water, for others - sandy beach, high-speed internet, sauna and billiard in private location.

2. Start searching

There are literarily hundreds of listing websites that provide you some kind of cottage rental inventory in Canada. Rental management agencies also host websites with the properties they manage but usually it is limited to 20-200 cottages. We personally think that FindCottage.ca is the best listing site, but it is up for you to decide. First, we deal both with private owners and rental agencies. Second, we have unique feature that allows you to see accurate and instant price quote for any cottage for any given period of time. Compare it to the manual way of determining your final price depending on the time of the year and duration of your stay. Third, our search engine allows to narrow your results based on cottage features, location, number of people, price range, etc.

Please note that during summer season and around New Year most cottages can be booked only on weekend basis. Another important point is that for private cottages the weekly rental usually starts on Saturday. If you have some flexibility in your rental dates, you can use our "Flexible Date Search" feature to get better selection of cottages for the best price.

3. Contact cottage owner

Best way to contact cottage owners is to phone them. Many cottage owners are located in remote areas where internet is still a luxury and many of them don't check their email on regular basis.
Once you contacted the cottage owner, be prepared to answer and to ask many questions.

Good cottage owners always have many screening procedures that are designed to make sure that the cottage keys are given to responsible people who would treat their cottage with respect. For example you will be asked to provide total number of people who plan to visit the cottage, their age, if there is special purpose for this trip (e.g. bachelor party), what kind of pets will be brought if any, if you rented private cottage before, etc.

You also should confirm any details that you found in the listing and ask additional questions. For example, how close is the water, if the cottage has shared facilities, how to get there (you might find that the cottage is only accessible by water), what is the final price with all fees and taxes. Any potential referals might be helpful as well. For some cottages you might find cottage reviews on our website.
Another important discussion you should have with a cottage owner is booking deposit, cancelation and damage policies.

4. Reserve cottage

If you have made enough research, you probably should know if you are getting a good deal or not. Please note that there are no free breakfasts in cottage rental business. Good cottages in prime places are rented for $2,000-$3,000 per week during summer months and if your cottage is cheaper - most likely there is some sacrifice involved (distance, location, cottage features, etc).

Once you ready to reserve, you would need to give your credit card or send a check to the cottage owner to reserve your spot. There are a lot of scam going on with personal checks, therefore cottage owners prefer credit cards (if they can process them) or certified checks or checks that are received long time in advance.
At this stage you also need to sign and fax/email "Terms and Conditions" of your rental. Read it carefully before signing to avoid any surprises.

5. Arrival

There are three possible scenarios for getting access to the cottage: you will be provided with access code from the lock box that contain a key, owner will give you the key on your way to the cottage or owner will meet you at the cottage.

Once you arrived, immediately check cottage for broken equipment or furniture. If you will find any damage, notify cottage owner immediately to avoid damage penalties for things you did not break.