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Experience Muskoka in September - Spectacular weather and lots of activities

Article by Matt Driscoll

Muskoka offers beauty and exhilaration 12 months of the year but many would argue September is when the area shines brightest.

The mid-summer heat has dissipated, the bugs have vanished and many of the big crowds have dwindled. Nonetheless, the water and the daytime temperatures will still typically remain warm well into October.

The beautiful foliage the region has become famous for is starting to emerge and the timing is perfect for an outdoor adventure – whether by land or water.

“We’re always trying to encourage people to come visit during the early autumn,” says Randy Mitson, marketing manager with Algonquin Outfitters. “In the shoulder season, you can experience everything you can during the summer, just without as much congestion.”

Algonquin Outfitters rents hundreds of bikes and watercraft from a dozen locations in the Muskoka and Algonquin Park area, including stores in Bracebridge, Huntsville and Port Carling.

During the busy summer months, virtually all of their stock is rented out days and weeks in advance but by September, customers have a number of options to choose from.

Fat biking has become an extremely popular fall activity, says Mitson, as it allows cyclists to hit the trails and tackle any terrain with relative ease, including rocky ground, gravel and sand.

“It’s certainly something that’s been on an upward trend,” he says. The number of hikers and cyclists has also dropped considerably by the fall, making it more conducive to cycling without running into big crowds. 

In recent years pack biking has increased in popularity as a fall activity as well.

“Essentially that entails cycling for multiple days and taking all of your supplies with you,” says Mitson. “It used to be primarily done by road but they’ve created packing systems that are all confined within the frame of the bike. That allows cyclists to go off-road without worrying about their packs getting snagged on tree branches or things like that.”

Camping is ideal as biting bugs are finished for the year, there is less company at local campgrounds and the weather is typically only a few degrees lower than summer during the warmer part of the day. However, at night, the temperature swings can be quite a bit more severe than during the summer, so campers should prepare accordingly.

“You’re going to want to make sure you pack some warm clothes and a proper sleeping bag because the temperature can drop down quite a bit in September,” says Mitson.

September showers can also be a touch on the chilly side, so remember to carry some waterproof gear.

The lakes and waterways will often stay warm enough for swimming, well into the fall, says Mitson and Algonquin Outfitters will often rent out watercraft deep into the autumn.

In late September, the chlorophyll begins to drain from maple leaves and the other pigments start to show their colours. The result is the explosion of fall colour that Muskoka has become famous for.

“What I always try to help people understand is the fall colours don’t just happen on one weekend,” says Mitson. “People often hear media reports in the city that they should go on this day or this weekend, and it just doesn’t work like that. The colours can go for a couple of weeks between north and south Muskoka and by the time they see the colours changing in the city - they’re often gone entirely from Muskoka.”

Those looking to experience the early fall colours have no shortage of options, if they decide to go for a hike.

Dorset Fire Tower is one of the most popular destinations in Muskoka during the autumn colour explosion. Situated on a ridge overlooking the Lake of Bays, the fire tower itself is 100 feet high and 465 feet in total above the lake.

Visitors and locals have been making the trek up Huckleberry Rock in Milford Bay (between Bracebridge and Port Carling) for more than a century. Hikers can take a seat on a rock formation that is one of the oldest on the planet and enjoy the sunset over Lake Muskoka.

Just north of Gravenhurst off Highway 169, the Walker’s Point Lookout remained a hidden gem for years. Recently renovated by the Township of Muskoka Lakes, the one km lookout trail, known locally as Berry Mountain, provides another stunning view over Lake Muskoka.

In Gravenhurst, visitors to the Hahne Farm Trail can walk along the edge of a granite ridge as they look out over the marshlands below and on to Silver Lake. Starting out from the trailhead on Bethune Drive, the trails offers loops that range from 2 to 5 km, winding through a mix of hard and softwood forest.

While stand up paddleboards and kayaks are a hot commodity all summer at the Muskoka Paddle Shack, during September the canoe is king.

“September is definitely canoeing season,” says Ashley Blix, the manager of the Muskoka Paddle Shack. “The dog days of summer are gone and you can paddle without the extreme heat and humidity. Plus, a canoe lets you pack everything you need for those cooler nights and extended trips, like larger tents, stoves and coolers.”

Portages with a canoe become much easier when the heat dies down and most of the big crowds have typically vacated the area.

“The drop in volume is the number one reason why people enjoy paddling in September,” says Blix. “There are more campsites to choose from and more parking available. We often find September’s the time that locals come to get a canoe and paddle in their own backyard.”

Blix says September is a great time for paddlers to head to some of the spots that can be crowded during the summer months.

While canoe rentals and sales see the biggest bump in September, stand up paddleboards remain popular into the fall. The risk of violent storms dramatically decreases with the drop in heat and humidity, and there are tranquil days to be found on Muskoka’s lakes and rivers.

Fishing is also a popular activity in the early fall and many of the Paddle Shack’s rentals are to visiting anglers.

“It’s a great time of year to fish,” says Blix. “The water is a little bit cleaner and cooler, and there are a lot of people who say that makes the fish taste better in September.”

Just outside Bala, Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery (formerly Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh) is now open for business all year round but September is when things really start heating up.

Several years ago, more than 3,000 blueberry bushes were planted on site. Although the harvest is finished by September, this year there’s a blues festival planned and there will still be plenty of jams and preserves at the store located on the premises.

Then it’s on to the main attraction, the harvesting of the cranberries, which starts at the end of September.

“It is a very busy time for us,” says Jean-Ann Baranik, the retail and customer experience manager at the farm and winery. “We open the store right up, so people can get a behind the scenes look at how the process works.”

The number of staff on site jumps from 10 regular full-time workers to 50, as the berries are plucked from the bog and sorted. 

There are wagon tours, wine tastings and the cranberry plunge, where visitors can put on a pair of hip waders and then climb into the bog with the bright red floating berries.

“The cranberry plunge is extremely popular – we’ve had wedding proposals and birth announcements in there. Everyone wants to get their picture taken with the cranberries,” says Baranik.

There are also plenty of events to experience in September.

The Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour, which begins on Sept. 28, combines Muskoka’s unparalleled natural beauty with the beauty created by the region’s most talented artists. The tour is planned to coincide with the explosion of colour that marks autumn in Muskoka.

Fall fairs run throughout the region in September, including the annual shows in Bracebridge (Sept. 13 to15), Huntsville (Sept. 20-22) and Severn Bridge (Sept. 7). The year’s harvest is picked and the best are put on display for a chance to win top prize. There are also midway rides, tractor pulls and animal displays to engage guests of all ages.

September is prime time for golf, as the fairways often regain their lush spring form and the tee times are abundant. The searing heat has departed and the fall colours are nipping at the edges of the fairway.

Taking a cruise among the fiery colours of early fall is an experience like no other. Sailing out of their home port at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst, the Wenonah II and the RMS Segwun steamship (built in 1907) ply the waters of Lake Muskoka through September. Further north, the 109-year-old SS Bigwin gives guests a glimpse of fall on beautiful Lake of Bays.

With such an abundance of ways to get out and experience September, it's no wonder that so many Muskokans consider it to be the most spectacular month of the year.

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