It was a pristine summer day for a Muskoka Sea-Doo tour in Ontario, the kind where the sky shimmers blue and cloudless all the way to heaven. One second I was idling through a ‘no wake’ zone – sitting high, dry and proud on my Sea-Doo watercraft behind a procession of large boats. The next I was in a wild audition for ‘Waterworld’, submerged like that proverbial submarine with a screen door. My Sea-Doo GTX Limited iS 260 shot back to the surface shedding water amid gales of laughter from my companions and other boaters. I did my best to appear in total control – a real stretch with all my choking, sputtering and drowned-rat impersonating.
I’d attempted a lazy cut across ten or fifteen feet behind a huge inboard outboard, oblivious to the suck of its deep wake at slow throttle. My last dry perception was a glimpse of my Sea-Doo’s bow hanging over the edge of a wake as deep as Niagara Falls. Then gravity slammed me straight down into the trough for an urgent appointment with Davy Jones. I remember an infinitesimal underwater hesitation, then goosing my throttle to break the surface like a trained seal jumping for the ring. I may even have swallowed a fish or two. Arf, arf.
Getting There: While Ontario has many fabulous navigable waterways for Sea-Doo touring, one of my absolute favourites is cruising the Muskoka Lakes. It’s a full day trip, and trailering my two-bed Triton trailer up from Toronto and back adds a total of about three hours driving time on Highways 400 and 11, but that’s time well spent indeed. Alternatively, you could stay at one of Muskoka’s lakeside resorts while cruising and exploring for several days at your leisure.
What It Is: Muskoka may be Ontario’s most famous summer playground, its name synonymous with “cottage country.” Located less than two hours north of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Muskoka encompasses 1,600 lakes nestled into 2,500 square miles of territory. It’s anchored by several key towns located near Highway 11 — Bracebridge, Gravenhust and Huntsville, plus several other communities such as Port Carling and Bala. During the summer, the Muskoka population swells as tens of thousands of pretty well heeled cottagers take advantage of fun in the sun on its clear and sparkling waters.
Boathouses: My first impression of Muskoka was that it must have more square footage of boathouse than most lakes have of cottage. And ‘house’ is the descriptive part of the word here. No mere marine garages, these. I’m talking double storey, two to eight slip structures built right on the water, most often in replica of the adjacent ‘cottage’ – a misnomer if there ever was one, judging by the size and substance of these lakeside mansions. One especially tall boathouse would even accommodate a sailboat, mast up and all!
The Three Lakes: The three most renowned lakes in the area — Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph —are also the largest, and best for Sea-Doo touring. They are interconnected, easily navigable and dotted with marinas so gas is always handy. One of the best things about Sea-Doo riding on these mostly weed-free lakes is that you can easily avoid every rock (and there aren’t that many). Why? Because with cottagers owning so many expensive boats, every rock, shoal and channel is very well marked!
The Launch: Muskoka also has many public launches, so depending on where you are coming from, it’s simple to find one that’s close and accessible. From the GTA, I’ve found the best launch point is near the Muskoka Wharf complex at the Gravenhurst harbour. This launch has lots of available parking, fuel at the adjacent marina, nearby dockside restaurants (including Boston Pizza), and even a Residence Inn by Marriott on site if you choose to stay over.
Counter Clockwise: Typically, I cruise out of Muskoka Bay into Lake Muskoka proper. Once there, I turn to port and follow the inner channel of the west shore before going around Walker’s Point, through Bala Bay, around Mortimer’s Point and up the Indian River to the lock at Port Carling, where Turtle Jack’s Restaurant is a neat spot to eat, with a dock of its own.
The Locks: Port Carling has two side-by-side locks. On my first time there, we followed cruisers and runabouts toward the lock entrance. Never having negotiated this lock before, I was uneasy about our little craft amid their larger sisters, so we docked to assess the situation. I’ve always assessed better over an ice cream cone, so we strolled through Port Carling in our Sea-Doo gear, attracting some curious stares. From shore, we spotted a second set of locks that seemed more our style. It turned out they are exclusively for smaller craft like ours. It’s easier for PWC’s to take this easterly one, which is smaller and quicker (fee: $10 bucks return per PWC).
Rosseau to Joseph: From this lock, it’s a short jaunt to the south end of Lake Rosseau, where I like to turn to port again to ride along the south shore through the Port Sandfield cut and into the southern end of Lake Joseph. From there, we cruise west to Foot’s Bay and northbound along the western Lake Joe shoreline, parallel to the old Highway 69, where Gordon Bay Marina has a good burger shack.
Portage Lake: Last time there, it started pouring rain, so we tarried over our food until it stopped. We headed west along the connecting channel under Highway 69 to explore Portage Lake, but on our way back the deluge recommenced, so we sought shelter under the highway bridge, hanging on to huge wooden support beams while traffic thundered overhead. When the storm abated, we continued north on Lake Joe.
Best Peameal: The cottages here seem newer, bigger and further apart. Surprisingly, Lake Joseph’s northern extreme boasts many sections of undeveloped shoreline that must be reminiscent of the original, undeveloped Muskoka that attracted the pioneer cottagers of yesteryear by train and steamship.
Then it’s southbound along the eastern side of Lake Joseph, past Chief’s Island for a quick visit to Little Lake Joseph before searching out the mouth of the Joseph River. Once through this narrow passage into Lake Rosseau, I head north past the J.R. Marriot Resort to the Town of Rosseau’s public wharf at the northeast tip of Lake Rosseau, where we often tie up our Sea-Doo watercraft and walk up the hill to the Crossroads Pub and Grill for lunch. Take note: Every Friday throughout the summer, there’s a great farmer’s market at the public wharf, where you can get the best peameal bacon sandwich going and stroll the stalls.
Animal Sightings: After eating, it’s east side all the way. I like to creep cautiously into several tight inlets and probe up stream where few other powerboats can go. At idle, our Sea-Doo watercraft are comparatively quiet. So much so, that we surprised three beaver doing forestry work on shore. As we observed quietly, I was reminded that at another narrows, we’d recently stopped to watch a mother deer and two fawns swim from one shore to the other.
Rosseau to Muskoka: I steer my Sea-Doo GTX to explore Skeleton Bay, then cruise past Windermere House to check out East Postage Bay before heading back into Lake Muskoka again via the Port Carling lock. Then it’s down the east side, through “Millionaires Row” at Beaumaris, and past Boyd Bay, Stephens Bay and Taboo Resort to the white lighthouse that marks the entrance back into Muskoka Bay. If you’re timing’s right, here you may pass either the RMS Segwun or the Wenonah II cruise boats on your way back to Gravenhurst. On this leg of the trip, you’ll also pass the mouth of the Muskoka River, which leads to Bracebridge, but fair warning – it’s all one long slow speed zone, so unless you have time to burn, stay on the lake!
Easy Cruising: In all, my Muskoka touring has made indelible Sea-Doo memories. I’ve experienced virtually every riding condition from storm-tossed waves to surfaces of glass, from sunny skies to driving rains. Muskoka is a visual treasure trove for exploration by Sea-Doo watercraft. Remote and seemingly endless shorelines, and scenic cottages, picturesque towns and peaceful backwater lagoons make it a top-notch playground.
If it’s a windy day, the backwater areas are well protected from any chop, so for the most part, you can avoid riding the wide-open parts of the lakes. Don’t worry about getting lost, either. With many marinas, resorts, boaters and cottagers around, all you have to do is ask!
Eye Candy: But the real bonus for Sea-Doo touring here is ogling the eye candy, and I don’t mean the human kind. The “cottages” of Muskoka are an astounding spectacle. Simply put, they are some of the most amazing structure I’ve ever seen – to say nothing of the boathouses. They take your Sea-Doo tour to a level of man-made sightseeing unsurpassed anywhere else. Even after many return trips, I frequently slow to gape at one amazing cottage after another, each more spectacular than the next. Thumbs up! Thumbs down! I’ve become quite the architectural critic.
Busy Weekends: The best time to explore the Muskoka Lakes by Sea-Doo is during the week, when boat traffic is lighter. On prime summer weekends, you really have to keep a sharp eye out a full 360˚ as countless boats of all sizes criss-cross the waterways. But extra vigilance is a small price to pay for a Sea-Doo ride that will have you exclaiming to your friends: “Boy oh boy, you shoulda seen these Muskoka mansions…talk about outta this world!” Now add in the compelling natural beauty of Muskoka’s Canadian Shield topography and you’ve got a fine recipe for unbeatable Sea-Doo touring.
Muskoka Sea-Doo Tour Info
- Round Trip Distance – about 200 km, give or take depending on how much exploring
- Highway Access: 11
- Water body(s): Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph
- Launch(s): Muskoka Wharf, Gravenhurst
- Lunch: Crossroads Pub & Grill, Rosseau (public docks)
- Fuel: Port Carling (various), Rosseau (marina), Bala (marina), Port Sandfield (marina), Pride Marine (various)
- Lock: Port Carling
- Waterfront Lodgings: The Rosseau JW Marriott Resort, Cleveland House, Windermere House (Lake Rosseau); Shamrock Lodge, Sherwood Inn (Lake Joseph); Taboo Resort, Patterson-Kaye Resort (Lake Muskoka)
- Side Trip(s): Little Lake Joseph; Skelton Bay & East Portage Bay (Lake Rosseau); North Bay, East Bay (Lake Muskoka); Portage Lake (off Lake Joseph)
- Sea-Doo Dealer(s): The Cove, MacTier; Northland Recreation, Utterson.
- More Info: Muskoka Parry Sound Tourism
Riders should reconfirm the routes and services mentioned in this article as they may have changed since publication.
Our 1000 Islands Sea-Doo tour was an unforgettable trailer boating experience. Located on the St. Lawrence River between Kingston and Brockville, the Islands offer everything from open water to sheltered channels…plus countless magical opportunities for exploration and discovery of Ontario. Best of all, for Sea-Doo touring the waterway is well-marked and easily navigable, with little worry about unexpected rocks or shallow spots.
We trailered from Gateway Powersports & Marine to our launching point, the Glen House Resort situated in the heart of the 1000 Islands, just east of Gananoque. The eight of us, each on his own Sea-Doo watercraft, planned to spend the first day cruising upriver to Kingston and back. The next day, we would navigate downriver to Brockville, then cross into American waters for our return.
Going Ashore in the US: Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that the north shore is Canada and the south is the United States. I could also see from St. Lawrence charts that once amid the Islands, some would be ours, others would be theirs, and a few would be a bit of both. Locals informed me that boating through American waters was no problem, but have your passport handy and don’t go ashore on U.S. soil without first checking in with U.S. Customs and Immigration. We decided not to set foot stateside and easily planned our fuel and food stops accordingly (see Tour itinerary below).
Why am I writing about the top barriers to Sea-Doo touring? Lots of people own a Sea-Doo watercraft, but never go anywhere on it. The proof is that the average annual time logged by most owners is about 20 hours. That’s not much saddle time – just a few hours of playing around at the cottage or beach throughout the summer.
But if you really want to get the most enjoyment and value from your Sea-Doo, you’ve got to go somewhere. I do plenty of Sea-Doo riding, so my summer average is around 100 hours. In my opinion, here are some of the barriers that prevent many owners from riding more…
Sea-Doo Suspension A PWC Must? A couple of years back, Sea-Doo introduced a pile of new innovations on its watercraft, making these marine vehicles the most advanced products on the water. Most notable among these still-exclusive technologies are Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR), Intelligent Throttle Control (iTC) and the S3 Hull. Hey wait, I missed one…what about Intelligent Suspension, commonly known as iS?
Too many rider are also missing iS. Suspension is probably the most under-rated of the latest crop of Sea-Doo technologies. While consumers are flocking to Sea-Doo dealers asking for “the one with the brake”, they often overlook the considerable benefits of riding suspended.
Almost every other motorized vehicle has suspension. Would you ride your car, motorcycle, snowmobile or ATV without it? Heck, you probably even have suspension on your bicycle – and certainly have cushioning in your running shoes! You haven’t had suspension on the water because it wasn’t available until Sea-Doo invented it – and unless you have a newer Sea-Doo watercraft, you still won’t have it. But just because suspension hasn’t been available since Noah built the ark, doesn’t mean it’s not an idea whose time has come…
“I want the PWC with the brake.” That’s the refrain repeated at Sea-Doo dealers around the world by customers eager to own the best – and safest technology on the water. Sea-Doo’s exclusive Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR) has been around since 2008 and it’s still gaining momentum. No wonder, because no other watercraft or boat has brakes, so no other manufacturer can deliver this kind of stopping ability.
As an enthusiastic personal watercraft rider, I can testify that iBR is a must-have innovation. What other kind of motor-powered vehicle operates without the benefit of brakes? In most cases, not having brakes or brakes that work is plain dumb, if not illegal. Think motorcycle, ATV or snowmobile – would you ride any of them without brakes? In fact, as anyone who rides these other powered vehicles knows, your ingrained habit is to grab for a left hand brake lever whenever you want to slow down or stop suddenly. Riding on the water shouldn’t be any different and now thanks to Sea-Doo’s first and only on-water brake, it isn’t.
Summer must be coming because I just got word that my new Sea-Doo watercraft has arrived at my dealer, Gateway Powersports & Marine in Peterborough. This season, I’m riding a 2013 GTX Limited iS 260, absolutely the best touring PWC available.
Why did I choose Sea-Doo and this particular model? I usually ride more than 3,000 kilometres each summer, so I want the ultimate in luxury, comfort and convenience to make my touring easy and relaxing. Putting on more hours in one season than most owners do in five years, reliability is also a crucial factor for me. Besides, the 2013 GTX LIMITED iS 260 has two key features I wouldn’t ride without – suspension and brakes…
In 1613, Samuel de Champlain made his way up the Ottawa River in a birch bark canoe. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of this historic journey, 14 riders on 11 personal watercraft (PWC) made our own four-day voyage of discovery last summer. We travelled faster and likely had more fun than Champlain, but we shared the spirit of mystique, magic and wonder that the Ottawa River Waterway still invokes for all who adventure there.
Looking to expand France’s fur trade, little did Champlain know that he was also opening a major gateway for logging, mining and other commerce. It would make the Ottawa River one of Canada’s premier waterways – and a popular, unique playground for recreational boating. So read on – we did our ride by PWC, but it’s also a remarkable excursion for anyone with a runabout or small cruiser.
With Ontario on one side and Quebec on the other, the upper Ottawa through to Lake Temiskaming can best be described as “God’s Country” (Temiskaming appears to be the accepted English spelling; Témiscaming in Quebec). We were certainly in awe cruising by majestic shores, largely uninhabited and bounded by breathtaking hills, imposing rock faces and dense forests right down to the waterline. This navigable river is deep and wide, sweeping in gentle curves through the same beautiful wilderness that Champlain experienced four centuries ago. I swear the ghosts of voyageurs were paddling along beside us!
Riders should reconfirm the routes and services mentioned in this article as they may have changed since publication.