Photo: Valerie Howes
Maple season is that time of year we all wait for - when the winter snow starts to melt (finally) and we can feast on syrup-drenched pancakes, sticky butter tarts and steaming mugs of maple-laced hot drinks and dream of warm days to come.
Muskoka, Ont., has fully embraced this time of year by creating a Maple Trail that runs throughout the maple harvest, until April 20, 2018. The highlight is a Maple Festival on April 21, on Main Street in downtown Huntsville, where you can try maple baked goods and other treats, listen to live performances, buy handcrafted items, drink maple hot and cold drinks and stuff your faces, as a family, at an all-day pancake breakfast.
While many families reserve Muskoka for summer or winter, there's tons to do with kids here in spring. And with so many outdoors activities to try and so much nature to discover, it doesn't all have to revolve around gorging on syrupy treats.
My daughter and I made the family resort JW Marriott the Rosseau Muskoka our home base--it's an official stop on the Maple Trail and a place with a games room, heated indoor-outdoor swimming pool, and s'mores kits on demand, for toasting on a protected fire on the grounds. There's a real cottage vibe, as kids rock in chairs by the hearth indoors, do jigsaws and play cards all over the lounge, or join their parents for trivia night, where the questions are geared as much towards little ones as adults (an example from the food round: What restaurant does Sponge Bob work at?).
We loved our Muskoka weekend away---check out the photo gallery below for our sweetest highlights.
“Maple syrup is like liquid gold,” says our guide, on a walk through the woods at the start of the Marriott’s Maple Syrup Experience. “But what IS liquid gold?” asks one little boy, as all the kids peer closer at the tapped trees.Photo: Valerie Howes
In a Pepsi Challenge-inspired wrap-up by the Prospector’s tent, we blind taste pure maple syrup (tapped on the property) and artificially flavoured pancake syrup. Most of the pint-sized connoisseurs prefer pure!Photo: Valerie Howes
On a nature walk, we learn about Canadian fauna and flora. “Who knows what happened to that tree?,” our interpreter asks. “A woodpecker pecked it!” pipes up one preschooler.Photo: Valerie Howes
The kids look for animal tracks (there are deer and rabbits on the property) and gather fluffy cat tails and chunky pine cones. We learn that the bears are still sleeping but mice and voles are still scurrying under the snow.Photo: Valerie Howes
During maple season, in the Lakes restaurant, guests can order from a special Muskoka Maple Menu. This maple bourbon BBQ burger was my Happy Meal.Photo: Valerie Howes
Moms and dads can sip a maple latte, while the kids make whipped cream moustaches from their hot chocolate, at the Country Market coffeeshop and bakehouse.Photo: Aimée Howes
What could be more Canadian than campfire pancakes?Photo: Valerie Howes
Need to burn off the pancake calories? You can borrow fatbikes or snowshoes (if the weather calls for them) and explore the forest and lakeside trail systems.Photo: Valerie Howes
Under the icy surface lurks the muskellunge, a native pike that can grow well over 1 metre long. “Don’t worry, it’s a harmless, big, lazy fish that just hangs around in the bottom of the lake,” says our guide, to the wide-eyed kids, as they picture this aquatic monster.Photo: Aimée Howes
It wouldn’t be sugar-shack season without a wagon ride in the woods. Meet Junior and Rascal, the Percherons from Twin Maples Farm who pull us past maple trees, dripping sap into buckets.Photo: Aimée Howes
All the kids get chatty on the ride, as we pass oak trees clinging onto their last few shrivelled leaves and beech trees, as smooth as elephants legs. “Too bad we don’t get around like this every day,” one kid remarks to his big sister, with a contented sigh.Photo: Valerie Howes
Grab a warm cranberry cider and a gourmet grill cheese sandwich (made with local cheddar) at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh, a third-generation family farm in Bala, before exploring the Superberry or the Pioneer trail around the wildlife-rich bog. (On warmer days kids can net and release frogs).Photo: Valerie Howes
There are goodies for the whole family at thePhoto: Valerie Howes
There are Muskoka chairs set up for resting your weary (two or four) legs post-hike. Leashed furry friends allowed!Photo: Valerie Howes
You can make a day of it comparing maple butter tarts from every bakery on the trail—there are eight in total. We loved these (I-can’t-believe-it’s) gluten-free tarts from the Pasta Shoppe Bakery.Photo: Tourism Muskoka
It wouldn’t be spring in Muskoka without a heart-stopping sunset to finish off the day’s adventures. Oh, Canada!Photo: Aimée Howes
Read more:12 cheap and free things to do in Toronto with kids 50 fun family spring activities