It’s was a bone-chilling -40 degree morning in February of 2016. My two best friends were tucked away in their beds and I was standing by the hotel door, covered head-to-toe in pretty much everything I’d brought with me. I had a 45 minute drive ahead and romantic hopes of a frosty, brilliant sunrise to make it all worthwhile.
My car ticked and groaned its way out of slumber. My clock read 5:48am.
“You are not normal, Erin.” I thought to myself. Normal people do not do this.
In a very short time, I discovered how quickly skin freezes and batteries die in -40 weather. Not ideal for taking photos or being outside at all without sunshine! I may not have captured an epic sunrise that morning, but I did fall in love with two lonely Muskoka chairs on a hockey rink in the middle of Oxtongue Lake.
Those two lonely chairs belonged to Blue Spruce Resort, a year round family resort with an interesting history, that’s been operating just outside of Algonquin Park since the early 1950’s. The resort has a full selection of rental options, including cabins, suites and rooms, perfectly situated on Oxtongue Lake, about 25 minutes between Huntsville and Algonquin’s West Gate.
Since leaving that morning, I’ve wanted to bring a group of friends up to share the experience. So, that’s what I did earlier in January after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season resided.
Hit the Road, Jills!
My mom, her best friend, my best friend, and the newest member of our tribe, 7 month old Abby, met in Orillia and made our way towards Huntsville, for a 2 night, 3 day visit to the area. I planned that we’d make an afternoon of our drive to Blue Spruce Resort. We’d visit the Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company, go for a stroll in downtown Huntsville and grab lunch afterwards before checking in.
We arrived at Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company shortly before noon. Unexpectedly they had a tasting bar, which allowed us to taste-test a number of their flavours. This perk makes the Roastery a perfect place to visit for a hit of caffeine and break from the road. Be forewarned, you will be hard pressed to leave empty-handed. My crew left with a full range of their collection, including Muskoka Maple, Black Bear, Loon Call Breakfast Blend and Jamaican Me Crazy. I also picked up a few of their one-pot samplers for the cabin.
If you’re not local, you can order online. Depending on your spend, they cover shipping, which is super convenient and helps the bottom line.
Huntsville: Gateway to Algonquin
Huntsville is a place that always feels like coming home. I adore the Group of Seven murals spread throughout town and all the neat little shops along Main Street.
Algonquin Outfitters (AO) is a personal favourite (and a rite of passage for every visitor). I was lucky to take advantage of some Boxing Week sales for winter boots and my mom picked up some clothing. AO is an excellent retailer, outfitter and resource for all things Algonquin. They host, or are involved with, a multitude of events, film festivals, and contests throughout the year. They also just launched a beautiful new website.
We had our lunch at On The Docks Pub, which is in a prime location above the river. As a local friend said, their nachos are “habit-forming” (cheesy goodness!). Between the four of us, we had nachos, homemade soups, sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.
It’s pretty much my go-to spot when starving for a view, cold drinks and good food.
Blue Spruce Resort
We arrived a Blue Spruce Resort just in time for check in. Everything went seamlessly. Our cabin was ready upon arrival, we picked up a bag of wood for the fireplace, and moved on in. I even snagged a Scrabble board, from their huge collection of board games, for us to use which was a bonus. We’re big fans of Scrabble and neglected to bring our own.
The cabins were fabulous! Super cozy, with fully stocked kitchens (more than you’d ever need!), spacious bedrooms, and a bathroom with a jacuzzi tub (perfect for soothing muscles after a day on the trails!)
Our only problem was getting the Blu-Ray player working for movies, but they came within 10 minutes to show us what was wrong and we were off to the races. Service was stellar. Polite, helpful and courteous and kind. We couldn’t ask for more.
Hitting the trails
The previous day was rainy, grey and gloomy. Not the most inspiring weather for snowshoeing, which we were all looking forward to. Luckily, the temperatures dipped overnight and we woke up to a winter wonderland. Trees and roads were covered in snow and the air was beautifully mild.
While we had our coffee, Abby enjoyed watching the groundskeepers tending to the roads and our deck. The stairs and walkways were cleaned, sanded and ready to go before we even had a chance to get outside.
There are two huge bonuses to staying at Blue Spruce Resort. One is having access to over 14km of groomed ski and snowshoe trails. The other is being a 5 minute walk to Algonquin Outfitter’s Oxtongue Lake location, where they rent all the equipment you could ever need. We had brought our own so we had out breakfast, suited up and headed out on the trails.
This was Abby’s first time snowshoeing. My friend, Kim, had spent a great deal of time testing out various layering techniques to keep her warm on the trails and she’d finally got it down to a bit of science. I’d ordered an adorable merino onesie from Simply Merino a couple weeks prior and my mom knit her a toque. She was snug as a bug!
Being fairly active women, we were excited to be able to bring Abby with us to enjoy the fresh Algonquin air. With Abby nestled into her Tough Traveler kid carrier, we were all set!
Hop, Skip and Jump…across Highway 60!
Blue Spruce Resort provided us with an excellent map of the trail system, located just behind the resort and across Highway 60. Once you cross the road, the world is your oyster. There are offerings for every level of fitness.
My mom and her friend only wanted to do a short loop and head back to the cabin. Kim and I were up for a longer and more challenging route. We were both easily serviced and able to pick trails perfect for our desired physical activity. I didn’t know these trails existed prior to this trip. Such a huge win for future excursions this way.
In order to maintain the trails, snowshoes are encouraged to stay to the sides of ski trails to maintain their integrity and groomed state. This was easy to do, with plenty of room for both. Once underneath the tree cover, the wind quieted down, leaving only the sound of birds and the crunching beneath our feet!
The fresh layering of snow that fell over night stuck to the trees and provided us with an absolutely stunning environment to experience and photograph. Both my mom and I are amateur photogs, so we were in heaven for the most part! Absolutely stunning!
The trails are professionally groomed and all very well labelled. You’d be hard pressed to get lost out here, even if you tried.
Kim and I left my mom and Georgina at the fork in the trails and headed out for a loop on the Hayden Hop loop. We were fortunate to have, what felt like, the entire forest to ourselves. A dream come true to be able to enjoy it in solitude and grab photos along the way.
Abby fell asleep shortly into the hike and slept until we arrived back at the cabin. Kim and I both said we’d love to come back to do some of the longer trails, but even this day we were out for over an hour. It was really nice to have the option to be active in such a convenient way.
As mentioned before, Algonquin Outfitters has a second location just across the road from Blue Spruce Resort. This is the primary ‘outfitter’ store with ski and snowshoe rentals in the winter and a full slate of canoeing and back country camping rentals throughout the rest of the year.
We took a stroll over in the afternoon to break up the day and see if there were any more sales to take advantage of. Before leaving, I walked around part of the grounds to say hello to all the slumbering canoes. I loved the contrast of their bright colours covered in white snow, and couldn’t help but think of Dr. Suess’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”
“One Canoe, Two Canoe, Red Canoe, Blue Canoe.”
The weather turned a bit messy in the afternoon so we spent the rest of the evening enjoying a fabulous dinner, watching movies and drinking great wine. It was truly the most relaxing and energizing weekend I’ve had in quite a long time.
We all spoke of how we wanted to come back, both as a group and with our other family members. You simply can’t beat the location, amenities, and convenient trails. The service was stellar and the cabins offered all we needed and more.
If you’re looking to get away, whether solo, with a partner or an extended group, you will love Blue Spruce Resort – no matter the season.
Wishes come true!
We left early in the morning the next day, attempting to beat one of the bigger storms of winter headed to the area. Rumour had it 50cm of snow was on the way and we didn’t want to get stuck on the highway. We failed in that attempt but this is all part of the joy of winter in Muskoka!
I woke up at the break of dawn once again. Everyone was sound asleep in the cabin and, just like my trip before, my heart was filled with romantic hopes of a beautiful sunrise.
This time, my hopes were met in golden fashion. A sunrise to cherish and a lovely salute to our winter escape.
Wild and Found
* This submission was written based on personal experience. No compensation was obtained for writing.