Listen out for the roar of a raging torrent that cuts through a spectacular landscape of rugged rock and dense forest. When you hear these sounds of primal fury, you’re nearing one of Muskoka’s many spectacular waterfalls. Be prepared for an unforgettable aural and visual
experience as you bask in the falls’ power and beauty.
There are more than a dozen waterfalls in Muskoka, each uniquely spectacular in their own way. This tour encompasses the best of the lot – a perfect day’s drive.
Our tour begins on the main conduit into Muskoka, Highway 11. At Gravenhurst, turn west on 169 for the village of Bala.
Bala Falls has been in the news a lot lately as locals fight to preserve it from being destroyed by development. And for good reason: while there are bigger waterfalls in Muskoka, arguably none is more important. That’s because all the water from the watershed of the three big Muskoka lakes, reaching as far afield as Algonquin Park, flows through Bala on its way to the Moon and Musquash Rivers, and ultimately on to Georgian Bay. Consider that for a moment. That’s a lot of water.
For millennia, the water levels on Lake Muskoka fluctuated wildly. To assist in navigation, the Department of Public Works installed a dam above the falls in 1873. Unfortunately, the dam worked too well and kept water levels too high, swamping lakeside farm fields. A spillway to carry additional water was blasted, so as a result today there are actually two sets of falls in Bala: the main outlet, which rushes past the town park, and the spillway, which cascades behind the picturesque Burgess Memorial Church.
Next, head for Rosseau and head east on Highway 141, turning south on Rosseau Lake Road 3.
The Rosseau Falls
The Rosseau River runs serenely for 18 kilometres from Long Lake before finally pouring into Lake Rosseau through a tempestuous 150-metre log chute. In years past, from 1877 until the 1920s, a large mill operated at the base of the falls, around which a small milling hamlet developed.
This frenzied activity is long gone, replaced by serene beauty. Stop at the bridge and walk along the river’s banks for a panoramic view of the falls and distant lake. While the water slows to a trickle during dry summers, in spring and fall it is transformed into a maelstrom of churning water.
Continue east on 141, then turn north onto Fish Hatchery Road and pull into Hatchery Park.
Hatchery Falls, named for the Ministry of Natural Resources fish hatchery that operated just upstream of it for decades, is one of the best-kept secrets in Muskoka. Few people realize this 8-metre tall waterfall even exists. Now the secret is out.
From Hatchery Park, follow a trail – and the sound of distant rushing water – into the woods for a spectacular discovery. The trail is undeveloped, strewn with rocks and tree roots, but the end result is well worth any scrambling. Untouched by humanity, without bridges or other structures to intrude upon the scene, and with the sound of the raging water silencing everything else in the area, Hatchery Fall is pristine and stunningly beautiful.
Continue east to Highway 11. If you have the time and ambition, you could head north and drive around Lake of Bays to take in Oxtongue Rapids and Marsh’s Falls, but our tour turns south for our next destination: High Falls.
High Falls is the most spectacular falls in Muskoka, and is also the only waterfall in Muskoka that can truly be called a falls. The water here drops over a sheer cliff in a vertical curtain of raging water; the other waterfalls in Muskoka are more properly classified as ‘cascades’, since they descend down a rock face in a series of steps without losing contact with the bedrock.
High Falls stands an imposing 20 metres in height, and at one point travel promoters labeled it the ‘Niagara of the North’. The water crashes with such force into the river below that it creates a permanent uprush of spray. It’s the epitome of primal power.
Continue south, exiting at 118 and heading just a stone’s throw east to South Muskoka Falls Road.
The first waterfall to be seen by European eyes was South Falls. Lieutenant Henry Biscoe of the Royal Engineers discovered the falls in 1826 during the first recorded exploration of Muskoka. Legendary explorer David Thompson passed by in 1837 during an expedition intended to determine the feasibility of a canal route between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River.
South Falls, also known as Muskoka Falls, is the highest waterfall in Muskoka, at 108 feet. Over thousands of years, the falls has cut an 800-metre long scar in the bedrock, suggesting the force with which the water thunders downstream. The Town of Gravenhurst built the South Falls generating station at the base of the falls in 1907. Sadly, the plant and the sluice pipes that feed it disrupt the majesty of the setting in a manner thankfully not seen elsewhere in Muskoka.
Take 118 in Bracebridge. You pass over your next destination, Bracebridge Falls as you enter town along Ecclestone Drive.
In the 19th century, settlers sought out waterfalls as a natural source of energy to power their industries. Communities—like Bracebridge—would inevitably develop around them.
Bracebridge was still a rough frontier hamlet when Alexander Bailey arrived in 1865 and built a grist mill at the base of the falls. It was a Godsend. Previously, settlers had to carry grain to Orillia to be milled into flour. Seven years later, Henry Bird established the Bird Woolen Mill, which for decades was the largest industry in town.
The Bailey Mill burned in 1909 (a waterwheel memorial stands on its site). The Bird mill closed in 1954 and was demolished shortly after, but its foundations are visible. The mill’s warehouse still exists and currently houses a restaurant and the Bracebridge Chamber of Commerce. Take the time to stroll the river and study the many historic plaques along its banks.
The final waterfall is also in Bracebridge, at the end of River Street.
There are actually two small but pretty falls here: the main falls stands about 15 metres high but an impressive 100 metres wide, making it probably the widest waterfall in all of Muskoka, whereas the second waterfall, and the higher of the two, is located beside a generating plant built back in 1909 (thankfully, the generating plant is pretty unobtrusive and does little to detract from the scene). Like all falls in Muskoka, at one time there was a saw and grist mill located here, but no remnants remain. After enjoying the falls, take some time explore the walking trails winding through the woods.
A little while later, we leave Wilson’s Falls and end our waterfall tour of Muskoka, feeling refreshed and relaxed and with a camera full of spectacular photos.
Written By: Andrew Hind