About a two-hour drive north of Toronto is Muskoka, a municipality of breathtaking scenery that stretches from Georgian Bay to Algonquin Provincial Park. It's been known for tourism since the late 1800s, and it's still going strong: National Geographic Traveler magazine chose Ontario's northern jewel as one of the Best of the World – Must-See Places for 2012. Many Muskoka event venues comprise some part of the region's 2,500 square miles of pine and maple forests, sprinkled with 1,600 lakes framed by waterfalls, granite cliffs, picturesque villages, and lakeside resorts with marinas and golf courses.
Muskoka Airport, located in the town of Gravenhurst, is a Canada Customs Airport of Entry for private planes. Some resorts, such as Deerhurst and Bigwin Island, also have their own landing strip for private planes. Two hours south is Toronto Pearson International Airport, Canada's busiest airport. Scheduled and charter flights on 65 airlines offer nonstop or same-plane service to 180 destinations worldwide.
Chief among stand-alone meeting venues in Muskoka, Canada Summit Centre in the town of Huntsville includes an arena that seats 1,000 people and a variety of breakout space, and can be combined with the adjacent Active Living Centre, which has 14,000 square feet of function space on two floors. Also in Huntsville, the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment can accommodate up to 225 and has six meeting rooms. In addition, there is the 400-seat Algonquin Theatre at the Huntsville Civic Centre; the 303-seat Rene Caisse Theatre in Bracebridge; and the historic 1901 Gravenhurst Opera House can accommodate up to 100 people in its Trillium Court.
Conferences can also be held at a number of resort venues in Muskoka; these typically include a blend of hotel rooms/suites and one- to five-bedroom cottages. The largest such property, 800-acre Deerhurst Resort, recently wrapped up a renovation that has expanded its capabilities, now offering 401 guest rooms and 45,000 square feet of event space that can accommodate meetings for up to 1,000 people. Second to Deerhurst Resort in size of meeting facilities is The Rosseau, which is the only JW Marriott Resort & Spa in Canada; it offers 221 guest rooms and 13,000 square feet of meeting space in 15 rooms. Another year-round resort popular with meetings is the 87-room Taboo Resort, Golf and Spa, which has 11,000 square feet of meeting space in 17 rooms, ranging from a self-contained three-room setup in its North Wing ideal for small groups, to a 3,000-square-foot conference room in The Boathouse, which rests on a rocky outcrop overlooking Lake Muskoka.
For the real Muskoka experience, special events connect in some way to the water or the history of the region. Nine historic sites and museums offer opportunities for special events, such as the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre, where a special event for up to 150 people can be held among antique boats. And at Muskoka Heritage Place, an event can include costumed interpreters leading a tour, a ride on a vintage train, and activities geared to the specific theme and interests of the group. There are also several historic vessels that ply the region's waterways. Up to 99 people can cruise on the venerable RMS Segwun, and its sister ship, Wenonah II, built in 2002, can host a party of up to 200 people. Sunset Cruises specializes in providing intimate historic experiences, such as aboard the MS Idyllwood, a restored 40-foot, 1920s-era private yacht that carries 12 passengers. On shore at 530-acre Bigwin Island, groups can use various outdoor settings as well as the second floor of the Golf Clubhouse for special events.
More than just serving food, many of Muskoka's restaurants provide an experience. Arowhon Pines is famous for its heritage dining room, a vast teepee of hand-hewn logs with wrap-around views of lakes and forest; Trillium Resort & Spa serves casual fare in the original 1819 Muskoka lodge, with its post-and-beam architecture and panoramic view of the lake and surrounding forest; Black River Food Company is located in an old grist mill in the picturesque town of Washago; Moon River Lookout is known for its sunset and locally sourced ingredients; Riverwalk Restaurant, known for a dynamic wine list, is set right on the river in Bracebridge; and the Griffin Gastropub, a cozy pub that specializes in high-end pub food and Ontario craft beers, is tucked in the historic downtown of Bracebridge.