Falling for Muskoka
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Ontario's most dramatic waterfall is, obviously, located at Niagara. But many people in search of tumbling waterfalls head the opposite direction, north, towards Muskoka. Here, they bask in the power and beauty of more than a dozen waterfalls, each uniquely spectacular in their own way.
All this comes as no surprise to those familiar with the region. Its landscape is startling varied and its natural attractions are abundant. Waterfalls are just one of the treasures that make Muskoka so beloved.  
Waterfalls have an undeniable allure at any time of year – the light reflecting off raging waters, the thundering roar, the sheer power they represent – but at no time are they more spectacular than in spring.
So, grab a sweater, a camera and head out to explore some of Muskoka's most dramatic waterfalls ...

Bala Falls

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 to Georgian Bay. Consider that for a moment. To say that's a lot of water is the epitome of understatement. There are bigger waterfalls in Muskoka, arguably prettier ones, but likely none more important.
Indeed, the history of the falls provides a cautionary tale for anyone considering altering waterways. For millennia, the water levels on Lake Muskoka fluctuated wildly. To assist in navigation, in 1873 the Department of Public Works installed a dam above the falls. Unfortunately, the dam worked too well and kept water levels too high, swamping lakeside farm fields. As a result, the Department blasted out spillways on the south channel which, in its natural state, had not carried that much water.
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.

Bracebridge Falls
In the 19th century, settlers sought out waterfalls as a natural source of energy to power their industries. Communities would inevitably develop around them. Bracebridge is a perfect example of this; the entire town grew up around Bracebridge Falls and this magnificent natural feature remains at the heart of the community – literally and figuratively – to this day.
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. At its peak, the Bailey mill was producing 75 barrels of flour per day. Seven years later, Henry Bird established the Bird Woolen Mill, which for decades was the largest industry in town, making blankets, mackinaw jackets, and other woolen goods. These industries provided employment and markets for locally produced grain and wool, making them vital to sustaining Muskoka's early development.
The Bailey mill burned in 1909, but a waterwheel memorial stands on its site. The Bird mill closed in 1954 and was demolished shortly after, but its foundations are visible on the west side of the river between the Bird Mill Bridge and the railway bridge. The mill's warehouse still exists and currently houses a restaurant and the Bracebridge Chamber of Commerce. A viewing platform provides an ideal vantage point for enjoying the falls themselves.
There are two hydro generating plants here. The original (no longer in operation) dates back to the 1890s, giving Bracebridge the honour of being the first Ontario municipality to own its own power plant. The newer plant was built in 1902 and is the oldest continuous operation hydro plant in Canada.

Dee Bank
Dee Bank Falls is hardly the most dramatic waterfall in Muskoka, but is loved nonetheless. The water roars here, it bubbles and froths. It's also one of the most intimate falls; even when the Dee River is at its highest, you can still walk among the rocks virtually amidst the cascading waters. And, it's peaceful. Oftentimes, you'll have the falls completely to yourself.
The Dee River drains Three Mile Lake into Lake Rosseau. Just above the Muskoka Road 24 bridge it slides down a steep incline, forming Dee Bank Falls.
The setting is seemingly untouched, but in fact was once the heart of a vanished village named Dee Bank. John Shannon built a sawmill here around 1868, and then a large grist mill that served as the anchor for the hamlet.

Hatchery Falls
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 eight-metre-tall falls even exists. Now the secret is out.
Hatchery Park encompasses the former hatchery and is interesting in its own right, but 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 you have to do. 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, it's like every one of Muskoka's waterfalls would have been prior to being altered by the hand of man.

High Falls
High Falls is the most spectacular falls in Muskoka. Even at the height of summer the power of its thundering water is almost deafening. High Falls is also the only falls in Muskoka that can truly be called a falls. The water drops over a sheer cliff in a vertical curtain of raging water, just like Niagara. 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 labelled it the “Niagara of the North.” A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but reflecting its stature as the most prominent waterfall anywhere in cottage country; in fact, you have to travel as far north as Wawa to find a falls larger.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Town of Bracebridge decided to harness the power of High Falls. The generating station, built in 1948, is hidden from the view of visitors to High Falls Park on the south side of the river. Here, looking between the cedars, all you see is water, mist, and the blue expanse of sky.

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, every spring logs that had been cut in the heavily forested interior over the preceding winter were sent barreling down the river to gather in the lake below. It was said that Mutchenbacker Bay was packed so tightly with logs that one could quite literally walk from one shore to the next without getting wet feet. A large mill and a small milling hamlet developed around the base of the falls.
Today, this frenzied activity is gone, replaced by serene beauty. Located along Rosseau Lake Road 3, stop at the bridge and walk along the river's banks for a panoramic view of the falls, woods 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. If you look carefully, you'll see holes drilled into the rock that mark the route of the old log chute. (Note: please respect the private property along the edge of the river as you approach the lake.)

South Falls
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 made the first written mention of this waterfall in his 1837 journals 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
33 metres. It may also be its most powerful; the river has cut an 800-metre-long scar in the bedrock, suggesting the force with which it thunders downstream. This gorge proved an impediment to lumbermen driving their logs. Many were damaged by the rocks or wedged into crevasses, creating logjams. In the late 1870s the government built a log slide bypassing the falls. Its grand opening drew crowds of onlookers, but was marred by tragedy when a foolish workman jumped aboard the first logs sent down the slide and was killed.
The Town of Gravenhurst built the South Falls generating station at the base of the falls in 1907, and the facilities were later taken over and expanded upon by Ontario Hydro. The plant and the sluice pipes that feed it disrupt the majesty of the setting in a manner not seen elsewhere in Muskoka.

Wilson's Falls
The smallest of the three waterfalls within the municipality of Bracebridge, many rank Wilson's Falls (located at the end of River Street) their favourite because of the ease of exploration. It's also the most undisturbed.
Unlike Bracebridge Falls and High Falls, the touch of man is far less noticeable here. A hydroelectric station built over a century ago stands along the river, generating electricity for Bracebridge, but it's remarkably unobtrusive.
In truth, there are two 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. The second waterfall, and the higher of the two, is located beside the generating plant.
After enjoying the falls, take some time to explore the walking trails winding through the woods.  
Like all of Muskoka's waterfalls, the power of Wilson's Falls was harnessed by an early settler: in this case namesake Gilman Wilson, who operated a sawmill here in the 19th century.


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