Muskoka vs. Georgian Bay – Where to find the best luxury waterfront cottages

Beachfront Cottage for Sale - Georgian Bay - Aerial viewYou’ve heard it before. Buying waterfront cottage real estate is all about location, location, and location.

So if you’re in the market to buy a luxury waterfront cottage north of Toronto, two of the top locations are Georgian Bay (especially the upper beaches like Thunder Bay Beach) and Muskoka (Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau, and Joseph).

How do they compare?

Comparing Water Quality

Georgian Bay has the reputation of having some of the cleanest freshwater in the world.

But is there data to support this reputation?

See the Government of Ontario website on the Lake Partner Program, a volunteer reporting system that includes data from the mid 1990s to current. It includes testing of Total Phosphorus (a measure of nutrient level which determines algae growth) and Secchi Depth (water clarity).

The data suggests that Lake Muskoka has the poorest water quality of the big 3 Muskoka Lakes. And Georgian Bay, and especially locations like Thunder Beach, show consistently superior water quality in both nutrient levels and clarity. By a considerable margin.

Advantage: Georgian Bay

Comparing Driving Distance

According to Google Maps, depending on where you cottage on the big 3 lakes – Muskoka, Lake Joseph, or Lake Rosseau – it can be 230km or 3 hours or more of driving to reach your waterfront cottage. Each way! And that assumes the traffic is moving at the maximum legal speed, which you will rarely see during summer months, and never on weekends.

In comparison, Thunder Beach is 151km or less than 2 hours from Toronto. And almost half of this driving time is off the congested 400/11 highways. Some of the beaches on the western shore are even closer.

Advantage: Georgian Bay

Do you want a Beach?

If you have kids, you’ll definitely want a beach with rippling white sand underfoot. It’s safer and provides more fun for kids of all ages, both on the beach and in the water.

Not possible in Ontario, you say?

Georgian Bay has some of the best freshwater beaches in the world; beaches that bring to mind California or even the Caribbean.

Advantage: Georgian Bay

Watersports and activities

The open waters of Georgian Bay can deliver both wind and surf, fun for all kinds of sail sports and simply playing in the waves. You’ll definitely get more variety in water conditions with your waterfront cottage on Georgian Bay – from mirror-like calm for kayaking and canoeing to “Surfs-up!” But if you’re looking for consistently calmer waters, great for recreational cruising, water skiing/boarding, or simply canoeing, then an interior lake might be the best answer.

Advantage: Draw

Comparing Purchase Prices

The average waterfront cottage purchase price on Muskoka, Joseph, and Rosseau is now $1.2 million. Wow!

In comparison, the Georgian Bay real estate market is reportedly larger, offering more real estate variety and a wider range in pricing. But if you’re considering some of the more “exclusive” beach areas, then average pricing for a beachfront cottage is just as lofty.

It’s all about the prestige of the particular waterfront address and the “brand” of the location.

Advantage: Draw

Four season Cottaging

Both Muskoka and Georgian Bay offer great year-round cottaging.

Even in deep winter, you find great activities – from snowmobiling to cross-country skiing. If downhill skiing is your thing, however, consider that Georgian Bay is much closer to decent downhill skiing around Collingwood, Horseshoe, or Moonstone.

In the spring, Ontario’s cottage country features nasty black flies, horse flies, deer flies, and mosquitos to test your commitment to the great outdoors. If, on the other hand, you are lucky enough to have a beachfront property on Georgian Bay with those consistent onshore breezes (from the North or the West), you’ll rarely have to deal with those pesky critters, as the wind will push them away from the beach and deeper into the woods. You’ll enjoy Spring like never before.

Advantage: Georgian Bay

The Prestige Factor

Sure you’ll find some very wealthy and influential neighbours on Georgian Bay, and having a Georgian Bay waterfront address will likely impress whomever you need to impress. However, the Hollywood celebs seem to prefer Muskoka. So if glamour is your thing, head to Muskoka.

Advantage: Muskoka

The bottom line

You really can’t go wrong with either location for waterfront cottaging. Both areas carry a strong “brand”, generally have more demand than supply, and will result in a good long-term real-estate investment.

But if you have kids that love a beach, and you believe water quality is key, and you don’t want to be stuck on a seemingly endless highway driving to and from the cottage, then a beachfront cottage on Georgian Bay is definitely your better choice.