The Muskoka Lakes are 3 interconnected lakes - Rosseau, Joseph and Muskoka - in the picturesque Ontario vacation land east of Georgian Bay. Lake Muskoka is fed from the east by the 2 branches of the Muskoka River, the northern branch rising in lakes Vernon and Fairy at HUNTSVILLE and the southern in Lake of Bays. Lake Muskoka is connected to Lake Rosseau by the Indian River, and Lake Rosseau to Lake Joseph by the St Joseph River. A lock at Port Carling and a canal at Port Sandfield enable watercraft to cruise among the lakes. The whole system drains from Lake Muskoka into Georgian Bay via Moon River (sometimes called Muskoka River). The name "Muskoka" is likely a corruption of "Misquuckkey," an Algonquin chief whose name appears on 2 treaties surrendering the area to Britain November 1815. Samuel de CHAMPLAIN (1615) and John Graves SIMCOE (1793) traversed the region, and David THOMPSON searched the area (1837) for a practical route from the Ottawa River to Georgian Bay.

The Muskoka area was opened to settlement when the Free Land Grant Act (1868) made land available, but although movement within the area was easy, a trip to Muskoka was an ordeal until the railway arrived in 1875. There is some arable land interspersed among the rock and forest, but farming has not been successful, accounting for less than 4% of employment in the area. The lumber industry was active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but is only of local importance today. The permanent population is concentrated at Huntsville, GRAVENHURST and BRACEBRIDGE. The scenic splendour and recreational attraction of the forests and lakes brought visitors from the growing cities of southern Ontario in Victorian times. The early focus of recreation was the resort hotel, replete with dance halls, croquet lawns, tennis courts, etc. There were about 30 establishments by 1879; it is now an all-season resort area with some 325 vacation accommodations. The first summer cottages appeared in the late 19th century on western Lake Joseph. At first the preserve of the wealthy, the area now has roughly 20 000 vacation homes, about half of them owned by Toronto residents. Access today is by paved highways north from Toronto.