Tours with a Twist

Article by Bronwyn Boyer / Photography by Tomasz Szumski

When Jacki MacPherson was a little girl, her grandparents took her on trips from where she lived on the outskirts of London, Ontario to her aunt’s cottage on Lake Huron. They would take a different route each time, making the journey fun and exciting. Her grandmother sang the nursery rhyme “rig a jig jig and away we go,” creating a happy childhood memory that has now blossomed into a successful business.

Away We Go Trips provides unique curated daytrips for people to experience Muskoka adventures off the beaten path. Even for seasoned natives of Muskoka, there are still many places to discover. Away We Go guides people to local independent businesses, historical monuments and hidden gems that are often overlooked. The trips are designed to help people form deeper bonds with their families, the community and the natural environment. But most of all, they’re designed to be fun.

MacPherson created Away We Go Trips in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when she and her kids were stuck at home. “I had a new baby, and we weren’t allowed to do anything or go anywhere, so I felt like I was losing my mind,” she recalls. “I wanted to take my kids on a new outing each day but I was quickly running out of places to take them.”

As necessity is the mother of invention, MacPherson’s research on Muskoka’s historical landmarks gave her new places to explore. “I was able to access books because I was on the library board, so I started learning about historical sites I didn’t know existed around here,” she explains. “I wanted to teach my kids about it in a way that was fun for them, so I started planning day trips. People became interested as I posted about it on my social media and it became a way to help families rebuild their connections while giving small businesses a leg up at the same time.” 

MacPherson credits Bracebridge historian Patrick Boyer for a large part of the historical information she uses for the trips. In particular, his podcast, Boyer’s Modern History of Muskoka, gave her valuable material for the adventures she crafts.

In addition to operating Away We Go Trips, MacPherson is a co-operative education teacher at Gravenhurst High School. “It’s a good balance for me,” she says. “I need to keep my brain active, so it keeps me busy in the summer. And it’s an amazing opportunity to work with small businesses as I send people to them. Forming those symbiotic relationships has been really rewarding.” 

Indeed, while locals have their favourite spots, most are likely missing out on the fascinating things that happened on that soil. Learning the hardships of the settlers, soldiers and citizens that built the region’s many communities provides a much-needed sense of perspective anyone can benefit from. As for those who don’t live in Muskoka, Away We Go provides a more accessible and varied way to experience the area that’s truly unique.

“I think people want to be able to discover Muskoka on their own terms without breaking the bank,” says MacPherson.

“There are so many places in the region that don’t get talked about or enjoyed as much as they should,” MacPherson adds. “There are historical monuments, prisoner of war camps, beaches, forest waterfalls and beautiful spots to discover.”

Each trip is $35.00 per vehicle with no limit to the size of the group. It includes 10 stops geared towards travellers of all ages, with consideration for the needs of each group.

“I give people all the information people may need, like which spots are most suitable for dogs or if they’re suitable for small children, the elderly or physically challenged travellers and how long each route will take,” shares MacPherson. “I provide the template but people can go at their own pace; so how long they stay at each destination or how long the trip takes is up to them.”

Away We Go operates all year round but some of the stops change due to road closures, weather conditions and the operating hours of businesses on the routes. Regardless of conditions, MacPherson finds a way to give travellers a unique and varied experience.

“Each trip has a good mix of different destinations,” she explains. “For example, one of the stops is a boatbuilder’s shop so people can go and have the authentic experience of learning and watching someone build a wooden boat. Another is a farm on one of the older historical land grant properties in Muskoka. Most people don’t necessarily think of farming when they think of Muskoka but it is an important part of industry in the region. I think now more than ever, we need to help each other out. That’s the kind of Muskoka I want to live in.”

The trip options and descriptions are mostly shrouded in mystery, with many fun surprises in store. Trips include The Wild North, Fallin’ and Farmin’, Escape to the Lakes, Lumber and Lakes, Forces in Nature and Muskoka Pride, where all proceeds are donated to the advocacy organization.

“When I created the routes, it was for locals,” MacPherson continues. “I wanted to ignite that sense of adventure again. There’s so much to learn and share here and I wanted people to be inspired to get out and explore Muskoka and form a deeper appreciation for it.”

Travellers choose the theme and are given details about the trip upon purchase. It can then be downloaded either as a PDF file where all the stops are mapped out or on a phone where each stop is given along the way. The smart phone option is for those who like the element of surprise since they don’t know the route ahead of time. However, looking at what’s ahead is always an option. And although trails are just one ingredient of the trips, the website also has a handy resource for information about trails in Muskoka that is hard to find anywhere else.