A Relaxing, Rustic Lakeside Getaway in the North Using Oft-Ignored Hotel Points

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Recently, my kids, boyfriend, and I enjoyed a lovely stay at a beautiful lakefront resort in Muskoka, Canada, which is ~2.5 hours drive north of Toronto.  Often referred to as “cottage country,” it’s a popular vacation area well known for gorgeous lakes, cute villages, and expansive vistas.

Accommodations here range from very basic camping, to cottage rentals and bed & breakfasts, all the way through to pricey top-tier resorts like JW Marriott.  But our stay at the Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka cost us next to nothing thanks to (surprise!) Choice hotel points.  

Choice Hotels includes the Ascend Hotel Collection brand, which is made up of independent, historic, and boutique hotels.  These aren’t your typical Comfort Inn or Econo Lodge locations, either.  Some are quite fancy and, like the Hidden Valley Resort, aren’t normally what you’d expect from a Choice hotel!

While earning Choice points isn’t mentioned on our list of best hotel credit cards, they can sometimes get you very good deals (and make awesome memories, like we did).  They’re also an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, though you’ll almost always better off moving your points to airlines like Delta, Air Canada, or British Airways instead.

This Wasn’t Some Cookie-Cutter Comfort Inn! The Hidden Valley Resort in Muskoka, Canada Was Ideal for a Quick Family Retreat

I’ll share a review of the Hidden Valley Resort and remind you of how you can redeem Choice points for unusual and fun award stays, too!

Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka Review

Why We Booked the Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka

The Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka is part of Choice Hotels’ Ascend Hotel Collection.  The Ascend Hotel Collection is really worth checking out, because they’ve got all kinds of interesting (and sometimes pretty nifty) locations all over the world.  So even if you normally turn your nose up at Choice points, you could find a hidden gem that fits with your travel plans!

We booked this hotel in part because my boyfriend travels for work each week and stays at a Comfort Inn, so he’s got an embarrassingly massive (think hundreds of thousands) stash of lonely Choice points sitting in his account.  We don’t often have occasion to use them, so this quick trip was an ideal opportunity to burn a few.

We spent 25,000 Choice points for a night at the Hidden Valley Resort.  Had we paid cash, it would have cost ~305 Canadian dollars (~$234).  That’s just under 1 cent per point, which isn’t mindblowing, but it was worth it just to get away for cheap.

Having Tons of Choice Points to Spare, We Didn’t Mind Spending 25,000 Choice Points on a Room That Costs ~$234

Plus, my guy has Choice Diamond Elite status, which is probably the most crappy top-tier status ever.  But we knew it would probably get us at least an upgrade to a lake-view room (which it did).

Check-In and Room at Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka

The Hidden Valley Resort looks charming, albeit a bit dated, from the outside.  This hotel was built in the late 1960s and was previously a Holiday Inn and Best Western.  Although it apparently underwent a renovation in 2006, it still has a retro and definitely local feel.

There’s a big Muskoka chair out front to set the mood …

Get Ready to Chill Out Kiddos!

… and the entrance has a distinctly rustic Canadian vibe.

All That Was Missing Was Rocky, Bullwinkle, and an Okay Lumberjack 😉

Our check-in experience was quick and polite, and our room was ready (although we overheard another guest being told her room wasn’t available yet due to the hotel being sold out).  The employee at the desk recognized that we were there on points, but didn’t acknowledge the Diamond status like most other chains would.

The room wasn’t luxurious by any means, although it was nicer than some Choice hotels we’ve stayed in.

The Room Was Comfy Although the Furnishings Were a Bit Dated (Check the Upholstered Chair!)

The best part was the balcony which overlooked Peninsula Lake and the hotel grounds.  The hotel is built into a hillside so there are lots of stairs and there’s no elevator (not a good spot if you’re mobility impaired or are lugging around a stroller).

This Was the Perfect Spot to Hang Out in the Evening and Watch the Meteor Showers

We actually spent very little time in the room, because there were so many fun things to do at the resort!

Activities at Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka

The Hidden Valley Resort really shines with its family-friendly beachfront, dock, and fun stuff like beach volleyball and tennis.  Although there’s a ~$10 resort fee per room, per night, it includes unlimited activities like:

  • Kayak and canoe rental (including life jackets)
  • Stand-up paddleboards
  • 2 and 4-person paddleboats
  • Beach volleyball
  • Tennis
  • Kids’ beach toys and gear like buckets, shovels, frisbees, balls, and the like
Overlooking the Cute Beach and Dock Area at Hidden Valley Resort

The atmosphere around the lakefront is very laid back, with families relaxing on beach chairs and playing volleyball in the sand.

The Beach Area Is Intimate but Wasn’t Packed With People – Mostly Toronto-Area Tourists and a Few Americans and Europeans

Surprisingly, it wasn’t terribly busy on the water either day we were there, so there were always plenty of kayaks and canoes to choose from.

All You Need Is a Wristband and Signature to Take Out Canoes, Kayaks, and Paddleboards

Our first day, we took a canoe and 2 kayaks out around the bay, and paddled over to our friends’ cottage where we’d been visiting earlier.  And the next morning, although it was a little overcast, my daughter and I hopped in a paddleboat and got to go as far as we wanted because nobody was waiting for a turn.  Tons of fun!

Nothing Better Than Some Mommy-Daughter Bonding Time on the Lake

It really felt a bit like a summer camp for kids and grownups alike.  We all had a blast exploring the resort, splashing around in the lake, and throwing a frisbee around.

Who Knew Choice Points Could Get You a Summer Camp Experience!

And there’s really nothing better than just hanging out on the dock in August, is there?

Life Is Good When You’re Sitting in Muskoka Chair on the Water

When the kids weren’t on the beach or in the lake, they were hanging around the outdoor pool …

The Outdoor Pool Offered a Shadier Spot to Hang Out

… or in the heated indoor pool, which was a little muggy but would probably be the perfect spot in the winter when the hotel caters to folks who come to ski at the nearby Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area.

This Is an All-Season Resort Owing to the Popular Ski Area Next Door. So an Indoor Pool Is a Must!

A couple of funny things – around both pools (and in the lobby, and restaurant), there’s non-stop music being piped through speakers.  And it’s all 80s tunes – a total wayback playback!  It was actually delightful to go down memory lane and rock out to some big-hair bands we’d forgotten about.  🙂

Not so delightful – the indoor pool area was a bit smelly, like it needed a good scrub down with bleach.  Oh, and the Wi-Fi was complete garbage, even in the rooms.  So don’t come here expecting to get a lot of work done (maybe a good thing!).

There was also a games room, sauna, and small gym, but we didn’t try any of them out because there wasn’t time.

Eating at the Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka

Not wanting to venture out to town, we splurged a bit on dinner at The Birches restaurant inside the Hidden Valley Resort.  While it’s a bit pricey, we were celebrating a birthday and figured it’d be worth the lovely view from the patio.  Plus, the menu looked interesting and reviews were generally good.

Dining Al Fresco at The Birches Restaurant With a Lovely View of Peninsula Lake

My middle daughter and I each got an order of PEI mussels (which were quickly demolished) with garlic bread …

The Mussels in a White Wine, Garlic, and Lime Broth Were a Huge Hit

… my oldest girl scarfed down a plate of smoked mozzarella and basil ravioli …

There Was Nothing Left on the Plate! This Kid Loves Her Pasta

… my boyfriend got the awesome local pan-friend pickerel …

You Can’t Visit Muskoka Without Having Some Fresh Pickerel … YUM!

… and I’m always grateful when restaurants will do a little something special for my picky-pants son, who only eats pizza without tomato sauce, meat, or vegetables. 

This Wasn’t Exactly on the Menu, but the Chef Made a White Garlic and Cheese Kids’ Pizza for My Forever Picky Son

There may have been some creme brulee and cheesecake to round out the meal.  Honestly, this isn’t the type of cuisine you’d ever expect at a Choice hotel.  It was excellent and we all enjoyed our meals, and the service was outstanding.  Plus, we got to enjoy the sunset and later a bonfire next to patio.

If you choose to eat indoors there’s a lovely dining area with comfy spots to relax, eat, and drink by the fireplace, too.  I could see this being really cozy and fun in the winter.

Perhaps We’ll Return in the Winter to Take Advantage of Fireside Dining!

We returned for buffet breakfast the next morning (not included in the room rate) and it was unfortunately about as average as it gets.  Not terrible, but nothing to write home about either – just the standard bacon, eggs, pancakes, potatoes, breads, pastries, cereal, yogurt, and fruit.  And it wasn’t cheap, at ~$11 per adult and half price for kids.  Here’s when I missed my old, free Comfort Inn breakfast!  🙂

All told, though, we were real pleased with our experience at the Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka.

How to Earn Choice Points and Book a Similar Stay

If you’re looking to book an Ascend Hotel Collection hotel like this one with Choice Hotel points, it’s easy to search the Ascend Hotel Collection site for North American and overseas locations and book an award stay online.  Keep in mind Choice Hotels won’t let you book until 100 days in advance of your stay, unlike other chains which allow bookings as much as a year or more out.

Earning Choice points isn’t as easy as other chains, either.  If you collect flexible American Express Membership Rewards points, you can transfer them to Choice at a 1:1 ratio.  This is usually not the best value compared to transferring to airline partners, although at expensive hotels it could be worth it.  Europe, especially Scandinavia, is known to be a particularly good deal with Choice points.

There’s also the Barclays Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card if you’d rather earn Choice points directly.  But this really isn’t a good pick unless you stay at Choice hotels a LOT or really love collecting their points.  I actually have had this card for years (it has no annual fee) from back when I used to travel for work a lot, but it doesn’t get much action nowadays.

If you really want to use flexible points for Choice stays, consider checking the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or Citi ThankYou Portal for cheap nights instead.

Bottom Line

My family really enjoyed our stay at the Hidden Valley Resort Muskoka north of Toronto using Choice hotel points.  This hotel is part of the Ascend Hotel Collection, which includes independent and boutique hotels and resorts worldwide.

It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill budget Choice hotel!  And while parts of it are a bit tired and could use updating, staying here really felt like a throwback to a simpler time.  It truly felt like we were all at summer camp!

This sure wasn’t the fanciest redemption we’ve had, but the memories we made kayaking, swimming, and relaxing on the beach at this cute lakefront resort won’t be soon forgotten.  And we enjoyed a fabulous dinner on the open-air patio overlooking the lake which isn’t typical of most Choice hotels.

The easiest way to earn Choice points is by transferring points from AMEX Membership Rewards, although I wouldn’t recommend doing so unless you have an exceptionally valuable redemption in mind.

Have you ever stayed at a unique Ascend Hotel Collection hotel or booked a memorable stay with Choice hotel points?  I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

Jasmin Baron was an editor at Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel. Her work has appeared in The Points Guy and Business Insider.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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