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Head north this summer! You’ll find gorgeous hiking trails, charming small towns and wide open spaces in the Great Lakes region. One of the best spots to visit is Canada’s Bruce Peninsula. The narrow land mass, about 4 hours northwest of Toronto, has Lake Huron to the west and the Georgian Bay to the east. Here’s why it’s a an off the beaten path destination you’ll want to check out with your family.
Are you an outdoors enthusiast looking for outstanding scenery with no crowds? Do you search for trails that will take you to a world of peace and solitude? If the answers are yes, then Bruce Peninsula National Park in Canada will meet your needs. Located across Lake Huron from Michigan, the park delivers all you need for a great vacation. Make the scenic village of Tobermory your base to access biking and hiking trails, boating and fishing, sunset cruises and another of Canada’s lesser known treasures, Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Visiting Canada’s Bruce Peninsula National Park
I have no tendency to visit the same places over and over again but how many times have I visited the picturesque village of Tobermory? Five! My first time was in 1990, when my Canadian friends invited me for a backpacking trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park.
When I arrived to start the hike, I could not believe what I saw. I did not expect this kind of scenery. It was so stunning, I fell in love with the area on the spot. The turquoise waters seemed so out of place, yet so beautiful. In my eyes, no place in the east gets even close to its dramatic views.
What brings me back? Primarily the color of the water, ranging from turquoise to deep blue. And then cliffs, little coves, wave-created grottoes, cobble beaches, flat sheets of rocks and beautiful wildflowers somehow surviving on these rocks. Every turn delivers a new spectacular image.
Getting To Bruce Peninsula National Park
Apart from scenery, I love the fact that I can reach Tobermory by car. It is located on Hwy 6 at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, 186 miles/298 km northwest of Toronto. The ride is about twelve hours from my home in Pennsylvania, but I do not mind. A road trip is still much cheaper and more enjoyable than flying vacations. Plus, I can make an overnight stop at Niagara Falls or Toronto.
Bruce Peninsula National Park Things to Do
The stunning Bruce Trail runs along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and one of Canada’s conservation areas. It begins in the Niagara Peninsula and stretches north, ending in Tobermory, where you will find the most spectacular views on the entire trail. Take a minute to notice the cedar trees clinging to the escarpment face. They’re over 1,000 years old!
The Georgian Bay shore provides opportunities for an hour walk, a full day’s hike or a backpacking trip of several days. One of the not to be missed sights is the Grotto, a natural cave. It’s a one hour round trip hike and requires you to park in a dedicated lot with a reserved time slot. Find the details here.
While you’re exploring the Bruce Peninsula trails, be on the lookout for plants. There’s a richness to the region’s flora including over 34 species of wild orchids! Look, but don’t touch…there are significant fines if you’re caught picking the wildflowers.
Fish the Waters
From the small cold water streams to the big open waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, the Bruce area is an angler’s dream. Be advised that most fishing in the Tobermory area requires a boat.
If you want to increase your luck, consider going on a fishing charter that will take you to the best fishing spots in the area. These charters leave from Little Tub Harbour in Tobermory.
Ride the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry
A symbol of Tobermory, the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry will take you to picturesque Manitoulin Island, off the coast of the northern Bruce peninsula. You can also enjoy a dinner cruise on board the ferry, operated by the Owen Sound Transportation Company.
Discover Sandy Beaches
Singing Sands and Dunks Bay are beautiful sandy beaches suitable for families with small children. Shallow and warm waters guarantee hours of family playtime.
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Kayak or Canoe
Canoeing or kayaking along the shoreline gives a unique perspective of Bruce Peninsula coastline. Make sure that it is a really calm day when you go out on the open waters of Georgian Bay. If you are looking for relaxing and peaceful kayaking or canoeing, head to nearby Cyprus Lake or Cameron Lake.
Fathom Five National Marine Park
Visit as a day trip from Lion’s Head, a charming small town. Or backcountry camp on starry-skied Flowerpot Island for a welcoming escape to nature. The scenery will take your breath away.
Check out the Incredible Underwater Sights
Take a glass bottom boat over the shipwrecks in Fathom Five National Marine Park. Discover this freshwater ecosystem of ancient rock formations, cliff edge forests and fascinating dive sites with 22 shipwrecks. The area is one of the most popular scuba destinations in North America. Not a diver? No problem. Rent snorkel gear and a wetsuit at Divers Den in Tobermory.
Exploring Tobermory Ontario
As the main tourist center for the area, Tobermory has everything you need: hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, a liquor store and the Bruce Peninsula National Park Visitor Centre. Also from here, you can take a boat excursion to Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Tobermory is typically a few degrees colder than Toronto. Most of the businesses in the town are open from May until October. They are closed for the other seven months of the year. Summers are pleasant with temperatures in the 70s during the day and no humidity.
Lodging in Tobermory and around Bruce Peninsula National Park
You will find plenty of choices when it comes to lodging, but many hotels are very basic and in desperate need of renovation. Camping is very popular in the area. The Cyprus Lake Campground is in the park and you can hike to the Grotto from the site. Reservations should be made well in advance. And, if you do camp, be aware that a large number of black bears live on the peninsula. Keep a clean campsite and store your food and garbage securely.
The best way to enjoy the area is to rent a cottage. Units range from simple to well-appointed houses. All of them are beautifully located and a majority are right on the water. They are popular in the summer so make your arrangements well in advance. A lot of properties come with kayaks or boats. Some include bikes.
Dining in Tobermory, Ontario
Tobermory’s food options are rather basic. Make sure to try the very popular fish and chips. It consists of a huge portion of local whitefish fried in a dough and served with fries. It is tasty, but heavy. I suggest to take one order for two…this way, without feeling guilty, you can supplement your dinner with a great Canadian beer, or two! If Molson isn’t your thing, check out Tobermory Brewing Company to try one of their craft brews.
The majority of restaurants offer great views of the harbor, so even if food is not first class, dining in Tobermory is a pleasant experience. You will find grocery and liquorr stores right in the village. Try the local smoked fish!