Summer in Canada has officially come to an end and fall is here! Before it gets too cold, I love planning hikes during spooky season to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. My favorite Canadian hiking trip was easily The Bruce Peninsula National Park. First off, please be aware that what was once a hidden gem has now become a hotspot for tourism in Ontario. You have likely heard of it because of the infamous “Grotto” which attracts visitors from all over. But trust me, there’s so much more to Bruce Peninsula National Park than that! My hope is that this blog post will help you plan your adventure to this incredible Ontario destination.
Bruce Peninsula National Park is part of the Niagara Escarpment which explains its dramatic scenery. Scientists believe that millions of years ago the park looked more like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia before the forces of nature gave it a makeover. The Niagara Escarpment is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, one of over 700 reserves across the globe that are established to preserve and sustain the balance between people and nature. You can learn more about this classification here
The Peninsula has incredible rock formations and Caribbean-like turquoise waters. It’s no surprise that it draws thousands of visitors each year.
Where to stay
Tobermory is located on the Northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula and is the best place to set up a base for your trip. The National Park Visitor Centre located in the village of Tobermory, is the hub for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. You can get all the information you to need to plan your trip here so it’s convenient.
There is also loads of camping options around, some Airbnb’s and a few select hotel/motels. You can easily find these options with a quick google search.
What to do
The obvious answer is hiking, but before I get into some of the trails, here are some other cool things to do that I would recommend.
Sauble Beach: it’s very popular for their retro and super Instagrammable sign. You can enjoy the day swimming at the beach and relaxing. Want a cool place to stay? You should watch Motel Makeover on Netflix where the June at Sauble Beah came to life!
Lions Head Lighthouse : You can get there with a short drive from the Harbor. The lighthouse was built in the 1900s and has been rebuilt many times due to the weather conditions of the bay. It’s small and you can’t go inside, but its still cool to see form the outside and you can do some swimming around it as well.
Visit the shipwrecks They are under water, but you can see them from directly above because of the clear water. There are boat cruises/tours that will bring you there, but I recommend renting kayaks instead in Tobermory and take them into Big Tub Harbor and see the shipwrecks.
Grotto: it’s a must-see if you haven’t been before, but it’s become heavily populated with tourist and hard to get in, so definitely book well in advance.
Flowerpot Island: You can get there with a boat tour that stops at the shipwrecks. The island is a great place to spend the afternoon, do a hike, visit the caves and the lighthouse. Make sure to bring a lunch, snacks, and some hiking shoes. Pack a bathing suit if you plan on swimming!
Lion’s Head Provincial Park:
This is a charming tiny village halfway up the Peninsula. At the edge of town you’ll find Lion’s Head Provincial Park. This 500-hectare park is home to one of the oldest and least disturbed forest ecosystems in North America. It’s a great park for bird enthusiasts as well as view seekers. What brings many are the countless clifftop views of Georgian Bay and the Bruce Peninsula coastline.
Trails through the park include the Bruce Trail and its side trails. But be mindful as, with any hiking on the Niagara Escarpment, the trails are very rugged, with roots, rocks, and sometimes rock scrambles. You can easily spend over 5 hours hiking through Lion’s Head Provincial Park. But the average is around 3 hours, from trailhead to a few of the epic views, and back.
The harbors (little tub and big tub) are charming with a small fishing village charm. Enjoy a stroll on the harbour with a coffee and get some ice-cream during the warm days.
Where to eat
Allow me to be frank here. There are no 5-star restaurants / anything worthy of writing home about. However, the Tobermory Brewing Co is good. The fish and chips place in Tobermory is popular, and Tacomory is a new food truck just before Tobermory and is a hit with the locals. Across the harbor is the Crowsnest Pub, which has a patio overlooking the Harbor. To be honest, the food was not my favorite but it’s a good place to grab a drink and overlook the town. Bear in mind that if you are in Tobomery during peak season, there will be massive line ups at every single restaurant. The options are limited, and the tourists are plenty. Expect to wait in line at least an hour to be seated.
If you are staying in an airbnd, camping, or if you have the option of eating at your accommodation, I recommend stopping at the grocery store in Wiarton (en route to Tobermory.) Lion’s Head and Tobermory grocery shops are basic, as are LCBO. It’s cottage country so be prepared.
Here are some of my favorite hikes in no particular order. Please note that there are several other hikes that I wished I had time to do, but you can’t do them all in one trip! Until next time..
The Bruce Trail is easily Ontario’s most popular hiking trail. It is Canada’s oldest and longest marked hiking trail. It stretches from Niagara to Tobermory and the trail is 840 kilometres long. The portion of the Bruce Trail on the Bruce Peninsula is, in my opinion, the most scenic. But you don’t have to hike it all at once, there are a bunch of great Bruce Trail day hikes along the Bruce Peninsula to suit all hikers. Because the trail ends at Tobermory, you can expect nothing but great paths for all levels of hikers. Discover the hidden treasures of this park at your own pace. Break a sweat on the Cyprus Lake Trail, Georgian Bay, Marr Lake Trail, Horse Lake Trail, ect.
Halfway Log Dump:
Length: 7.7 km point-to-point
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Elevation Gain: 191 m
If you’re looking for little to no people, then this is your spot. The trail from the parking lot down to the beach is short but offers spectacular views.
The beach is made up of rocks and large boulders, as well as small sea stacks to each side. But if you track back to the Bruce Trail and head north you will eventually come to the Grotto. PS: the halfway log dump is great (bring your water shoes) because you can do a lot of the hike in the water. It is just south of the grotto entrance off Emmett lake Rd.
If you don’t want to venture that far don’t fret. You can still find a special gem along the trail. While there are no markers for it, and you’ll have to go off trail there is another cave system here. Smuggler’s Cove is not nearly as popular as the Grotto but is still a cool find.
Length: 17.1 km point-to-point
Time: 5- 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 351 m
Another cool spot is called little cove which is at the end of little cove rd just south of Tobermory. Water is pristine. Again, water shoes come in handy. The cove hikes are 17 km long and located near notherb bruce peninsula. My feet were dead but the views were worth it.
Burnt Point Loop Trail
Length: 4.5 km loop
Time: 1 hour
Elevation Gain: 93 m
I want to mention this one because it’s the perfect small hiking trail to start out your hiking on the Bruce Peninsula and it’s only 4km long. The trail takes you from the Park’s Visitor Centre parking lot and through varying landscapes. From viewpoints over Georgian Bay and even Flowerpot Island to scrambling over rocky beaches, and into the beautiful forest.
Flower Pot Island Loop Trail:
Length: 3 km loop
Time: 1 hour
Elevation Gain: 80 m
Though short , it’s worth the boat ride over. Between the wildflowers and the historic lighthouse, there is plenty to see on this island.
Cyprus Lake Trail:
Length: 5 km loop
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 48 m
The trail is mainly boardwalk, but you’ll catch some tricky terrain here and there. You will get a gorgeous view of the lake.
During peak months (May-October) the national park gets extremely busy. As a result, there are now parking time slots which you must reserve in advance either online or by phone. This will entitle you to a 4-hour period where you are guaranteed parking at the Cyprus Lake parking lot. Reservations cost $11.70 per vehicle along with a reservation fee. You would be doing yourself a favor planning for this during your trip and trying to get to your destinations as early as possible!
I hope that this guide was helpful and that you get to enjoy this hiking paradise in the near feature!