For Canada’s 150th birthday summer we are trying to see as many of Canada’s beautiful national parks as possible.
On the last weekend of July we explored Tobermory, Bruce Peninsula and it’s National Park (during this summer entry to the parks is free to celebrate Canada150!).
Here’s how to see the best of this beautiful region over one weekend!
Tobermory is only a 3 and a half hour drive from Toronto, we highly recommend leaving super early as you can then beat the traffic and other visitors. Situated North West of Toronto this drive is mainly scenic side roads, with minimal time on the 401 or QEW as we can all appreciate. Make sure to pack well, lunches and snacks are a must, long sleeves and pants for the evening, bug spray, sunscreen, good walking/hiking shoes, bathing suits and lots of water! Because the drive is not on the main highways more sure you have an eye out for coffee shops and gas stations, you won’t be seeing any large onroute stations on this trip!
We found being alone in certain parts of Tobermory allowed us to truly appreciate nature, leaving most places we saw large noisy crowds coming in late.
Bruce Peninsula National Park – The Grotto
Bruce Peninsula National Park is one the Canada’s most beautiful parks and very accessible from Toronto. The coveted Grotto is inside the park, so make sure you arrive early morning to get your entry pass. Passes are handed out starting at 7am for only 3 daily time slots with a total of 600 vehicle passes. Passes are on a first come first serve basis, with no passes provide for future dates (They go quick! We arrived at 930am and snagged one of the last passes). The time slots available are 7am to 11am, 12pm to 4pm and 5pm to 9pm. We recommend doing the early morning or evening time slot as the Grotto is a little more quiet then, the mid day slot is over run by families and children but the weather is usually the best at this time so it depends on what you’re looking for! Another tip, there are 3 parts to The Grotto, Indian Head Cove, the Natural Arch and The Grotto, to get to The Grotto you have to walk a little further, so make sure you explore the entire area before deciding where to settle down! The Grotto is very rocky and requires lots climbing to get up and down to the best places, pack light here. Look out for some small cliffs to jump off of and even a cave tunnel you can swim through to reach another area.
Burnt Point Loop Trail Hike
The Brunt Point Loop Trail Hike starts near the visitor centre (which is also a great place to find more information on things to do in the area). The whole trail is approximately 4.5km long with different look out points along the way. While the hike is only about 4.5km there are some steep climbs and the bulk of the terrain is a little rough. That being said Maha did the hike in her Birkenstocks and didn’t have any issues. This is a great hike to soak in the fresh air and enjoy nature. Tip: Keep your eyes on the blue markers otherwise you can get lost easily, like we did! The forest can be confusing but is a great adventure shaded from the sun and a good leg workout. Beside the Loop entrance is a small lookout tower. The views weren’t spectacular because of the low height, but its worth the 5 minutes to get your bearings on the area.
Flower Pot Island
Flower Pot Island, famous for its natural sea stacks (the flowerpots) is accessible by a 15 minute boat ride! There are different companies available to book your excursion with, make sure to book this in advance during the summer season as spots on boats are limited. You can call in advance to book a spot on different ferries with varying departure and arrival times. Don’t be late, these ferry’s share one dock and have to leave on time so avoid boat traffic jams. Parking is not always directly beside the ferry, in our case we parked then took a very short shuttle to the ferry.
Using Bruce Anchor tours we paid $95 for two adults round trip, this price included seeing 2 historical sunken ships on our way back in Big Tub Harbour (there are slightly cheaper options but paying couple of extra dollars is worth it to see the ships). The extra stop had a bit of interesting information as to why so many ships sunk in the region, and the crystal clear waters allowed us to look right through and see large sunken vessels.
Not all boats will tour the sunken ships, and certain hours are blocked out due to scuba diving excursions within the area so keep that in mind if you are really keen on seeing the ship wrecks!
We recommend booking with Bruce Anchor tours as the staff are knowledgeable and friendly!
You should plan to spend around 2-3 hours on Flower Pot Island exploring the 2 flower pots, the cave (if its open) and the light house station. Be sure to bring snacks and food with you as there are no food options on the island. As we were instructed, This is also considered a National Park so plan to bring every you take to the island, back with you including garbage.
Singing Sands Beach
Singing Sands Beach is on the lake Huron side of the Peninsula, it has shallow warm water and is a nice place to unwind during your trip to Tobermory. It has a small parking lot across the street and would require waiting for access if don’t snag one of the first spots early. Because of the mass amounts of rain we’ve gotten this year the beach wasn’t very visually appealing and the tide was extremely high. We would recommend checking this place out if you have extra time to fill or are travelling with children! This is one of the places in the region that has an actual sand beach, often most of the water fronts in this region are steep rocky beaches.
Fathom Five National Marin park has an array of historic shipwrecks. There are different companies you can rent kayaks from and go over to the shipwrecks in Big Tub Harbour (the easiest ship wreck to see) to explore them for yourself, we recommend taking some snorkelling equipment with you! Another recommendation is if you’re certified to check out companies you can go scuba diving with to check out the wrecks.
We had dinner at the Crowns Nest Pub, we recommend grabbing a seat on the patio and ordering the fish and chips or the chicken caesar, also in the evening this pub has live music! This is one of the few nightlife options of the area, if you’re looking to have a drink before heading back to your tent, motel or cottage.
The ice cream shop within the Tobermory area called Peninsula Supply Ice Cream is also a great stop mid day to satisfy your sweet tooth craving! There will be a line, but its worth a short wait to reward yourself after all the hiking.
We highly recommend packing lunches and snacks for excursions as there are no food options, there is a Foodland in the area but we recommend buying everything before you get to Tobermory to avoid the marked up prices.
There are minimal accommodation options and Tobermory gets booked up extremely quickly for the summer season so book early if you are planning a weekend getaway there. There are multiple inns/motels and different camping options. Camping is available in Bruce Peninsula National Park, which would be a great option since you’ll be near the Grotto. Also the charming inns are simple and close to the central part of Tobermory, some even have pools.
How to plan your two days in Tobermory
Day 1: The Grotto, Lunch, The Brune Point Trail (and the look out tower), Dinner in Tobermory
Day 2: Breakfast, Early morning trip to Flower Pot Island, hit the road back home
- It may be a good idea to bring water shoes as this region has more rock regions than sand beaches (your feet will thank you later)
- Bring a water proof camera as most of the beautiful views are within the waters
- As all this is within the National Park, you have to take all your garbage with you!
- If you enjoy camping, look at booking within the National Park!
- Make sure you bring warm clothes as temperature drops a lot in the evening
- Travel on hotter days because water is cold!