The unexpected beauty of the Georgian Bay – Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario

If I were making a list – which we all know I like to do – Bruce Peninsula National Park would be #1 on the “Most Unexpectedly Amazing Destinations” list.

I began planning this vacation just like any other – pulled up Google maps, located parks in the general vicinity of where we wanted to go (Niagara Falls was our first planned destination), and then did some Google image searches. So I knew, at least a little bit, what to expect. But I was still skeptical. We all were. After all, when I tell you it’s located on one of the Great Lakes, you probably think of murky water and cities lining the lakeshore.

Bruce Peninsula couldn’t be more opposite.

Lake Huron, due to its more remote location, is pristine. Bruce Peninsula National Park sits on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, where grey cliffs rise out of the clear, turquoise waters of the Georgian Bay. People see photos from our vacation and think we went to a tropical destination. No one would ever guess that we actually went to central Canada. The Bruce Peninsula is approximately north of Toronto and extends about 60 km (37 miles) up into Lake Huron. To the west of the peninsula is the main body of Lake Huron and to the east is the Georgian Bay. Located at the very tip of the peninsula near the town of Tobermory are Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park.

We arrived in Tobermory late in the afternoon and after setting up camp at Cyprus Lake, headed into the town to walk around, see the lake, and also visit Big Tub Lighthouse (Tobermory supposedly means “Big Tub” in some language, though I wasn’t able to confirm this). We also stopped at Dunks Bay in Fathom Five National Marine Park just in time for sunset.


The next morning, we put on our swim suits under our clothing, packed a full day’s worth of food and water, grabbed our sandals and towels, and headed for the shores of the Georgian Bay. The bay is accessible by the Horse Lake, Marr Lake, and Georgian Bay trails, all of which depart from Cyprus Lake campground. We opted for the Horse Lake trail.

Cyprus Lake
Horse Lake

Just past Horse Lake, the trail opens up onto a field of rocks (definitely wear good shoes for this hike!) and intersects with the famous Bruce Trail that stretches 880 km (550 miles) along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario.

We began by heading east along the Bruce Trail to Stormhaven, which is a collection of caves in the cliffs that would in fact provide decent shelter from a storm.


After thoroughly exploring Stormhaven, we retraced our steps back to the west and continued on to Halfway Point Rock, Indian Head Cove, the Grotto, and Overhanging Point. The Halfway Point Rock/Indian Head Cove area is definitely the prime swimming hole and we spent quite a bit of time here eating a picnic lunch and soaking in the crystal-clear water.

DSCN5944 - Version 2dscn5942img_1306-1

The Grotto is the prime location for cliff-jumping! It’s a large cave filled with really cold, really clear, and really deep lake water. It was my first time cliff-jumping so I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I had a lot of fun and the water was definitely deep enough that it was safe to jump.

After climbing back up out of The Grotto, we continued west across Boulder Beach and up to Overhanging Point, high above the lake. By this point it was getting late in the day so we turned around, but the trail continues all the way to Tobermory. From the Bruce Trail, we took the Marr Lake trail back to the Cyprus Lake trail and the campground.


Marr Lake

After dinner, we had time for a quick stop at Dorcas Bay, located on the Lake Huron side of the peninsula. It was a rather stormy sunset that night and marked the end of our time at Bruce Peninsula (and, sadly, the end of sunshine for the remainder of our vacation).


For the sake of time (and money), something had to give, and that unfortunately was taking a glass-bottomed boat tour over the shipwrecks of Fathom Five National Marine Park to Flowerpot Island. In retrospect, one more day here definitely would’ve been nice, because the boat ride looks pretty amazing. I guess this is what happens when we try to go 5 different places in 10 days. Ah well.

Even without the boat tour, though, Bruce Peninsula was definitely the highlight of our trip and one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. It’s just so unexpected and unspoiled and beautiful, and truly unlike any other place I’ve ever visited.

Ten out of ten, for sure!

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Bruce Peninsula National Park is about 3.5 hours north of Toronto via Hwy 10 and Hwy 6
  • Fees & passes: $11.70/day to enter the park; Parks Canada pass accepted
  • Camping: Cyprus Lake Campground (232 sites, $23.50 CAD per night + reservation fee, reservations highly recommended)
  • Hiking: the Bruce Trail runs the entire length of the park, providing access to many potential destinations for day hikes or overnight excursions; shorter hikes include Indian Head Cove/The Grotto, and many shorter trails out to the lake shore
  • Other: recently, they’ve implemented a parking permit system for visiting The Grotto. Unless you’re camped at Cyprus Lake, you will need one. More information can be found here

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