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How to explore Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula


Hikers head for the Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park, which is four hours from Toronto.

Story by Waheeda Harris
Vacay.ca Senior Writer


Scuba divers search for sunken treasures in Tobermory.

TOBERMORY, ONTARIO — “There’s only one way to see this part of Bruce County — get out of the car,” says Don McIlraith, past president and proud volunteer for the Peninsula Bruce Trail Club.

Located four hours north of Toronto, Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula sits between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, an area that has become a favourite destination for its diverse landscape from the dense forest surrounding the rocky Niagara escarpment to the soft, sandy beaches of Lake Huron.

From the gateway peninsula town of Wiarton to the northern tip in Tobermory, this area of Bruce County encourages outdoor adventures by foot or pedal and offers several options for accommodation, from yurt camping to waterfront cottages.

What to Do in South Bruce Peninsula

Visit Lion’s Head: This port village has been a favourite spot on the Bruce Peninsula because of its welcoming small-town community. For the boating crowd, Lion’s Head makes a good home base to explore the southern peninsula.

Hiking: For those wanting to work up an appetite, the Bruce Trail is a good start. Don’t assume that it’s beyond the ability of only experienced hikers. There are several hiking options, whether you want to walk for a couple of hours or take on a day-long challenge.  It’s worth the time to consult the maps created by the Peninsula Bruce Trail Club, available at local tourism information offices. A popular hike is to start at the Moore Street parking lot and take the Moore Street Side Trail to join the main Bruce Trail which leads to the Lion’s Head Lookout for an almost bird’s-eye view of Lion’s Head and Isthmus Bay. (Free admission to Bruce Trail in this area)

Cycling: A common sight on Highway 6 of the Bruce Peninsula are cyclists who welcome the challenge of exploring the peninsula on two wheels. But if your thoughts are fixated on adrenaline rather than distance, Bruce County offers four Mountain Bike Trail parks, each created by Trail Crew in the past 10 years. Featuring single track trails, each mountain bike park offers several options for different levels of ability and plenty of challenges, no matter if you’re six or 60. (Free admission to MTB’s five parks)

Astronomy: The Bruce Peninsula has been designated a Dark Sky Community, with a focus on preserving the views of the night sky from the region. In Lion’s Head, the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association hosts a Friday night exploration of the stars with its Bayside Astronomy Program, held near the lighthouse at the Peninsula Observation Deck. Astronomers set up telescopes to share their knowledge of the night sky and explain where to find the stars, planets and constellations. (Free admission during summer when offered)

Gastronomy: For those visiting on a Saturday, make time for the Lion’s Head Farmers Markets (from $5) for local produce, baked goods, arts and crafts with folk music accompaniment from local musicians. Another spot for early-morning caffeine needs is Rachel’s Bakery on Main Street (from $3) for breakfast sandwiches, home-baked squares and other tasty options. The Lion’s Head Inn is the perfect spot for a burger and a cold brew (from $10) as well as a laid-back spot to hang with locals or watch the game.

Make the trek just out of town to Harvest Moon Organic Bakery for one of the lunch specials (from $9) or for a sweet treat, either of which can be enjoyed under the owner’s apple trees or worked off on the sculpture walks that loop through the bakery surrounding 25 acres. Those travellers who crave a fine-dining option should make a dinner reservation at the Applewood Inn, specializing in international cuisine inspired by local and organic ingredients (from $35 per person) — and served with a lovely view of Dyer’s Bay.

Sweet dreams: Lionheart Guest House (from $100 per night) located on Main Street in Lion’s Head has elegant rooms each with ensuite bathroom, antique furniture and accessories, as well as access to areas for relaxing such as the parlour, flower garden and gazebo. At Dyer’s Bay, 4o minutes from Lion’s Head, there are many cottage rentals as well as small bed and breakfasts, including Natural High Bed & Breakfast (from $75 per night per person). It offers hiker pick up and drop off.

What to Do in North Bruce Peninsula

Visit Tobermory: Located on the northern tip of the peninsula, dividing Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Tobermory is well known by scuba divers and boaters who come to explore the numerous wrecks found underwater.

Hiking: One of the most popular parks of Ontario, Bruce Peninsula National Park covers a major area of the northern peninsula. Cyprus Lake is one of the most-visited areas of the park, and hiking to Halfway Rock Point and the Grotto is very popular for families and those wanting to sun and swim. Head farther along the trail to Overhanging Point, to find a quiet spot to gaze out at Georgian Bay, whether from up top or if you’re brave, climb through a hole to discover the view from underneath. (From $11.70 per day for parking)

Water activities: Blessed with clear waters, Georgian Bay has many options for discovering its depths, from scuba diving to kayaking. For those who prefer a gentler exploration of the bay and the Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada, The Blue Heron Company offers glass-bottom boat tours for those who want to see the shipwrecks and islands, as well as jet boat access to Flowerpot Island (from $24). Visitors can head directly to the island in the morning, hike along the shoreline to see the unique flowerpot rock formations, visit the lighthouse, hike back through the centre of the island to catch the jet boat return to Tobermory, spotting a few shipwrecks on the way, and just in time for lunch.

Beach time: In Tobermory, head to the lighthouse for an easy access swimming spot from the rocks and a place to watch the boats and the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry. For those who want to feel the sand between their toes, head south 10 minutes out of town to Singing Sands Beach on Lake Huron, with its expansive beach area, popular with families, and for those who feel the need to fly a kite in the constant breezes found here. (Free admission to both areas)

Gastronomy: Whether it’s tea, coffee or a desire for pastry, The Coffee Shop (from $2) offers a wide selection as well as a place to access free wireless Internet. Follow the steady stream of patrons heading up the stairs to The Sweet Shop, for homemade brittle, fudge, candy or ice cream (from $1).

The friendly Princess Hotel dining room serves up traditional and tasty cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner (from $9) while The Fish and Chip Place and The Crowsnest Pub dish out good casual eats (from $10). To enjoy the sunset and splash out on dinner, the Grandview Motel Dining Room offers patio dining overlooking the harbour as well as Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, showcasing seafood and locally caught Georgian Bay whitefish (from $40 per person).

Sweet dreams: Want a cottage experience with all the amenities? The Wireless Bay Cottages are less than 10 minutes from the Tobermory Little Tub harbour area and right on the water, each featuring kitchens, three-piece bathrooms, complimentary wireless Internet and cable TV (from $90 per night). Firepits, barbecues and outside dining areas are also provided. For those who want to try something new, consider the Bruce Peninsula National Park yurts, 20-foot structures including beds, woodstove, outdoor kitchen, propane barbecue and firepit (from $120 per night).

Travel to the Bruce Peninsula: By car, it will take just over four hours to reach Lion’s Head from Toronto, and another hour to arrive in Tobermory via Highway 410 0ut of Toronto to Highway 10 and to Highway 6. By bus, the newly launched Park Bus goes from downtown Toronto to the Bruce Peninsula, check the schedule for departures (from $38.94 one way per person).

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NOTE: Photos courtesy of Bruce County Tourism

A Toronto-based freelance journalist since the beginning of the millennium, Waheeda has been lucky enough to visit every continent. She's always happy to travel, especially when she can swim in the sea, taste locally-made cuisine and spend an afternoon in an art gallery.

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