At the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula, close to the marvelous village of Tobermory, the core of the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, there are two amazing national parks: the Fathom Five National Marine Park and the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Bruce Peninsula National Park
Having an area of 156km2, Bruce Peninsula National Park is one of the largest protected areas in southern Ontario (and still growing), forming the core of UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve.
Scientists say that the dolomite limestone rock of the escarpment is very old: approximately 400 million years of age. On that unimaginable time long gone, this area was covered by a shallow tropical sea looking much like the present-day Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
The park is famous for its orchids: 34 of Bruce Peninsula’s 44 orchid species are found in the park. More than 850 different kinds of plants grow there. Ontario’s oldest trees are the small gnarled cedars that cling to the cliff face. Some have reached ages greater than 1,000 years.
The largest mammal in the park is the Black Bear. Common wildlife includes porcupine, chipmunk, red squirrel, raccoon, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, and frogs. Fox, fisher, martin and the rattlesnake (the only venomous snake in Ontario) are also present in fewer numbers.
We took just one kilometer path from the day-parking area to the magnificent shoreline cliffs. The trail passed wetland and forest on the eastern side of Horse Lake. Actually, it is the easiest and quickest way to the shore. The stunning picture of Georgian Bay appeared, all of a sudden, we were facing the Natural Arch and Indian Head Cove. We can assure that nobody is prepared for such a great discovery, impressed and overwhelmed are words that came to our minds to describe that feeling forcing us to remain silent for a while.
The shoreline faces north, and from Indian Head Cove you can look out across Georgian Bay, the first part of the Great lakes seen by Europeans. In 1615 Samuel de Champlain arrived at the mouth of the French River; about 80km across the Bay from Indian Head Cove. Astounded that such a big body of azure water was not salty, he named it La Mer Douce: The Sweetwater Sea. It was given its present name in 1822 to honour King George IV. The Bay is approximately 241km x 80km; almost as large as Lake Ontario.
Another “wow!” we whispered when we saw the Grotto, a huge cave formation with a deep pool of Georgian Bay water as its floor. To our surprise, there were a few people swimming in the Grotto but we didn’t know how they could manage to get down there. Suddenly a female voice said “Finally” just beneath our feet, which made us almost jump aside, while a woman’s head popped up from the hole in the rock. There was the way to the bottom! Monkey see monkey do, we followed the example. The path was narrow and dark… By the way, SCUBA divers can enter the Grotto from Georgian Bay by an underwater passage.
Over 30,000 people trek out to the Grotto each year.
Bruce Peninsula National Park was established in 1987 by the federal and provincial governments and back then was not greeted with open arms by some of the residents in the Northern Bruce Peninsula. But the attitude has changed nowadays: both local population and visitors have increasingly embraced the park. Meanwhile, it is estimated that close to 10 million people now live within a four-hour drive of the park.
The park offers opportunities for hiking, camping, bird watching and many other outdoor activities. There are many trails ranging in difficulty from easy to expert, some of them are:
- Bruce Trail: 782km, difficulty varies
- Georgian Bay – Marr Lake Trail: 3km, 2.5 hours, difficulty varies
- Horse Lake Trail: 1.2km, 0.5 hours, difficulty varies
- Cyprus Lake Trail: 5.2km, 2.5 hours, low difficulty
There is a year-round camping at Cyprus Lake, but in summer it is wise to make reservations far in advance. Permits are available for High Dump and Storm Haven. There is good fishing for bass, perch and yellow pickerel in Cyprus Lake. On the Lake Huron shore, the park encompasses Singing Sands Beach, a nice place for swimming.
Wind, water and time formed the sculptured bluffs, cliffs, and caves and created the most beautiful scenery of Bruce Peninsula’s National Park. There are breath-taking views from Overhanging Point, Halfway Rock Point, Cave Point and Halfway Log Dump.
Visitor Centre in Tobermory
The Visitor Centre in Tobermory is one of the busiest on Bruce Peninsula, being a gateway to thousands of visitors from throughout the world. In 2006, it opened its doors to serve Fathom Five National Marine Park and the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Designed by Andrew Frontini, the $7.82 million centre, approached by a boardwalk, features an information centre; reception area; exhibit hall with everything from a full-size lighthouse, flowerpot and cliff to black bear, rattlesnake and shipwreck exhibits; the high-definition theatre, for a virtual adventure to the best spots in the park; and a gift shop.
A 20m tower with 112 stairs was built for bird’s-eye panoramic views of the Bruce and Georgian Bay. The centre was designed with environmental sustainability in mind, receiving $224,000 from the Federal House in Order initiative for implementation of innovative greenhouse gas reduction technology.
The Centre is operated by the Tobermory & District Chamber of Commerce. You can get comprehensive information on activities in the area, hiking, diving, how to go to Flowerpot Island, Bruce Peninsula National Park, travel on the Chi Cheemaun ferry and much more. You can register to dive in Fathom Five or to camp on Flowerpot Island and buy admission tickets there. There are a lot of different pamphlets and booklets for visitors. Anything and everything that is related to the Bruce Peninsula is handled to visitors through this location.
In summer time the Centre opens daily from 8:00am to 8:00pm and until 9:00pm on Friday.
From the Visitor Centre you can take the following trails:
Bruce Trail to Little Dunks Bay Lookout
- This short section of the Bruce Trail meanders through lush cedar forest, along mossy covered ridges, and reaches a viewing platform that overlooks Little Dunks Bay, a secluded and scenic cove of Georgian Bay.
- Length: 0.8km (one way)
- Hiking Time: 10-15 minutes (one way)
- Difficulty: Easy.
- Trail Surface: Flat and hard packed. Wheelchair accessible
Bruce Trail Burnt Point Loop
- Hike this new loop side trail, accessed from the Bruce Trail, just before the Little Dunks Bay Lookout.
- Length: 4.8km (round-trip from Visitor Centre)
- Hiking Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trail Surface: Rough, rocky sections. Sturdy footwear recommended
Bruce Trail South
- Hike the Bruce Trail, Canada’s most famous footpath, south from the Visitor Centre. For information, visit the Bruce Trail Association website.
- Length: variable distance
- Hiking Time: variable
- Difficulty: moderate to very difficult
- Trail Surface: variable
Visitor Centre to Tobermory Harbour
- The Bruce Trail connects the Visitor Centre to the harbour in downtown Tobermory
- Length: 0.25km (one way)
- Hiking Time: 5 – 8 minutes (one way)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trail Surface: Flat, hard-packed stone and paved sidewalk. Wheelchair accessible