Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: May 2016
- Flowerpot Island
- The Grotto
- Bruce Trail
- Seeing a Massasauga rattlesnake
The Bruce Peninsula is a ruggedly scenic peninsula in Ontario that is bordered between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The Bruce Peninsula National Park is nestled along the northern part of this peninsula. And a large section of the Bruce Trail (an 885km trail that runs along the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory) that cuts through this national park offers phenomenal views of jagged cliffs, rugged rock formations, and overlooks the crystal clear turquoise waters of Georgian Bay.
Day 1: Bruce Peninsula National Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park is usually teaming with tourists throughout the summer. And its campgrounds usually fill up months in advance. We made an impulse decision to camp here over a weekend following the Victoria Day long weekend in May as the weather forecast was calling for favourable weather (and no rain!) and there was still a lot of availability in terms of campsites. It was a rare opportunity.
We rolled up to the Cyprus Lake Campgrounds in the mid afternoon on Saturday. We booked a site in the Poplars section of the campgrounds for two nights as this section is closer to both the Bruce Trail and the various other trails that eventually intersect with the Bruce Trail.
After settling up our tent we went for a short hike. We first strolled along the Georgian Bay Trail (probably about 1km one-way) which ends at the Bruce Trail. You’ll know you’ve made it to the Bruce Trail as the trail itself is fairly well maintained and marked with white blazes.
We followed the blazes (of glory) of the Bruce Trail east towards the backcountry Stormhaven Campground. The trail hugs the shoreline of Georgian Bay and weaves in and out of the forest. And you might be thinking that sounds like a pretty scenic hike – you know, just strolling along the beach. But make no mistake, those rocky beaches are challenging. It’s kind of hard to enjoy the view when you’re navigating among them loose wobbly pebbles and stones.
We turned around at the Stormhaven Campground and headed back to our own campground at Cyprus Lake. We cooked some dinner by the fire before snuggling deep into our sleeping bags for the rest of the night.
Day 2: Bruce Trail
Today we planned to tackle more of the Bruce Trail. We hiked along the Georgian Bay Trail to connect with the Bruce Trail again. Except this time we turned left and hike west towards Tobermory. The beginning portion of this trail winds through a wooded area high on top of the cliffs and provides gorgeous panoramic views of Georgian Bay’s rocky shoreline. The views don’t get much better than this.
After hiking a short distance along the Bruce Trail we arrived at one of the most popular attractions in the Bruce Peninsula National Park: The Grotto. This is a popular spot for people to jump off the rocks into the crystal clear turquoise waters below. And even in May we watched a few people plunge into the freezing water below.
Located a bit inwards inside The Grotto there’s this opening in the cave where the light penetrates from the other side and gives the illusion that the water is glowing. Especially on a particularly sunny day.
To get back out we followed a guide who was showing a small group of kids an alternate exit. You literally scramble up some rocks and squeeze through some hole that is barely recognizable. We would have missed it entirely if it wasn’t for the guide in front of us.
After resurfacing we continued along the Bruce Trail. The trail consisted of a mix between walking across more rock beaches followed by more wooded areas. We didn’t anticipate the degree of difficulty required to walk along all those loose rocks (and how much longer it takes).
We hiked up to and including the Sinkhole Side Trail, which features one of the largest visible collapsed caves on the peninsula. We then turned around and started our journey back.
And guess what we saw just lurking around on a particularly muddy section of the trail? A massasauga rattlesnake! This rare rattler is Ontario’s only venomous snake. While the massasauga rattlesnake can be found along a small corridor along midwestern North America, within Ontario they predominately reside along Georgian Bay and on the Bruce Peninsula. Given that we didn’t want to disturb the rattler (especially since it is a threatened species), we made an exception to veer off the actual trail to walk around it.
When we returned to our campsite we took a bit of a rest before heading over to Tobermory. We drove around the small town and stopped at Little Tub Harbour and the Lighthouse Lookout.
When we returned back to our home base we cooked some dinner and made another campfire.
Day 3: Flowerpot Island
We enjoyed our final day in the Bruce Peninsula area at Flowerpot Island which is part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park. The island is named after its two natural rock formations that resemble flowerpots.
There are two main cruise operators that provide boat tours and the option to get dropped off and picked up from the island. We went with Blue Heron Boat Tours even though it is slightly more expensive than its competitor Bruce Anchor Cruises because their boats provide outdoor seating, which make for an easier and pleasanter viewing experience. Especially when you near the shipwrecks.
The boat tour first passes through Big Hub Harbour to view two shallow shipwrecks: the shipwreck Sweepstakes and the shipwreck City of Grand Rapids. There are glass bottom viewing areas located on the lower level of the boat to offer an up-close view of the wreck, but in our opinion, the best views of the shipwreck were from the upper outside level of the boat.
After viewing the two shipwrecks the boat circled around Flowerpot Island before dropping us off at the dock at Beachy Cove to explore the island on foot. The boat ride took about 45 minutes and we had just over two hours to explore as much of the island as we could before our return trip back to the mainland.
There are 4.3km of well-marked trails around the Eastern portion of the island. Most (all) of the major viewpoints are easily accessible along the Mountain Trail which loops back around to the starting point located not that far from the dock. After arriving at Beachy Cove we hiked east along the Mountain Trail towards Small Flowerpot.
From there it was a short hike towards the Large Flowerpot. There are various lookouts to see the flowerpots up close and personal.
Located around the corner from the Large Flowerpot is a cave that is accessible to the public. The cave formed over thousands of years when water and ice eroded the soft sedimentary layers at the base of the rocks leaving an overhang composed of the stronger rocks. Over time pieces of rock from the overhang broke off and formed this cave.
We then walked to the Lighthouse. The observation platform by the Lighthouse provided an incredible view of the surrounding area of Georgian Bay north of the island. Afterwards we continued along Mountain Trail which later connects with Marl Bed Trail. The landscape around the trails were super scenic – large mossy rocks and cedar trees growing and twisting at weird angles.
We managed to return to the docks with 10 minutes to spare. And this was after sneaking in a quick visit to creep the six campsites on the island. We took the Express Jet Boat back into Tobermory to save on time. And from there we started our return trip back into Toronto.
L & K