Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: June 2021
Manitoulin Island is located within Lake Huron and is the largest freshwater island in the world. It also contains more than 100 inland lakes, some of which have their own islands within an island. It has the largest lake in a freshwater island and the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake in the world. Essentially Manitoulin Island is a big nesting doll of islands. It is also incredibly scenic and features many outdoor activities and attractions in and around the water.
Day 1: The Adventure to and Around Manitoulin Island
We spent the previous night at Sauble Falls Provincial Park and planned to take the 9a.m ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island. We needed to arrive at the harbour an hour beforehand to check-in and it’s about an hour’s drive from Sable Falls. As such, we woke up bright and early at 6:30a.m. We packed up our tent and made a sandwich to eat in the car.
We arrived at the harbour shortly after 8a.m and waited in line in our car. While the MS Chi-Cheemaun has limited the number of passengers due to COVID-19, it took awhile to check-in as each passenger was asked a series of standard questions around COVID-19 (like whether you have a fever or cough). We were then given a lane number. Once we were given the green light, we drove up onto the ferry.
Visitors are not permitted to remain in their vehicle below deck when the ferry is moving, so we headed to the upper deck. We walked around the deck for a bit, but couldn’t see much due to the fog. We then ventured indoors and found an empty table by the window. We mostly read and played cards to pass the time. It’s about an hour and 40 minute ferry ride to Manitoulin Island.
We arrived at the South Baymouth harbour just before 11a.m. By this time the fog had cleared and the sun was starting to come out. From the ferry terminal we drove a couple hundred metres to get to the South Baymouth Range Front Lighthouse. There’s a short boardwalk that loops around a rocky outcrop that provides a nice view of the lighthouse. There are actually two lighthouses here, a front and rear range light. Ship captains line the two towers up perfectly with each other to make a safe entrance into the harbour channel.
South Baymouth became a busy fishing port soon after 1878 when the first settlers set up a fishing station here. The two range lights were built in 1898. Even though the fishing industry declined, the two range lights have continued to guide ships into the harbour.
We then hopped back in the car and drove to Providence Bay Beach, which is reputed to be the nicest beach on the island. The beach is located on an ancient dunes system where the dunes are continuously changing due to wind, storms, vegetation and water levels. We walked along the wooden boardwalk and even dipped our feet into the cold water.
Afterwards we drove to Gore Bay, first stopping at the East Bluff Lookout (or Harold Noble Memorial Lookout). There’s a viewing platform and short trail that leads to various lookouts of the surrounding area. There are also a few picnic tables here, so we figured this was as good a spot as any to make and eat some lunch.
After lunch we headed to the nearby Janet Head Lighthouse. It was built in 1879 by the Government of Canada to improve the safety of navigation along the North Channel and can be seen for 18km out in the lake. Back in the day, this lighthouse also directed sleighs carrying the mail along an ice highway that ran from Gore Bay to Spanish Bay between 1910 and 1924. Snowmobiles still follow this historic 35km route to the North Shore.
The next stop on our itinerary was Misery Bay Provincial Nature Reserve. We initially planned to hike along the Misery Bay Trail, but there was a sign to indicate that it was closed due to flooding. Instead we hiked along the Inland Alvar Trail (5km loop, rated easy). The trail weaves through the forest, along open rock alvars and provides a detour to an old glacial beach.
Mid-way through, the trail leads down to the shoreline along Georgian Bay and features a sheltered area at Saunder’s Cove. This seemed like a great spot to take a break, drink some water and eat a snack. After exploring the beach and discovering an abandoned cottage, we continued on our hike, which loops back to the Visitor Centre.
We wrapped up our hike around 4:45p.m and drove back through Gore Bay. We planned to make a few more detours before checking into our accommodations and eating dinner. We first stopped at the Kagawong Lighthouse. Kagawong became a busy port on Manitoulin’s north shore by 1870. The lighthouse was built in 1894 after a fire destroyed much of the town. While lumber and fishing gradually declined, the lighthouse is still operational and guides boaters to the Kagawong dock.
We hopped back in the car for a few minutes before stopping again at Bridal Veil Falls. There are a few hiking trails in the area, but we were starting to get hungry. Instead we walked down the set of stairs to the base of the falls. We even saw a few people swimming here.
On the drive to our accommodations we made one final pit stop at the McLean’s Mountain Lookout to admire the views of the surrounding area.
We then checked into our motel in Little Current. By this time it was well past dinner, so we headed out in search of some food. We grabbed a drink at the Manitoulin Brewing Company and ordered take-out from Elliot’s Restaurant.
Once we finished our drinks, we picked up our food and walked down to the harbour. We found a picnic table along the shore to eat our dinner and admire the views overlooking the water.
Afterwards we walked along the shoreline towards the Little Current Lighthouse. This replica of a “Bird-Cage Lighthouse” was built with support from the community to commemorate the one built in 1866 when Canada was still part of the British Empire. Six lights of this type were initially constructed in Ontario.
As the sun was starting to set, we walked back to our motel and got ready for bed.
Day 2: The Cup and Saucer
We had another early start to the day as we had to be in Sudbury for 3p.m to get our muffler checked. It started making loud noises when we were camping at Sauble Falls and it looked like part of the pipe broke off. We didn’t mind the early start too much as we planned to hike along the Cup and Saucer Trail, which is reputed to be one of the main highlights of Manitoulin Island, so it was a good excuse to get there before it got busy.
The parking lot to the trailhead is located off of Highway 540. There are three interconnected trails in the area: Main Trail (4km return trip, red trail), South Loop (9km return trip, blue trail) and Adventure Trail (500m one-way, yellow trail). The trail is named Cup and Saucer as the rock formations along the bluff resemble a saucer (or spearhead according to legend) and cup (or spear handle).
We first hiked along the Main Trail, which leads up to the top of the Niagara Escarpment and features a number of scenic lookouts over the surrounding area. The path is wide and relatively flat for the first stretch. It lightly rained for a short period, but the canopy of leaves provided decent coverage.
Mid-way through, the trail branches off for the Adventure Trail. The trail leads down the side of the Escarpment, which consists of steep cliffs and exposed rocks. There are even additional add-ons for thrill seekers, some of which included climbing up ladders, around and up large boulders and through small crevices. We tried some of these, but passed on a few others as they looked a bit sketchy. There is one last ladder up the side of a large cliff face that brought us back to the Main Trail.
From here it’s a short stretch to a series of four lookouts, which provide breathtaking views of the surrounding area from on top of the cliff.
The path splits off again and there’s an option to hike along the South Loop for an even longer hike, but we stayed on the Main Trail. Ideally we would have liked to spend more time in Manitoulin Island, but we had places to be. I’m glad we arrived early as we passed a number of other hikers on the return journey back to the parking lot. Overall it took just under 2.5 hours to complete our hike.