Manitoulin Island

Length of stay2 days
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.


92 thoughts on “Manitoulin Island

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Visiting Manitoulin Island was the highlight of our road trip. We’re already planning to return next summer for longer. I love how rugged and beautiful the landscape is. It is definitely great for going on a lighthouse scavenger hunt. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Have a great weekend. Linda

      • Julie Pearce says:

        Looking forward to an upcoming 2 night stay on the island & scouting out the area.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        How fun! We had a wonderful time in Manitoulin Island last summer and wished we could have stayed for longer. I love how it just feels so laid back and relaxed. Hopefully you’ll have fabulous weather to enjoy the scenery and sights.

  1. winteroseca says:

    So much going on there! Looks so fun! That’s interesting there is a Bridal Veil falls there. The one I know about is in Yosemite

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Bridal Veil Falls seems to be a popular name for a waterfall. There’s also a Bridal Veil Falls in Banff and British Columbia (and I’m sure other places as well). If we had more time I would have loved to go for a swim at the base of the falls. Next time.

  2. Christie says:

    Your post brings me back fond memories from our visits there. And I find there is always something more to do.. for sure, the Cup and Saucer trail is one of them😊

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I loved our time in Manitoulin Island and wished we could have stayed for longer. We’re already making plans to return next summer. The scenery is incredible and it just feels so laid back there. The Cup and Saucer was a real highlight. I bet it’s beautiful to hike in the fall when the leaves are changing colour. Enjoy your time up North. Take care.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Glad to hear that you’re enjoying your trip so far. It’s been an insanely hot and dry summer. Our lawn is looking pretty crispy. Fingers crossed we’ll get some rain soon, although it’s not looking promising based on the weather forecast for next week. We are heading out on our Northern Ontario road in just under two weeks. I can’t wait!

  3. kagould17 says:

    Manitoulin Island has been on my radar for some time. We did not have the time to stop on our 208 cross Canada drive, but hope to visit one day. All those trails and a brew pub too. How could you go wrong? Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitoulin Island has been the highlight of our summer so far. It’s incredibly scenic, surprisingly not crowded with tourists, and isn’t overly developed. Having a bevvie after a long day of exploring by the shore was a great way to end the day. I wish we could have stayed for longer. You’ll definitely have to add this to your list for the next time you’re in Ontario. Thanks for reading.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always nice to treat yourself while on vacation. We definitely ate (and drank) well while visiting Manitoulin Island. It was a nice change to eat out during our road trip rather than having to make our own food on our camp stove.

  4. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    I visited a long time ago (I used to spend a lot of time in the Owen Sound area) but would love to go back! Once the fog cleared off on day one it looks like the weather was really beautiful. As Allan said, nice to visit the brew pub at the end of the day (and you can feel virtuous about those calories 😉 ). Those views – really gorgeous!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We are already making plans to return to Manitoulin Island next summer. It’s such a charming area and I’m glad the shoreline isn’t filled with private cottages. Since they were limiting the number of people that can take the ferry over, it wasn’t very busy, which works well for us. I’m so glad the fog cleared as it was such a beautiful day, probably the nicest day on our one-week road trip. And yes, grabbing a drink at the end of the day was such a real treat! Take care. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitoulin Island is the perfect place to go on a scavenger hunt for lighthouses. The Janet Head Lighthouse is pretty neat and is a great example of a classic Georgian Bay lighthouse in which the keepers’ home is part of the lighthouse. The shelter at Saunder’s Cove was a great place to take a break and just admire the views of the water. We had such a wonderful time that I wish we could have stayed for longer.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. Lake Huron is so impressive that sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s even a lake. Manitoulin Island is incredibly charming and very scenic. I wish we could have stayed for longer.

  5. Dee Min says:

    Oh my my my … that’s as pristine as it gets. The shades of blue against the green is pure art. Great picture. Even greater scenery. Thanks for sharing. Dee

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The forecast was calling for rain everyday on our road trip, so we were pleasantly surprised to have such beautiful weather during our visit to Manitoulin Island. It’s nice being able to see how clear and blue the water looks when the sun is shining.

  6. Ab says:

    What a lovely post! We were at Manitoulin Island for 1 day, around this time last year. We only got to do the Cup and Saucer Trail, which was quite the adventure with some of the steeper climbs like that ladder! But the view at the top was so worth it. 🙂

    We really wanted to do the ferry ride this year but of course our plans changed. So it’s nice to see your recap of it. It must’ve been such an experience riding across the water with your car.

    Also nice to see other parts of the Island, like the Lighthouse and the Bay. That bluish water looks so inviting on this hot Saturday!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      If there was only one thing I could do on Manitoulin Island, I would have totally picked the Cup and Saucer Trail. We came for the views, but I also like that the trail has an extra element of adventure with some of those ladders. We’re hoping to return next summer and perhaps spend some time up around Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula National Park. The crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay are simply stunning and would be a great way to cool off during the heatwave we’ve had for all of last week.

      • Ab says:

        It certainly is a nice trail for sure! 😀

        Tobermory and Bruce Peninsula parks were on our itinerary this year until our plans changed. We weren’t planning on camping so the accommodations we booked were an hour away from the park cuz everything closeby were already booked (in March!). So something to keep in mind if you’re planning to go next year and do the AirBnB or motel route. Good luck. Such a beautiful place that I hope to visit one day! 😃

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Oh gosh. Bruce Peninsula was already popular even before the pandemic, so I can’t imagine what it’s like these days. I can’t believe everything nearby was booked way back in March! That’s crazy! Maybe we’ll try to go a bit earlier in the season when the kids are still in school.

  7. Diana says:

    This place looks SO AMAZING! I absolutely want to go here one day. I didn’t know it was so large, and I got a chuckle out of your first paragraph about the lake on an island on a lake 😂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh the random fun facts I’ve learned about the places I’ve visited in Ontario! Manitoulin Island has been the highlight of our summer so far. The scenery is gorgeous and there are lots of great hiking options. In some ways it was nice that they were limiting the number of people that can take the ferry across as it wasn’t overly crowded when we visited.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m so happy that the fog cleared. The water looks so much clearer and brighter when the sun is shining. The hiking in Manitoulin Island was incredible. It’s amazing how most of the island has been left to nature and hasn’t been developed.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The forecast was calling for rain all week, so we were lucky that we had such fabulous weather when visiting Manitoulin Island. The sun has such a great way of making the water sparkle and shine. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

  8. ourcrossings says:

    Wow the views are amazing and so is the colour of the water, it really is incredible how much can landscape shift and change once the sun makes an appearance! Playing cards is certainly a great way to keep yourselves busy and pass time, we do it all the time where we find ourselves on longer journeys. The joy of game play does not wear off with age ☺️ Aiva

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It is funny how the sun can make such a huge difference in the appearance of the landscape and water, as well as my attitude towards going for a hike. I’m so happy that the fog cleared and we had fabulous weather to explore many of the lighthouses, beaches and trails along the shoreline. We usually try to pack a deck of cards (and a book) whenever we go travelling as you never know when you might have some down time. Take care. Linda

  9. alisendopf says:

    It’s hard to get a sense of just how massive the great lakes are, but when you put it into perspective of the largest island, with the largest etc within the largest… I begin to get the idea. The Nesting Dolls is a great analogy!

    The bridal falls is beautiful – I love seeing the different high water marks, and how it grooved out the basin over the years.

    However, that perfectly sheer granite cliff – wow!!! First off – how did that happen??? Second, it gives me the willies just thinking about standing near it. Good on you! The views are incredible and worth the effort.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      They don’t call them the Great Lakes for nothing! Manitoulin Island is surprisingly pretty big considering it’s on a lake. We underestimated how much time it would take to drive around part of the island. Bridal Falls is really pretty. We would have loved to go swimming here, but our bellies were rumbling from hunger and we needed to eat dinner. The Cup and Saucer trail was one of our favourite hikes on the island. I didn’t even realize we were only standing on (what felt like) a little rock ledge until we got to one of the viewpoints. The views from the top of the cliff are incredibly beautiful and are definitely worth the effort.

      • alisendopf says:

        Oh no! That would have been a bit scary – to look back at what you were just standing on. However, sometimes ignorance is bliss! I did the Onion in the winter, and while stayed back from the edge, it was only when we got back to the parking lot that we could see the entire rim was one GIANT cornice. Had we all been standing on that thing at once…

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Definitely! I just looked at a few pictures of the Onion. First of all, this looks like an incredibly beautiful hike. But oh wow, I can’t believe how much more challenging this would have been in the winter!

      • alisendopf says:

        Everything is better on skis 🙂
        It might be a slog up, but you get a free ride back down. There are so many mountains I won’t even consider in the summer because of the 20 km return hike. Blah!

  10. Cool Esse says:

    This looks like a sweet spot with tons of things to do and great scenery. I looked up an aerial photo, it’s awesome there’s so many lakes and islands within lakes and islands! Also, my name is Lynda, too, but with a y 😄

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitoulin Island is surprisingly massive considering it’s located on a lake. I loved learning all the fun facts about all the various lakes on Manitoulin Island and that some of them have islands and lakes within their islands. Most of the shoreline is undeveloped so it’s the perfect place to escape to and just enough nature.

      It’s funny because I’m always asked whether I spell my name with an “i” or a “y”. I’ve never actually met anyone that goes by the “y” spelling until now!

      • Cool Esse says:

        It’s definitely a spot I’d like to visit if I ever make it up that way. I haven’t met anyone else with the y spelling either 🤔🤷🏼‍♀️

  11. Meg says:

    What a wonderful adventure in a beautiful setting! The lighthouses, the waterfall and good food too – I think I’d like to take the ferry there myself!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitoulin Island has been the highlight of our summer so far. For being on an island, there sure is a lot to see and do. There were lots of beautiful lighthouses, scenic hiking trails, and sandy beaches. Since they were limiting the number of people that can take the ferry across due to COVID, it wasn’t very busy, which was awesome.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The scenery in and around Manitoulin Island is breathtaking. Much of the shoreline is undeveloped and it’s sparsely populated, so it’s a great place to visit to escape the crowds and just enjoy the views. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I was pleasantly surprised that much of the shoreline around Manitoulin Island is undeveloped. It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds and spend time outdoors. There’s an insane number of picturesque lighthouses, scenic lookouts, sandy beaches and incredible hiking trails. We’re hoping to return next summer to more fully explore the area. Thanks for reading. Linda

  12. rkrontheroad says:

    Many years ago, we did a road trip from Colorado to Toronto, staying in little cabins or camping north of the Great Lakes. We just drove across Manitoulin Island to take the ferry to Tobermory. Little did we know what a beautiful spot the island is! Of course, we were on a timetable, back in the days of work commitments, but I so enjoyed the respite of your photos and story. Maybe another time.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. That sounds like such an incredibly fun and scenic road trip. That’s too bad that you couldn’t spend more time in Manitoulin Island as it’s really quite beautiful. It’s the perfect place to go on a scavenger hunt of lighthouses. Perhaps someday you’ll be back.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitoulin Island has been the highlight of my summer so far. The scenery is simply stunning. I’m glad we had such beautiful weather as the sun has such a great way of making the water sparkle and shine.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitoulin Island is a treasure trove of marine history and lighthouse. The Janet Head Lighthouse is beautiful and it was interesting to learn that the keeper’s home was actually part of the lighthouses, which is why it’s bigger. The hiking here is incredible with lots of beautiful views of the water and surrounding area. I bet it’s absolutely gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are changing colour.

      • John says:

        I am from Michigan, been down here in the desert almost ten years. I lived in Ontarion briefly in the 1980s and loved it. The people were so friendly, the cities and towns so clean. Oh Canada! 🇨🇦

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Sounds like you’ve lived in some great places over the years. It’s too bad that the borders are still closed as we would love to explore more of Michigan. We’ll be driving along the northern shore of Lake Superior and would absolutely love to visit Isle Royale National Park.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That’s too bad that the rain deterred you from visiting Manitoulin Island. It’s such a lovely area in Ontario. We enjoyed our visit so much that we’re already making plans to return next summer. Hopefully you’ll make your way there again someday. Cheers. Linda

  13. Book Club Mom says:

    I’m so glad to see this older post, Linda. I had to look up Manitoulin Island on Google Maps to know exactly where you were. Your pictures are great. I especially enjoyed seeing the lighthouses. My husband and I just visited the Cape May NJ lighthouse in the U.S. (climbed 199 steps to the top) and had so much fun looking at the view, surrounded by ocean on all sides. Someday I’d like to visit the Great Lakes. They are so oceanic!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. It was fun seeing all the different lighthouses on Manitoulin Island. I love how each one is unique and has an interesting story behind it. Agreed, the Great Lakes do sometimes look (and feel) like the ocean, especially Lake Superior. That’s so neat that you were able to climb to the top of the Cap May NJ Lighthouse. I’ll have to add this to my list for the next time we’re in that area. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The views of the surrounding area from the Cup and Saucer Trail were incredible, but it was a bit erie standing on the ledge. Thankfully we were the only ones at the scenic lookouts and didn’t have to worry about trying to maneuver around other people.

  14. Nancy says:

    What an excellent review you did. You covered some good areas, but so many others to see. I am very blessed to live on Manitoulin Island and am
    Able to call this home.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I was blown away by how beautiful and peaceful Manitoulin Island is. We covered a lot in two days, but I wish we had more time to fully explore the island. That’s amazing that you live there!! We’re hoping to return soon.

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