Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: March 2022
Bruce Peninsula National Park is situated on part of the Niagara Escarpment along the rocky shores of Georgian Bay. It is known for its crystal clear water, rocky beaches and dramatic cliffs. The park offers plenty of outdoor activities, including camping and hiking to enjoy the rugged beauty of the area.
As part of a pilot project to determine whether there’s demand to visit the park during the off-season, Bruce Peninsula opened up its ten yurts for camping during the fall of 2021 and winter of 2022. Given that Bruce Peninsula is insanely popular during the summer, we decided to give it a whirl in the winter to experience a quieter side of the park.
We arrived at Bruce Peninsula late Friday evening. We called the Park Office in advance to let them know of our late arrival and to order a few bags of firewood, which would be waiting for us inside our yurt. While all the snow had melted back home, there was still a decent amount here. We parked at the designated area for the yurts and then walked a few hundred metres to get to our site. The park even provides wagons and sleds to help haul your gear in.
Our yurt came equipped with a wood stove, indoor seating for two people, a bunk bed, a queen-size Murphy bed, a BBQ and a larger seating area outside. We tried to get a fire going in the wood stove, but didn’t have much luck as the wood was quite damp. We also were unable to make kindling because we forgot to bring a hatchet. Thankfully the temperature was hovering around 0°C so it wasn’t too bad. It was hard to get up the next morning though from our warm sleeping bags.
Day 1: Lookouts
We had much better success with the fire the next morning and finally managed to get it going. After making a hot breakfast, we headed out to check into the Park Office and to start exploring the trails. But first we drove into Tobermory to explore the town. There’s a paved path along the shoreline which provides a nice view into the harbour and features a cairn that marks the northern end of the Bruce Trail, a nearly 900km trail that runs along the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory.
We then drove to the Big Tub Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1885 to safely guide ships into and out of the harbour after a few ships sank in the area, including two which lie at the bottom of Big Tub Harbour. The waters here, including 21 shipwrecks, are part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park.
We hopped back in the car and drove to the Visitor Centre. Even though it was still closed for the season, there’s an observation tower and a couple of trails that originate here. We started first with the observation tower which is located close to the parking lot. We climbed the metal stairs up to get a panoramic view of Georgian Bay and the surrounding area.
There are a couple different hiking routes to choose from, but both options start on the same path along the Bruce Trail. After hiking for a few hundred metres, the trail branches off into a couple different directions. The Bruce Trail continues to the right while the Burnt Point Loop and scenic overlook of Little Dunks Bay is to the left.
We went left to the Little Dunks Bay Lookout (800m one-way from the parking lot, rated easy) which leads to a viewing platform that overlooks a scenic cove on Georgian Bay. There was still a lot of ice near the shoreline. There was also a pair of the Parks Canada Red Chairs located on the viewing platform.
We continued hiking along the Burnt Point Trail (4.8km loop, rated moderate). The path winds through a cedar forest and leads to a few scenic overlooks of Georgian Bay. The trail is marked with a series of blue blazes on the trees and the path itself was packed down in the snow, but had a few icy patches.
We worked up quite the appetite after all that hiking, so we returned to our yurt to take a break, eat some lunch and tend to the fire. We then headed back out again in the early afternoon to check out the Singing Sands area, which is located across the road from the Cyprus Lake Campground. The area is typically closed in the winter and it soon became obvious as to why. There were large snow drifts along the shoreline. We managed to hike a portion of the Singing Sands Boardwalk (200m, rated easy), which really just consisted of climbing up and down a bunch of snow drifts on top of the boardwalk. We had to be extra careful not to stray from the packed down path, otherwise we’d end up knee deep in the snow. We learned the hard way.
The boardwalk winds through a fen and along the way there are a few interpretive signs about the importance of this coastal wetland. The boardwalk leads down to the sandy shore, which we followed back to the trailhead.
After wrapping up our short hike, we still had some energy left so decided to check out one of the main attractions at the Bruce Peninsula, the Grotto. Usually you have to reserve your parking spot in advance, but because we were visiting in the off-season, we weren’t required to do so. In fact, the parking lot was pretty much empty.
From the main parking lot, there’s a Head of Trails where a few of the trails originate or intersect. We first hiked along part of the Georgian Bay Trail to get to the Marr Lake Trail (1.4km one-way, rated difficult). The trail weaves through the forest and follows the shore of Marr Lake. Given that the temperature was quite mild, much of the snow was melting, creating puddles (ponds?) through the forest and along the trail.
The trail ends at a pebbly beach and connects with the Bruce Trail. We turned right and hiked along the rocky shore of Georgian Bay.
The terrain here is rugged and rough, but thankfully much of the rocks were exposed and not icy or slippery. We then climbed onwards and upwards to reach the Grotto, a large cave on the side of the cliff.
From there it’s a short stretch to Indian Head Cove, another scenic inlet along Georgian Bay.
By this point it had started to snow. We continued along the Bruce Trail which provided a few other scenic lookouts of the shoreline and cove. But the path was sketchy with all the melted water and ice. Instead we backtracked to the Georgian Bay Trail (1.3km one-way, rated easy), which is wider and flatter and also leads back to the parking lot.
On the way back to our yurt, we picked up another bag of firewood to get us through the night. The temperature was getting progressively chillier and overnight it was supposed to drop to -9°C (and feel like -19°C with the windchill). We got the fire going again in the wood stove and settled in for the evening. For dinner, we roasted some veggie burgers and vegetables outside on the BBQ.
Day 2: Cyprus Lake
I woke up a few times overnight to feed the fire, otherwise it’s crazy how quickly the temperature can drop inside the yurt. It got real cold and we ended up using all of our firewood, including the extra bag we bought. It also snowed a bit last night. We had a bit of a slow start to our morning, as we were reluctant to go out in the cold. Plus we wanted to make the most of our time in the yurt before we had to check out.
After eating breakfast, it was time to pack up and head home, but not before going on one last hike. We drove back to the parking area for the Grotto, except this time we hiked along the Cyprus Lake Trail (5km loop, rated easy). The path winds through the forest and encircles the shore of Cyprus Lake. Near the start of the trail we stumbled upon another set of the Red Chairs overlooking the lake.
Based on the state of the path (or lack thereof), we could tell it wasn’t hiked very often this winter. Progress was slow and we could really find the wind coming in off the lake. The path passes by a small beach area as well as the yurts.
It was a slow slog through the snow, ice and wind, but eventually we looped back to the trailhead and parking lot. We turned the heat on max in our car and were ready to head home. This was our first time camping in a yurt and overall we had a pretty good experience. The wood stove required a lot of attention, but it was nice to visit in the off-season without the crowds.