Winter Camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park

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.

L

63 thoughts on “Winter Camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park

  1. kagould17 says:

    I have heard good things about this area and always meant come see the area around Tobermory. Certainly wild and forlorn scenery in late winter early spring. The hikes look interesting, as does the yurt stay….with a fire going at that time of year. Thanks for sharing Linda. Happy Friday. Allan

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Tobermory has become insanely popular over the last few years. They even have to issue parking time slots now at some of the major attractions to better manage the crowds. I’m glad we visited in the winter (largely because that’s all we could book) so we didn’t have to worry too much about the crowds. The park was pretty empty, which is just how we like it. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

      Liked by 1 person

  2. BACK ROADS AND OTHER STORIES says:

    I didn’t know that Bruce was open in the winter and I don’t think I’ve seen photos of the frozen grotto before. It’s beautiful both ways and the lack of other humans is a bonus. You guys really gave the winter experience a chance!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      They typically aren’t fully open in the off-season, but they were running a pilot in the winter of 2022 to see whether there was enough interest to keep the yurts open all year round. I’m not sure whether it was successful. When we visited, a few of the yurt were still empty. It was neat to see all the icicles and snow around the Grotto, but the best part was that we didn’t have to deal with any crowds. Winter isn’t so bad with the right activities (and clothing).

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’re actually heading out west next week and will be spending a few days in Banff, but we’ll be staying in our tent. I’m a bit concerned that we’ve been too pampered by staying in a couple of yurts and cabins this winter. It’ll be a bit of an adjustment to transition back to our tent and sleeping pads!

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      • Monkey's Tale says:

        We’ve had a lot of snow in the mountains this past week and many trails are closed due to avalanche risk or you can’t get too high due to snow so check with Parks Canada for current trail conditions before heading out. Let me know when you’re hiking and maybe we’ll try to join you. We’re putting down new flooring so can’t promise we can get away. 😊Maggie

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      • WanderingCanadians says:

        We’ve heard that the snow has been slow to melt this year. Winter just seems to have really lingered. I’ve been checking the trail conditions every day and there have been some improvements. Either way, there is no shortage of hiking options in the area. We’ll be flying into Edmonton on Thursday. I can’t wait. I’ll shoot you a message on your site to let you know our itinerary and can pass along my contact information in case the timing works out. Cheers. Linda

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  3. grandmisadventures says:

    Your pictures are so stunning! I especially love the snow and ice next to the water. I think parks are always more enjoyable in winter than summer because it gives such a different view of the natural beauty and with far less people. Putting this national park on my to see list! Have a great weekend 🙂 Meg

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. Even though it was more challenging to hike in the winter with all that snow and ice, the frozen landscape looked beautiful, especially around the shoreline. I agree, it’s nice to get a different view and experience by visiting in the off-season without the crowds. In some ways it’s more enjoyable. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rose says:

    Bruce Peninsula Park looks like it has a lot to see, even in March. I admire your winter camping ability. A friend of mine and her husband were winter campers. They slept on the frozen lake, I don’t know how often they did this. I’m not sure if I’d attempt that, but it’s neat to hear when others are adventurous enough to do it. 😊

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It sure helped that we stayed inside a yurt. It took awhile for it to heat up as the wood stove wasn’t the greatest, but once it did, we were very comfortable. I’m not sure how I’d feel about sleeping on a frozen lake either! That’s a bit too hardcore even for me. I’m getting spoiled by staying in these yurts and cabins.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Little Miss Traveller says:

    So interesting to read about your yurt experience as they are gaining popularity over here too but we haven’t tried or even inspected one. Great you finally got the fire going in the morning. I would have been reluctant to get out of bed when it was icy cold too!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! We’ve camped here before, but only in the summer and in a tent. It was neat to return in the winter to see how different the landscape looks with all the snow and ice. Staying in a yurt was pretty comfortable and it sure beats staying in a tent! But the best part was how quiet the park was. We didn’t encounter too many people on the trails or in the campground.

      Liked by 1 person

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        We’ve been to Tobermory before, but always in the summer. It was neat to return in the winter to see how drastically different the landscape looks when it’s covered in snow and ice. This was also our first time staying in a yurt. It was much more convenient and comfortable than staying in a tent. We’re planning to stay in one of these again in the fall in Algonquin.

        Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The yurt was surprisingly pretty spacious and bright. It took awhile for us to get a fire going in the wood stove, but once we did, we were pretty comfortable and cozy. It was a nice way to camp in the off-season without having to deal with the crowds.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Diana says:

    Lovely photos! I’ve been to Bruce Peninsula, but in the summer. It was fun to see familiar sights but in winter. The ice adds such a layer of beauty to the landscape.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. It’s always neat to return in a different season to see how the landscape changes. We figured we might as well visit in the winter as I doubt we would have had much luck booking one of the yurts in the peak season.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    I did a lot of hiking and camping in the Tobermory area about 20 years ago (in summer) and loved it. It wasn’t very popular then and you almost felt alone on the planet! I love the idea of winter camping in a yurt.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I can see why you spent a lot of time in Tobermory. The scenery is simply stunning. It’s crazy how popular certain parks, trails or areas have become. Now it’s next to impossible to book a campsite over a weekend during the summer. You then also have to reserve a timed parking spot at the trailhead for the Grotto. In many ways, it was nicer to visit in the winter so we didn’t have to deal with any of that. Plus the park was much more peaceful and quiet.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. This was our first time staying in a yurt and it was a lovely experience. Once we got a fire going in the wood stove, it was very comfortable and cozy. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Take care. Linda

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  8. Ab says:

    What an amazing experience! The yurt looks awesome and quite spacious. And the lake and trails look so different and calm in the wintertime. I’m looking so forward to visiting soon and will note that winters are possibilities too!

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      You must be getting excited for your upcoming camping trip!! We’ve been to Bruce Peninsula a few times over the years, but never in the winter. It was neat to see how different the scenery looks with all that snow and ice. This was also our first time staying in a yurt. The wood stove was a bit of a hassle, but it was better than nothing. It was also much better than sleeping in a tent!

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The yurt was a much more luxurious (and warmer) way to camp than our tent. We had some struggles with the wood stove, but once we got the fire going, it was pretty comfortable inside. Who knows, maybe our travel plans will overlap someday. Now that travel restrictions are easing, we’re hoping to start doing some international travelling again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. wetanddustyroads says:

    Another word I have not heard of before … a yurt 😉. Thank you for introducing me to your different types of accommodation Linda! To start your morning with a hot fire, then a lovely lighthouse and stunning views from an observation tower sounds like the perfect beginning of a weekend. And there are the red chairs again – love it! Another great hike with picturesque views.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s been fun to check out the different types of (heated) accomodations at our national parks over the winter. It gave us a good excuse to get outdoors and play in the snow. It was also neat to see how different the trails and landscape looks when it’s covered in snow.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. usfman says:

    The footpaths here looked dangerously icy. How do you manage to walk on them safely? Do you use walking sticks? Special kind of shoe? You Canadians are definitely tough in the wild.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Some of the trails were a bit icy and slippery. We typically bring our snowshoes with us whenever we hike in the winter, which provides some traction on the snow and ice. We have learned to adapt to the winter. The hiking is more challenging, but the trails are usually quiet. Plus the snow just looks so pretty.

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  11. rkrontheroad says:

    Hiked the escarpment years ago with a Canadian friend, but that was in summer! The yurt looks adorable, how fun. I was charmed by the Tobermory art colony. I have an art print I bought there.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Some of the best hiking in Ontario is along the Bruce Trail and escarpment. This was our first time staying in a yurt, which was a fun experience. It was nice to see how different the landscape looked in the winter. Many of the shops in Tobermory were still closed though and the park was fairly empty.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! It certainly was a unique way to spend a weekend in the winter. This was our first time staying in a yurt. It was brighter and more spacious than we had imagined. It took awhile to warm up though and didn’t retain heat very well. It was still a neat experience and we would definitely stay in a yurt again.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Linda K says:

    Love that picture of the grotto cave! Kind of fun to visit off peak when there are less people around. The yurts look fun to stay in…even if there was some difficulty with getting that fire going.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! We’ve been to Tobermory a few times over the years, but this was our first time visiting in the winter. It was neat to see how drastically different the shoreline looked covered in ice. It was also very lovely to pretty much have the trails all to ourselves. Staying in yurt was an interesting experience and sure beats sleeping in a tent! We’re planning to stay in one again later in the fall when we visit Algonquin.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The hiking was definitely more challenging with all the snow and ice, but the frozen landscape looked beautiful. We went diving a few years ago in Tobermory to explore a few of the shipwrecks. The water was freezing cold, but the visibility was fantastic.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Josy A says:

    What a treat! It looks cold, but if you are dressed up well, those snowy views are incredible! I looove seeing the frozen water in blobs by the Grotto. I guess it freezes like that as the water gets churned up by the currents!?

    We stayed in a ger camp in Mongolia that was similar to the yurt you slept in – they are so cozy aren’t they!?

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’ve camped here a few times, but always in the summer. It was neat to return in the winter (without the crowds) and to see how drastically different the landscape looks covered in snow and ice. Agreed, the ice blocks near the Grotto, which looked like frozen lily pads were really neat. It was real nice to have a cozy yurt to return to after a day of hiking in the cold. They are surprisingly more spacious that I thought.

      Liked by 1 person

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